In Business, Play Is Essential to Success

By implementing a suite of badges, points and levels, and missions via a gamification component, my client saw quick results in his social business initiative. A group of advocates stepped forward in the community, enthralled by the rewards and recognition that gamification provides. This group also increased the amount of valuable content in the community and encouraged others to participate. Looking to broaden adoption of the community and integrate it into more business processes, my client sought deeper connections among members and more opportunities to migrate collaboration to the virtual space. We began to discuss the role of play within his organization as a way to bring more enterprise-wide and team interactions into the community. Instead of talking about what behaviors we would reward, we began to design virtual pathways for members to complete tasks and collaborate, integrating the intellectual and emotional experience of real-life interactions.

Social business integrates game theory by it’s very nature - collaboration is part of the social chemistry inherent to playing games. Purposeful integration of game design into a social business strategy should be on your enterprise’s short list. A thoughtful and strategic game strategy that reflects your organizational values can crowdsource solutions to complex problems and help people develop new skills. Is social business ready to be move beyond tactical gamification tools such as badges and points to strategic initiatives and holistic designs that harness the social mechanics of play?

Constellation Research has defined gamification as “a series of design principles, processes and systems used to influence, engage and motivate individuals, groups and communities to drive behaviors and effect desired outcomes.” Effective gamification has benefits ranging from reducing innovation costs to increasing brand awareness to educating and training employees. The application of game mechanics in non-game environments, such as enterprise collaboration technology, is starting to appear everywhere.

Points and badges - game tactics that are focused on activity and rewards - have received much of the focus in the technology and toolsets that support social business. Developments in technology platforms illustrate these efforts - Bunchball, Badgeville and other solutions, for example. These motivational tactics have shown results in improving performance management, helping employees reach goals and develop new skills.

However, are we seeing true business value from these initiatives? In Forbes, Gartner predicted that 80% of these components will fail to meet their goals due to poor design. Time has come to move beyond points and badges and integrate the mechanics and chemistry of play and experience design into your social business strategy. Its

Engage leadership and identify your organizational values.  As with any social business initiative, ensure you have engaged leadership for the enterprise game component as well. Identify your organization’s values and explore where play fits into your organizational structure. Games provide structure as well as spontaneity - can you make room for play within your culture?

Research the players, or personas, that will be participating, contributing, and advocating within and on behalf of your organization. Think in terms of a design persona framework - the players within a larger experience. Research and identify belief systems, behaviors, and motivations of your key participants within the game experience you are set to create. Connect where your organizational objectives work with these players to realize value for both the enterprise and the play persona.

Invest in research-based design processes to create a player-centered game experience. Engage the disciplines of interaction design and usability together to create a holistic experience. Nicole Lazzaro, president of XEODesign, has identified the keys in creating a successful game experience including: hard fun, easy fun, serious fun, and people fun. Compelling, player-centered game design will captivate your participants, increase engagement, and lead to greater rewards. Successful gamification efforts result from purposeful design.

Make space for the players to create their story. Successful game design is less about the story that designers and organizations tell in the game environment and more about making space for players to create (and tell) their own story. In her research, Lazzaro borrows the Italian word “Fiero” for the player’s emotional state in a personal triumph or epic win. Allowing and supporting game participants in sharing their stories and creating a larger narrative is a key to successful game design. When the hero wins in a game aligned with your values, the organization wins, too.

Engagement and collaboration are quickly becoming the focus of organizational gamification components. In November 2013, Altimeter Group released research which details several enterprise use cases for gamification. Altimeter recommends finding out what incentives and processes work as organizations develop a comprehensive, integrated social business strategy. Research and discovery into business objectives at the executive level as well as design personas for players in the game experience should be a top priority for any enterprise seeking value from gamification.


Gamification and social business are interdisciplinary efforts that require collaboration among experience design, marketing, communications, information technology, and human resources. Engaging, researching, designing, and creating space for player-centered games will lead to social business success. Inviting play into your organization will create space in your social business for everyone to achieve an epic win!