Gamification = Zombies + TimeSheets + Omar

“I knew zombies would be chasing me” Danielle Simon told me – “but then a helicopter crashed and it was up to me to run for medical supplies!” The app Zombies Run! applies many of the techniques of Gamification to motivate behavior. Turns out having a zombie on your heels is very motivating: that day Danielle ran a half mile further than she typically runs.

ZombiesDanielle is Senior BizDev Manager at a company called Badgeville. Badgeville is in the business of Gamification. By now we all sort of know what this means – or at least we think we do. Danielle told me that Gamification is not about play, it’s a serious business that sits at the intersection of technology and lifestyle and behavioral psychology. It rests on the past 4 decades of psychology learning.

Whether its the threat of the Zombie apocalypse, or the community support of Fitocracy that engages you to lose that 10 lbs; whether your competitive co-workers are pressuring you on the leader board, or you made it to a new level in your professional training, or you’ve finally completed that profile, it could well be that that your behavior has been managed. The components that make this work: rewards, feedback, competitive scoring, levels – are called Game Mechanics, so clearly Game Mechanics is far much more than just badges.

Danielle says sometimes she wishes it was not called Gamification (and I wonder if they wish they weren’t called Badgeville which sounds to me like the Boy Scouts). So when pitching her wares to ad agencies, she pivots quickly to call it Behavior Management – this language helps agencies when they talk to clients who may not be in a game-playing frame of mind.

Gamification is not an end in itself, nor is it about making games. It is a tactic that can be employed to solve a problem, applying the tools of Game Mechanics to Behavior Management and Motivation Design. The problems addressed could be the effectiveness of employee training programs, or the nightmare of getting time sheets completed; it could be implementing a physical therapy program or teaching kids their multiplication tables. A brand can apply Gamification across the entire lifetime of a customer relationship, to help lower acquisition costs and manage loyalty. These are all serious areas where Behavior Modification is the ..er ..name of the game.

Sometimes the technique is manifested in a very simple idea – the no-brainer, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that execution. When LinkedIn added a graphic that visualized and quantified how far you had completed your profile, it understood the competitive best-in-class spirit of the LinkedIn user who just had to get their progress bar up to 100%. This simple tactic led to a 20% increase in profile completion. This is strong stuff and it works.

Major brands across many sectors are already in the game: American Express, IBM, Samsung, VW Kaiser Permanente. It is predicted that by 2014 70% of the global 2000 will have at least one Gamified app.

In the words of The Wire’s Omar Little “It’s all in the game yo. All in the game.” And he knew a thing or two about Behavior Modification!