‘Gamification’ in Enterprise iPad Applications

Is it for real?

A Little About 'Gamification'

'Gamificiation' describes a recent trend of adding non-essential game-like functionality to applications to increase customer engagement and loyalty. The idea is been with us for many years in many forms, but 2011 seemed to be the year of the Gamification Company - businesses built to help you, Enterprise, bring this fun into your web, desktop, and mobile applications.

The phenomenon is beginning, to be sure. The simplest and one of the largest early examples is Foursquare. Foursquare created a points based system for checking in to your favorite locations and being able to promote that loyalty. Never before had being the Mayor of the Laundromat been cool. Even Microsoft is working on ways to help you feel good and tell the world about taking out the garbage.

For many, gamification is an extension or a method of 'simplicity' - a method to take a complex process and break it down into smaller achievements. This has the lure of making an seemingly tiresome and tedious enterprise process fun and rewarding as these "achievements" roll in. Some very large organizations are building this approach into their enterprise systems, finding ways to reward their employees with points for participating as...employees.

Is Gamification For Your Business?

This post is not to justify or critique gamification in Enterprise systems. Personally, I believe there are very valid scenarios where this approach has merit, including the tracking and sharing of training achievements, rewarding participation in company message boards or knowledge base, and for exceeding expectations in customer service, etc. And I'm sure applications outside of these examples are successful, even if they do produce a full eye-roll from the end-user as they're rewarded for completing something they've done a thousand times prior.

My concern is that businesses will eventually feel that this approach is a mandatory aspect of process building. That it somehow is the trade off of simplicity. "If we can't make it simple, we'll make it a game."

Brent Simmons from inessential nails it in his post:

Everybody sees the trend toward simpler, more-focused, better-designed software. Enterprise developers see the consumerization of IT.

You could look at this trend and say, "As software improves, it respects its users more. It works better and looks better, is easier to learn, and leaves out the things that waste a user's time."

Or you could look at this trend and say, "As software gets simpler, it gets dumbed-down -- even toddlers can use iPads. Users are now on the mental level of children, and we should design accordingly. What do children like? Games."

...It should be obvious that one conclusion respects people and one doesn't

Managing Simplicity in Enterprise iPad Applications

The largest challenge we face in designing iPad specific applications for the Enterprise is simplicity. It's a design balance, and an incredibly difficult thing to do well. Enterprise systems are built to manage large amounts of customer data, handle all customer scenarios, and be a driver of internal processes. The applications we're building on the iPad are designed to focus in on a customer at a time - to maximize the benefit from the time we have sitting with a customer. An application designed to complete a customer scenario via an elegant and simple process. To hopefully get technology out of the way - allowing multiple Enterprise systems to provide data to the scenario in a single application.

This, however, doesn't happen all the time. At times, Enterprise systems or requirements force us to put steps into the process that are not "customer beneficial" - steps that are required by the current back office process or systems, not our customers. We constantly challenge our customers on ways to bypass these needs or force situations into our 80/20 mantra, but that's not always possible. When we've discussed introducing gamification techniques in applications in these situations, it has always felt forced; that we've crossed over from respecting the end-user to manipulating them - almost bordering on patronizing them.

As we move forward as an organization that designs Enterprise Mobile strategies, we'll continue to strive for efficiency of design in all applications. When that is not attainable and we're required to include functionality that is not beneficial to the scenario at hand, we look for ways to make those requirements as unobtrusive and 'automatic' as possible.

My concern is that businesses will eventually feel that this approach is a mandatory aspect of process building. "If we can't make it simple, we'll make it a game."

The time of your end-users is precious, especially the time when they're in front of your customers, resellers, and partners. Respect their time. Respect their needs for information consumption and presentation when they interact with their customers. And finally, respect that fact that your end users know what processes are valuable to their customers and which are not.

Gamification may have a place in Enterprise systems as discussed above, but when it comes to applications that are built to drive revenue, close deals, and present your business to your prospects, customers, and partners, let's work to find other methods.

If you liked this article, follow me on twitter at @ericjohncarlson. Read more about how we help our clients get started with our iPad App Portfolio Definition Workshop, or grab our new eBook on How to Realize the True Benefit of the iPad in the Enterprise.

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Eric Carlson

Partner at Propelics
Eric is a seasoned leader with a keen eye for emerging technologies. He is well respected in both technical and business circles, due to his ability to match up the right amount of technology "geekiness" with business understanding to craft truly unique solutions. As a seasoned executive, with startups through successful exits to his name, Eric has the experience to advise companies on the discipline and objective approaches that are needed to turn ideas into reality. Eric can be reached at eric.carlson@propelics.com or on twitter at @ericjohncarlson.
  • http://zacshaw.com Zac Shaw

    I respect your comments as those of a healthy skeptic, and admit mine are probably a bit rose-colored by my enthusiasm. However, I don't know about that quote nailing anything. Gamification is about engagement, not dumbing down UI to a game. That engagement is driven by the desire that each one of us has to be rewarded for our achievements. Many people mistake 'gamification' for turning a platform into a game (for children) when really it's creating a system of incentives (for adults) using the same kind of strategy that's been in luxury loyalty programs for decades. Only now, technology makes earning achievements and points much more fun and engaging.

    I'm afraid Mr. Simmons doesn't quite understand what the goal of gamification is -- the phrase "What do children like? Games" is utterly awful and infers that adults don't like games. Adults love games, but our responsibilities prevent us from engaging in games with frivolous purposes. Now as our responsibilities take on gamified elements, we can lead more fulfilling, productive lives. Simmons' argument assumes our gamified platforms have frivolous ends, but one look at any of the enterprise gamification providers proves the absurdity of that assumption.

    Gamification actually respects people in a way that technology often fails -- by making tasks more fun and rewarding. The so-called 'consumerization of IT' is just tech not being for geeks anymore. Revolts against this trend are the same sort of cyclical hipster gag reflex that happens when someone 'liked it before it was easy to use or understand'.

    Your concern that businesses might start saying, "If we can't make it simple, we'll make it a game" assumes that gamification is easy. Sure, it's not rocket science -- but designing a balanced system of incentives often involves complicated algorithms, estimates and analysis of platform use informed by hard metrics... not to mention the intense creative assets needed to create an engaging on-brand design experience, or the additional customer service burden of supporting a game experience in addition to your regular user experience.

    Truth is, gamification is just as difficult as designing any UI. In fact, it's part and parcel of UI design now, to criticize it as a weird external force isn't quite right. In my opinion and limited experience, gamification is the most exciting thing to happen to technology in years and will be the overall direction of UI/UX for the Web over the next several years. A change that massive doesn't happen without some mistakes along the way -- I'm sure the nightmare scenario you described will come true many times. I get more surprised every time I read an article cautioning against the pitfalls of gamification -- the benefits so far outweigh them.

    • http://www.propelics.com/ Eric Carlson

        First off, thanks for the great comment and happy new year to you.  Sorry for taking so long to reply.

      I appreciated the comment, and maybe I was a little strong with the "nails it" moniker to define Brent's post.  My focus of this post was gamification as a goal for Enterprise iPad applications specifically.  Many organizations are beginning to build their own tablet strategies - either previous to or after purchasing these tablets (typically iPads) for their employee base.  It's an interesting time for this market as companies see the benefit for tablet use just for simple email and personal productivity apps, but the business is now asking "Okay, what's next?  How can we change the way we sell and service customers using these devices?" 

      Which is great, and the reason we started Propelics.  We see tremendous opportunity for organizations to simplify processes and application controls on the iPad - leaving the 'heavy lifting' back on the laptop, and focusing on the 4-5 key steps and functionality on the iPad that will shorten sales or service cycles, wow customers, and close deals. 

      Simplifying processes is easier said than done, however.  Especially when you start factoring in varying steps based on customer type, deal type, product type, incentives, sales commissions, etc.   We try to bring these complex sales processes down to the very basics needed to 'move the needle' as it were.  What functionality, content, and processes do we need to build trust in our customer of our solution and company?  Anything outside of this functionality, I feel, shouldn't be a part of these Enterprise Apps - including, in my view, gamification.  

      When it comes to gamification in the Enterprise in general, I just want to point out one correction to your comment:

      "Your concern that businesses might start saying, "If we can't make it
      simple, we'll make it a game" assumes that gamification is easy."

      This is not my assumption at all - gamification looks incredibly difficult to me.  I think it would be quite challenging to put in gaming type achievements on bland tasks within the Enterprise - at least in a way that doesn't annoy the end user and make the situation worse.  It seems quite challenging.

      My point in that quote was about process simplification.  Organizations work against a constant head-wind of "we've always done it this way."  We've seen this for the past 15 years - processes and steps that are performed because "that's what we do because group 'x' needs it this way."  When group 'x' only performs these tasks to satisfy the processes from other groups, etc.  Horribly complex processes being evolved because as an organization grows, it becomes exponentially more difficult to un-ravel the process nest.  And there typically isn't a group internally built to handle this reengineering. 

      So how many organizations are thinking about gamification of poor processes instead of process reengineering?  Not that gamification is easier to implement, but is it the better choice?

  • Kathy Sierra

    Most gamification today is based on operant conditioning... The use of positive reinforcement (rewards) to increase and enhance some desired behavior from the user. Skinner showed us all that even a pigeon can be "trained" through the reward system to perform missile guidance. Casinos use this quite well, tweaking and tuning slot machines to achieve the perfect "reward schedule" (intermittent variable produces the greatest behavior strengthening).

    If we treat people like Skinner rats, I would say that counts as disrespect. There are strong and useful exceptions, of course, and these almost always fall into the health, fitness, wellness categories where you are using positive reinforcement (+r) to help stimulate someone to do *what they already really WANT to do*. (as opposed to what YOU want them to do).

    But far worse and far more dangerous to society as a whole is the problem described in the popular book by Dan Pink, Drive, but based on decades of research collected under the banner of "Self-Determination Theory". This research exposes the counter-intuitive but potentially damaging effect when using extrinsic rewards (the basis of virtually ALL gamification today) for something that might otherwise be intrinsically rewarding (which is the basis of most good games... They are pleasurable for their own sake, not BECAUSE you get the reward).

    The biggest problem I see today is that the distinctions between what is "safe" gamification (like health, fitness, etc.) vs. Potentially DE-motivating gamification (a lot of education, employee gamification, and user-experiences fall into this danger zone) are not being made. They are not being made because they are subtle and complex and require a very deep dive into the research. Most gamification proponents are from a marketing background, and that lends itself to a more short-term engagement rush approach -- which positive reinforcement excels at -- without concern for the long-term effects on sustainability, etc.

    One way to help recognize the issues with gamification is to look at the leaders in the space including consultants, those who speak at conferences, and especially the gamification platform providers and see whether they have actually used gamification *themselves*. Virtually all of them have little to no use of the very techniques they sell and promote, and when they do, they appear to be a complete fail (no engagement on their web sites, etc.). To me, this is a sign of snake-oil. If the products, methods, services they sell worked as promised, they would surely be the people who can best implement them on their own sites or to sell their own products. That isn't happening.

    In the tech world, companies offering solutions are viewed more skeptically if they are unable or unwilling to "eat their own dog food".

    • http://www.propelics.com/ Eric Carlson

      Kathy, thanks for the comment!