Agencies Should Gamify Their Cultures and Operations

Channeling the engagement economy

Back when the massive explosion in gaming first appeared on everyone’s radar in the mid-2000s, alarmed legislators, regulators and old fogies commissioned research to find out exactly what affect all this gaming was having on “the youth of today.” 

Illustration: Jacob Thomas  

The results shocked even the most ardent gaming supporters.

Nick Yee, whose Daedalus Project was the longest-running longitudinal study of gamers and gaming behavior, found that, in fact, those participating in massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) like World of Warcraft were actually working extremely hard to win in these online environments.

Yee concluded, “MMOGs are actually massively multiplayer work environments disguised as games.” In other words, your parents were wrong—spending your weekends playing Grand Theft Auto didn’t turn your brain into oatmeal. In fact, it likely developed many of the same core skill sets that are probably in your job description today: organizing teams, assigning tasks, monitoring processes, staffing organizational units and overseeing budgets.

To understand the level of commitment on an individual game basis, consider the Call of Duty franchise. According to the game’s producer, Activision, the average player spends 170 hours a year—the equivalent to one month of full-time work—“working” on the game.

Noted gaming expert Jane McGonigal believes all this brainpower can be channelled into something she calls the engagement economy. In her view, all that game play is core to what makes us human: “to be challenged, to master new skills, to put those skills in service of something that really matters and to be connected to a larger community.” Considering that a recent global Gallup survey found an astonishing 90 percent of employees are not engaged in their jobs—a disconnect that translates to $2 trillion in lost productivity—McGonigal’s insights should be seen as a call to action: transform the work ethic into the play ethic.

Most workplace jobs are actually games that are so badly designed that companies have to pay people to play them. In recognition of the massive disparity in engagement between game space and workplace, Pat Kane, author of The Play Ethic, predicted: “Play will be for the 21st century what work was to the industrial age: the dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value.” He also posits that play will be the ultimate (and necessary) olive branch to extend to millennials from older generational management.

Moving forward, the key to enhanced efficiency and effectiveness for corporations, especially agencies, where engagement is the deliverable and millennials are the prime talent pool, lies in gamifying their cultures and operations. This could explain why the IT consultancy, Gartner, has forecast that, by 2015, 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will be “gamifying” those processes. And by 2014, 70 percent of blue-chip companies will have at least one “gamified” application.

In PHD’s book Game Change, examining the impact of gamification on both brand engagement and enterprise effectiveness, my colleague and PHD worldwide director of planning and strategy Mark Holden offers a blueprint for building a gamified enterprise system at the agency level, using Source, PHD’s MMOG platform, as the model:

“At the core,” Holden writes, “Source functions as a live collaboration engine which is enabled by our embedded suite of agency planning and execution tools. Players are awarded Pings for interacting with the system: optimizing channel mixes, cracking a thought leader or contributing specific channel ideas. We’ve also incorporated leader boards and high scores which are displayed prominently in our office lobbies throughout the globe.”

The reaction of clients and staff alike has been remarkable, with Source being cited as a key factor in our two biggest wins of the past year, and employee satisfaction levels tracking at an all-time high.

Just as the scratch plow was to the agrarian revolution, interchangeable parts to the industrial revolution and the Internet to the information age, so too will gaming be to the engagement economy.

The choice is clear: play, or get played.

Craig Atkinson is chief digital officer, COO of PHD U.S., a unit of Omnicom Media Group.

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