PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
"Gamification" isn't limited to public relations.
  Nor is it merely another buzzword.
© 2013; 2015 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations home page About the author

More and more people are playing more and more games in more and more places all the time. In fact, some observers claim that game-playing is now the second most popular activity on the Internet.

In light of this, many organizations are trying to make at least some of their business-oriented interactions with customers, clients, and/or employees more game-like in hopes of attracting and more effectively engaging these audiences. Public relations practitioners are doing the same; more and more of them now use techniques they call gamification.

"Gamification" (from the root word "game" and pronounced with a long A) was described by Jeremy Henderson in the November 2012 issue of IABC's CW Bulletin as "the infusion of gaming elements into business to create a fun, entertaining engagement experience for employees or customers." He further asserted: "Industries from education, design, and even government have found ways to integrate gaming into their businesses," and quoted Caroline Japic, a senior vice president of Bunchball, a company specializing in gamification, who claimed: "We are fundamentally changing the way people work and engage."

Henderson and Japic are not alone in making such assertions. Their article, "Gamification: Engaging employees one game at a time," was one of several articles featured in this special issue that dealt with gamification. A quick look around will reveal countless other journal articles and conference presentations addressing the same topic. Games and game-playing seem to be infusing all aspects of our culture and permeating the Internet, particularly social media sites. The impacts can be seen in a wide range of professional and academic disciplines from marketing, public relations, and human relations to education, social work, and psychology.


Playing games for serious purposes?

For some disciplines, gamification is a dramatically new idea that has broken new ground and created different ways of thinking about and relating to people. - Public relations and marketing are in this category. - Other disciplines including communication, education and psychology have had cutting-edge theorists and practitioners playing with ideas similar to gamification for decades. However, they weren't always in the mainstream of thinking in those disciplines, and they didn't use the term "gamification."

So, the concepts underlying gamification aren't new. Only the term and its new-found acceptance among mainstream thinkers are.


Attaching elements of game-playing to non-game activities.

A game can be as simple or as complex as its developers choose to make it and as players are willing to accept. Consider, for instance, the enormous range of differences between a simple game like Tic-Tac-Toe and an elaborate computerized/video-based game like Halo. Beyond being fun for players, the only requirements of a game are:

Gamification simply injects one or more of these elements into an everyday activity to make that activity more interesting, appealing, and/or engaging. It could make the procedure more interactive, or add competitive elements, or offer financial or emotional rewards, or merely boost its entertainment value with flashy visuals, catchy music, or sound effects.

Like games themselves, gamification can range from adding a simple, and inexpensive game-playing elements to an existing activity all the way up to creating a brand new, elaborate, complex and expensive fully-developed game.

Countless other examples of gamification are cited in professional journals. According to Kathryn Yates and Adam Wootton in "Putting the Fun into the Fundamentals of Effective Communication," an article published in the previously mentioned CW Bulletin for Nov. 2012: "Games are now ubiquitous. They are the second most popular activity on the Internet after social networks and well above email." This would make gamification one of the most important trends to impact our lives and culture in a long, long time. And, if that's the case, we should be asking ourselves if we're ready and able to "play" at a professional level.


Don't expect instant success. Engaging people with games doesn't always play out as expected.

As noted above, games and game-playing now blanket the Internet and seem to have reached into almost every aspect of our culture. There are, however, marked differences in the speed and intensity with which various demographic groups throw themselves into gaming. Generally, millenials and other young audiences are the most active game-players. So, most early adopters of business-oriented gamification assumed their greatest successes would be in attracting millenials and that they might face greater challenges in trying to lure older audiences into gamified interactions. However, that hasn't always been the case.

For instance, KPMG, the giant, international consulting firm, found that "millenials may be your most difficult audience to engage" when using gamification techniques. This rather surprising finding emerged from KPMG's recent gamification pilot project in Australia. It was reported online in the November 2014 issue of Communication World Magazine which included a linked podcast supported by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

As might be expected, the millenials involved in KPMG's experiment in Australia were among the very first and most eager to sign into a new online game that was presented to them as a new employee training/information program. But, what hadn't been anticipated was that they would also be among the most likely to sign off, or simply walk away, if the game-play didn't measure up to what they had come to expect from the other gaming they engage in. In fact, the reports point out that millenials "were the second most likely group to drop off and never play again."

Further analysis showed that the millenials' previous game-playing experience became a two-edged sword depending on the quality of games they played and "the average number of hours a week an employee plays video games. The more time an individual played games outside of work, the more likely they were to stop playing the KPMG game." Christian Gossan, KPMG's director of management consulting in Australia, explained: "If you do make these experiences too gamey, they are compared directly with video games that have tens of millions of dollars of budget to build." There's just no way that a typical, modest-budget, gamified business process can possibly measure up.

For me, these findings from KPMG are a welcome addition to the gamification literature which I used to consider unrealistically optimistic. These KPMG findings demonstrate that gamification is not the silver bullet some authors and consultants proclaim it to be. It does not guarantee immediately successful communication or greater constituent involvement. It's simply one more tool that may be useful to some thoughtful public relations practitioners in some circumstances.


"Even if you're not ready to start gamification in your organization, it's good to be aware of the trend and think about the possibilities this development could have for your strategies."

Christopher Swan
Gamification: A new way to shape behavior
CW Bulletin, May-June 2012

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22 Feb 2016