Game On

Gamification recently has gained attention as an important trend in technology, but despite the name it is not about creating games. Rather, it’s a strategy of using game dynamics to engage audiences and accomplish goals.
Game On

You know you should drive the speed limit, right? It’s the law. Yet every day in the United States, approximately 100,000 drivers are cited for speeding. 

The question of how to reduce speeding on city streets appealed to a San Francisco man who came up with a creative idea for how to change that behavior: the Speed Camera Lottery. Kevin Richardson entered his idea in The Fun Theory Campaign, sponsored by Volkswagen Sweden, which encourages individuals to submit innovative solutions to social challenges. In the Speed Camera Lottery, a custom street sign is outfitted with cameras and speed sensors that broadcast the speed of approaching motorists. Cars traveling faster than the limit are photographed, cited, and assessed fines. Those proceeds go into a pot.

But cameras also snap pictures of drivers who obey the speed limit. The law abiders automatically are entered into a lottery to receive some of the money from the speeders. As drivers approach the Speed Camera Lottery zone, they face a choice—keep the pedal to the metal and risk a citation, or slow down and potentially win some cash.

When city officials tested the concept on a busy Stockholm street, it was clear that “the fun theory” had powerful effects. Before the lottery, average speed in the zone was 32 kilometers per hour, or about 20 miles per hour. Nearly 25,000 cars passed by the speed cameras during the three days of the experiment. Analysis showed that, during this time, traffic speed in the designate zone dropped by more than 20 per-cent—just because officials tapped into people’s desire for play. (For more details on this and other ideas, go to

The Speed Camera Lottery is an entertaining example of the way a city can improve public safety by engaging its residents in an enjoy-able activity. Similarly, we in the management education community can achieve specific goals among our constituents if we think deeply about fun as a motivator. One approach is to gamify the programs we develop for stakeholders.

A Winning Theory

Gamification recently has gained attention as an important trend in technology, but despite the name it is not about creating games. Rather, it’s a strategy of using game dynamics to engage audiences and accomplish goals. According to a Google trend chart, there were no searches for the term “gamifiction” in 2010. Yet by the end of 2011, Gartner Research predicted the following:

  • Fifty percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify them by 2015.
  • Seventy percent of Forbes’ Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified appliction by 2014.
  • Organizations will allocate US$2.8 billion in direct spending to gamification by 2015

The year 2011 saw two other milestones: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested US$20 million to develop game-based learning tools for kids, and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offered the first MB course in gamification. Silicon alley was enthusiastic, with Bing Gordon of venture capital firm Kleine Perkins noting that “gamification i as important as social and mobile” applications. But why does it work?

In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer analyzed thousands of daily diary entries of employees across a set of firms. They determined that tapping into an individual’s sense of progress—what the authors called “meaningful forward momentum”—could be used to motivate and engage employees, customers, and stake-holders. Such momentum could be achieved through game mechanics such as conferring points for doing certain tasks or awarding badges to mark levels of accomplishment. This approach has the potential for turning work into play.

Serious Fun

It’s clear that gamification could have significant implications outside the b-school classroom. As marketers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, we wondered if gamification could be used to achieve marketing goals in a nontraditional way.

Business schools are engaged in constant dialogues with the students we hope to enroll, the alumni we want to engage, and the business practitioners we wish to expose to our faculty’s expertise. Traditionally, those of us in the marketing function have used push tactics to get information to our stakeholders. We publish magazines, produce newsletters, send tweets, and host training sessions for brand ambassadors who are about to graduate. We encourage our faculty to attend conferences or log onto Skype to engage with alumni groups and the media.

How might our tactics change if we started to think more creatively about what motivates our stake-holders’ behavior? Human beings seek rewards, status, achievement, opportunities for self-expression, chances to compete, and situations where they can display altruism. What if we designed programs that deliver the rewards and social interaction that our audiences crave while achieving the marketing outcomes that we need? What if we tried gamification.

Duke Rolls the Dice

In July 2011 at Fuqua, we launched our first attempt at gamfication with a student and alumni outreach campaign. We ran the campaign over a custom Web site and across social media outlets for 25 days. Our concept was anchored on a long-honored student tradition called Campout.

By way of background, Duke University has a well-known men’s basketball team whose home court, Cameron Indoor Stadium, has such limited seating that tickets are extremely difficult to get. Camero Crazies, as fans are known, show their passion each fall by camping out for 36 hours in a campus parking lot, trying to win the right to purchase tickets via a lottery system. Throughout that weekend, campers respond to a series of “check-ins,” signaling participants to run to a central tent to have their attendance recorded. If campers miss more than one check-in, they are out of contention for the ticket lottery.

Out of a typical Campout team of eight students, odds are that about three team members will win the lottery for tickets, which are often shared among the group. Every year, some of the Crazies are students from Fuqua’s Master of Management Studies (MMS) and MBA classes.

We decided to use the playful-ness of the Campout experience to increase alumni and student participation in the life of the Fuqua School. From an institutional perspective, we wanted to encourage actions such as fund raising, volunteerism, mentorship, business development, and leadership. We also hoped to educate our alumni, especially the older ones, about the school’s current strategies and programs. Finally, we wanted to provide an opportunity for alumni and students from different backgrounds and generations to interact around a shared passion: Duke basketball.

Our virtual Campout was delivered on a Web-based “parking lot” that offered campers ways to earn participation points for a limited number of days. The more participation points campers earned, the more entries they received in the prize lottery.

The grand prize winner and a friend would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to China with the men’s basketball team. We had no trouble securing two seats on the Duke plane carrying the team, staff, alumni, and VIPs, because a key reason the team made the trip was so Duke could highlight Fuqua’s global expansion. Two other lottery prizes included tickets to four home basketball games and tuition to an executive education course.

Campers could win additional prizes in two more ways. Individuals who were among the Elite Eight, or the highest point-earners by the end of the game, received a signed basketball from coach Mike Krzyzewski. In addition, we organized players by their class cohort as long as they had at least five members playing, and we deter-mined class scores by averaging the point totals among the players. The Final Four classes with the most points received prizes—such as faculty books, jump drives, and Fuqua decals—for all their players.

The Rules of the Game


We intended that the experience be sticky—that is, we wanted visitors to the Web site to linger a while and return often. However, we were afraid of penalizing individuals who didn’t have hours to spend accumulating points online. We therefore required campers to complete four critical tasks to qualify for our lottery prizes, but we offered them chances to earn additional entries through other tasks.

Campers accrued points by  sharing contacts, donating  space, posting jobs for students,  providing testimonials, and donating  to the Annual Fund.

In the four required check-ins, players had to update their personal information, share research in their networks, provide feedback to help us improve the game, and take a quiz on Fuqua programs. Quizzes were designed so that campers would have to find some information on the school’s Web site or read through a piece of faculty research to answer certain questions correctly. 

By finishing these tasks, they earned one lottery entry and a cer­tain number of points, depending on how well they performed on the quiz. Once they had completed the tasks and earned 150 points, they could earn another lottery entry for every additional 50 points they accumulated.

They accrued more points by sharing contacts at an organiza­tion, donating corporate space for Fuqua activities, posting jobs for students or alumni, referring col­leagues to Fuqua programs, provid­ing testimonials for Fuqua to use in program marketing, and donating to the Annual Fund. They also could earn points by volunteer­ing for Fuqua as mentors, alumni interviewers, class communications chairs, alumni leaders, and so on. One camper earned a total of 28 lottery entries by the end of July!

We knew the importance of keeping campers engaged, so we built incentives for campers to recruit their classmates. For instance, we awarded points if they invited ten classmates to Camp­out via e­mail or Facebook. We incorporated a Twitter feed within the application, awarding points to campers for using our hashtag (#FuquaCampout). The hashtag was pulled into the Campout inter­face and enabled campers to razz each other about the game.

We were improvising as we went, so throughout the month we added other opportunities to earn points. For instance, we invited campers to come to the school’s Facebook page and post which of their classmates they would take on the grand prize trip. This generated conversation within the Fuqua community and led to many inside jokes between classmates and across cohorts. It also showcased a slice of the alumni network in a public space—a sub­stantial win for us, since prospec­tive students appreciate a powerful alumni network.

A leader board showed the rela­tive positions of the Elite Eight indi­viduals and Final Four classes. See­ing their rankings spurred classmates to reach out to their friends and encourage them to join the game. A few die­hard campers constantly monitored the leader board to make sure they stayed ahead of the pack. Not only could campers watch the leader board, they could wander through the virtual parking lot to view the profiles of all the players check their point totals, read their comments, and send them emails.

We also offered special events that didn’t require participants to take action. For instance, we pre­sented guest stars in the parking lot by featuring communications from the dean and members of our global staff. In this way, we could make sure the wider alumni net­work was aware of Fuqua activities in those regions.

As the organizers of the game, we chose to identify ourselves as a “Campout Committee” rather than the school’s marketing team. This created a wonderful casual dynamic with campers throughout the duration of the game.

The Finish Line

By all measures, our first experiment with gamification was successful.

Grand prize winner Jennifer Hills was not one of the obsessive players—she only had a few lottery entries and spent about five hours playing. But she had a great expe­rience on the trip and networked with many graduates, and she has returned to campus several times to speak to student groups, so she’s proven to be a model winner.

The experiment also was success­ful because we had participation from students in every program the school has ever run, including those we no longer offer, and repre­sentation from 31 of the 41 classes we’ve graduated. We gathered hun­dreds of testimonials, HR contacts, alumni record updates, and candidate referrals.

Most interesting, the campaign also generated multiple thank-you notes from participants. They expressed their appreciation for having the school reconnect them in such an innovative way, described the number of hours they had spent in Campout, challenged us on nuances of faculty research, and reminisced about how much they enjoyed spending time with Team Fuqua. They also offered suggestions and ideas for future iterations.

We held our second campout in March 2012, and we’re planning to make the experience an annual event. We’ve already made some adjustments. For one thing, we couldn’t provide a trip to China as the 2012 grand prize, but we did offer an all-expenses-paid trip to Durham to see the basketball game between Duke and the University of North Carolina. The other lot-tery prizes were, again, basketball tickets and tuition for an executive education course.

For another, we realized we needed to keep campers constantly engaged. In our second year, we added a daily check-in that focused on basketball and Fuqua; this encouraged people to return every day to score additional points.

We’ve also experimented with the perfect time to hold Campout. In 2011, we ran the event in July, but we thought players might be distracted by vacations and holidays, so in 2012 we moved it to spring to leverage the excitement of March Madness. However, we had 200 fewer participants in 2012. That could be because people were spending their limited free time following the NCAA games rather than visiting the Campout site. Or it might have been because Duke was eliminated early in the 2012 tournament, so some passionate fans might have been “over” basketball just as we were running our event. We will probably launch the 2013 version in February, when people are still excited about the upcoming tournament.

Something that worked unexpectedly well was classmate evangelism. We would see interesting pockets of participation from one group, such as the Daytime MBA class of 1995 or the Cross Continent class of 2011, and discover that one person had encouraged everyone else in the cohort to play.

Since the first two iterations of Campout both occurred in the 2011-2012 fiscal yea, we analyzed the results together. Over the two events, we engaged a total of 1,278 participants, 138 of them repeats. Together they took a total of 19,932 actions to learn about, volunteer for, or otherwise support Fuqua. This translated into more than 100 spreadsheets of volunteers, leads, and other actionable information we could deliver to key departments in the school.

Playdates Elsewhere

Duke’s Campout was a structured month long campaign, but other organizations in the business school industry are using game mechanics in different contexts to create a sense of community. For instance, Beat the GMAT, a social networking site for MBA applicants, awards badges to members who are the first to respond to a question or who have made a school visit. An Honor Roll on each school’s profile shows which site members were accepted into that school. A leader board tracks how much the most popular members are engaging with other participants, and progress bars measure how far members have expanded their presence in the community.

Other universities are using gamification techniques to design programs for new students. For instance, a significant number of colleges are supporting their orientation efforts with a technology platform called SCVNGR. While the experience differs at each school, typically students are grouped into teams of diverse membership to interact with classmates across their cohort. One person is assigned to act as the team pilot. Organizers launch the orientation experience by texting clues to the pilot, who leads the team on a scavenger hunt across campus; students earn credit for checking in at each location.

A YouTube video of one such experience, the University of Louisville’s “Cardinal Challenge,” captures the energy of engaged students shrieking as the newest text clue comes in and working together to find their way to the next location. Teams earn points for taking on challenges at each location—for example, answering a trivia question about a facility—and are rewarded as they progress to new levels of mastery. Winners receive priority access to course registration. (See

How to Score with Gamification

For other schools thinking about employing gamification, here are a few simple rules to follow:

1. Be clear about what constitutes a win. Articulate a core set of business objectives before you even begin. If you can’t answer how a specific game dynamic would help you reach an important goal for your school, it’s probably better not to play.

2. Understand your players and their motivations. Traditional gaming identifies four distinct types of players who respond to different stimuli. Killers focus on winning and attaining high rank. Achievers are motivated by attaining status or reaching goals. Socializers need others to play, but they can be engaged by newsfeeds, friend lists, and online chat. Explorers are driven to discover the unknown; they delight in obscure achievements. If you know your audience, you will be able to devise the game strategy that’s most likely to engage the players. (For a chart that shows the characteristics of different types of players in gamification models,visit

3. Focus on the human. Create an experience for the emotional, playful aspects of your stakeholders, not their rational sides. Luckily, you and your team are humans, so you can quickly test what does or doesn’t work. Try this exercise as an initial brainstorm: In what scenario would you happily spend hours reading your own school’s Web site?

4. Do the reward math. Create scalable, meaningful rewards. Many audiences will be motivated by prizes or other material gifts, but the most popular tasks work because they provide customers with powerful intrinsic motivation. A school is in the enviable position of having customers who were transformed by their stays at the institution, and most of them still remember their experiences fondly. We can tap into this goodwill with game mechanics that draw on their happy memories.

5. Make it fun. Create an enjoy-able experience for your stakeholders, but—probably most important—have fun with it yourself. For example, taking on an organizing persona like the Campout Commit-tee can enable you to be a whole lot cheekier than school representatives usually are with stakeholders. Inhabiting such a persona also will allow you to learn from your mistakes without incurring penalties. So what’s preventing you from introducing a gamification protect at your school? Surely your key stakeholders would like to have a good time and show their human side while engaging with your brand. And it wouldn’t hurt if you and your colleagues could have some fun with a project while achieving your objectives. We dare you … double dare you …

Elizabeth Hogan is the associate dean for marketing at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina. Andrea Mohamed is Fuqua’s director for marketing.