The concept of Gamification is easy to understand, and hard to carry out at the same time. Basically it’s about applying game design techniques and elements into reality. With it various goals can be achieved. Games have by nature an attractive force. It was just a matter of time until someone came up with the brilliant idea to implement elements that make games so attractive in the real world. This makes Gamification more direct than games, in the real world people don’t need to get used to a virtual environment. It’s all happening in our own environment, that makes it a very powerful tool. 

 History

Gamification isn’t new. Frequent flyer programs use Gamification principles for decades. In those early days the term wasn’t popular yet. In 2002/2003 Gamification was used to describe the work of Nick Pelling, a computer programmer and inventor. Followed in 2008 by Bret Terril that used the term in a blog he wrote. FourSquare was, more or less, next in line with a gamified application that uses badges, points and leaderboards. People that use FourSquare are rewarded for visiting various (mostly within the food service industry) establishments. In 2011 the term gains popularity thanks to Gartner’s positive predictions. 2012 is the year that Gartner tempers enthusiasm because a lot of projects seem to fail due to a bad execution.

 The popularity of games

Humans play! A tremendous variety of games are proof of that statement: video games, card games, imaginary games, parlor games, board games, casino games, too many to mention. Physical games that become very popular we tend to label as sport. The popularity of video games grew rapidly and is becoming an important industry. GTA 5 a popular (free roaming) role playing console game, reached a turnover of one billion dollars within a couple of days, setting a new record for the entertainment industry as a whole. However the burst came with the introduction of the iPhone by Apple. Short after the iPhone entered the market, games where sold through this platform at a price of 0.99 dollar. This price made games affordable for everyone. Research shows that over 95% of the youth between the age of 12 and 17 years plays video games. 50% of the Internet population plays social games. That comes down to 500 million people. 80 million people play games at least once a day. Clearly games play an important role in modern society. They can even be very addictive! A Gamifier needs to take this in consideration. They have an ethical responsibility.

Good balanced reward mechanisms, within an impressive environment, combined with great gameplay are the main factors of a successful game. On the right moment rewards are being presented. This releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in our brain, resulting in a euphoric feeling that puts our brain in a cognitive state. That’s why a lot of schools now experiment with Gamification and/or Serious (or applied) gaming.

How does Gamification work?

Gamification isn’t as simple as one would expect, yet the basic principles are. Gabe Zichermann, a Gamification authority delivered a simple framework that contains of Fun, Friends and Feedback. All things considered, that’s what it’s all about. Personally I believe Fun is the most powerful ingredient of all. Bringing fun in our daily routine (whatever that may be) makes all the difference. In essence it comes down to applying game principles to improve enjoyment. Fun is a broad and fuzzy concept. People find fun everywhere and what some might enjoy could be annoying to others. Reality has to be looked upon through the eyes of a game designer. The player, the playing field, and the game components need to be recognized. Together they form the Game-factor. The Game-factor is an indication how suitable an entity is to be Gamified. Again, simply put but hard to achieve. How to determine which elements are important and what is the best way to apply them isn’t easy. In most cases reward mechanisms that we know from games are implemented in reality. In many cases this works very well, if it’s done right. Dividing activities in small tasks and reward people properly within a static framework works stimulating. Rewards need to vary and be meaningful to reach their full potential. Various reward streams are actived at the same time to create enough variety. Challenges follow a static path (partly) known by the participant while achievements, more or less, follow the behavior of a participant and reward them when milestones are reached. Those rewards come as a surprise. In most cases Gamification creates transparency. Loyal customers are pointed out. The quality of employees floats to the top. Correct feedback creates awareness. When a participant performs well it will be made clear through a fun and meaningful reward. Those exciting moments of appreciation are very suitable to share with friends. This mechanism puts a turbo on marketing via social media. A platform that uses Gamification is fun by definition and therefore most suitable for viral marketing.

Gamification makes things fun and resulting in great enthusiasm amongst employees, clients, in short: every participant. In itself a very nice result, the potential however is much bigger. With Gamification it’s possible to change the behavior of people. It’s possible to create engagement towards a product, or service. Clients become more loyal, or more willing to absorb the information we provide them. The relevance of those advantages doesn’t need further explanation.

Gamification applies to the needs of  a modern, playful society!