Q&A with Yaniv Corem, gamification expert at IBM Research

Yaniv Corem joined IBM Research – Haifa in June 2010 after completing his undergraduate work at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and earning his master’s degree in architecture and computer science from MIT. Aside from his enthusiasm for rock climbing and bouldering, Yaniv is passionate about projects that use the "wisdom of the crowd" to solve difficult problems, complete tasks, gather data, and more.

What is gamification?

YC: Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics in non-game applications to increase engagement. Game thinking can be used to make almost anything fun and encourage people to get involved.

Does competition really help people learn?

YC: Human beings are competitive by nature. Games bring out that sense of competition within a safe and fun environment, where learning takes place naturally. It's not just competition that does the trick, but an entire set of attributes that make games such powerful tools for learning. Gamification creates a safe environment in which to experiment without suffering the consequences. It also brings in the aspects of new experiences, cooperation with other players, and just having fun.

Competition can be an extrinsic motivator, for example, for a student competing with other students for the best grade on a test. But competition can also be intrinsic, when people push themselves to achieve a certain goal. For example, a toddler learning to stack objects will try the same thing over and over again, while grappling with complex concepts like gravity and balance.

How is IBM using gamification to help people learn and share information?

YC: One great example is in the area of product adoption. New users of Lotus Connections, for example, can find such a feature-rich environment daunting. Bunchball, a leader in gamification, developed a solution for IBM called Level Up to help users adopt Connections. It takes complex learning processes and breaks them up into smaller chunks called levels. At each level, a user/player is asked to perform specific tasks that help teach how to use the product. In return, the users are awarded points, badges, or titles.

Gamification could also be used to keep communities active by rewarding members for their contributions. An interesting byproduct of gamifying a community is the social analytics, such as finding the major contributors; the most helpful contributions; the interaction among community members, and more.

Which industries can benefit from games?

YC: Almost every industry can benefit from games and gamification. In a recent report, the analyst firm Gartner stated that by 2015, more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes. The report also notes that by 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay, or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.

Yaniv rock climbing
How did you get into gamification?

YC: I got hooked through a Lotus Joint Program last year with our partner at IBM Project Northstar. Northstar is the result of IBM's vision to deliver exceptional web experiences to clients and we were looking at how gamification can improve the user experience of our clients' externally-facing applications.

There's also a great wiki about gamification, which provides a huge knowledge base about the topic. The founder, Gabe Zichermann, is regarded as the guru of gamification and I've been sharing ideas with his company, Gamification.co to help evangelize gamification within IBM.

We've been sharing gamification examples across companies and watching them transform their business, from healthcare, to education, and many others.

I’m a big believer in letting people have fun while learning, instead of learning things the hard way.

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