Gaming for Reality – Can BPM be Fun?

I’m reading Jane McGonigal’s book – Reality is Broken, if you are a Gamer or you’ve never understood why people “waste” their time on Games, I suggest a free read of the Kindle sample.

Besides giving comfort to me as a 40+ adult who still plays Games on iPad, Xbox, and the Wii she presents an early view of some real issues around Games, Work and reality.

For one she considers the productive hours lost to society while hundreds of millions of people invest their time and energy into virtual worlds, and society suffers from the loss of these hours due to their “exodus from the real world, our normal daily life”

But with the collective planet spending more than 3 billion hours a week on gaming she sees us (as of 2011) at a tipping point. We need to do something to turn the game experience into something more productive for society. (hint and even for BPM…)

Games are generally more engaging, fun and give young and old a sense of power and control over an experience that is not as easily satisfied in the real world of home or professional life.
So it’s easy to defer to old school thinking and agree that anything worth doing is generally not fun or easy and can’t be switched on and off like games.

But why? Why can’t we take the same challenges in games and apply to real life, to work and even to operational processes? (Also known as running your business and serving your customer)

McGonigal suggests the same, that we use what we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality.


Games applied in real life
Herodotus tells us that games played by the Greeks were invented to alleviate suffering (mostly hunger), and she asserts games can play a role in the modern world to do the same, quenching not real hunger, but our hunger for achievement, participation, and happiness.

Let me refer to a real world example that I think is doing this at the moment. has created a Game environment around cycling.  Games are all about scoring, feedback, engagement and often multi player interaction. Strava have created an online social, competitive platform in which thousands of users are competing against themselves by seeing best times across segments of their rides, and against friends and followers who ride a similar route and cover those segments. It sounds inane to some, and torturous to others, but Strava is putting some real fun and motivation back into cycling for many, including me. It may be short or long lived but the gamification aspects like KOM (King of the Mountain, awarded when you are fastest on a certain segment) and PR (personal records), is creating a hall of fame online that spurs new and current riders to go out and beat those records, log it online and share with all to see.

So it’s a game, but in so doing more cyclists may be out there enjoying real world interactions with friends, getting fit, and staying motivated.

So how does this help our back office / operations staff to get through the day? Well, the same concepts can and should be applied to the processing worlds / call centres, operations staff, and even management / executive levels.


Carrot and stick
Games are the carrot approach, currently we use the stick. We use Management SLA’s, escalations when service levels dip, and reports to beat up the staff that service the customer requests, tasks needing doing etc. Customers revert out to Hello Peter and other social channels to further beat up on the corporate worker when their needs are not serviced fast enough.

Social BPM has entered the BPM world as offering collaboration, counsel and interaction to allow the user to consult using social channels to get their work done. No real public examples are out yet as to how this has changed the world. But Gaming BPM? What if the agent really saw each day as game? If the motivation to do the same operations work better each day, or at least beat a few Personal Records on Claim Processed, or Customer Created? What if the KOP (King of Process) was awarded when an agent set a new best time for Account Opening?

We have a large focus in the BPM domain of ensuring that the future state (ideal) process is well defined, and can be displayed to all, and in some cases can be automated. We don’t really think in terms of allowing for the real executors of process to have some fun, or allow them to find a better way to do things.


Overcoming obstacles
One of the key premises of Games is goals. Sometimes the fun of a game is in finding new and different ways to achieve that goal as we explore a map or new hidden routes. Could process work be the same? The customer account needs to be opened… Are there multiple ways to do this? In many environments the answer could be yes, as often many systems are touched, and the skills in opening and capturing into them could well differ between users.

As McGonigal states, Games are about mastering what are often “unnecessary obstacles” with certain constraints placed on the player. Her perfect example is Golf; there are easier ways of getting a small white ball into a hole than by standing 500 meters away and striking it with a club, but that’s the game.

Many operational workers may see each day as a series of “unnecessary obstacles” to be overcome before home time. I propose that if we can “Gamify” their world and create competition, and fun by measuring small parts of each task, and putting it on the score board for all to see, they might actually start logging some higher scores and longer hours.


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By Craig Leppan @ Ovations Group | March 11, 2013

10 Responses to Gaming for Reality – Can BPM be Fun?

  1. Very nice article Craig! For me, a long-time gamer, a vision of “gamificaiton” of real life is very appealing. However it might be quit hard to implement, especially for now. My biggest concern is people’s mindset, especially those don’t like playing video games and don’t really understand a whole concept of gaming. Anyway, I wish vision you presented could come true ;).

  2. The idea of “gamifying” business processes is a seductive one, but as Michal touches on the problem is that unless the people performing the process are turned on by games, such an initiative is going to come across as patronising to some, distracting to others and quite possibly offensive.
    Applying the idea of gamification from one domain (where there is some evidence that it can work) to another domain is a risky thing to do, because the assumptions you can make in one domain might not apply in another. To be specific: look at the places where gamification appears to be having some impact – invariably these are online social communities where individuals voluntarily participate to help each other with problems, collaborate, co-create, and so on. Because they are voluntary, there is invariably some “selection bias”; those people who are the kind of people who like getting involved in online communities will be dominant (maybe even the only people there). So we know that gamification can be useful in these environments.
    But can we say the same about a group of call centre workers? I don’t yet have hard evidence to say “no”, but I think it’s also clear that “yes” is not likely to be the answer.
    The danger here is that we all jump on another bandwagon, but we’re in fact just following the same mistakes as before – imposing a system from above. The system might be made up of tasty carrots rather than nasty sticks but it’s still imposed from above.
    Here’s a radical idea – why not ask process participants what would work for them?

  3. Fair comment… Henry Ford said if he’d asked his customers what they wanted they would have asked for faster horses! :)

  4. Pingback: Gamifying processes: seductive, but proceed with caution – MWD's Insights blog


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  7. More from Garner.. On this

    ■ By 2015, 25% of all redesigned processes will include one or more of the engagement practices known as “gamification

  8. More from Gartner.. On this

    ■ By 2015, 25% of all redesigned processes will include one or more of the engagement practices known as “gamification

  9. Pingback: Process Gamification = Improved Worker Engagement? |

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