Does your business use gamification? And if not, is your business missing out on an important way to both motivate engagement and reward participation?

According to a White Paper by RMG Networks, “By 2015 it is estimated that approximately 40% of Global 1000 companies will be using some elements of gamification in their technology stack to get employees to be more productive.”

The report quotes gamification researcher Jane McGonigal in defining what it is that makes games so attractive to us as a species. She identifies four key elements that define a game:

Goal: the specific outcome a player is working towards.
Rules: constraints on how a player or players can achieve the goal.
Feedback system: this reports a player’s progress towards a goal.
Voluntary participation: everyone playing the game is a willing participant who accepts the goal, rules and method of feedback.

It’s easy to see how a substantial amount of business work could follow similar lines, and therefore be ripe for gamification.

Today, we are quite familiar with the reward systems offered by social media sites, such as badges, stars, titles and levels. What’s more, nobody is pretending this is something new; schoolkids and burger flippers alike have been striving for gold stars for years. What is new is the potential for this gamification of recognition to be completely based in the digital world, whether as part of an online forum or a digital display board with graphics created using realtime data.

While the report does mention that gamification can enable innovation, the report’s main focus is on the effect of increasing productivity, as employees strive to improve their score or rankings in term of turnaround times or products packed. This viewpoint is very much based on the standard linear ‘video’ game; you race the car, chase the baddies, rescue the princess from Donkey Kong.

Today’s most popular games are far more sophisticated, requiring strategic thinking, team cooperation with real or coded colleagues, insight and accumulated knowledge (and, often a large gun too). Hence, today’s employees feel quite at home with gamification systems that reach beyond self-centred goals. This is ideal for innovation management, where stars may be used for grading or rating ideas, and badges given to recognise participation and involvement rather than a personal goal or level achieved.

If that seems a little esoteric, consider how little the most popular social media sites actually reward the individual. You get no ‘reward’ for placing a Like save the fact that your name appears on the Like list. However, if you post something that others can then Like, you can quickly judge what’s popular (and what’s not) by the number of Likes received.

By contrast, Trip Advisor (a travel review site) does have a badge system, whereby the more reviews you write, the higher you rise up the ranks. However, when you receive an update from the site, it’s actually the number of readers and ‘Helpful Votes’ you receive that is highlighted first. Again, the emphasis is on peer reviews and ratings, the same drivers used in innovation management systems.

It can be hard for senior business bosses to accept that, to their employees, aspects of their work might be seen as a game. However, with the worldwide video games industry worth $76 billion and predicted to top $86 billion by 2016, gaming is clearly highly popular. What’s more, with the average age of a UK gamer at 35 (not 25 or 15), many of your employees are probably already well versed in gaming methodology. So, the inclusion of gaming techniques and systems will not only be appealing, it will also be familiar.

With so much to gain from gamification, the smart innovation manager would be wise to keep an eye on the way people access their games. So here’s a thought to take away: 80% of time spent on mobile devices is spent inside apps or games. Make your innovation participation simple and straightforward using a gamified app, and you could be streets ahead of your competition…