Gamification Pioneer Talks Power of Behavior-Altering Games
Once just amusing pastimes for children, games have now become the equivalent of behavior modification ray guns aimed directly at our brains. Game mechanics such as leaderboards, points and virtual goods can harness human desires for social status and self-expression to encourage preteen exercise, lure TV fans to watch more hours of "Desperate Housewives of Atlanta" or "Top Chef," and spur productivity among sales teams.
The surging popularity of such "gamification" has opened the doors for companies such as Bunchball. The company started its main business by creating a website for NBC's TV show "The Office" in 2007, but then spent the next "three years of suck" struggling to find clients, said Rajat Paharia, founder of Bunchball. Its fortunes only changed in 2010 when the success of "Farmville" on Facebook and the startup Foursquare made people realize the power of gamification.
Currently, Bunchball is helping sponsor the Gamification Summit taking place in NYC from Sept. 15 16. Paharia stopped by to talk with InnovationNewsDaily before the event kicked off.
InnovationNewsDaily: Elements of gamification have existed before. Why do you think it has become a trend just now?
Paharia: It's the ability to track. Before, we didn't have the ability to track anything ; all you could track was customer purchases. Now companies like Warner Brothers are very forward thinking and realizing that loyalty to Warner Brothers isn't just a function of how many dollars people spend. It's also people visiting various movie sites, playing games, watching trailers, sharing on social networks; we need to be able to track and reward that as well. And now we can because of the Internet. Everything's live and wired. That ability to track everything has been the huge shift.
InnovationNewsDaily: Some social games, such as Zynga's "Farmville," have been criticized for simply pushing people's compulsion buttons. How does gamification avoid that trap?
Paharia: You've got to have good core content; all our customers have good content. What we're doing is wrapping game mechanics around it to drive engagement, participation, and loyalty behavior. That's the key difference. With a lot of social gaming, there's no core content. They get boring after a while because they're not new. That's why Zynga has to keep adding like 10,000 new layers of stuff at each stage. Now you have mastery, now you have specials, now you have Halloween stuff, every day they need to add something new because it gets boring.
InnovationNewsDaily: Do you think gamification will reach oversaturation when a majority of businesses have it in the future?
Paharia: I don't know. People often ask what happens when every site uses the stuff; are people going to get sick of it? Well let's look at social as a good example. Every site has added social. On sites I care about it, I interact with it, and on sites I don't, I ignore it. And that's it, because it doesn't bother me that it's there.
I think gamification is going to be the same way. On the sites where I care about being mayor or being number one on the achievement boards, I will do what it takes to do those things because I will care. On sites where I don't care, I won't, I'll just ignore it completely and consume the real reason I'm there the content that is the intrinsic value of the website.
InnovationNewsDaily: You've got clients using gamification in all sorts of ways. What area do you think is still untapped?
Paharia: We think that enterprise has been widely untapped. But the way things move is that there's a giant consumer role model that appears, and then the B2C (business-to-consumer) world looks at that and says "I can do that too," and then it trickles down to B2B (business-to-business) after that.
Take social networking as an example . MySpace explodes in 2005, and then within the next couple years every B to C site is adding social and commenting and friending and all that kind of stuff. And now it's finally making its way seriously into the enterprise, with things like as Jive and Salesforce Chatter and Yammer and things like that. And so it had to happen that way. You couldn't go straight into the enterprise with this stuff because they'd be like "What? We don't get it."
That's what we were actually trying to do with gamification for years. There was no giant consumer role model, and we were trying to sell to B2B guys and B2C guys, and they were like "We don't get it." Then, all of a sudden in 2010, Farmville and Foursquare really exploded and demonstrated the power of game mechanics to hundreds of millions of people, and everybody got it. Now that there has been a giant consumer role model, this stuff is definitely in the B2C space now; we're seeing a lot of traction in that area there with fan engagement and loyalty programs.
We believe the next step (B2B) is huge. If you can make employees easily adopt new systems, be more engaged with their jobs and perform better, there are huge, huge savings to be had, and revenue to be driven. So that's where we're focused going forward.