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It’s alive. Alive! Use gamification to resurrect an ailing project. Stimulate growth and development by treating your workforce like an autonomous life form. Apply some life-lessons from biology and watch your gamified solution take on a life of its own.

Do games imitate life or does life imitate games?

Is it coincidence that ‘organism’ and ‘organisation’ share the same root word? Well, no, therefore it’s very easy to draw parallels between an organisation and an organism. An effective gamified solution is also like an organism in that it has many subsystems and processes that must all work in harmony together toward the greater good.

So how can we structure a program so that it has the ability to grow and develop, reproduce and thrive, both spontaneously and organically?

How do we bring our gamified projects to life?

Biology tells us that there are seven life processes that determine whether something can be considered alive or not. Let’s examine them in turn to see if these characteristics can be applied to human-focused design in a beneficial way. They are:

  1. Growth and development
  2. Ingestion (nutrition)
  3. Egestion (waste)
  4. Movement
  5. Sensitivity
  6. Respiration
  7. Reproduction

1 Growth and development

It’s hard to imagine an organisation that does not have growth and development as one of its long-term strategic goals. I’m sure such a place exists, especially in niche markets where growth is not always possible. But even so, such an organisation must be able to develop and adapt in order to function and survive in a continuously changing business environment.

The same is true for your gamified solution. If you don’t adapt, you die. By monitoring your gamified solution you will be able to identify areas for growth and expansion. You will also be able to identify where some development and adaptation needs to take place. Certain gamification elements will work, others will not and they should be discarded.

The trick is to identify these key areas for growth and development, and nurture them. A little encouragement can go a long way – remember, a tree doesn’t grow from its bark, it grows from where it is fresh and green. Where it’s vulnerable.

2 Ingestion (nutrition)

In order for your gamified solution to produce an output, for example, a deeper level of employee engagement and consequent improvement in productivity, there must be high-quality input. You need to feed your design solution with all the attention of a professional nutritionist, providing all the necessary data at the right time and in the right amounts. In other words, the more precise you can be about your organisation’s values, your user’s needs, your short- and long-term goals, and how you measure success, the more effective your solution will be. Remember, ‘garbage in, garbage out’. You wouldn’t feed your baby junk food now, would you?

3 Egestion (waste)

It was US General Colin Powell who said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”, implying that whatever looks good on paper may not necessarily work in a real-world application. Some game mechanics may prove to be unsuitable despite laboratory results indicating the contrary. Like metabolic waste products in an organism, these ineffective game elements need to be eliminated from the system before they become toxic, i.e. game elements that not only fail to achieve a desired outcome, but actually produce the very opposite result: disengagement.

4 & 5 Movement and sensitivity

Sensitivity means being able to evaluate an environment, movement means being able to respond to it. We experience the world through our five senses: we feel cold so we put on a jacket, we smell fire so we leave the building, we see an oncoming train so we step out of the way. Our senses are our feedback mechanisms and ignoring them can have dire consequences (see: Train!). Similarly, ignoring the feedback that your gamified solution is generating through the backend or by other means will not allow it to develop in the direction that it needs to. Your gamified solution needs to know its place in the organisation and business environment and how to react accordingly. By monitoring you program’s feedback channels you will easily be able to determine when there is a light at the end of the tunnel or if it is, in fact, another train.

6 Respiration

Inhale. Exhale. It is the nature of all things to move in cycles and for every downturn there is an upshot. A summer always follows the winter. Be aware of the cycles that are at work within your gamified solutions, as well as your organisation, and build on them.

Your feedback channels and mechanisms will tell you when there is a flurry of activity at a particular time of day, for example, and allow you to capitalise on that. Patience and regular observation will also reveal any seasonal changes or repeat occurrences that are particular to your organisation and are not indicated on a standard calendar. Tune into the rhythm of your organisation.

7 Reproduction

If you treat your gamified solution like a lifeform – feed it healthy input, maintain a stimulating environment with room to grow, and give it lots and lots of attention – especially in its infancy – your success will grow in leaps and bounds. However, nothing lasts forever and the next generation solution is already waiting in the wings.

It is the duty of each subsequent generation to build on the accomplishments and experience of the previous generation. Gamified solutions are no different. Once a program or project has run its course, we examine its blueprints, its DNA if you will, and identify what worked and what didn’t. What are we keeping for the next generation of products? Like a designer baby, we want only the good genes. Knowing what works particularly well for your particular organisation will ensure that your ‘gamified solution 3.0’ will be armed and equipped to weather anything the future may throw at it.

Mother knows best

So what type of creature is your gamified solution going to be? Will it be a slow-growing but ultimately vast and stately oak tree? Or will it remain small and agile like a piranha fish? It matters not. Try these tips from good-old Mother Nature. She’s been around a while and she knows some stuff!