By Samantha Barnes, International Banker
In a world vying mercilessly for our sustained attention, businesses globally are now pursuing increasingly creative methods to achieve this goal. Gamification represents one of the most interesting—and in some instances, the most contentious—of those methods.
Gamification describes the application of game-style mechanics to traditionally non-game contexts. As humans, we tend to possess a natural proclivity towards entertaining activities, particularly those with a competitive dimension. And when rewards are up for grabs, we are invariably even more motivated to perform to the best of our abilities. This is where gamification can function—and has been functioning in many cases—as a highly effective incentive mechanism. Indeed, it is already having a profound impact across a multitude of applications—with both positive and negative consequences, it must be added—as stakeholders seek new methods of user engagement.
Take health and fitness as just one example. The introduction of game-like mechanisms and challenges can prove significant in helping to boost one’s health. A 2019 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association sought to assess the effectiveness of support, collaboration and competition within a behaviourally designed gamification intervention to increase physical activity among overweight and obese adults, using a sample of 602 participants who were entered into a 24-week game. The game itself involved being awarded points for meeting one’s walking “step goals” and then being promoted/demoted through various levels: blue, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The study found that all three “gamification interventions significantly increased physical activity during the 24-week intervention, and competition was the most effective”; in other words, people exercised more when their experiences had been gamified.
Or what about learning? Applying a game-like challenge to educational activities can seriously enhance the capacity to take new concepts onboard or improve one’s skillset. A 2015 study found that the inclusion of gamified elements such as points, badges, achievements, leaderboards and levels “resulted in positive effects on learner motivation among post-secondary students”. By integrating the benefits of such game-like components into traditionally game-free environments such as school learning, therefore, new life can be breathed into typically sterile environments, driving greater levels of engagement and, ultimately, reaching higher levels of attainment than would otherwise be possible.
Indeed, it would seem that as far as its use across educational applications is concerned, gamification is already on a decidedly steep upward trajectory. According to a 2017 industry research report from MarketsandMarkets, gamification in the education market is projected to grow from $450 million in 2018 to $1.8 billion by 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32 percent. Underpinning this spectacular growth, according to the report, is the increasing adoption of digital learning and cloud computing among organisations to motivate learners to adopt web-based gamification solutions. It also noted that the North American region will lead the market due to the presence of a large number of prominent educational institutes and their focus on interactive education, which is leading to the growth of the market in the region.
Similarly, employee engagement and productivity can be seriously bolstered from the gamification of certain aspects of the job. A 2019 “Gamification at Work” survey of almost 900 employees by cloud-based learning management system TalentLMS underlines just how pivotal gamification can be for better results. Respondents said that gamification made them feel more productive (89 percent) and happier (88 percent) at work; 83 percent of those who received gamified training felt motivated; 61 percent of those who received non-gamified training felt bored and unproductive; 89 percent believed they’d be more productive if their work was more gamified; and 78 percent of respondents said that gamification in the recruiting process would make a company more desirable. What’s more, the survey found that gamification in the workplace significantly improved employee engagement, motivation and psychology.
And while most of us will instantly imagine online games with high-powered graphics when we think of the word gamification, even the simplest incentive mechanisms can technically be classed as a game. The loyalty card you receive from your coffee shop, the Air Miles you use for air travel after purchasing certain goods and services or using certain credit cards and the points you receive from Foursquare by simply checking in to a certain location are all examples of incentivised games, albeit rather basic ones. They all remain fun ways for users to engage with applications and businesses, and the opportunities to be rewarded for their loyalty only incentivises them further.
Of course, not every opportunity to gamify yields completely positive results. Arguably the example of gamification in the financial realm that has received the most scrutiny in recent months has been Robinhood. With the coronavirus pandemic having triggered the closure of physical gambling venues, the phenomenal popularity of an app that enables its users to trade stocks and exchange-traded funds should perhaps come as no surprise in this climate. But it is the nature of the service that the Robinhood platform provides its users that is causing much concern. In particular, the user interface offers a game-like experience that aims to make the investing experience more enjoyable than has traditionally been the case. The app uses visual aids such as confetti celebrations when users make successful trades, for instance. It has a significant following on social-media platforms such as TikTok, which only further emphasises the “fun” element.
Such concerns prompted Massachusetts regulators to file a complaint against Robinhood on December 16, which alleged that the online brokerage had failed to act in its users’ best interests. Robinhood’s “aggressive tactics to attract inexperienced investors, its use of gamification strategies to manipulate customers, and its failure to prevent frequent outages and disruptions on its trading platform” were all cited in the complaint. “Treating this like a game and luring young and inexperienced customers to make more and more trades is not only unethical, but also falls far short of the standards we require in Massachusetts,” noted the state’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin.
Robinhood’s chief executive officer, Vlad Tenev, who appeared in front of the U.S. Congress in February to account for his company’s actions during the GameStop trading frenzy in late January, insisted that Robinhood does not enable the gamification of investing. “Even though we have made investing easier, we recognise it is not a game,” Tenev said in the testimony, adding that the app only occasionally confers confetti on its users. “I am confident that the easy-to-use interface enables customers to understand, control, and direct their finances in a responsible way.”
But given the scrutiny that applications such as Robinhood now face, will we see a decline of potentially harmful uses of gamification commencing in the near future? Not according to Larry Tabb, Bloomberg Intelligence’s director of market structure research. “Lawsuits against Robinhood, Charles Schwab and other brokers have little chance of success, we believe, and potential enforcement penalties are likely to be low,” Tabb said in mid-February. “A congressional review adds to the drama, but new regulatory risk is probably minimal.”
Indeed, the potential value stemming from implementing more game-like features over the next few years is expected to be substantial, with businesses now greatly focused on using games to drive engagement and fuel closer interactions between consumers and a business’s products and services as well with the actual business itself. And perhaps not surprisingly, gamification is proving crucial across numerous use cases while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps much of the global population at home and confined to the online world. In that context, the internet, video games and smartphones are all proving to be powerful platforms for users to access gamified offerings.
Indeed, even just the idea of a fun activity during these challenging times can be hugely uplifting. Much of the world has undergone difficulties over the last year, the nature and severity of which people may never experience again in their lifetimes. The simple notion of introducing an even mildly entertaining game—whether that be whilst working from home, taking online classes or even simply trying to maintain one’s fitness levels—can be transformative in helping people stay positive and upbeat at a time when it might be easier than usual to lose motivation. As such, the power of gamification should not be underestimated.