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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Game On: How Gamification is Changing the Sector

Let’s face it; every day we use our smartphones and mobile technology to get through daily and simple tasks, from finding information, to exercise, to learning new languages, even finding the nearest grocery store. The majority of mobile application software we use today has been “gamified,” and the same ideas are starting to enter the social sector.

Global 2000 businesses have recognized gamification as a powerful tool to engage consumers and motivate them to purchase more products. Yet not all organizations in the social sector have gained this knowledge, and some continue to fail when integrating gamification into their operations.

In some cases, fundraisers become casino nights or raffles drive donors to purchase family vacations for two to three times more than their standard price, all just to support a charity. Fundraising is a way that gamification can be utilized, but it’s not the bottom line for the social sector.  When thinking about gamification, nonprofits have to start thinking outside of the box if they truly want to engage the masses into more positive social behaviors.

Simple tasks that would normally cost a nonprofit time and money can be delegated through one mobile application and can create a friendly environment for the user. Pop-up messages as reminders, rewarding users for their engagement, badges, progress bars, and even weekly challenges drive a little competition to keep users on their toes. When a well-designed mobile application is published, staying connected creates an endless amount of possibilities and the exciting part for nonprofits is to keep the content new and fresh.

Gamification can create a more meaningful experience for the customer, volunteer, or donor, just as it already does when people use their GPS systems, sensors for fitness, and even communicating with friends. The idea behind gamification is to get people engaged in an activity, and to keep them motivated by intertwining the value of their time and making it relevant to their own behaviors. That being said, when organizations really understand who their targeted audience is, gamification can become the most effective strategy they use in the digital world we live in.

Now, before organizations jump onto the excitement wagon and just develop a mobile application, they must understand that gamification is not about making things “fun”. Gamification is a great motivator when research, information technology, and graphic design- all align. This means that your marketing departments, your IT specialists, and executive members all understand the who, what, when, where, and how the gamified system functions.

Gamification has been used in commercial industries for decades and most people fall straight into their gameplay; working towards free flights with SkyMiles or purchasing more sandwiches to get extra punches on a card. “Kickback Schemes” or “Incentive Programs” are nothing new and most organizations think that this is what will drive people to purchase more of their products. The fact is that if your product lacks value to the customer, gamification is not going to help you at all. Although, we do understand that games, are gamified mechanisms, and people purchase them because they solely enjoy them for entertainment. Therefore, in order to create an effective gamification program within a nonprofit, research is needed to find the middle ground between a game and an incentive program.

Some gamified mechanisms are about getting the user to just have fun, while others can accurately focus on educating the user through animations and graphic interfaces. On one end, we see the excitement and fad of Facebook games such as Farmville or CandyCrush. These games are, well, just games but the benefit of these programs is that Facebook and as Zynga have the ability to see individual users’ motives to play these games, when they play them, how they play them, and who they are competing against. Analytical evidence helps marketing departments understand how to place a product in front of the user and can increase the chance of purchases. On the other side, DuoLingo creates an atmosphere for individuals to learn a second language by making its platform simple, exciting, and mobile. The best part about both of these gamified spaces is that they are 100% free to the user.

As you can see, the motivation is not just on the consumer’s side of interaction, it can also come from the sponsoring company’s objects. Companies are starting to use gamification to help train employees, generate surveys, and introduce a friendlier work environment just by simply creating some competition, or using badges, scorecards, and leaderboards.  All in all, when gamification enters the workforce it can become an addictive behavior, when put to work in the right way.

If gamification sounds like the right answer for your organization, it is most important to define the goals for both parties and the methods that will be used to create an engagement system. Brian Burke, VP of Research at Gartner, defines 7 key considerations when designing the player experience for gamification:

  1. Business Outcomes and Success Metrics
  2. Target Audience
  3. Player Goals
  4. Engagement Model
  5. Play Space and Journey
  6. Game Economy
  7. Play, Test, and Iterate

Whatever gamified mechanism you choose, you absolutely must stick to its analytical process in order to define what did and did not work. Ask yourself: did this application drive more users to donate online? Did it increase our organization’s awareness? Did it help build a larger online community? Is it helping people learn solutions to a social issue? Is communicating with volunteers easier?

While gamification is still in its infancy, the fact is that people are goal-oriented and motivated towards success is a constant. Having the right players is key when designing the user experience, and for the future of a gamification system in the social sector. What nonprofits really need to understand is that gamification has the ability to distinguish targeted audiences through the use of digital technology, and boosts motivation by engaging users to reach personal goals, which will ultimately align with organizational objects and outcomes. 

Rudy is a freelance photographer and social innovator based out of Tempe, Arizona. While growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio he learned to his passion was within the arts and photography. After graduating from high school, he moved to Arizona in 2007 to pursue his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Arizona State University. He received his BFA from the Herberger Institute for the Design & Arts in 2011. Remaining in Arizona, Rudy became a 3* Black Belt in (ATA) Taekwondo as an instructor for Lee's Martial Arts Academy and after school programs in the valley. Through the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program he hopes that he will combine his love for documentary studies with his ability to teach martial arts to create meaningful lessons to generate social change for underprivileged youths and communities in need.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog