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The Game of Business

The Game of Business
Photograph by Nicholas Eveleigh

Ever watch gamers thumbing away at Fruit Ninja, World of Warcraft, or Angry Birds? They’re totally absorbed in the moment. What are they playing for? The personal satisfaction of reaching a new expert level or using a magical sword to slay imaginary monsters? Don’t scoff: The video game business is a $70 billion industry. Now imagine if you could harness that energy to get your employees and customers as engaged in your business.

The idea of making business a game is nothing new. Smart managers and marketeers have been subtly manipulating us to change how we shop and work for more than a century. (Did you really buy Cracker Jacks for the caramel-coated popcorn and nuts?) In the last few years, the concept has become popular enough to be worthy of its own buzzword—“gamification,” which, as the name suggests, refers to using video game design techniques (progressing through increasingly difficult levels or team competitions, for example) to motivate people in other aspects of life, notably anything considered work.