Business Issues, CIO Leadership, IT Performance

Gamification: opportunity for CIO or marketing?

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Fedex is using the novel approach called gamification to "unlock enterprise knowledge" and promote information sharing. Bryan Barringer, who heads up the project, spoke about it at a conference here in Boston last week.

Haven't heard of the gamification craze? No, it does not mean employees bringing their Xboxes, but close.

Here's Wikipedia's definition:  

Gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. Typically gamification applies to non-game applications and processes, in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used.Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, by helping to solve problems and not being a distraction, and by taking advantage of humans' psychological predisposition to engage…”

If you've read this far, you've probably figured out the approach uses gaming technology, symbols, icons and badges to acknowledge, reward and reinforce desired behaviors.  Fedex is trying to reverse the mentaility that power equates to squirreling away knowledge versus sharing it.

The gamification program rewards and reinforces sharing through The Fedex Badge program. Ideally, it starts with engagement, moves to adoption and then goes viral. The benefits are:

-- Identifies key knowledge holders and encourages sharing.

-- Applies and grows relevance to subject matters.

-- Facilitates adoption of new features and user experience

-- Motivates individuals to complete training and enhanced skill building programs.

-- Promotes appreciation and pride in one’s accomplishments.

-- Allows for tracking and analytics of compliance and usage.

Barringer acknowledges that selling the notion in the enterprise based on the term "gamification" can be a challenge. "Introducing terms like “Social” and “Collaboration” is hard enough!" is one of his bullet points. Barringer says he sometimes gets the `Are you crazy? This is business, not recess' response to the program.

Indeed, you have to pay attention to things like company culture and average age. He never makes assumptions about employees and is always ready for surprises. Fedex strikes me as male-dominated, football-loving culture, BUT it's always been an innovator and early adopter of technology so I find it no surprise that the company is embracing a touchy-feely intiative such as gamification.  

Information is unlocked through, for instance, blogging, tagging, ratings/feedback mechanisms and document sharing. Fedex works with Bunchball, which has a live ticker of its customers if you want to see who else is gamifying, and  Badgeville.

Update 8/15: while Barringer mentioned both these Bunchball and Badgeville in his PDF and his talk, he later contacted me to say he was suggesting anyone interested  in researeching gamification might look at them.  "FedEx is not using any vendors for the badge program. We have built our gamification program in house," he said via an e-mail.

For all it's potential, there's a more cynical view of gamification. Says an executive at a firm offering gamification services: "It's all in lieu of less compensation and fewer benefits."

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Bryan Barringer 0 Points | Wed, 08/15/2012 - 03:27

John, nice article and hope you enjoyed my keynote. You mind reaching out to me to discusthose article and gamification vendors. Thanks B Barringer


Pearl Zhu 90 Points | Thu, 06/28/2012 - 16:57

Hi, John, thanks for case study, Jerry's comment reminds of not every game working out, here, I would add, gamification should also encourage both effectiveness and efficiency, gamification may fit for training & learning scenario, on the other side, some business activity may need different metrics or leverage a set of metrics to evaluate true performance. that said, every technology has its advantage or limitation, business need make fair judgement. thanks.

Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Thu, 06/28/2012 - 15:25

Maybe a standalone post is needed, but I will do my best here. 

Crowdsourcing revealed you could people to engage in almost anything if you made a 'game' out of it, including mundane tasks. Ironically, sometimes the more inconsequential the reward for the desired behavior the more of an inducement it was. 

So a site like INTERNETEYES.CO.UK might offer a $1000 monthly reward for the best contributions, when in fact a simple 'badge' might be more rewarding. There is a ton of research behind the power and longevity of intrinsic rewards which is why we don't pay for students for grades or have tax lotteries in this country.

This is how we got GWAP (games with a purpose) and sites like:

  • FUNSAT.EECS.UMICH.EDU which made a game out of solving complex Boolean problems
  • GWAP.COM which offers rewards for various human learning issues used to teach search engines and other applications

Some of what makes this work is cultural, which is why Ushi (China's version of LinkedIn) uses badges to encourage profile building, network building, and content creation.

But there is a point at which a reward system is not based on game theory and is just a reward system. ECF for instance uses a Points system for participation which could just as easily be badges or other distinctions, but is it gamification? 

The point behind my comment is that just because there is a reward of points, badges or even a nominal payment doesn't mean there is any game theory behind it. Just like when the kindergarten teacher hands out gold stars as a reward. Also, even if you create a game to help make learning more fun, doesn’t mean it will work – especially if you game design is poor.

This is one of the many lessons we learned in the 80’s developing the first computer based training systems that many educators are only now beginning to explore. 

So the lesson from Cow Clicker is that once you gamify something the game takes over and people learn to game the system. Just as ECF readers could be prolific commenters to gain points and be the 'Top Contributor' but still not say anything interesting or that supports the goals of the site.

Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Mon, 06/25/2012 - 19:49

Gamification has its applications but it is also being hijacked and abused by rewards systems and badges in a wide variety of industries - but especially education. The thing most forget is that badges and rewards alone do not a game make. 

The classic, nay the epic example is of course Cow Clicker by Ian Bogost. And, even though we are almost a year into the post Cowpocalypse gamification is still running unchecked through corporate America and our schools.

If you are unfamiliar with Cow Clicker, I encourage you to take some time and read the one of two stories on this Facebook Game that should have taught the world an invaluable lesson:

The Curse of Cow Clicker: How a Cheeky Satire Became a Videogame Hit, Wired Magazine

Cow Clicker Founder: If You Can't Ruin It, Destroy It, NPR All things Considered Audio with Transcript


COW CLICKER: The Making of Obsession, Ian Bogost blogpost

John Dodge 1535 Points | Wed, 06/27/2012 - 16:01

Hi Jerry, Could you elaborate about why YOU think gamification has been "hiacked and abused?" I am not sure that comes out here. Thanks....J