Gameification: How ‘Kids’ Games Transform Business

Anyone who has children or who has been around them for a while knows that kids, as well as young adults, are attracted to video games like flies are attracted to light. And, while older adults may think the kids are being lazy or using their time idly when they’re connected to their Wii or Xbox using a Kinect, in reality the kids are paving the way for business training and IT’s role in tomorrow’s companies.

How? It’s part of a future trend I first identified back in the 1980s that we are now calling gameification. Today, that growing trend is reaching a tipping point.

If you think back, you’ll see that many of the greatest technological advances in business have come from the world of kids and games. Actually, here’s the exact flow of events: a concept or technology often begins with kids and the world of gaming. Some will start with the military, but it’s amazing how many start with kids’ games. From there it gains the attention of the adults in the business community as they learn how to adapt it to their needs, and finally it creeps into the education sector. So in many respects, the adults and the business world can learn much from the kids and their video games.

To see the migration of how a concept goes from kids and games to adults and business, just look at the evolution of social media. At first, young people were the predominant ones on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Adults simply didn’t see the value of social media. After all, who really cared what you had for lunch or what outfit someone wore to the dance. As adults eventually took more and more interest in social media, many companies made formal policies forbidding employees from using Twitter and Facebook at work. But now that the business world has seen the relevancy of social media and how it can be a brand management, marketing, and collaboration tool, they’re embracing it, some even going so far as creating their own internal versions of Twitter and Facebook.

Granted, video games and social media are different technologies, but the concept migration pattern is still the same. And with game controllers like the Wii and Xbox Kinect giving people new ways of interacting with technology, the business world is currently on the threshold of being “gameified.”

All this affects IT in a big way.

A new interface

In the past, gaming was all about sitting in front of a computer or television screen and using a game pad, joystick, or keyboard playing against the computer or online opponent while sitting down — a passive activity. Thanks to the Nintendo Wii’s interactive nature, players stood up, got physically involved, and actually became a part of the game. Then Microsoft introduced the Kinect, which eliminates the need for a hand held controller entirely. Players use their hand motions and body movements to manipulate the game.

Thanks to Microsoft releasing a software development kit for the Kinect that allows programmers to create new applications, university students started taking this gaming concept and writing software that allows users to control business software using just hand motions — no keyboard or mouse. An early example would be if you want to go to the next page, you do a sweep of your hand across the screen without touching anything. You can sweep to the left, sweep to the right, scroll up, scroll down, and many other things.

But that’s just an early version of the software. The future application is much more exciting. Remember the movie Minority Report where the police were able to maneuver data in the air without touching anything? Today, that’s rapidly becoming more fact than fiction.

In fact, we’re now seeing major manufacturers using elements of this new interface model in their products. For example, Cadillac is experimenting with a variation of this software model that allows drivers to use hand gestures in front of the console to do common tasks. So if you want to raise or lower the volume of the radio, rather than take your eyes off the road and reach over to find the audio control knob, you would simply put your hand over to the right and lift it up or down. Just as kids are using their hand and body motions to control the game, drivers can use their hand and body motions to control features of their car.

If developers can apply this technology in automobiles, imagine where else it can go?

A convergence of roles

There are 78,000,000 baby boomers heading for retirement. In addition, technology is changing at a rapidly increasing pace. The ability to rapidly train new workers, as well as retrain existing employees, is now more than ever providing a major competitive advantage. Gameification will help all levels of your organization train and learn faster, from general new hire orientations to department specific education. In other words, as this gameification trend continues, which it will, IT’s role in company-wide, non-IT specific education and training will expand and converge.

Just like industries are converging, IT will converge with other departments.

For example, we can now see the world of telecommunications converging with the world of computers and the world of entertainment. Three industries that were once separate are now coming together and working together seamlessly. That’s just one example; there are many more. In that same way, we have functions within the organization that used to be very separate that are converging more and more because technology is enabling them. So, in the future, IT will be an even bigger part of HR, and education and training will be a key focus, all enabled by gameification.

The core of gameification

The heart of the gameification trend for IT is using interactive gaming as a tool to transform training company-wide. Based on 25 years of research, I’ve identified five core gaming elements that when applied together can dramatically accelerate learning. When you implement these five elements into training, people learn more in less time and have better results. So keep these elements in mind as you help develop and deploy training modules and initiatives.