Lectern

By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Games turn serious

There is a fascinating supplement in this week's issue of The Economist -- incidentally, probably the world's best magazine (Federal Computer Week, please don't be offended!) -- on the videogame industry. I was, as a fogie non-game player, very surprised to learn that revenues of the videogame industry are now twice those of the recorded music industry, and 60% of those of the movie industry (including DVD sales). The average gamer is not a high school boy but, in the U.S., 37 years old, and 42 percent of players are female.
 
The whole supplement is interesting, but I take this up as a blog because of a discussion at the end of the supplement on a new trend called "gamification" -- applying techniques that make games fun to problem-solving or other management issues inside organizations. The trend started with the development by scientists at the University of Washington of a game called "Foldit," which put in game format a complex scientific problem involving how protein amino acids are best "folded."  (It doesn't matter exactly what this means.)  Players who develop better folding patterns get higher scores. They have gotten 46,000 users competing in the game, and the solutions presented have, according to the supplement, "made serious contributions to biology."
 
Gamification has spread to business over the last two years, and the article cites an example from the United Kingdom government. The British Department of Work and Pensions has developed a game for taking suggestions for improving organizational efficiency. Employees are given points that can be "invested" in promising suggestions others make. If the boss gives the go-ahead, the investors get their points back with interest. The game features a "buzz board" to increase competitive juices.
 
This version sounds a bit like a prediction market suggestion for cost-savings ideas I made a while ago. But I am guessing that, with ingenuity, ideas for games to improve organizational performance can be developed in government. Maybe agencies should use another innovative tool -- contests -- to solicit ideas from game developers for such games

Posted on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:27 PM


Reader Comments

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 Louis Gresham

"With ingenuity, ideas for games to improve organizational performance can be developed in government-" absolutely. Though the gamification "industry" is still skewed towards customer engagement/brand awareness solutions, the applications are making their way into other processes, such as knowledge management, call centers, performance management, and crowdsourcing, to name a few, all of which exist in government. There's an opportunity here for the public sector to adopt a practice that is still emerging in the private. Cost savings and improved employee engagement are some of the many dividends that using game mechanics at work can pay.

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