Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How All Knowledge Work Will Be Gamified

The gamification of labor has begun – and its pioneers are borrowing heavily from everything from World of Warcraft to Twitter.

  • November 21, 2011

RedCritter is a Dallas-based startup that is succeeding at the gamification of software development in a way that no one else is. But this is just the beginning, RedCritter CEO Mike Beaty told me last week when I wrote about his company here on Technology Review.

Beaty was able to reveal that the next products he plans on rolling out will gamify customer relations management and sales – which is how the now-mighty Salesforce.com got started. He also hinted that the future could hold much more. In general, he implied, there is no reason that gamification can’t be expanded to countless areas of white-collar work.

The methods are straightforward: Anything that can be tracked can be gamified. Since almost all work consists of discrete tasks that must be completed in an orderly, timely and somewhat repetitive fashion, tracking software like Harvest is already helping workers become more productive.

RedCritter Tracker, RedCritter’s package for software development, simply adds game elements to this tracking process, such as badges, points and a rewards store.

Now, there is plenty of debate about how well gamification will work. If we’re not motivated to do our jobs already, is the juvenilization of our toil through the addition of gold stars for good behavior going to improve things? But RedCritter Tracker is already being used, apparently to great effect, by a number of software development studios.

The secret to its success, I gathered from the developers I interviewed, is that by adding transparency to everyone’s productivity, they’re able to figure out how to improve. The game elements are therefore just a way to make the process playful and morale-boosting rather than intrusive.

The reason all this works is that companies like RedCritter aren’t starting from scratch – they have decades of trial and error by game designers on which to build.

“I have that mentality of an Xbox gamer or code monkey,” says Beaty. “That’s why we started our first product as software development service. It’s something we use and understand intimately.”

Beaty’s influences include FourSquare, Twitter, and World of Warcraft, from which he seems to have lifted not just elements like public records of your accomplishments but also a general aesthetic of team building and cooperative rather than competitive play.

Absent team play, World of Warcraft, is about grinding through levels. Or in other words, a particularly toilsome kind of work. So if the developers at Blizzard could figure out how to turn killing the same enemies over and over again and farming for gold into tasks people will actually pay money for, who is to say that companies like RedCritter can’t do it for tasks that are a good deal more engaging, like (hopefully) our jobs?

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