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What is gamification?

Gaming mechanisms can drive consumer engagement, but can adding a gaming layer also drive employee engagement?

One estimate puts the amount of time people spend playing Angry Birds as being in the region of 16 years. Every hour. Of every day. Farmville has a monthly active user base of 18,300,000, including some 3,200,000 daily users. World of Warcraft, the world's most successful massively multiplayer online game, has a user base of 9.1 million. Down from the 12+ million it could once claim but still impressive.

But, outside of businesses trying to make a buck from gamers, does any of this matter for organisations? Proponents of gamification argue that it does.

"Just imagine if you could hook that level of engagement into the workplace and hook together the business performance and an individual's career through such mechanisms," says Ian Sharpe, principal consultant at UXC Consulting.

"There's no doubt at that level of commitment we could have far stronger business results and a far greater buy in to where we're trying to achieve and move the business towards."

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Gamification is employing some of the mechanics found in games to foster engagement. This can be for the purposes of building a loyal customer base and directly increasing revenue by promoting a product, but it can also be through changing how an organisation engages its employees internally or the use of game-style elements to make dealing with data easier.

The concept can frequently been found at the heart of social networks; Foursquare's system of badges, for example. But it can also encompass something as simple as a progress bar, which gives a person a visual indication of how much more effort they need to put in to achieve a goal (a new badge for their social networking account, a free coffee, an extra 'level' for their account). The aim is ultimately the same: Get the person to engage in a certain set of desired behaviours.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia's home loans division has employed gamification to boost revenue. It's 'Investorville' app lets consumers go through a simulated process of property investment, with the aim of making people feel more comfortable about signing up for a CBA home loan.

Enterprises have sought to draw on elements from games to drive productivity, adding a gaming layer to help workers grapple with complex tasks or analyse masses of data in a visual way, taking advantage of the human brain's capacity for pattern recognition. At the SAP Gamification Cup in 2011, a team demonstrated an interface that could depict a manufacturing plant, complete with its links to customers and vendors.

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