When Banks Play Games
“Super-empowered hopeful individuals” – that’s how game designer and author Jane McGonigal, refers to gamers, a soon-to-be-a-billion community that she is convinced will play a pivotal role in solving problems from peak oil to poverty[i]. Then there’s corporate executive-turned-third grade teacher Ananth Pai, who combined the seemingly antithetical activities of gaming and learning to dramatically boost classroom scores. Name a real world challenge – food & water shortage, disease research, environmental degradation – and you’ll find that there is a gamified business model chasing down a solution, write Manish Jain and Sudhanshu Hate.
While gamification is aiming at some seriously audacious social goals, it sits equally well with the comparatively simpler needs of corporations. For the banking sector, which by definition at least is as much economic activity as it is social utility, the relevance of gamification is no longer a matter of debate.
Yet recent research presented by EFMA and Infosys says that just 9% of banks globally have forayed into gamification, and an additional 35% are sizing up entry strategies. Banks must take note of the litany of possibilities, ranging from user engagement and financial literacy to scenario analysis, behaviour modification and skill development, demonstrated by the early adopters.
The timing is right. The banking sector is perfectly poised to evolve into the next phase of gamification, which is about setting up the processes and structures required for – to borrow a gaming term – the epic win. Gamification will scale out, as more banks opt into the opportunity, and scale up, as first movers shift from isolated experimentation to a multi-application enterprise-centric view of gamification.
But even as gamification builds banking traction, it is important not to confuse it with the ‘game’ itself. The mere application of game mechanics, such as leaderboards, points and badges, to an enterprise situation does not constitute gamification. Motivation is at the heart of gamification; badges and leaderboards are merely markers of progression.
As banks embark on programmes to modify behaviours, such as the way in which customers manage personal finances for example, they must derive the nature and value of game mechanics from an innate understanding of players’ financial context and underlying motivations. Clearly, the financial motivations of a youngster in his first job will differ entirely from those of a middle-aged man with familial responsibilities. Hence one of the biggest gamification challenges for banks is to strategise a system that is relevant to a range of user contexts, motivations and behaviours.
Then there is the need for a narrative, which builds a multi-sensorial experience combining an engaging plot, interesting characters and interactive devices in evocative settings to keep the player hooked on now, and in the future. This is of special import to banking given it’s innately complex and consequential nature.
Next comes game design, which composites the gameplay, the mechanics and the narrative into one balanced wholesome experience. How important is this? Well, a grim analyst prediction says that weak or inadequate design would contribute to the failure of a majority of gamification efforts[ii].
Gamification guru Gabe Zichermann describes it as 75% psychology and 25% technology[iii]. So, even as banks come to grips with the psychology of gamification, they need to keep tabs on the technology that will help them scale it into an enterprise-wide programme.
Cost is the biggest technological challenge in gamification deployment. Integrating gamification principles with existing processes and applications might call for expensive re-architecting of current systems and interfaces. Gamification systems also need to constantly evolve in terms of content, strategy and structure, which can again add to cost. In this scenario, a platform-centric approach to gamification can help banks mitigate the cost and effort of deployment while ensuring a unified multi-tenant multi-application approach.
Gamification platforms offer banks the capability to quickly configure gamification environments and integrate them easily across technologies, devices and form factors. These platforms also help banks integrate gamification as a central element of enterprise strategy rather than a federated collection of gamified environments. An enterprise-centric approach to integration is especially critical considering the importance of data and analytics in the success of gamification.
The analytics module in gamification platforms helps banks track game metrics and enterprise KPIs. By combining relevant information sets across game environments and enterprise systems, banks would be able to significantly enhance the performance of their gamification strategies.
When embarking on a gamification agenda, banks should focus on three fundamental principles. Firstly, they must think of gamification not as a project, but rather as a long-term investment in value enhancement. Secondly, the ‘fun and games’ must drive behaviours that add tangible value to banks as well as players, be it the general public, customers or employees. And thirdly, banks should align game mechanics and rewards with individual contexts, needs and motivations in order to have a chance of modifying behaviour.
[i] According to Jane McGonigal during a talk at TED in 2010 – http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.htmlhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html
[iii] According to Gabe Zichermann, author of Gamification by Design – http://blog.kissmetrics.com/gamification-for-better-results/