A research perspective on gamification

HP Fellow and prolific blogger Charlie Bess has been thinking about how our love of games could be further harnessed to improve our lives – and industrial research.

HP Fellow Charlie Bess

There's a lot to be said for the idea that everything in life is a game, that someone is always keeping score, and that everyone is always being measured somehow, whether we like it or not.

Gamification takes these concepts of engagement, behaviors and measurement into the business setting in ways that can enable organizations to meet their objectives. It's a trend we're paying attention to at HP Labs.

In its purest form, gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking, and game mechanics and analytics to change the behavior of employees and customers. But it's much more than using the scoring elements of games in a business or educational context. When implemented effectively, gamification is goal oriented and designed to address tangible business objectives.

Businesses already have significant experience using these techniques in silos. Sales teams use leader boards, incentives, and peer pressure, for example, to increase performance. Many retail organizations use "employee of the month" schemes to increase employee engagement and loyalty programs to encourage shopper faithfulness. Innovative idea contests are fairly commonplace as a way to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.


Today, though, we have new tools – advanced analytic techniques, novel workflow processes and social computing – upon which we can build whole new ways to meet business goals through game-related activities.

Of the technology and business trends that are predominant now, many either have a direct relationship with, or could greatly benefit from, gamification.

Technology trends

Among today's most significant technology trends are:

  • Big data/analytics – Gamification can be used to modify behavior based on the insights provided by big data, accelerating and amplifying the impact of the insights developed.
  • Social networking – Enterprise 2.0 techniques are being adopted by businesses, but it can be hard to ensure that all employees embrace and extend them. Gamification can focus on measuring and encouraging adoption of these tools, enabling projects to meet their objectives.
  • Mobile – Bring your own device (BYOD) is a common buzzword in industry today, but actually measuring and understanding its effect on business value generation is always difficult. Gamification can be used to gather, compare and advance BYOD's impact. It can also be used to shift behavior in ways that both the employee and the organization can adopt and benefit.
  • Automation – Optimizing workforce attention and activity is one component of any automation effort. Measuring the impact of automation and focusing the newly available attention upon the areas where employee's creativity is still needed are situations where gamification techniques can have a significant impact.
  • Ubiquitous computing – Computers used to be rare devices that were kept in isolation from the rest of the business environment. Today, they permeate almost all business processes and continue to be embedded in more devices, offering opportunities for gamification to provide more detailed information and greater attention to business situations.

Business trends – coping with a dynamic environment

When it comes to business trends, all businesses today are under pressure to deliver products to market faster and to capture returns on research and marketing investments more quickly. At the same time, the business environment is increasingly uncertain, so greater agility is needed to adjust to changing market demands. The environment is also growing more complex, as enterprises turn into extended, frictionless ecosystems made up of a variety of capabilities and resources. Changes like these require shifts in employee behavior and business process adoption. Techniques like gamification can provide greater visibility, confidence and reinforcement to help businesses effect the desired changes.

Among the most serious operational problems faced by businesses today are:

  • Customer retention
  • Employee engagement
  • Collaboration across the business ecosystem
  • Business process adoption
  • Consistent delivery

All of these issues have elements that require greater measurement, behavioral understanding and modification – and all are thus prime targets for gamification.

The opportunity for research

game world

More broadly, there are relevant cultural trends to note. Our everyday lives and game worlds are traditionally viewed as separate. With the advent of virtual reality, the interaction capabilities of modern, mobile computing and the advances resulting from the IT trends mentioned above, however, the barrier between these domains in the minds of employees and customers can be made permeable, allowing for new types of interaction and business value generation.

At the intersection of these business, technology and cultural trends, then, lies a great deal of opportunity. I'm not alone in believing that gamification has a role to play in delivering on that promise. Gartner Predicts Over 70 Percent of Global 2000 Organizations Will Have at Least One Gamified Application by 2014. Constellation research believes that by 2013, more than 50 percent of all social business initiatives will include an enterprise gamification component.

All of these areas are ripe for research. Indeed, gamification may even be applied to the area of research itself.

Most research organizations measure patents, papers and presentations. But should they also measure cooperation between individuals? teams? companies? Can gamification be used to encourage the generation of, and reduce time-to-market of the concepts and innovations generated? It may be that our imagination is the only impediment to creatively using these techniques to produce business innovation on a grand scale.