If the phenomenon of Angry Birds and Farmville has shown us anything, it has been that a growing percentage of the public is addicted to gaming — and it's worth a billion dollar empire.
Businesses have now cottoned on and are trying to harness consumers’ addiction to games by deploying gaming techniques in products to add to their bottom line.
CIO Australia feature: What is gamification?
Gamification uses gaming techniques to engage customers or employees in an online environment. These techniques include using scoreboards to rank users, rating achievements, giving rewards and pitting users against each other to create competition.
One of the keys to successful gamification is recreating the simplified interface of games, according to Rodney Gedda, senior analyst at Telsyte.
“If anything’s going to be learned from gaming it’s that the user interfaces are designed to achieve certain things in a simplified fashion...whereas business applications tend to be…quite complex user interfaces that people don’t understand,” he says.
There are several benefits of gamification in the workplace. For example, it can be used in training materials as a simplified user interface where individuals earn points and rewards, according to Gedda. It can also be used to increase revenue through new customers.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has deployed gamification to increase revenue in its home loans division. Its Investorville app is a virtual app which encourages users to ‘invest’ in property using real data in a real-time situation. The aim of the app is to help them to “demystify” property investment and, of course, to sign up for a home loan with the bank.
The app was released in August 2011 and took about three months to build, with certain applications gleaned from the Commonwealth Bank’s Domain home loan app.
“We were familiar with using RP Data feeds, so a lot of the hard work and the complexity that sits in the back end of [Investorville] we were already used to dealing [with],” says Martin Whelan, general manager of consumer marketing at the Commonwealth Bank.
While many financial institutes have developed tools, such as home loan calculators, Whelan says the key to Investorville's success is that it employs both online tool elements and gaming functions.
“If it was just a tool, it would have been quite dull and probably uninteresting. We probably wouldn’t have gotten a customer to give us that information in a tool, but they actually are doing it in a game,” he says. “If you have that engagement you get a much…better outcome.”
Whelan says the growth in the digital world has meant companies have been forced to create a greater level of engagement with their customers and brand. Gaming processes, he says, can help facilitate this.
“The gaming process can actually push through a message or have some educational-type content to it or to move them towards the outcome that you want,” he says.
“It’s just another tool to drive engagement in a world which is much more interactive and much more social.”
This focus on customer engagement around the app, rather than being a technology focused app, is evident in the way the Commonwealth Bank created Investorville — it was initiated by the marketing department, not the IT department.
However, while the marketing budget was used for the app and a business case was not required for its development, Whelan says the team still had to ensure objectives were satisfied and revenue was positively impacted on.
Gamification trumps direct marketing?
A little more than 23,000 users have registered for Investorville since August last year, with 12 per cent of players visiting the Commonwealth Bank home loans page.
“I think the big difference between [Investorville] and a direct marketing campaign is it is one thing doing a campaign and trying to convert business, but it also does a much, much stronger job for our brand,” Whelan says.
“I think intuitively a game that you play and engage in is going to give you much more positivity around the brand and the experience you’ve given people than sending them what people think is nuisance mail.”
The app has also created a longer marketing tail than a direct marketing campaign, according to Whelan, with the app still generating revenue long after the campaign was launched.
While Whelan was questioned at a recent event held by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association on gamification about whether the Commonwealth Bank plans to introduce a multiplayer model, he says he is yet to see any financial benefit of doing this.
“Part of the reason for doing [Investorville] for us is to make sure that we’ve got quality leads coming out of it, and I think the danger is if you dial up the gaming elements too much, you end up with people just playing because it’s fun to play versus how [many people] we see as [prospective home loan users].
“We’re not in the business of creating games — we’re in the business of creating shareholder value through selling more investment home loans. Ultimately, that’s the purpose of it for us.”
The future of gamification
Whelan says while the Commonwealth Bank doesn’t call it gamification, the bank also uses the practice for in-house training modules. However, he says the company doesn’t see itself as a pioneer of gamification.
“I don’t think it matters [what you call it],” he says.
“I think the important thing is it’s an absolute tool towards embedding messages either with a consumer or in terms of training. It’s just a means of engaging people to get the message that you want across for a certain desired outcome.”
However, Gedda says due to the high saturation of games in the market, particularly on mobile devices, there is a danger of people becoming “fatigued” by gaming.
“Gaming, in general, is more prolific than it’s ever been and it’s also been used to harvest more information about people and being used for social in-game purchases…so the amount of gaming that we’re seeing generally is hitting us at more angles than it has before,” he says.
“There are question marks about whether the same concepts can successfully be applied to business processes and still engage people at a level of seriousness that they expect with a business process.
“Ideally you need to tread carefully with gamification before you can expect miraculous results or a business outcome that’s going to be more engaging than traditional methods.”
Like several new terms being used in the IT industry, Gedda says gamification is still an emerging concept and the benefits are still being realised.
However, “The sky is the limit when it comes to the gamification of business processes. The thing IT managers and CIOs need to look out for is whether it delivers any real value or not,” he says.
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