Gamification for Businesses: Q&A with Mario Herger


Mario Herger spearheaded the gamification efforts as senior researcher at SAP Labs in Palo Alto before leaving to start his own company Enterprise Gamification Consultancy.

Enterprise gamification uses game elements to increase engagement in corporate training, employee efficiency, and mass consumer campaigns.

Regarding the latter, more and more brands are finding success in this area. Examples include Nike+, which allows customers to record and share their walks and runs; Taco Bell that ran a Doritos Locos Tacos photo challenge contest early this year, and a clever contest by Mini Cooper in which residents of Stockholm used their iPhone to hunt down a virtual Mini, with a real Mini being the prize.

Excerpts of the interview below:

Mark Schreiber: You just quit your job as a senior researcher at SAP to start your own gamification consultancy. Why start a new business in a field many managers and marketers are still not committed to?

Mario Herger: There are already enough first movers amongst managers and executives who see the value of gamification for a variety of purposes. And being one who’s evangelized the topic and driven it forward, it’s now the right time to get in full time. The interest will only increase. Already, the first successful examples speak for themselves, so I think it’s a good time to get into this topic area.

MS: Are marketing departments and agencies that are utilizing gamification in their campaigns getting it right?

MH: Most agencies today are limiting themselves to the well known “let the customer do something and reward them with free stuff”. While this has worked in the past very well, customers are starting to expect more. And you may now get the more sophisticated customers, that don’t care about free stuff or don’t want to compete for it. And often it’s not about the gamification design of the campaign itself, but how the very same concept is executed and handled. Like with social media, it’s not about the technology or that you use it as a one-way channel to get out your marketing message.

MS: You’ve conducted workshops all over the world and presented at international gamification conferences. Do you see any ways in which gamification should be applied differently in Asia, compared to North America and Europe?

MH: On one hand, Asia has a lot of advantages in that field, as there is a strong gaming culture and people adopting game-like experiences easily. Several Asian countries lead the gaming field and have a huge influence in popular taste and culture on a global scale. So the region is ready for this.

However, the gamer culture has been strictly separated from work, and many executives are not convinced. They think it has no place in their companies. Here we still have to do evangelization, until it will be accepted as something that makes work better and brings good results for companies.

Having said this, there are differences in regards to other regions, as more hierarchical and harmony-oriented cultures tend to de-emphasize the elevation of individuals in a company, thus making competition or leader boards less accepted. Certain gamification design elements such as “gifting” come out of the important role that etiquette and protocol play in certain Asian countries. If these cultural clues can be inserted into the design, then the adoption and engagement on such systems is higher. And not to forget the acceptance of colors and graphical designs from a rich tradition of art are certainly different from other cultures.

MS: ClickZ has been covering the emergence of gamification an as engagement and marketing strategy. But in many media outlets, it’s still not getting much attention. Why not?

MH: My feeling is that many media outlets are like deer in front of headlights: they freeze and just stare. The headlight here is the big changes that are cascading through media with the decline of print and the emergence of digital consumption forms of media. That occupies so many of the media outlets that they may not realize gamification may be an important toolset for them to re-connect and re-engage with their audiences. However, not in a one-time form such as campaigns or a short fun game but by involving audiences in the research and creation of media through gamification.

MS: You’ve done extensive research as well as surveyed the research of others. Has anything really surprised you or made you change your assumptions?

MH: Certainly the writings from Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case that rewards (and punishments, which according to him are the same) are having a devastating effect on the long-term interest of people in their work or in learning. In his book “Punished by Rewards” he collected enough scientific and real life evidence how the “laziness” of educators and management created the disengagement crisis at schools and in the workforce by using carrots and sticks mindlessly and without respect for the students and employees.

Disclosure: The author is currently editing Herger’s upcoming book on Enterprise Gamification: Exploiting People by Letting Them Have Fun.

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