Gamification, it's big and clever
but it's not new
12th March, 2012
BDRC Continental has been researching both the video games industry and other more traditional media for many years. Over this time we have seen gaming move steadily into the mainstream.
It is not so long ago that gaming was still seen as very much an 'outsider industry' with an audience made of pimply faced, anti-social youths who spent too much time in their bedrooms. Some of these negative perceptions still persist, but we have now moved towards a situation where other industries are now actively looking to see what they can learn from gaming. They are particularly fascinated by the way that the gaming industry manages to engage its audience. Young people are often criticised for having short attention spans, but the very same young people who apparently can't properly focus on anything else for long can, as I mentioned previously, spend hours happily absorbed in video games.
To put it simply they are engaged because they like to play games. Gamification is simply about using game design techniques to try and make other non-game processes as fun and as engaging as possible. So gamification is really a technique to make people do something - but at this point it is worth taking a step back and assessing the different methods that we could employ to make someone do something.
First there are threats and coercion - however, unless you hold some real power over an individual, that can be difficult and can result in resentment, even if they comply. Second there is paying them - obviously this costs hard cash, and in recessionary times money is in short supply. Third we can make them feel guilty - encourage a sense of responsibility or duty and try to shame them if they don't comply. The fourth way is that we make it FUN - we gamify it - people do it because they WANT to.
It sounds fantastic, and reasonably cost or pain free compared to the other methods. But we must be honest, gamification is not at all new, it has always been around. As a child I would tell my younger brother to fetch something from upstairs - he would, naturally, refuse. I could threaten him to get it, but that would entail getting into a fight (more trouble than it was worth), instead I would simply offer to 'time him' to see how fast he could get it. It always worked. This was and is all done quite naturally, without great thought or planning - children, almost instinctively, seem to know that gamification works.
The military also have a long history in the application of gamification. I am not talking about 'playing' at soldiers or war games. Getting young men to risk likely death or maiming in war is quite a tough ask. Paying them more money to risk their life would obviously cost a lot of money and in western countries there is a limit to how much you can coerce your soldiers to perform acts of bravery. An inexpensive solution is to gamify the process and reward the 'winners' with an inexpensive piece of metal and a ribbon - also known as a medal. To a degree it has obviously worked - some soldiers would go to great lengths to try to secure a medal; - such men could be derogatively known as 'gong hunters' by their comrades who would understandably be wary of themselves getting killed as a direct consequence of their colleague's quest for a 'gong'.
This is not meant to devalue the bravery of soldiers who have, and still do earn medals in combat. On a more personal level I would most certainly be a strong advocate of considerably higher wages for the military. If anyone wants to ask me where I could find cuts to pay for this - I have a long list I would be happy to share! Similarly, some see religion and the promise of reward or punishment after death (heaven/ hell/ virgins in the afterlife/ Valhalla/ reincarnation) as perhaps the ultimate and most effective form of gamification, but I digress.
The point is that gamification is not new as a principle, but what is new is the way that it is being consciously and scientifically applied to a whole range of, generally digital, settings. Most simple gamification tends to focus just on reward, but more sophisticated gamification is also about making the process fun. If we look at the most successful games the two elements (enjoyment in the process and reward) are both present and intertwined.
If the end result is that routine chores become more fun, then it seems a generally positive thing. One thing we would say is that gamification is a moving feast - a game that wowed its audience 10 years ago may well look mundane now. Similarly a gamified process that was 'fun' in 2012, may well be passe and dull in 2015. Currently my children quite enjoy the tidy up game but I suspect...
Traditional media seem particularly interested in gamification that is now being used to encourage viewing of TV shows. The next series of US zombie drama 'The Walking Dead' is launching a downloadable app that allows viewers to play along live whilst watching the show. They can predict the number of zombies that will be killed in each episode and share their results with friends via Facebook and Twitter. Thus even TV viewing is being turned into a competition.
As a researcher, the really interesting challenge is obviously how do we measure and assess the success of gamification. Web metrics such as the % completing otherwise tedious tasks online, and the proportion of time spent on a particular site will tell part of the story. Perhaps more interesting is the extent to which gamification makes consumers feel more positive towards brands that go out of their way to make processes enjoyable.
Another interesting area is how we can gamify the research process. Again, it is worth noting that this is not something new. Qualitative techniques such as personification where respondents are asked to imagine the brand in question as a person or animal, and attribute characteristics and personality traits to it and projective techniques such as role playing where respondents are asked to assume a role and act the part are all longstanding forms of gamification.
How to measure the application of gamification and also how to apply it to the research process will be the subject of my next article.
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