by Alex Palmer | December 19, 2012
 Play can be good for work, a new white paper from Maritz Motivation Solutions argues. Titled “The Power of Play: How Gamification Will Drive the Evolution of Channel Loyalty,” the report explores how integrating game mechanics into areas that are not typical game experiences is enhancing employee performance and consumer loyalty. 

The report points to the recent proliferation of game-oriented programs, from mobile marketing and geo-location, to Farmville and Foursquare, to Amazon and eBay reviews which reward users for posting original content. It describes this embrace of gamification as necessitating companies move away from strict top-down loyalty and incentive programs they have embraced for decades.

Millenials are a key influence on this growing popularity and impact of gamification, according to the report’s authors. They identify that generation’s concerns with immediate feedback and clear goals as naturally responsive to gaming, not only in consumer areas but corporate and vocational training, schools, and wellness programs.

“Neuroscience research has shown that the human brain responds strongly to game elements, such as competition, gaining status, goal achievement and play,” says Nicki Powers, engagement strategist for Maritz Motivation Solutions and the lead author of the paper, in a statement. “People like to acquire possessions, develop new skills and connect in a meaningful way with both people and programs. By applying game mechanics to motivation and loyalty programs, the point-earning experience for participants can be just as engaging as the points-redemption process.”

The other authors of the report are Bill Hennessy, engagement solutions director for Maritz Motivation Solutions; and Barry Kirk, vice president and senior director of digital strategy for Bunchball. 

The report singles out a case study of a Fortune 500 business services company that used gamification to encourage sales partners to engage in its loyalty program and learn about its newly redesigned website. It worked with Maritz to incorporate game science mechanics into the program, with visitors to the new site rewarded with virtual badges as they navigated the site. This led to a tripling of site visits, with sales partners spending an average of almost three minutes longer when they visited, and the number of return visitors increasing by almost 1,000.

The authors offer three main tips for successful gamification design:

1. See the incentive program designer as game designer: Make sure it’s fun and the rules naturally flow from the goals for which you are aiming.
2. Focus on the player: Instead of stressing the rules, designers should focus on how program members will be engaged and entertained.
3. Master game mechanics: Designers need to understand how to bundle different mechanics together and when to add new challenges or throw in a surprise.

“A successful gamification strategy requires a strong focus on program design,” says Hennessy. “Game designers have long studied what makes play fun, and their findings are now being quantified in recent neuroscience and behavioral economics studies. So in fact, there is a science to fun.”

The full report can be viewed here.