Evangelizing Mainframe
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What Happened to Gamification?

A couple years ago, I can remember blogging excitedly about how the tricks from the games industry were going to be incorporated into all sorts of things to make life more fun. But, strangely enough, I’m not seeing too much of it around at the moment. What happened?

The word gamification was first used in 2002 by British games programmer and inventor Nick Pelling, although it wasn’t generally used until 2010. Gamification takes the best bits out of computer games and implements them into quite different software, so that other task becomes more fun and engages the users of that software.

You can see on websites like Tripadvisor that users are allocated reward points and badges for writing reviews and this, along with likes from other users, is enough to motivate reviewers to write more reviews about their trips. Other sites and other software engage in similar ways. For a game to be successful, the thinking is that players want to complete it and to master it, and they can do that by responding to fairly immediate feedback. And as they get better, players can move up to more challenging levels.

Gartner is still saying
that gamification is an “essential part” of any digital business strategy. And there are examples of gamification being used for roles that are relatively repetitive in nature and which have clearly measurable outcomes, such as in call centers. Staff can be incentivized to close calls quickly and accurately, record what they’ve done, and get points and badges, etc. The reason we haven’t heard much about great gamified software is that, often, the people who were performing well beforehand continue to be the best performers after gamification. It’s also important that the “game” educates staff and helps them to perform better.

So what’s going on in the brain of someone using gamified software? Well, if the software is designed properly, the players will be making more serotonin and dopamine (two neurotransmitters), and more oxytocin (a hormone) and endorphins (morphine-like neuropeptides).

Serotonin is often called the happy neurotransmitter. You make more when you’re feeling happy and when you remember past successes such as when you got a badge in a game. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with motivation. It’s released in your brain when you’re anticipating getting a reward and it strengthens the link between an activity and the consequences—i.e., learning takes place. Oxytocin is important in bonding (for couples, mothers and infants, etc). It’s also released when we’re engrossed in a story and we feel empathy towards the characters in the story. So, we feel warmth toward the game that we are playing. Endorphins are opioids, so they can reduce pain and also make us feel euphoric. It can be released when players overcome challenges in a game, making them feel good about themselves and giving them a sense of achievement.

So what’s the future of gamification? I think we will see it resurface and be used around those duller repetitive tasks with their measurable outcomes. I think successful implementations will involve staff understanding why it’s being done and them not feeling that Big Brother—in the 1984 sense—is watching their performance. I think it could be used with newcomers to some jobs to get them up-to-speed quite quickly in a fun way. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more apps on your smartphone or tablet making use of some of the ideas behind gamification—although I don’t want a game to get between me and some straightforward activity, such as checking my bank balance from my phone.

But—drawing on a gaming metaphor—it is a bit of a minefield and I’m sure that many attempts at gamifying software will fail because the game ideas won’t match the needs, experience or expertise of the players. Let’s see what happens with gamification in the next two years.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and for many years edited Xephon’s Update publications.

Posted: 2/17/2015 5:00:03 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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