The line between work and play is becoming increasingly blurred in companies today. To illustrate that point, technology industry research firm Gartner estimates that by 2014 approximately 70 percent of large enterprises will use game techniques for at least one business process. For its part, market researcher M2 Research expects that revenue from “gamification” software, consulting and marketing will explode—from about $100 million today to more than $900 million by 2014.
These are bullish forecasts. Gartner’s belief that enterprise expectations for gamification have yet to peak reflect the fact that online gaming has become a significant pursuit for people when they’re not on the job. A research survey by GSN Games Network, for instance, indicates that 60 percent of respondents play online games daily and spend more than 11 hours a week playing. Driven in large part by the rapid emergence and expansion of social networks and smartphones, gaming is seen by legions of off-duty workers as a way to relax and stimulate the brain.
When it comes to using games in the workplace, however, it’s all about enhancing employee engagement and learning as companies strive to become knowledge organizations that can move quickly and smartly in the complex and competitive global marketplace. Indeed, there are five main reasons why the business community has embraced gamification as a learning tool:
- No attention deficit. Games really do up-level engagement. People are interested; they focus; and they stick with the learning material.
- Offsetting boredom. Business life can be exciting and enriching, but it’s not always fun. Games that offer knowledge are generally upbeat, and they add spice and sparkle to what can sometimes be a dull day-to-day company existence.
- Non-training training. The new, easy-to-use game teaches without telling. People interact and learn, but they don’t always know they’re actually learning. This informal approach is often preferable to formal classroom settings where many people feel uncomfortable and unmotivated. We also know that employees do not generally share what they’ve learned in a classroom with organizational peers and colleagues.
- Stoking our competitive instincts. People like to face off and test themselves against friendly rivals. When learning games offer points, badges, or leader boards that let players view one another’s scores, performance is heightened—and more knowledge is gained and shared.
- Staying connected. The virtual office means that many employees work from home or remote locations; they rarely meet to collaborate and create. Team-based games help even the most dispersed teams bond, and this frequently boosts the quality of innovation.
Examples at work
There are many new enterprise learning games that get employees’ competitive juices flowing in the name of acquiring more knowledge and driving business results. Bunchball, for example, has created an app called Nitro that integrates directly into the leading cloud CRM platform, Salesforce.com. Nitro offers competing players, teams, and groups an array of incentives and rewards for performing, and its leader board scores are closely watched throughout the process. In many respects, this represents the gamification of more conventional dashboard reporting.
Another noteworthy enterprise learning game is Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2, which teaches people about Microsoft Office Suite. One enthusiastic reviewer has said that Ribbon Hero 2 is like “playing on Xbox live, minus the screaming 12-year-olds.” Featuring comic strips, colorful graphics, surprise animations, multiple levels, time travel, space ships, Greek Gods, and bow-and-arrow battles, Ribbon Hero 2 revolves around the story of Clippy, Microsoft’s infamous paperclip helper. With each time period, players get to explore a new game board with challenges they must complete to get to the next level. Each challenge takes learners into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote to complete a task.
As a result, people compete against colleagues, classmates and friends for the highest Ribbon Hero 2 scores—as well as the best ways to make Microsoft Office Suite a highly productive business tool. Some people even put their Ribbon Hero 2 scores on their resumes!
Variables for success
Despite their tremendous potential for extending knowledge throughout companies, next-generation enterprise learning games require a good deal of managerial thought, care, and consideration before they’re fully implemented within an organization. Here are five key variables to help insure success.
- Focus. Before gaming technology is adopted, it’s important to understand what skill, behavior, or area you’re trying to improve. Games need specific intent around them, and managers need to make certain that they’re not being open-ended as they deploy this learning technology. In addition, it’s essential that the games actually reward desired behaviors, rather than doling out meaningless awards, points or badges that are unrelated to business results. Alignment with your company’s overarching business goals is also essential.
- Design. This really matters. If a game isn’t interesting or relevant, or if it’s too easy or too hard, it won’t have the desired impact on the top or bottom lines.
- Limits. Every business issue can’t be solved by turning it into a game. Certain information – like that in the HR department – just needs to be known, and shouldn’t be made lighter, more competitive, or turned itno an analogy. Also, developing and deploying big, large-scale games is usually problematic and ineffective.
- Planning. Companies cannot move into gaming blindly. A big budget and lots of corporate desire are not enough to generate required results. Early strategic thinking is a must, and one central question is whether to buy or build your game – or both.
- Backlash. Organizational culture can be affected by gaming technology. So companies need to watch carefully that friendly competition doesn’t ever get out of hand, fostering ill-will among employees.
The future of enterprise gaming is bright. Gaming will be part of a rich variety of learning solutions. In several years, I envision an increasing amount of blended learning, including traditional classroom training, games, virtual learning, and e-learning—with all the tools in the mix as well, especially mobile devices. Hopefully, this will help everyone in an organization gain the necessary knowledge to advance the business regardless of individual or learning styles.