Every morning, the first thing I do is check my FanDuel app on my iPhone to see how my baseball roster did last night. FanDuel is an application that allows users to assemble a “roster” of sports players to compete against other users across the country. My interest in this game has eclipsed my interest for the actual baseball game. It has created a meta-game, which has in a weird way made me much more interested in a sport that I considered boring just a month ago.
The way in which FanDuel has made sports like baseball so much more interesting could be referred to as “gamification”. The term came into the English language in 2008 and began to be used with popularity in late 2010. The definition of gamification is contentious, but essentially it boils down to the act of turning mundane tasks into games for the purpose of interesting customers or workers.
This concept of gamification has recently been defined and explored, but is by no means new. In his 1936 business book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie recounts a story in which steel magnate Charles Schwab would encourage workers by writing in chalk a huge number on the floor of one of his steel mills. This number represented the amount of steel produced on that day. The number became a sort of record board, one that Schwab used to foster competition between the two shifts working the mill. Soviet Russia implemented a similar system, dubbed Stakhanovism after a legendary Russian worker who purported to have mined 102 tons of coal in six hours. Every year, the soviets would recognize and reward the greatest producers of steel every year at a conference. These strategies appealed to a basic human desire for recognition and competition – Schwab and these soviets did not create this desire, they merely put it to use for their own ends.
In modern times, companies are looking to apply these principles of gamification not only to their workers but also to their customers. Game designer Tadhg Kelly divides gamification strategies into three categories – validation, completion, and prizes. A validation strategy offers some sort of visual notification for completing an action, such as a retweet or a like. Reddit’s karma system operates in this manner. Reddit gives its users karma for posting or commenting on the site. For many users, this karma becomes a reward – a sort of visual validation for contributing to the site.
The Nike Fitbit offers an example of a completion strategy – one in which users are encouraged to complete a task either once or multiple times. The Fitbit sets step “goals” for every day. This means that the user must reach a certain amount of “steps” each day. The main focus for users of the Fitbit is completing this goal – the health benefits of these steps just come along for the ride. This feature allows Nike to win in two ways – it makes its product more fun, and it bring its users higher success in terms of its weight loss function.
Prizes offer a reward for loyalty or multiple uses of the same service. One example of a prize is the rewards program offered by Starbucks on its mobile app. The program is very simple – every drink purchased adds a point, and a user needs a certain amount of points to reach a new level. Each level comes with its own perks. The reward of being a Starbucks “gold member” solely through going there often is reason enough to encourage more visits.
Games can allow for new business ideas, such as FanDuel, which capitalise on turning an everyday activity into a game. Preexisting businesses can potentially invigorate their user base by implementing gamification programs such as those used by Starbucks and Reddit. There is something inherently human about the need to see validation, completion, and rewards even in the most trivial of tasks, and this is something that anyone in a startup can exploit.