Beyond the hype: 5 ways that big companies are using gamification

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For sure, gamification – or the use of game mechanics in non-entertainment contexts – is one of the most overhyped and misunderstood subjects in enterprise today.

Yet from humble beginnings in 2010, M2 Research projects that companies will spend upwards of $2 billion on gamification services by 2015. By that same point, Gartner Group’s Brian Burke forecasts that 70 percent of the Global 2000 will employ gamification techniques, but that 80 percent of those projects will fail unless they’re designed thoughtfully. To meet these needs, we believe U.S. companies will need 5,000 certified gamification designers over the next three years to infuse every aspect of their operations with the science of engagement.

For my forthcoming book, “The Gamification Revolution” and through our GSummit conference , we looked at hundreds of leading companies that have successfully leveraged gamification in the enterprise to see how they found success. Here are the top five areas where companies are using gamification to find efficiencies and gain a competitive advantage:

Recruitment and hiring

Companies have used games to recruit for some time, but with social and game technologies it’s become more effective. Most famously, Google posted a billboard in Silicon Valley with a tough math question that led users through a series of game-like challenges, and eventually to a special job application queue; those who could solve the puzzle were “pre-screened” in a fun way.

Companies like Quixey have adapted Google’s approach (sans billboard) and recruit using a reality TV-style game that yields qualified engineering candidates for under $4,000/each – compared to $20,000-plus using traditional recruiters. The U.S. Army-developed America’s Army game has brought millions of potential recruits to the attention of the armed forces and has become its most cost-effective recruitment strategy (and one of the world’s most popular games on the way).

On a larger scale, Domino’s Pizza developed a game called Pizza Hero where you can pretend to be a pizzaiolo and make pies the way you like. The app lets you order pizza for delivery based on your design and apply for a job at your local Domino’s – if you’re good enough.

Employee training and development

Like Domino’s, Marriott needs to hire upwards of 50,000 people per year to fill positions in its hospitality division – and those employees also need training. So the company developed a game called My Marriott Hotel that lets you play various hotel roles, develop a basic understanding of how they work and apply for a job. The simplicity of My Marriott Hotel led to over 25,000 players joining in the first week, and is part of a major growth cycle of similar training games that are as easy to play as Angry Birds.

Several other major multinationals are finding success too:  Siemens use its online game Plantville to train plant operators; GE Healthcare’s Patient Shuffle game teaches health care workers how hospitals work; and Sun Microsystems built an adventure game to replace its stuffy new-hire onboarding training. For many companies, gamified training has lowered costs and raised engagement by over 50 percent.

Employee feedback

The lack of adaptability of employee feedback has led many leading organizations to question the structure of the annual review. Enter gamification-based recognition systems like (formerly Rypple), DueProps and PropstoYou. They use gamified approaches to persuade employees to provide feedback instantly on their mobile device. This peer recognition is turned into social achievements (like badges and leaderboards) that are shared throughout the organization, and typically replace direct cash bonuses or “spiffs.”

Companies like LivingSocial, Spotify and Facebook have embraced the approach, replacing annual reviews in many cases. The fun, instantaneous feedback loops have driven employee engagement to over 95 percent on an opt-in basis at many installations. Early successes led to buy Toronto-based Rypple for a reported $65 million after just two years in operation, rebranding it as late last year.

Health and wellness

One critical approach to increasing employee performance is by helping to improve their health and wellness. Besides having the effect of improving cognition, it also results in reduced absenteeism (and thus health insurance costs, too). NextJump, a New York-based employee-incentive startup, has gotten international attention for its gamified approach to encouraging employee fitness.

Using team-based competition and peer support, over 80 percent of the company’s employees currently go to the gym two-plus times a week without a mandate. Similarly, to help others gamify workplace health, startups like Keas deliver “wellness as a service” (WaaS?) to customers like Pfizer and Reed Elsevier.

Creating new profit centers

As gamification’s power to change the enterprise has grown, it has also become a profit center for early adopter organizations. IBM developed a game-based BPM (Business Process Management) simulator called Innov8 that has spawned several B2B products, including a game called City Manager aimed at municipal executives.

Today, the Innov8 platform is used by over 1,000 institutions to teach BPM, and has become the company’s number-one lead generator. Similarly, global consulting giant NTTData has built a platform called GO! that enables its 60,000 worldwide employees to gamify BPM and professional development, helping the company close and retain clients.

Gabe Zicherman is editor of and chair of the Gamification Summit. His book, The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition (McGraw Hill) is due out April 5. Follow him on Twitter @gzicherm.

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