Forget the Hype: Gamification Is Already Mainstream

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ADOTAS – Gartner recently named gamification to its annual Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies list, boosting gamification’s credibility as a respected business technology. It’s significant that gamification is already perched near the peak of the hype curve. Just one short year ago, it wasn’t on the curve at all. Instead, it was simply one of thousands of emerging technologies sitting on the sidelines.

As with any technology experiencing a meteoric trajectory, gamification has its share of skeptics, as well as its share of poor examples. There is a significant amount of science and art behind getting a gamification program right. The poor examples, and misunderstanding of the field, lead to some naysayers to exclaim the entire industry a joke. For example, Ian Bogost’s recent article, “Gamification is Bull*hit” sparked a flash debate.

The reality is that gamification is a key business strategy and is an important element of any modern marketing program. Gamification, done well, can increase conversions, time on site, revenues, and other important user-driven business objectives. Our customers, across retail, media, education, health, and the enterprise, have seen increases in user behavior 25% or more on average.

Industry-leading brands from Nike to Beat the GMAT have implemented game mechanics to shift audience behaviors. The Nike+ program has always been one of my favorite examples of gamification, where results are clear. By providing social incentive and tracking behavior, Nike+ helps any person reach their health and fitness goals.

Also in the fitness space, our customer The Active Network offers a similar program called Active Trainer, where tracking and rewarding progress towards fitness goals has helped the site surpass One Million Social Media Fans. Since the integration of Badgeville with the Active.com Trainer beta, close to 36,000 High Fives have been given by Active.com Trainer participants to encourage one another, and roughly 27,000 badges have been awarded.

Beat the GMAT, the leading community of professionals studying for the MBA entrance exams, implemented a gamification program using Badgeville last spring. With addition of a gamification program, the site has experienced a 53% increase in comments and new forum posts from users. Beat the GMAT also plans to use gamification to help crowdsourcing the tagging of over 70,000 articles on their site.

Gamification isn’t about manipulating users to do something they don’t want to do (which many may think after first hearing the term). It’s actually about helping users achieve what they already want to do with a little nudge.

The modern world is flooded with more and more content and experiences by the day, and this can be overwhelming to the average person. Most of us, deep down, want some guidance towards engagement. It’s part of human nature to want to feel part of a group, and gamification helps marketers create a meaningful, authentic experience to motivate user behavior.

Gamification Isn’t Gaming

The science behind gamification has much more to do with aspects of psychology other than the human need to play — instead, gamification is more about leveraging desires for rewards, status, identity, and reputation — to change behaviors.

Those behaviors come in a thousand different shapes and sizes, making the potential uses of gamification universal and endless. In retail, gamification may use rewards and status to drive customer loyalty. Badgeville customers Bluefly.com, Kings Hawaiian and Proven Winners are innovating how gamification can drive modern brand loyalty in a social landscape. In the enterprise market, gamification can be used to help promote employee learning and sharing of information, or reaching individual and joint business goals.

In 10 years, while the term “gamification” may fade, the fundamental elements that enable gamification to change human behavior will remain highly relevant.

Gamification Delivers Business Value

Three key factors distinguish B2B technologies that will continue to grow. Successful technologies must:

  • Address a real business need
  • Show continuous return on investment
  • Become seamlessly entrenched in daily business

Gamification does all three.

Though we may not like having to filter through so much hype in the business world, there are some emerging technologies that provide real business value. Gartner’s Hype Cycle, though, may not be too far off the mark. Many emerging technologies go through a period of hype, only to adjust to real-world need and demand, and then be adopted by the mainstream.

Where Gartner goes wrong is adding gamification to the Hype Cycle this year, thus projecting mainstream adoption well into the future. What they’re missing is that gamification has already been around (and hyped) for years, and what we’re seeing now is a maturity of the industry.

Startups that jumped into the gamification platform space too early guessed at what a potential mainstream market for gamification would be, developing a lot of random features that are not relevant today. However, modern gamification platforms, like Badgeville, are now built to meet real market needs, helping the once emerging technology erupt into the mainstream.

That’s why everyday we see a fast-growing collection of innovative, world-class brands such as L’Oreal Paris, SAP, Toyota, Salesforce.com, and hundreds more, dedicating time and resources to delivering modern gamified experiences to users to ultimately deliver real business value.

When gamification balances human natures against business results, everyone wins.

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