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Introduction to gamification

The concept of gamification and its techniques in non-gaming environments is a fast-emerging practice in business. Though in its infancy, the dynamics and techniques of gamification have been found to be easily transferrable from their gaming software origins into the world of commerce.

The use of gamification tools and methods has the potential to benefit project managers from all industries because of their fundamental potential to shape and influence behaviour. It is important for project professionals to fully understand the concept, how it could be applied to projects and the associated benefits or risks, if its transition to project management is to be successful.

This guide builds on the Association for Project Management (APM) Thames Valley branch study tour team’s report on gamification and introduces the concept as a tool for project management. The team carried out a year-long study into this emerging practice, undertook research with industry experts and tested the theories themselves. The report, published in 2012, detailed recommendations on utilising gamification within project management. This guide has been designed to offer project managers an introduction to gamification and provide an insight into its origins, possible uses and benefits within the profession.

What is gamification?

Gamification originates from the computer games industry and is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users, solve problems and drive behaviour. When used in a business environment, it is the process of integrating game dynamics into a website, business service, online community, content portal or marketing campaign to initiate participation and promote engagement. On a basic level gamification techniques tap into and influence peoples’ natural desires for competition, achievement, recognition and self-expression.

Software companies introduced the same kind of concepts into work life that were being developed within their games. They found that their employees responded positively to being awarded ‘badges’ dependent on their performance or level of effort. Gamification appears to be making the leap from game-play to the workplace at a great pace. A growing number of organisations are adopting gaming techniques and game-style rewards in order to motivate and incentivise employees and customers.

Within the last three years, gamification has started making the transition into mainstream industry as a tool used to increase the engagement and motivation of a workforce. This transition has been facilitated by the increased availability of appropriate technology and connectivity, such as smartphones and tablets, which can support a gamification environment. Further detail on recognition and reward can be found in the Game mechanics section on page 13.

Who uses gamification?

The basic principles of gamification have existed for over a decade in areas such as internet consumer engagement applications (apps), frequent flyer cards, loyalty schemes and healthcare fitness programmes. Many companies have introduced gamified schemes in order to increase customer engagement or, more recently, employee engagement. These schemes motivate the customer or user to continue buying or using a product or engage the user’s interest and increase motivation.

Companies including Starbucks, Nike, eBay, Salesforce and Badgeville are among the organisations which have found success with the concept of employing gamelike activities to improve business and customer interaction. Lee Sheldon, a gamer, game designer and assistant professor at Indiana University, USA, believes that managers may have to rethink how best to engage the next generation entering the mainstream workforce. However, the benefits of gamification are not necessarily confined to the next generation; they are equally applicable to a person of any age, gender or background.

Reviewing education and the courses establishments offer is a good indicator of how gamification is viewed and being utilised in business. Several UK and US universities offer courses encompassing gamification, ranging from one-off courses to a module on a master’s degree.

Download the full report