WASHINGTON'S LEADING BUSINESS MAGAZINE

Gaming Technology: A tool for productivity

Game-play technology helps raise engagement and productivity, making ‘gamification’ a popular new tool across many sectors.
Aaron Alan Tilley & Elizabeth Padilla |   September 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Watch a seemingly indolent teenager play a favorite video game and you can’t help but be impressed by the intensity and focus applied to memorizing arcane rules and developing strategies simply to beat another player or to move up to another level. What if you could tap some of that power for productive purposes?

That’s the idea of a new field called “gamification.” Scholars and entrepreneurs are taking techniques first developed to motivate and drive players in the game world to drive productivity and creativity in other areas. One local company has developed a game that encourages people to live a more balanced life, while another helps people better manage their money.

The Seattle area, with more than 150 game companies and numerous educational institutions dedicated to game design, including the recently opened Academy of Interactive Entertainment and the now venerable DigiPen Institute of Technology, is emerging as a key center in the potentially transformative phenomenon of gamification.

When Scientific American listed gamification as one of the top “World Changing Ideas” for 2010, one of its primary examples was Foldit, a puzzle game developed at the University of Washington that allows nonscientists to fold proteins in new ways that could offer potential breakthroughs in everything from biofuels to virus inhibitors. An associate professor in the UW’s Division of Biomedical and Health Informatics has developed a game intended to help diabetics manage their blood sugars more effectively by teaching them about the carbohydrate content of various foods. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is so convinced by the power of games that it donated $20 million in April to support game-based learning projects in areas such as mathematics.

Gamification draws strength from its ability to trigger elements of human physiology that drive us to work hard at achieving certain goals. “The reward centers [in the brain] that are lit up by well-designed games will light up when we engage with any well-designed interactive system,” Byron Reeves, a psychologist and games expert at Stanford University, told Scientific American.

The application of game techniques to nongame areas is still a relatively young field. M2 Research, a California-based media and entertainment research company, estimates gross revenues by businesses in the field this year may total $100 million, a tiny slice of the $25 billion U.S. video game industry. But M2 predicts that projects using this approach will generate revenues of $2.8 billion by 2016. And Gartner