By 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organisations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations, according to Gartner. But before then, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail – primarily due to poor design.

While these two predictions may seem contradictory, Gartner analyst Brian Burke insists that gamification has the power to revolutionise the way business is conducted.

This is because the same mechanisms that motivate people to play games like World of Warcraft and Championship Manager – such as challenges, rules, leaderboards, rewards and levels – can also drive changes in behaviour, development of skills, and innovation within an organisation.

However, a gamified application will only succeed if the business objectives are clearly defined at the start. Too often, organisations are so keen to jump on the bandwagon that they end up motivating the wrong group of people to behave in ways that do not meet the business objectives.

Winner takes all?

When most people imagine a game, they immediately think of something like Poker, which is a competitive game with extrinsic rewards, (in this case a pot of money). While this kind of game can be very motivating for people who are good at the game, it can alienate those who are less skilled.

One of the best known examples of a gamified application that follows this model is a sales department that offers a bonus to the employee that makes the most sales that quarter. The top salesmen in the company will compete for the prize, but those that are less confident will not even try to compete, because they know they will lose.

Burke argues that it would be better to create a gamified application that motivates the less competitive salesmen to achieve their full potential, rather than just focusing on motivating the top performers. This might be a more collaborative game with intrinsic rewards, such as peer recognition and self-esteem.

Collaborative games are often better suited to business environments, according to Burke, where the aim is to maximise the outcome rather than maximising individual performance.

Another common mistake is engaging the wrong audience, or only part of the target audience. For example, if the reward is a pair of football tickets, then only employees who are interested in football will participate.

Organisations therefore need to identify the kind of game, and the type of rewards that will entice their target audience to play, and work this into the application's design from the start.

“The game design parameters have to be where your business objectives and your player objectives overlap,” said Burke.

Everything to play for

While most gamified applications are scripted – in other words, the player knows what they are trying to achieve, and follows a path to achieve that goal and gain a reward – some gamified applications are 'emergent', meaning that the player does not know the outcome.

Emergent games are particularly useful when the business objective is innovation. For example, Quirky.com is an open innovation gamified application around product design. Players can submit their ideas for a product, vote up other players' ideas, and offer suggestions for how they can be improved.

Product ideas that reach the top of a leaderboard are then put into production, and everybody in the community that contributed to those ideas gets some share of the revenues when the product is finally launched and sold.

“In that kind of environment we don't really know the endpoint – we don't know what products are going to be developed. It's an open innovation platform. But there are rules and tools for playing it,” said Burke.