Games can be serious business, especially when they’re tapped to solve real-world problems or teach key messages. Why? Because games leverage something fundamental in all of us. And companies everywhere are increasingly using games to create more compelling mechanisms for encouraging and retaining talent and customers.
The industry term for making a process into a game is “gamification.” It’s a term that gets applied to everything from human resources campaigns to airline miles.
But accumulating airline miles isn’t really so different from the “buy-10-sandwiches-get-your- 11th-one-free” punch card program at your favorite deli — not really a “game” at all.
No, we prefer a more discerning application of the word. For us, a game is something that, with practice, you can get good at playing — something where, through talent, savvy, smarts, collaboration and judicious application of indomitable will, you can outplay your opponents. Just like in real life.
In fact, a well-designed game has the power to transform the mundane into the magnificent, break down siloed thinking, crowdsource and focus mental energy, broaden brand appreciation, teach key lessons, reinforce cultural principles, and even solve what might otherwise be some very onerous problems.
In 2011, for example, scientists at the University of Washington created an online game called Foldit to help them understand the structure of certain proteins associated with AIDS. Three weeks and 240,000 registered competitors later, Foldit had solved a problem that had stumped the world’s scientists and computers for more than 15 years.
Foldit’s remarkable result couldn’t have happened without the individual-versus-crowd dynamic that gaming and crowdsourcing create. As group games are played, each individual’s achievement can elevate the group’s net knowledge base until an objective is achieved.
A Wired magazine article related a telling story about crowdsourcing: When a team of volunteers was asked to guess the number of marbles in a jar, the average of all guesses scored better than 95 percent of the individual guesses.
That’s gaming in action.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, creating and facilitating a game involves explicitly not managing the players in the traditional sense. No bosses dictating, no underlings following. Instead, successful gamification requires processes that provide incentives, fairness in evaluation, transparency, and an ability to bring the results back into your organization.
In a way that few other approaches can match, gaming gives people the hands-on opportunity to collaborate with one another, and learn from the successes and failures of teammates and opponents alike to develop their own solutions.
What did the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology have to say about a hands-on approach like this? Volunteers were up to 29 percent better at recalling details from messages when they were hands-on and engaged with the material versus when they received it via lecture alone.
Up to 29 percent. You can take that to the bank.
And many companies are taking it to the bank, as the results of some commercial applications of gaming show. For consumers, gaming can provide new, relevant ways to engage with the brand and drive sales. Just ask Nike+, which saw a signi cant bump in sales of running apparel after the release of “Run the Game”.
Or ask the Hertz Global Leadership team, which used gaming to help reinforce important lessons in the relationship between inventory management and cash ow. Or ask Southern Company. The U.S. Army. Lowe’s. Samsung. The list goes on.
Next time you’re faced with a marketing or communications challenge, especially one with clear parameters, the solution you seek might be just this simple: Play a game.
Case Study No. 1 – Collect the Stars
Mercedes-Benz turned to GO! to create a spectacular two-day brand immersion training program for its 26,000 dealership employees.
As a key part of the curriculum, GO! developed the “Collect the Stars” iPad-based app. (Each attendee is issued an iPad mini for their use during the immersion.)
Through the Brand Gallery, Factory Tour and Customer Experience Workshops, players are challenged with intense games, quizzes, discoveries, and content, and they collect Stars (Mercedes-Benz logos) along the way.
They compete head-to-head with their fellow attendees to learn about Mercedes-Benz history and the company’s place in the pantheon of innovative companies — and they earn points for getting the right answers or performing particular tasks.
Player standings are posted on a common leaderboard and, at the end of the training session, awards are given for top scores.
Case Study No. 2 – Cash Flow Challenge
GO! custom-designed a game for Hertz to help remind the company’s global leadership corps of the inverse relationship between unused inventory and cash ow.
The game had to be simple enough that everyone could play but complex enough to properly illustrate the market forces in play.
Our solution? A head-to-head game called Cash Flow Challenge [cue awesome music].
There was no chance or dice-rolling whatsoever. Teams thrived or died based on the decisions they made in the moment, based on the prices they set and the unused inventory they carried.
The game was played in ve teams of two. To earn revenue, teams had to purchase, set prices, and sell excess inventory via silent auction based on the customer demand of that round.
Case Study No. 3 – Speak My Language
GO! created “Speak My Language” to help the Lowe’s executive team become more familiar with new consumer insights.
We built the game with a kind of positive and negative reinforcement because, one, it’s just plain fun, but two, because it forces players to truly internalize the information and take stock of what they do and do not know.
The game was as simple as it was e ective. Here’s how it worked: The 50 executives were divided into ve groups of 10, and from there, into ve teams of two. Each team started with 100 points. The facilitator revealed a question and started a 45-second timer. Each team secretly marked down its answer and wagered some of its points, based on how con dent they were in their answer.
After 45 seconds, the facilitator revealed the correct answer and provided supplementary information to contextualize the point.
The team with the correct answer and the highest bid won all of its wagered points. Teams with the correct answer but not the highest bid won half their wagered points. Teams with incorrect answers lost all their wagered points.
Long story short: Executives improved their customer knowledge, loved the game, and referred back to it for months afterward.