Gamification is on the rise and has become one of business’ recent buzzwords. But what are we talking about? Defined as the use of game design mechanisms in non-gaming contexts, the term gamification was first introduced in 2002 by computer programmer Nick Pelling. The concept, which borrows elements from game thinking, has been recently used to address challenges in different fields, such as recruitment, learning, employee engagement, and retention.

Although the idea behind gamification has been around for a while, it is only in the last four years that attention has grown exponentially – up to the point that some critics report an abuse of the term. Market research, however, suggests that there is more beyond the hype. According to a Gartner survey, 70% of Forbes Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application by 2014; whilst Markets and Markets estimated that by 2018 the gamification industry will be worth $5.5 billion – a remarkable +67% increase from today.

What seems to be evident is that gamification has brought tangible benefits to business, such as the ability to reach a larger audience, connect with prospective employees, and promote employer branding. An example includes My Marriot Hotel, a game launched on social media platforms which gave players the task of managing a hotel kitchen. Marriot’s application has been quite successful, not only in terms of audience response, but also since it has been able to meet a recruitment and educational need at the same time. Whilst contributing to reduce a chronic employee shortage, My Marriot Hotel also introduced the target audience (primarily young candidates with limited work experience) to the world of hospitality.

Similarly, L’oreal’s Brandstorm offered its users the opportunity to become virtual brand managers and design a new product line for the company. By stimulating people’s natural tendency to compete, the application combined elements from games, such as prizes and team cooperation, with tangible rewards, as the possibility for users to see their product launched.

Possibly the quintessential example of “gamified” application is America’s Army, an interactive online game developed by US Army which reached a large-scale success and went through different releases. Far from being only a cost-effective recruitment tool, America’s Army has contributed to increase engagement and retention levels among the workforce.

The applications listed above should have given a hint of the potential of gamification for business purposes. Organisations willing to reap the benefits should however take a couple of things into consideration. Firstly, gamification isn’t necessarily the ideal solution to all their problems. Employers should start first by identifying their needs and present challenges, and then reflect whether gamification is the right tool to address those specific needs. Game design stage is also vital. As often the case in the game industry of the digital age, competition between different producers is fierce and applications tend have a short attention span.

Article by Sergio Russo