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Shall We Play a Game?

Gamification uses game mechanics such as competition and rewards to encourage consumers' behavior. Gamification encompasses the thinking, processes and technology that influence online behavior (such as social loyalty programs) for the direct benefit of the sponsoring party (say, a business), as well as for the online user (one hopes). Now, gamification is being adopted not only for the consumer market, but within enterprises.

One lens through which to view gamification is as the application of behavioral analytics. While predictive analytics has a valuable role, it only forecasts what is likely to happen, and so it is essentially passive. In contrast, behavioral analytics is proactive and dynamic; it attempts to make things happen by influencing users' behavior as they are engaged online.

Just as with the astrological view of the stars, gamification can only impel, not compel. For example, a website might use a social loyalty program to encourage users to Tweet about it, respond to polls, note "likes" on Facebook and perform other actions that increase the attractiveness of and participation on the website. The site can have a program that awards points for taking specific actions and can lead to achievements and levels that the user is trying to attain.

As one of the pioneers in the field, Badgeville illustrates the rise of gamification. Founded in 2010, Badgeville has raised $40 million in venture capital. It is already at 80 employees and nearly 200 customers, and is hiring people with a diverse range of skill sets, including behavioral psychologists and data scientists.

Badgeville offers a SaaS Behavior Platform. At the heart of this platform is the Behavior Engine, the purpose of which is to enable engine administrators--such as marketers, product managers, HR leaders and business executives--to measure and influence the behavior of individuals across a network of internal and external Web and mobile sites and applications. Other gamification startups include Bunchball and BigDoor.

Badgeville's Behavior Engine powers a program to influence user behavior based on gamification frameworks and strategies that its team of social gaming experts has designed. The Engine captures and stores behavior metadata across a network--such as tag, product ID, time and author--that describe real-time, contextual behavior experiences across customer and employee communities. Not only can this data be used to drive future behaviors (as the operator can see what incentives customers find most enticing and modify his/her strategy accordingly), it can also offer analytic insight into the health of a community (such as whether a website is achieving whatever goals it has set, such as increasing the length of time visitors spend on the site).

Rewards are often used to elicit what the Behavior Engine operators consider to be desirable behaviors. With Badgeville's Behavior Engine, operators can build business rules, such as one that requires multiple conditions to be met before a reward is triggered.

As with any technology (especially a rapidly evolving one), gamification has its potential downsides. For one, unrealistic expectations and failure to apply the technology correctly could lead to disappointment. Another is that it could be too successful in that it leads to online addiction (in the sense that a user spends too much time online, ignoring other demands on his/her time).

Next: Examples of Gamification

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