The Gamed Universe

Games are serious business, with people spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year on various forms of gaming. How can you leverage your clients’ love of gaming to help you?


Here’s How to Play to Win

by M. Carolyn Miller

During the pandemic, as many industries’ revenues plummeted, gaming grew in popularity and dollars. And it is only expected to grow more. In 2020, gamers spent $159.3 billion on games. By 2023, revenue is expected to top over $200 billion, according to NewZoo, a games market analytics company, in its 2020 Global Games Market Report.

What does that mean for veterinary practices? It’s time to get in the game. And there are valid business reasons to do so.

Do you want employees to take more ownership in boosting practice revenue? Would you like to encourage more telehealth appointments? Do you want customers to be more responsive to surveys? All of these goals can be reached more easily if you “game” them.

That’s because gaming experiences are anchored in emotions. And it is those emotional anchors where the learning—and behavior change— occurs. Called “accelerated learning” in the training industry, these types of emotional experiences enable employees and customers alike to adopt new behaviors almost effortlessly, in large part because, well, it’s so much fun.

Games and gaming are everywhere today, and the landscape they are situated in has only expanded. So rather than fight the sea of change that is upon us, why not ride the waves?

An Aerial View of the Gaming Landscape

Traditionally, we think of games as social events. But increasingly—as they are used in the workplace, in marketing programs, and in other business applications—they are more serious. Indeed, they are being used to emotionally and behaviorally manipulate those who play.

Luckily, this manipulation offers opportunities for positive behavior change. For instance, if you lead a staff activity on how to resolve conflict in a way that makes both parties learn and grow and “game” it with points, scoring, and rewards, in effect, everyone wins, including the practice. That said, the depth of the behavior change you seek to create in customer responses and staff learning is dictated in large part by the type of gaming experience you create.

To identify that, it’s helpful to “locate” your desired experience and ideal outcome in the larger gaming landscape to understand the limits and possibilities.

At the center of the gaming landscape are gaming features universal to all games, like points and scoring. Those features radiate out to permeate all types of gaming experiences to greater or lesser degrees.

Next are the gaming experiences themselves. These include two broad categories: games and gamification. Although often used interchangeably, the words “game” and “gamification” are, in fact, two different ways in which gaming features are applied.

What Are Games?

A game adds structure to play. Think Monopoly or golf. A game has a set of rules that outline what is and is not allowed to reach the goal and win. Scoring, competition, challenges, and rewards are also involved.

Games are also “events,” separate from life. In other words, you step out of your life and into the game space to play. This can involve sitting in front of a computer to “play through” a safety scenario and take a quiz. It can also involve gathering around a conference room table to learn a new process via a board game.

Games often utilized in employee development and training include several types.

Tabletop Games are just what they sound like. They include board games, card games, and other games traditionally played around a table. These types of games can introduce new attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. These types of games are also excellent to reinforce what was previously learned (and may have been forgotten).

Embodied Games are games that you “act out,” or embody. They can include sports such as softball or bowling that can be used to build team relationships. Embodied games can also be played in meeting rooms, such as a dart-style game used as a content review game.

Virtual Reality (VR) Games are games played online. They involve entering a virtual world and donning a role in that world. The player then takes actions in that space that allow them to win.

This game design underpins many employee development programs, with the “win” being learning new information. For instance, a VR customer service gaming experience may offer scenarios a player must respond to correctly to garner points. Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) are played both online and in real life. ARGs can be sophisticated, with real-world impacts such as World Without Oil, which asks players to make lifestyle changes. ARGs can also be simple, and simply designed, such as a system you set up in your practice and document online to promote friendly staff competition.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of gaming features in non-game contexts. There are generally two types of contexts— event-specific experiences and real-life experiences. As you might guess, the latter is more effective in fostering real behavior change.

Event-specific gamification threads gaming features into a stand-alone training session. For instance, you may have staff practice customer service role-plays that include competition, prizes, and more. You may also elect to have embodied games, board games, and other strategies as part of the training session.

Simulations are also an event-specific form of gamification. These can take place online or in person. Built around a story or case study that mimics a “day in the life” of an employee player, simulations include a plot and subplots. They also include conflicts and challenges to navigate that are specific to the behavior you want to change. Often, teams compete against each other. When the simulation is over, players discuss what they learned.

Gamification is the use of gaming features in non-game contexts.

Real-life experiences, also known as non-event gamification experiences, blur the line between the game and life. They thread new attitudes, beliefs, and/or behaviors into practice operations. Over time, these new ways of thinking and working become standard operating procedure.

In a sense, real-life, or non-event gamification, experiences are business ARGs. They incorporate both real-life and online actions. For example, you may initiate a “frequent flier program” for your wellness program that includes both in-person visits and an online tally. A benefit or small prize can be the result of accruing a certain number of points.

Where to Begin: The Design

Once you identify the type of gaming experience you want to create—a game or gamification experience— your next step is to draft a design for it. All game and gamification experiences have an underlying design and gaming features that are in service to that design. Graphic elements and other branding strategies are also used to visually anchor what you’re communicating. In addition, there are two parts to creating a gaming experience.

The first part involves drafting the underlying design that will guide the gaming experience. The second part is developing all the parts and pieces, or gaming features, that will bring that design to life.

Step 1: Identify the goal of the gaming experience. The purpose of a business game or a gamification experience is to positively impact your bottom line. So, your first task is to decide what area of your practice you want to impact. Is it better inventory efficiency? Is it more personalized customer service?

Games3.jpgOnce you identify the area, your next task is to identify where the gap is between “what is” and “what is desired.” For instance, if your wellness appointment numbers are low—the “what is”—then what would be the desired or ideal number?

Step 2: Identify the route you’ll take to accomplish your goal. Once you identify the area, you can then strategize on the route you’ll take to reach your goal: employees or customers (or both). If it is employee behavior that needs improvement, exactly what kind of behavior is ideal? And how can a gaming experience accomplish that?

If the route you’ll take is customer focused, you may consider a more game-based marketing approach, such as a reward program for product purchasing. In the example about low wellness appointment numbers, an option would be to initiate a reward-based system where the customer receives points toward free gifts or discounts when they come in for wellness appointments.

See past Trends magazine articles for specific how-tos: “Get Your Game On: Motivate employees and trigger problem-solving with games,” August 2011. “You Win!: Game-based marketing programs build customer loyalty,” November 2017. “Game On!: Tired of presentations? Design your own game board instead,” December 2019.

Step 3: Compare your commitment in time, dollars, and energy with your goal. The challenge with all behavior change is how to take what was learned back to the workplace and make it part of normal practice operations. That’s where your investment level comes in. Sure, it’s a lot easier to create a simple card game instead of a simulation or game-based marketing program. But the return on your investment follows suit.

Step 4: Sketch out a design. Game designers hold meetings to map out preliminary gaming designs. They also have a keen awareness of the target audience, that is, those who are targeted to become involved in the gaming experience. They also have a sense of that audience’s technology skills, amount of previous knowledge about the content area, and more. Take some time with the design.

Involve staff in the process. Use a white board or flip chart and brainstorm to map the gaming experience. There are no right or wrong ways to do this. Every design is unique based on what you want the experience to accomplish. So enjoy the process and the creativity it engenders. Once you’ve done that, you will have a viable design road map to bring to life.

Step 5: Identify the gaming features you’ll employ. Games and gamification share some similar gaming features. Each type of context also has gaming features unique to it. What follows are some of the features both types of gaming experiences share.

How to win. “What is the goal of the game? How do I win?” These are some of the first questions a player will ask. Your first task is to identify this.

Rules of play. Rules outline the parameters for winning. They also create a sense of ease and assure players there will be a common starting place and that play is fair. Challenges and rewards (and penalties). Challenges enable gamers to play, and learn, at the edge of their skills. They test a player’s understanding, often through trial and error.

Points and scoring. Scoring answers the question, “How am I doing?” It rewards “correct” behaviors—those in service to the game’s goal—and adds competitive fun.

Once you have fleshed out the design and all the gaming features, you’re ready to develop all the parts, be it game cards or marketing materials. Finally, when you have your first draft of the gaming experience, take the time to test it out with your staff and refine it to ensure success.


M. Carolyn Miller
M. Carolyn Miller is a senior instructional designer and professional writer. Her 30-year career includes designing and developing narrative, game, and gamification experiences for adult learners.


Photo credits: Guzaliia Filimonova/iStock via Getty Images Plus



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