How come it’s so easy to get hooked on Angry Birds? And why is filling in timesheets so boring? Basically, because games engage and motivate us. More and more people are now seeking inspiration in the world of gaming to make users more motivated.

It's extremely rewarding to apply game theories in contexts where there are problems with engagement. By looking at what it is that makes people perform well and at the emotions that are activated in games, you can get people to engage in other contexts as well," says Ola Janson, a business developer and gamification expert at HiQ. He has been working and lecturing on gamification for ten years. Despite that, he still finds it hard to explain what it actually is. "The textbook definition is that you apply game thinking or game mechanics to something that has nothing to do with games. But I think that's a very vague, inadequate definition. What on earth are game thinking and game mechanics?" For Ola Janson, it is all about putting life into what he calls "dead systems" by studying and simulating the factors that make people participate with such passion in a game. And by that he doesn't just mean digital games. "Many people think it's all about computer games, but it can just as well be about football, board games or card games. Personally I derive more inspiration from card games than I do from World of Warcraft," he says.

What can developers of IT systems and digital solutions learn from games?

"Sometimes it's not enough for something to be simple and easy to understand. It must also be challenging, meaningful and interesting if users are to be activated, make decisions and progress," Ola says. Games have the ability to simplify situations at the same time as they create challenges. For Ola Janson this is exemplified in the slogan for Othello, a game that takes "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master". "The rules for Othello are remarkably simple, but the restrictions and challenges of the game produce almost endless possibilities. This is precisely the paradox that makes gamification work. It adds depth and life." A common denominator shared by all games is that they are complex systems. There are given patterns, but no one can predict the outcome. Ola Janson contrasts them with systems based on the conveyor belt principle, in which the aim is to pass through as quickly as possible. "If we want people to stay in our app or our program and explore, reflect and learn something, we must avoid the conveyor belt method. It's completely soul-destroying," he says.Filling in time sheets is a prime example of a dead system that no one finds particularly engaging. "It's designed for someone else. You fill in your hours and the information is then sucked up by the system without giving you anything in return.

" a minute to learn, a lifetime to master

So how can we apply gamification to time reports?

Ola Janson is looking at ways of making a time sheet system more meaningful for the user: "What benefit can I, as an individual, derive from filling in time sheets? Perhaps it might be good for me to keep a check on how I and the rest of the group are spending our time? If meaningful feedback loops are built into the system, the user can get something meaningful back. That might be an immediate message explaining that my colleague and I now have just five hours of budgeted time left on a project. Or a weekly report that shows how much time I have spent on various tasks. "It has to be something that can be valuable to the user. A good feedback loop should teach me something, stimulate me. It should help me understand how things are progressing and where I'm going," Ola says. He sees running apps as a good example of how feedback loops can provide motivation. "I've set my app to send me a spoken message every time I've run another kilometre. It tells me how quickly I ran the last kilometre. This might not work for everyone, but for me it is extremely motivating to know how well I've been performing and how long I have left. For others, it may be rewarding to get some kind of praise," Ola surmises. Gamification is by no means new. We have been using apps and systems inspired by the world of games for a long time. It's just that we have not always thought of these.

Ola JansonI've been working for many years on various e-learning projects. As a user, however, you don't necessarily need to understand what you're doing is borrowed from the world of games. For example, most people have no idea that gamification is behind Runkeeper," Ola says. According to a study by the economics site Business Insider, 63% of adults believe everyday tasks would be more fun and more rewarding if they included some of the elements of games. The same study shows that the market for apps and services based on game theory may be worth as much as 2.8 billion US dollars in 2016. "A great many customers are now asking for gamification principles to be incorporated into designs. For those of us who work with user experience – UX as it's also known – gamification is just one of many tools. But it's an important one, because we know that it really works," says Ola Janson.



A card game in which the aim is to say no thanks to high cards because the person with the lowest points wins.

Hanabi is Japanese for fireworks, and the aim is to produce the most spectacular firework display by arranging all of your cards in brightly coloured numerical series. The problem is that you cannot see your own hand, only that of the other players – and you are not allowed to reveal what cards they have.

A board game in which one player plays the role of a spirit and the others are well-known mediums. The aim is to find out the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the spirit. The spirit cannot talk to the mediums but gives them clues in the form of visions and dreams. If they interpret the visions correctly, they can reveal the culprit and the spirit can rest in peace.

Published in HiQ Magazine 2016