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Companies can use gamification as a doorway to innovation

Using game mechanics in apps to engage users, solve problems is on the rise

March 6, 2012 06:53 AM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- Gamification, or the use of game mechanics in applications to engage users and solve problems, is something humans today are wired to love. And video games are creating a generation of multitasking young adults who are not only smarter than past generations but are better problem-solvers and innovators.

That innate ability to solve problems, which comes with the promise of a gaming-style reward of greater social status, will become a standard for solving complex problems that even the greatest supercomputers could not hope to achieve.

"It's the challenge, achievement loop. Any time you challenge yourself and achieve that thing, your brain releases dopamine: the wonder drug," said Gabe Zichermann, an author and a CEO of two companies, Gamification and Dopamine. Zichermann spoke at the CITE Conference and Expo here yesterday, explaining that gamification brings intrinsic reinforcement to humans, who are left saying, "May I please have another?"

"Challenge, achievement, success, and pleasure. A game does that 100 times an hour," he said.

The CITE Conference is looking at how consumer technology is being rolled out in the corporate world, and how that trend is affecting IT.

Zichermann pointed to studies showing that people who grew up playing video games actually have higher IQs than earlier generations because their brains have been challenged to solve problems and to multitask. Gaming actually changed their brains.

"We view the youth as lacking patience," Zichermann said. "We'll say they have ADD. But that's not the case at all. It's that we old people are just too slow for them. They're moving quicker. They're more evolved."

Today's employees can be incentivized by achieving real, or even virtual, social status by attaining goals through gaming -- even more so than they would be by the promise of more money. According to Zichermann, money comes in a distant fourth place to social status. Status is followed by access to new capabilities and power -- either real or perceived.

That means gamification can be used to improve employee happiness, drive innovation, produce results and educate employees.

Zichermann pointed to a recent example of how gamification can be used to solve nearly impossible tasks. In 2011, the crowd-sourcing game Foldit, developed by the University of Washington, made headlines when 46,000 people worked for just 10 days to solve the secret of a key protein that scientists believe may help them cure HIV. Scientists had been working on the problem for 15 years.

"Those were not 46,000 scientists," Zichermann said. "The game took the activity and broke it down into something the average person could accomplish and have fun at it."

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