Natalia has a Master’s degree in International Business and a Ph.D. in Marketing from NHH. She is also organizing an upcoming conference in Bergen on May 19 which will focus on the growing trend of gamification and how it can be applied to business in order to improve motivation, reward progress, and foster teamwork through competition.
Why study gamification?
Q: Your background is in business and marketing… What interested you in gamification?
A: I started learning about gamification while I was teaching Social Media Marketing at the Norwegian School of Economics. They have a research program called FOCUS, which stands for Future-Oriented Corporate Solutions. As part of that program, we created a project on how to use gamification to increase work motivation among knowledge workers (e.g. engineers, consultants, public accountants, lawyers, and academics, whose job is to “think for a living”). At the time, we were looking into multiple applications of the gamification concept. The problem with knowledge workers is that they are simply not motivated by traditional incentives and are looking for other unique ways to keep themselves engaged. Most of them are younger, very creative types who are not motivated by just the money. They are mostly motivated by looking for more interesting ways to grow and learn with new tasks. They want some type of unique rewards system that can track their progress and provide incentives for achieving goals. So, gamification seemed like a very good fit to solve their needs and we began looking into how we could use it to motivate this type of people. Many companies have achieved good results, so I hope to continue studying more companies in order to find out what kind of solutions have worked for them.
Q: Is gamification just a trend or will it really become a major part of life and business in the near future?
A: This question is difficult to answer; but in my opinion, gamification has created great results that give reason to believe that its use will continue to increase in the future. Predictive trends from M2 Research suggest that the gamification market will grow into a several billion dollar per year market by 2016. More research is coming as this market has become a focus of attention recently for many private and public institutions. More people are becoming aware of gamification and it seems that these solutions have created promising proof that it will continue to grow. People don’t want to just earn money; they want interaction.
How is gamification different in Norway?
Q: What is your experience with the use of gamification in Norway, where competition is viewed differently than it is in the USA, for instance?
A: The United States has a much more established gamification market. In general, Norway has a less competitive culture than that of the USA. There are clear culture differences in the way we view competition. However, this is changing as Norway’s younger generation is becoming more competitive in general. For instance, with our average income already being quite high, we find that many young Norwegians are looking for new challenges. They want something more out of life than traditional incentives and they need something new to drive them forward in their career goals. So, I believe that gamification will prove quite a useful tool here. On the other hand, some people may dislike the idea because it goes against Janteloven.
Q: In your research, how have you found Norwegians to respond to the idea of awards, competitions, and other features in the workplace?
A: This is actually my current stage of research. The response so far is that people like it. However, as I said, there is a fear to introduce the concept of “winners and losers” here, so we must be quite careful in how we approach the subject. For instance, the concept of winning or losing is common in the USA, but we don’t like to look at things that way. What happens when you constantly lose? What happens to their motivation then? Does gamification then actually become demotivating? Are there ways to use competitions to build teamwork rather than be purely competitive about it? Also in terms of the generational gap, mostly young people like it. Older employees seem to be less interested in gamification or unlocking awards or badges.
Does gamification actually work?
Q: Do you think that gamification can really increase motivation or is it just a gimmick?
A: Gamification can work but it requires new changes relatively often; otherwise, people will become bored again. This is difficult to do because it requires many people working with psychology, software, business development, and other skills just to design these things, but that is what it takes to capture attention now. I think perhaps we will start to see more focus on storylines to bring a deeper element than what just badges and points can offer.
Q: What are some of the most exciting uses of gamification that you have seen?
A: One of the coolest uses I’ve seen for gamification is “Super Better” by Jane McGonigal, which is a game that helps people through real-life health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury. You create a profile and login to solve life challenges. The game walks you through difficulties and helps you set goals, such as weight loss, running a marathon, increasing happiness, etc. Also, it helps you learn how to tackle tough life challenges in positive ways.
Another unique application developed in the Netherlands was called “SmartGate” , which was used to train employees how to use a complex new logistics system. Instead of training and meetings, they trained them via game. Their challenge was that they had so many companies involved in the total airport logistics process that bringing everyone in for training and meetings was impossible. Instead, they used gamification which made it easier, reduced time and saved money.
What is the future of gamification?
Q: What problems do you hope gamification solves in the future?
A: I hope that gamification will motivate people to do things like be more environmentally friendly by rewarding recycling or solve personal struggles such as with what Jane McGonigal has done. I hope that we learn to continue to make un-fun tasks more fun by creating new ways to improve motivation for doing them.
Q: Tell us a bit about the upcoming gamification conference?
A: The gamification conference is organized by the University of Bergen, the Centre for Innovation at the Bergen University College and the Hordaland County. It will be held at the University of Bergen on May 19. Many companies have been interested in learning more about what gamification is and how it works; so, we hope to bring in some professionals to do theoretical lectures on gamification and also some companies who use gamification to talk about why they use it and how well it has worked for them.
Q: 5 years from now, how do you believe that gamification will be used?
A: Gamification seems to still be a growing trend for many different reasons and I believe that we will see it interwoven into the “internet of things”, which is on the horizon of our near future. As our research on this subject grows and as our learnings based on research also grows, I think that gamification will become a part of many everyday activities. Undoubtedly, it will morph with the rapid growths in technology, but in some manner, it will certainly continue to be a regular part of our lives.
Gamification can be a fun and interesting way to provide new motivations and break the cycle of monotiny. However, the novelty of even the best thought out strategies eventually fades. In order to keep it from being just a gimmick, gamification must actually add value. Norwegians, in particular, tend to be more careful when implementing competitive elements. This creates a unique finding then, because perhaps this helps to shed light on how gamification will mold to existing cultural norms as the technology behind it develops. What are your thoughts?