Gamification: How to use games to motivate and educate

BY Ryan Conley



Gamification is becoming serious business in the corporate world. Now, the legal industry is beginning to take notice of the potential for gamification to enhance performance and profits.

Turning a task into a game is a great way to keep someone’s attention and motivate them to learn and to perform. Teachers and parents have used this tactic for ages to help children learn their lessons. Military groups often engage in “wargames,” and the simulations of flight and surgery that pilots and doctors in training undergo are forms of games as well.

“Gamification,” as the process has come to be called, is becoming serious business in the corporate world. Retailers and nonprofits led the way, and financial companies soon followed suit. Now, the legal industry is beginning to take notice of the potential for gamification to enhance performance and profits.

Gamification is the application of the elements and mechanics of games to non-game tasks for the purposes of educating or motivating people. The elements of games include role-playing, story lines, points, achievements, competition and reward.

Games in the context of gamification largely fall into one of two categories. Those in the first category are designed to educate or train the player. They lend themselves to features such as role-playing and fictional stories, and they may be intended either for members of the public or for personnel. Games in this category are often marketable products that organizations might purchase for internal use or partner with for marketing purposes.

Games in the second category are designed to elicit certain behavior from the player, and they often include features like points, achievements and rewards. They are usually designed, or at least tailored, for use within a specific organization.

Gamification has its deepest roots in education and social interaction, and some early notable examples of gamification undertaken by corporations are indicative of this history. HopeLab is a nonprofit group devoted to using games and technology to improve health. Its first product, Re-Mission, is a futuristic video game targeted to pediatric cancer patients in which the player travels through the bodies of fictional patients, destroying cancer cells and managing the side effects of treatments. Along the way, kids learn about cancer and the importance of taking their medications and maintaining a positive outlook. It is a blend of the two categories of games.

Another HopeLab product, Zamzee, incorporates a software application and a motion-tracking device — like a fancy pedometer — to track kids’ activity levels. Together with parents, kids track their progress, set goals and earn achievement badges. Very similar products, including the Fitbit Flex and Nike Fuelband, are marketed to adults.

Retailers are significant adopters of gamification, if often in limited capacities. Any customer loyalty program could be considered a game in that it incorporates points and rewards. In January 2013, Whole Foods Market ran a game called “14-Day Blast Off” that invited customers to complete 14 simple tasks related to healthy eating and exercise. Participants could track their progress online and share it with friends.

Foursquare is a location-based social networking app for smartphones. When visiting a business or other location, users “check in” on their phones to earn points and badges. The user who checks in at a given location most often within the preceding two months is named the “mayor” of that location, and users compete vigorously for mayorships of popular places.

Foursquare represents a gamification of retail loyalty from which businesses can benefit with merely passive participation. Many businesses also choose to actively participate by offering discounts and specials to users who check in. A competing app called Shopkick works on similar principles.

Gamification has made significant inroads into corporate compliance training. Last year, a company called True Office released a compliance training game pertaining specifically to the sweeping and stringent U.K. Bribery Act of 2010. In the game, a fictional U.K.-based retail chain is looking to expand into Turkey. The player’s character, an executive at the company, is tempted to take advantage of her political connections and resort to bribery to facilitate the expansion.

Another True Office game teaches corporate personnel about insider trading. It is based on the real-world case of SAC Capital Advisors. SAC faces criminal charges of insider trading and the potential seizure by prosecutors of most of its assets. In this game, the player is tasked with investigating whether a fictional investment bank shorted a pharmaceutical company’s stock after learning sensitive information about a drug in development.

Gamification is beginning to take hold in the legal industry. One leading creator of educational legal games — the first category mentioned above — is Game On Law. This nascent company is currently developing two games that will allow players to learn about how to solve and prevent legal problems. In an important opportunity for small law firms, players of these games can earn points redeemable for discounts on legal services from partnered firms and self-help resources.

The first is Estate Quest, an estate planning game in which the player takes on the role of a detective presented with various case files of individuals who failed to plan their estates before death. The detective travels in a time machine to witness key scenes from the individuals’ lives and hunt for clues as to what estate planning steps should have been taken at that time. The second game, so far unnamed, will explain landlord/tenant laws by having the player act as a landlord who must deal with evictions, property management and rent collection.

Law firms are ripe for gamification of internal processes, i.e. those fitting into the second category. Many firms struggle to get attorneys to record and invoice billable hours in a timely manner. Compliance efforts usually focus on nagging and negative reinforcement, including suspended pay in some cases. Gamification presents a great opportunity to refocus on positive reinforcement. A game encouraging timely reporting of hours might include a financial reward for a month’s worth of on-time reports and a firm-wide, year-long competition for a grand prize.

Collecting on accounts receivable is another common issue — this one involving groups of attorneys. Knowing which matters have the highest rates of realizations vs. write-offs is useful to everyone. Attorneys within practice areas can form “guilds” and work to outperform their colleagues. Implementing game elements into processes for which data is already captured by computer is a relatively simple matter.

Consider also e-discovery document review. For the portion of the process that is necessarily manual, gamification can help keep attorneys engaged in the often mind-numbing task. Receiving real-time feedback accuracy, speed and progress toward the end goal could improve motivation and work satisfaction.

Individual progress is a powerful motivator ¬— often more so than competition. When implementing gamification into the corporate environment, bosses and developers need to make sure they do not merely slap together a system of points and badges and assume that it will motivate workers. Firms should be sure the system provides the user with meaningful feedback on his or her progress, which represents a reward in itself.

Business firms interested in implementing gamification for internal processes have a variety of options. Large, high-tech firms can develop solutions internally, but that is usually not an option for law firms. Hiring a consultant is a good option for mid-size firms and those who perhaps need a little extra guidance. Most small firms will probably want to shop around and get demos and consultations from the various gamification vendors. Examples include Badgeville and Bunchball.

Gamification is a powerful motivational tool that spans the spectrum from interpersonal to organizational environments and from social to corporate applications. It has taken a while for gamification to spread to the legal industry, but it is likely here to stay. Keep an open mind toward your firm’s opportunities to benefit from internal applications of gamification and from partnerships with consumer-oriented legal game developers.

Ryan Conley

Ryan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and a legal content strategist for U.S. based law firms.


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