Exclusive Interview: Gabe Zichermann on How Game-like Techniques Can Motivate Behavior
Have you ever wondered if there was a secret to get 401k plan participants to enjoy learning about financial literacy? At the 2015 NAPA 401k Summit, March 22-24 in San Diego, Gabe Zichermann, author of The Gamification Revolution (McGraw Hill, 2013, will share how game design, loyalty programs and behavioral economics are taking customer and employee engagement to a new level. You’ll hear how these strategies are being applied by advisors and their clients, and gain insights on how to apply those concepts to expand and enrich your business.
Zichermann is the chair of GSummit where top gamification experts across industries gather to share knowledge and insight about customer & employee engagement and loyalty. In addition to The Gamification Revolution he’s writtern Gamification by Design (2011) and Game-Based Marketing (2010). These books have helped define the industry’s standards and frameworks, and continue to be key reference materials today. Gabe resides in New York City, where he is co-director of startup accelerator The Founder Institute, and a board member of StartOut.org.
FN: Gabe, tell us a little about yourself. What experiences led you into the field of gamification?
Zichermann: I’ve been in the games industry for 15 years. After successfully exiting a startup, I started ruminating about how we could use games to do more than just entertain. So I started to experiment, research the state of the art, and build apps that would highlight answers to these questions. I also have a degree in human giftedness and a passion for loyalty programs – the combination of insights and experiential knowledge led to my focus on gamification.
FN: “Gamification” is a growing trend and an increasingly popular application across many areas. What does it mean? Is it a relatively new technique, or is it an old idea that has been repurposed for a modern era?
Zichermann: Gamification is the use of game, loyalty and behavioral economics contexts to engage people and change behavior. It’s a very old idea – militaries have been gamifying for thousands of years, and all of us have – at one time or another – made something boring into a game to make time pass quickly. What’s new now is that we have advanced technologies, methodologies and the approaches make it scalable.
FN: Give us an example of how “gamification” works in the gaming industry. What are the key components, the key terms, and the key concepts?
Zichermann: Probably the two most salient examples for most people are Nike+/Nike Fit and the McDonald’s Monopoly game. Nike+ uses game concepts to get people to exercise more, and has been the most successful example of gamification of fitness and “the quantified self” in history. Other companies, like FitBit, have also had great success in this area. McDonald’s on the other hand runs one of the most successful marketing programs using gamification with Monopoly.
FN: You’ve said “Gamification is the process of using Game Thinking and Game Dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.” How would you define “Game Thinking” and “Game Dynamics” for someone totally unfamiliar with gaming in general?
Zichermann: Game thinking is the idea of thinking of problem solving through the prism of games. Those are ideas such as using questing, epic meaning, being the hero, etc. to solve problems. But also, more simply, it also means making challenges more positive rather than negative.
FN: In your book The Gamification Revolution How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition, you mention the specific elements of gaming. Let’s talk about those, beginning with game mechanics. What are “points,” “badges,” “leaderboards,” and “rewards”? Why are they important? Where do we see examples of them being used in business applications?
Zichermann: In a nutshell, basic game mechanics – like points, badges, leaderboards, levels, etc. are the building blocks of games. They allow us to create interactions with users that will drive specific behavioral outcomes. For example – a badge can be used to reward a user for progress against a goal, thus both recognizing them for achievement and also establishing an expectation that continued effort will result in earning another badge. Each one of these mechanics is an essential part of shaping that story.
FN: Finally, there’s the concept “motivation” or “the enjoyment factor.” Why is this important? Where and when does the omission of this lead to problems?
Zichermann: Motivation is super important to developing a good system of behavior change. This means understanding what drives user behavior and tailoring the challenges and rewards to that innate desire. More often than not, most systems only consider the sponsor (e.g. the company/employer), rather than the motivation of the employee. By creating more alignment between these people, we can get better behavioral results.
FN: Why are so many people interested in gamification?
Zichermann: People are super distracted, and they just aren’t engaged enough with their work, government, brands, etc. Organizations of all kinds are responding to this engagement crisis by using gamification – the best technique for behavior change.
FN: What is the downside of gamification? Why is it so important for business application to not emphasize the “gaming” element of any gamification application?
Zichermann: Over emphasis on “gaming” can make applications unpalatable in certain settings. This can include people feeling that they aren’t serious, or just the distraction of too many game elements. Good gamification doesn’t rely solely on game tropes, but rather on the idea of using the power of games to meaningfully change behavior.
FN: You’ll be discussing gamification at the 2015 NAPA 401k Summit. What can attendees expect to come away with from your presentation? Why is it so important they understand the concept of gamification and where might they immediately apply it in their business?
Zichermann: In my session we’ll cover the basics of gamification – what it is, how it works, and why it works. We’ll also talk about the dangers of the engagement crisis, and how games are both the cause and the cure. We’ll also look at some meaningful examples that can help turn the tide – whether folks are looking to engage staff or customers, gamification provides an ideal canvas for accomplishing those goals.
FN: Gabe, thank you so very much for sharing with our readers some very modern concepts and ideas that are new to many of them. I’m sure those attending next week’s NAPA 401k Summit will want to see your presentation to learn more about how gamification can work in the retirement saving industry.
Interested in discovering more about this topic. Mr. Carosa’s latest book Hey! What’s My Number? – The One Thing Every Retirement Investor Wants and Needs to Know! offers several specific examples of how to employ some of the elements of behavioral economics and gamification in ways that help encourage employees to save more for their retirement.
Mr. Carosa is available for keynote speaking engagements, especially in venues located in the Northeast, MidAtantic and Midwestern regions of the United States and in the Toronto region of Canada.