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Gamification - an opportunity to explore the untapped power of the people engagement

When you hear "Gamification", what do you imagine? A new promise, lot of possibilities, lot of excitement and definitely truckload of overwhelming explanations. My introduction to gamification accidently happened long time back. Who knew that someday in year 2012 when I will Google this term, it will bring as many as 10,700,000 search results in a flick of a second. And frankly, my unintended discovery was fairly informal, unbranded and  unscientific when I started on it. But as I got deeper into it, story took a very different turn.

I was working on the people engagement challenges for my innovation center in 2008. There, my struggle was with the average enthusiasm and typical motivation issues for the talent. I was locked up with the challenge of sustaining their engagement towards innovation objectives. Most engagement tactics were short-lived, good for one-time engagement spike but did not deliver good results for building and sustaining the continuous engagement. I was looking for something new, something beyond regular engagement practices like events, appreciations, corporate awards etc.

As part of this search, I went on the greener side of the grass to explore the examples that can give me hints for the untapped secrets of the people engagement. It was absolutely essential for me to understand and reengineer the rules of the game so that organization can influence the engagement significantly. It meant that I need to go beyond regular policy frameworks, R&R practices and other traditional instruments that were already in place. It also meant that I need to understand much of the hidden behavioral patterns that somehow govern the engagement patterns. This is when the ideas related to Gamification started trickling in.

When Farmville was introduced in 2009 by Zynga, it didn't seem to have anything extra-ordinary other than some good graphics around on-line virtual farming. I completely dismissed it thinking who will play such boring childish game where one has to  keep putting seeds, keep waiting for it to grow, then sell it, make money and all that mundane stuff. There was no great deal about it in my mind. But then popularity caught on and the number of online users hooked on to Farmville grew so dramatically that I had to really play and see what's so special about it. And when I started discovering the mechanics of this game, it was awesome. It actually influenced the social online behavior of the users in a particular fashion. It was a very different kind of game where more than the actual game, the social interactions and social exchanges were bigger driving forces. It was all about the community, all about growing the ranks, all about unlocking new exciting possibilities through the help of friends. In fact, on a slightly different note, I worked for a client in Germany way back in 2001 on a project that involved the development of the mobile gaming platform and it was built on precisely the same social concept. Surprised? That game was played as a "virtual life". Every player was given a clan of chicken and one has to timely feed them to keep them alive and healthy, then clan grows, you can exchange or sell the animals, and when eggs are laid, one has to 'digitally' take care of it till they hatch. And it goes on. It was all to be played on the mobile (and that too ordinary ones, not the smart phones). Now I realize how much ahead of the time it was and that's the reason it actually didn't do well in the market at that time. A decade later, we have Farmville built on precisely the same gaming techniques which has shaken up the online gaming space.

Study of the Farmville and many other social online games brought in interesting observations of user behavior. I also figured out how these games played with the motivation of the users. Many of these techniques were new and I have not seen them in the digital games of previous era. I will share some of those observations in my next blog.

This was a great discovery, though there was nothing fundamentally new if we dig into the social science or behavioral science. But it opened up new possibilities to experiment with the current engagement models. My experiments continued for a while and using the observations from those, we develop engagement influence model which I'm going to share little later in my blogs. In the next blog, let me share the game dynamics from the games like Farmville that provide insight into how users engage with a system through their lense of motivation.

PS: Would readers want my blogs to be Gamified? I'm very curious about that.


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