Why do people do what they do? And how can we get them to do more of it?

Those are some of the questions behind gamification, a sweeping change in software, services, games, and work that is impacting the websites we use, the work we do, the health we want, and the tools we use.

“When my kid was nine or ten, he got stuck on Pokemon,” Badgeville VP Steve Sims told me yesterday.

“So I go search for a walk-through, and find a woman who wrote a 45-page writeup on Pokemon White. I wondered why anyone would do that — does this person have no life? — until I saw that there were over 4,000 comments thanking her … and I realized that her entire massive contribution was for social value for strokes.”

foursquare badgeIn other words, gamification is a psychological, sociological, and even ethnological exploration into motivations and actions.

Like anything else, it can be done right and it can be done wrong. According to a recent Gartner study, as much as 80 percent of gamification projects risk failure due to bad design. But to ensure the tens of thousands of corporations, gaming companies, and organizations building gamified products get it right more often, Badgeville is launching a gamification center of excellence it is calling the Behavior Lab.

gamification outcomes

Good gamification on a bad product is frustrating. Bad gamification on a good product is confusing. And, of course, bad gamification on a bad product is just a complete train wreck guaranteed to anger users.

But good gamification on a good product that builds in behavior management, variable rewards, habit formation, and behavioral economics like time-based discounting is an an almost guaranteed recipe for better engagement, more time on site or in-app, better ROI, and increased monetization.

gamification sartreAnd that is exactly what Badgeville’s new Behavior Lab is intended to do.

“We want to apply real-world analytics to affect real-world change,” Sims told me. “We have three areas of focus: research and innovation, improved methodology, and solution templates, or best practices.”

Those real-world changes have already led to success for gamification projects by Badgeville customers as varied as the education-focused Coursera, American Express, Kaplan, and Samsung. Cloud vendor EMC increased product engagement 21 percent by gamifying its community network, and Canada’s Bell Media, working with MuchMusic, increased comments, connections, and music video watching by an average of 59 percent as its viewers unlocked more than 120,000 achievements.

Metrics like that are possible, Sims suggests, when you really understand your product and when you really understand gamification.

“People think that gamification is points, badges, and leaderboards, but its a lot more than that,” Sims says. “It really depends on the experience … and on what people’s motivations are.”

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