Forbes quoted me on gamification trends three years ago. Now it is hotter than ever.
“Gamification,” as the trend is called, is the use of game elements everywhere — from the classroom to the shopping mall. Gartner estimates that by 2014 more than 70% of major companies will have at least one gamified mobile application
Lee Sheldon at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teaches his students: like they’re playing a massive multiplayer online role-playing game. He divides the class into small groups called “guilds,” which complete quests such as taking tests and making presentations to earn points and then advance to a new level. At the end of the course, he determines the grade by points and skill level. Ever since he turned education into a game, he says, “the average letter grade in the class went from a C to a B, and attendance is almost perfect.”
Sheldon uses the same techniques as companies such as Foursquare — turning the world into a game. Sheldon takes advantage of the way popular games reward completing small tasks, and high-scoring players move proudly to the top of the leader board.
Starbucks, for instance, has used game techniques to revolutionize its rewar
ds program. Instead of receiving punches on a card for buying coffee, customers earn stars. Once they get enough stars they “level up,” as game developers would call it, and become a “green” or “gold” level customer, with a host of new benefits such as free refills. “Gamification is really about understanding what motivates your users and designing for those incentives,” says Gabe Zichermann, author of the new book Gamification by Design.
In the best games, players understand what’s expected of them, experiment with ways to achieve their goals without significant penalty and immediately see rewards for their accomplishments. Slaying the dragon in “Legend of Zelda” earns players new weapons and brings them one step closer to facing the final boss and saving the princess, but if they fail they simply restart the level. The game has complex puzzles, some as complicated as the material in the average college course, yet it does a far better job breaking objectives down into
easily digestible parts.
Some educators think games debase the institution. But for members of the Millennial Generation, they are second nature. “We made the games to imitate life, but now life’s changing to mimic the games,” Zichermann says.