Gamification: business strategy or fad?

STR Team

Last Updated : Jan 25 2013 | 5:33 AM IST

Management experts say traditional training isn’t keeping pace with the world that we live in now and that companies need to change the way they engage with their employees.

Against this backdrop, the idea of using concepts in games to solve challenges in organisations is gaining currency. Can gamification give real returns?

Santhosh Babu
Founder, managing director, OD Alternatives

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” is the rationale behind experiential learning and the usage of games and simulations. Games and simulations are not going to answer all the needs of a learning organisation, but they can play a substantial role in imparting certain kind of skills. Let me elaborate.

I have used a whole-day simulation called Tops, Middles and Bottoms with senior leadership teams of Max group, Fullerton, HSBC, Ficci and Aditya Birla group. It aids participants in understanding system behaviour and the subtle yet powerful influence of systemic conditions on individual behaviour. Besides, I have also used several indoor and outdoor activities and games to generate learning for achievement motivation, collaboration, risk-taking ability and entrepreneurial competencies. Most facilitators use some kind of games — indoor, outdoor or computer-based.

So what is experiential learning? Experiential learning can be considered as learning by doing things. We can use games and simulations in two ways. One is to teach a skill, for example, a flight simulator used by pilots. Other skills include how to create a marketing strategy, how to generate more ideas, how to do product and process innovation, etc. Multiple games around strategy, selling skills, cultural awareness, etc fall in this category. Many organisations are using online simulations to impart skills like running a company, decision-making skills to managers and get the managers familiarised with general management principles in a customised way.

These games have several benefits for businesses. First, employees moving up the ranks can test management approaches in a low-risk environment. Second, managers have a tool that’s available round-the-clock to test drive decisions in a simulated environment before they commit to any real-world action. These games can be computer-based or board games and thus cost effective when large number of people can be benefited.

The second kind is games and activities that are used for creating an experience and then to reflect on it. The difference here is that there may not be a linear answer and the focus is not on developing skills but an insight. In the book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, author Ronald Heifetz says leaders are confronted with two types of problems: technical problems, which can be solved by expertise and good management, and ‘adaptive’ problems, such as sustainability of the world, growth without compromising values, innovating for triple bottom-line etc, which require transformation and learning.

Traditional management strategies are useful in dealing with technical problems but adaptive problems require that people change their values. These second category of games are used to create an experience that stimulate thinking and reflection. There might not be a right answer and a specific skill to learn here.

To teach employees, then, a specific skill set, an online or computer-based game can be really helpful. This can be done as self-learning. But when it comes to senior management and leadership and personal mastery learning, a facilitator-led, experiential activity for insight and reflection is more useful. When I met GV Prasad, vice-chairman and CEO of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, last year, he remembered an experiential activity that I did with the leadership team of Dr Reddy’s 10 years back. That is the power of an experiential activity in driving an insight. It has the power to shift awareness, create insights and make learning last longer.

It would be ideal to use computer-based and online simulations for large number of people. This is an expansion of an e-learning module and making it more effective by creating an experience. But for middle and senior management, a facilitator-led training that uses multiple learning methodologies like self-learning, action learning, classroom learning, experiential learning and coaching is suited.

Manish Agarwal
CEO, Reliance Entertainment Digital

Gamification refers to a corporate strategy wherein a company applies the principles of game design/mechanics to the everyday life of an employee to derive a certain set of results. Mind you, these corporate games aren’t just a collection of fantasy environments, points and challenges. Of course, these are essential elements of an effective game system. But the main purpose is much bigger: game mechanics like progress bars, badges, rewards, status, level ups, secret missions and unlock power and benefits etc can totally transform many corporate tasks into fun experiences.

Remember, games are everywhere. Look at someone’s mail inbox, his social networking platform or wallet, you are certain to notice one thing—loyalty programme subscription cards. They are almost ubiquitous today. Does it ever feel like you are playing a game with your preferred airline? No, but even a loyalty programme is part of the overall gamification strategy a company can implement; designed with rewards and incentive they encourage consumers to opt for a certain brand as opposed to another. Unlike some other forms of gamification, there’s no learning involved in loyalty programmes; nor are there any challenges. Yet the basic tenet is the same — to involve someone, in this case, the consumer.

There are two sets of benefits a corporation can derive from games — external and internal. Understanding and applying the mechanics of games can give companies a powerful tool to transport information, change consumer behaviour, influence the decision process, the brand perception, etc. These are the external benefits.

Now come to the internal benefits. Game mechanics can expand your employee’s imagination, help managers create new opportunities for their teams and thus forge better social interaction and recognition in them. Isn’t getting people to be passionate at work and giving them a tool to complete the job at hand a good thing? Sometimes they can make big problems appear easy to resolve. Any company can use effective storytelling techniques to meet, say, design challenges, such as improving website stickiness. In short, games can help in motivating and educating employees. As each game is a hero’s journey, each player is on an evolving path.

The advantages become obvious if you consider a few very elementary examples.

Look at Microsoft Ribbon Hero 2 — it is a training game that shows how to use all Microsoft office products. Take the Tropicana Breakfast club game. By simply adding a leader board and starting a contest in the brand’s social media page, it managed to pull over 1 lakh people in less than one month.

However, the big challenge in a gamification strategy lies in crafting an experience so that the user is motivated to reach his small goals and feel competent. The game has to be designed to give the user the freedom to achieve his goals his own way. It’s about creating a fun-based playground for non-gaming tasks/contexts. The challenge lies is involving the people by empowering them. Whether you seek free upgrades, a gold credit card or an entry into the red carpet airport lounge, what you are invariably seeking is a win. What drives you to carry on is the belief that one day you will win those rewards. It’s like adding a fifth P in the marketing matrix—power.

Gamification as a strategy can work across platforms (web, social, mobile), processes and devices. No wonder, the adoption of integrating game design and mechanics in more non-traditional industries has grown exponentially in the past couple of years. This has been driven by the growth of the social and the mobile media. M2 Research suggests that the corporate games market has already crossed $250 million.

First Published: Oct 22 2012 | 0:45 AM IST

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