Gamification

As far back as the 1950s, Premium Bonds were launched to encourage investors to save by offering them the opportunity of winning a £1 million prize.

Today, the gaming industry is bigger than the movie industry at $91.5 billion, and is predicted to rise year on year at a rate of 9.4%, to reach $107 billion by 2017. It is reported that the average age of a video game player is 30 and that 97% of children play computer and video games.

‘Gamification’ involves applying typical elements of game playing, such as competition, rules, strategy and scoring points and applying them to the real world, typically to encourage engagement with a product or service. The concept is not new, and games have long been used as a means to enhance education. Nevertheless, it is an exciting medium for all businesses, regardless of industry, to communicate messages, educate and build a sense of community. 

Back to the future...

Whereas historically games may have been thought of as escapism, many can be seen as containing elements of education. Board games such as Monopoly can be seen as teaching investment, Scrabble enhancing literacy, and chess encouraging strategic thinking. Indeed, it has been documented that in the Middle Ages, strategies of war were determined based on the game of chess.

In later times, play was used to construct a framework for education. Jean Piaget, a scholar in early 20th century, transformed European and American education through his work, to a more ‘child centred approach’, and Friedrick Fröbel created Kindergarten based on learning through play. In fact the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in the UK which sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old is based around play in order to encourage and facilitate learning.

Enhancing productivity

So why should this stop there? Games can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well as children. Whilst learning through play is central for a child’s development, it is also beneficial for people of all ages.

In the workplace, many companies have recognised the link between productivity and a fun working environment. An example is Google, who invest time and resource into making the perfect work space, mixing business with pleasure. For example, in their Zurich office, Google has slides and a fireman’s pole to get around the building, as well as a library and an aquarium in order to relax. Nobody is allowed to be more than 100 metres away from food, so there are multiple kitchens and a restaurant where every employee is fed three times a day at no charge. It is also well known that Google has games rooms in all their offices across the world. 

Innovation

In addition, the concept of ‘Gamestorming’ has revamped traditional ‘brainstorming’ and is used to encourage innovation in organisations such as Google, Apple and Facebook to generate new ideas based around structured play through short games and exercises.

Within social media, companies use Facebook to post social games on their timelines as a way of marketing their businesses to encourage comments, shares and likes, and build a sense of community around a brand. Quizzes can be seen on timelines such as ‘What is your Life’s Feature Film’, ‘Provide the Next Line in a Story’ or ‘Guess the Number of Sweets’ in a sweet jar, all to encourage interaction and increase a sense of community.

An example is the drinks manufacturer, Red Bull, who has developed a series of games and a TV channel for this very reason. The aim being the more you can get people returning to their page and staying, the greater the likelihood that they will spread the word and eventually choose their products and services. Red Bull has also taken this to the next level by setting up events in order to meet their consumers in person, and therefore continue to build community and increase engagement. 

Gamification in the world of finance

So how can the concept of games be applied to the world of finance? As Peter Tufano, the Dean of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford stated, "The most interesting ideas—indeed the oldest—try to make savings a fun or satisfying experience."

In the US, Doorways to Dreams (D2D) was created in 2009 and has engaged over 350,000 users in over 90,000 hours of free financial education through fun and innovative games. Ultimately the organisation rewards investors as they save.

A more relevant question for some would be: how can this be applied to the world of pensions?

Kingfisher, who is responsible for the workplace pension schemes of B&Q and Screwfix, introduced a financial education program for all their DC members from November 2013 running for a 5 year period, called ‘Saving for your Future’, which includes elements of ‘Gamification’. The Kingfisher Pensions team were very much aware that complex messages needed to be delivered to those that may not have previously had an interest in pensions and did not have access to a PC. They also felt they wanted to target the younger members, especially as a quarter of their staff are under 25.

As an integral part of the education program, the scheme created ‘Bolt to the Finish’, an app which can be downloaded from Apple, for use on IPad, IPhone and tablets. ‘Bolt to the Finish’ is a cartoon character which allows players to collect money to see how different contributions create differences in pension pots. It has been reported that 67% people played the game more than 10 times and 78% of staff said that it has encouraged them to save for their future, resulting in 35% more visits to their trustee pension website with contribution increasing by 1%.

Ultimately, the introduction of ‘Gamification’ has allowed Kingfisher to deliver complex and serious messages in an engaging manner, which happens to be a more cost effective way of providing information than sending it out in a hard copy format.

More recently, in the private wealth sector, it has been reported that the wealth manager, Seven Investment Management has hired video game developers, who were responsible for Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and Golden Eye, to product a gamified app called ‘My Future’ to engage investors and allow them to ‘play’ with their financial planning. In addition, Nutmeg, another wealth manager hired a Google Executive to develop its mobile investment services in January, indicating that we can continue to expect further developments of a similar nature in this space.

The future of games

So what’s next? Gaming itself is not only becoming a serious business, it is a serious sport. Esports, which can otherwise be known as professional computer gaming, has been on a sharp increase since 2000 and now generates over $748 million worldwide, due to reach $1.9billion by 2018. It is estimated that approximately 188 million people worldwide currently watch competitive gaming. The increasing availability of online streaming media platforms, particularly Twitch.tv, has become central to the growth and promotion of eSports competitions. 

In addition, since 2013 universities and colleges in the United States such as Robert Morris University Illinois and the University of Pikeville have recognised electronic sports players as varsity level athletes and offer athletic scholarships, resulting in average salaries of $50-60K, with some tournaments offering prize pools reaching into the millions of dollars.

Although there is debate in relation to whether these types of games can be classified as an actual sport, there is certainly the discussion around the fact that it could change the face of traditional games. That said, there is also huge potential for ‘Gamification’ to change the world of the finance and revamp some of the messages that need to be delivered.

Although some professionals within education may say that games can have a negative impact on students, we should ask ourselves what would happen if we looked at games themselves as being truly rewarding, in that the longer you played the more productive and/or knowledgeable you could become. 80% of students said they would be more productive if their learning/job was more ‘gamified’.

Where next?

So where next? There are many weighty topics across the financial industry. For example, employers and pension schemes need to understand and apply government regulations from within and throughout their organisations. In addition, we know that individuals generally are not saving enough for the future and that the challenge for employers to educate employees to increase contributions to their pension funds, ensuring that an ageing population is saving for the future and can support themselves, is not going away.

Even if some employers feel that their workplace pension schemes are now in the hands of the employees, it is becoming apparent that requirements on employers will increasingly be to provide their members with tools to help them make educated decisions in relation to their financial future.

The exciting point is that ‘Gamification’ can provide a platform to deliver those messages, at a potentially reduced cost, compared with hard copy communications. In addition, as the pension industry has a duty to embrace new technology to keep individuals engaged, why should it stop there? Employers could look at how they can use games as an employee engagement strategy across the board, for increasing productivity, managing benefits and idea generation.

Whatever the message or the task, games can be used to deliver an effective employee engagement strategy and to reinforce knowledge. Gamification is a concept of old, which is the future; motivating individuals, stimulating business and providing insight for employers and the financial industry alike.

Posted by Amy Richardson

Topics: Employee Engagement

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