The concept of gamification - Are Indian businesses and web developers upto the challenge?
14th April 2011

A new concept taking the online industry by storm is 'Gamification'. The concept of Gamification revolves around rewarding users for performing set tasks in a certain manner and creating a reward structure around the overall performance of the task. Although 'gamification' is a new term, the concept has been around for many years under different guises such as 'reward points', 'virtual money', 'usage bonuses' and other such terminology.

The principle difference in 'gamification'   has to be built into the DNA of an online initiative instead of being added on as an afterthought.

Gamification is now added right at the development stage of the project and is built into the DNA of the website. Earlier it used to be like an afterthought added onto the site by some enthusiastic marketing manager. The fact is gamification will only work if it is intrinsically built into the functioning of the site and rewards users at many different areas and fucntions of the site.   The reward systems have to be internally linked to the functioning of the site at a very fundamental level.

You cannot re-jig an existing website to add 'gamification' in a superficial way - the effort will be wasted.

A common reaction among businesses and website owners would be to try and add a gamification component on top of their existing site to try and leverage this new concept. It rarely works out in such cases. The rewards offered  may not motivate users or the system will not be interesting enough for users to repeatitevly use the service. To add a 'gamification' component to your website you require to change your website at a very deep level right from the concept to the functionality.

Indian websites used to orthodox designs  will have to adopt a more creative strategy to improve engagment with customers.

In my experience Indian businesses and managements are very risk averse in terms of design and concept of their websites. Even when web designers come to them with innovative concepts, most times these are shot down in favour of more conservative designs. In the new world where everyone is searching for competitive advantages this will not do. Companies will have to increasingly adopt innovative measures and 'gamification' is going to be an important initiative.

'Gamification' is not about gaming but about making routine tasks and processes much more interesting and rewarding.

A common misconception of 'gamification' is to add games to website to give users some 'timepass' in between tasks. This is counter productive and useless. There are thousands of game sites and turning part of yours into one makes no sense. 'Gamification' works when routine tasks are made more interesting and fulfilling by the addition of an interesting rewards system. You cannot keep your tasks and the gamification system seperate. It is surprising how even mundane and boring tasks can get an edge when used  with 'gamification'.

Rewards are the key - rewards targeted at a users self esteem are the best ones. Find the psychological hook.

'Gamification' systems have to be well thought out. There is a tendency to make rewards monetary or  physical prizes. But these will not work as well as those targeted at user's self esteem. All of us have a deep deep desire to be acknowledeged and if 'gamification' can tap into this need the results can be spectacular. Winning the title of 'grandmaster' or 'top dog' can sometimes be more rewarding then winning a toaster or a mobile phone. Psychology plays a big part in this and should be taken into account when planning a 'gamification' initiative.

My favorite rewards are the ones I get when i play Gin on Yahoo Games. The rewards are as simple as colour boxes that you get in front of your name ranging from grey (for newbies) to red (for top players). I hate to admit it but what colour I am does affect my self esteem and creates a powerful motivation to play more and win more. No tangible reward is given to me but I still fight for that little piece of colour.

Apply 'gamification' selectively. Not every site and task is suitable for it.

There is a saying 'when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' Web developers and business owners have to be careful about applying gamification to their sites. Not all tasks are suitable and some tasks will never be interesting no matter what amount of gamification you apply to it. Analysing whether gamification is suitable for your site can save you a lot of time and money in the long term. Maybe some other initiatives are more suited to your website.

Don't be the 'Big Brother'. Gamification is a motivational tool, not a tool for performance measurement and punishment.

Always leave a 'way out' for those who don't want to play. Don't humilitate and punish those who don't play or are not 'buying into' your gamification plan. Some people like to do things their own way and at their own pace and no rewards or systems will change that. Allow them to take their own path by allowing the gamification to be turned off or simply ignored. Reward the enthusiasts but don't belittle the ones who don't take active part. Every game must have losers but you don't need to brand them as such.

In conclusion - Gamification can be a wonderful tool for adding stickiness  and bite to your site but like any tool it must be used carefully and only where it is best suited.


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