BunchBall Opens a Research Lab to Legitimize "Gamification"

By Erin Griffith , written on September 12, 2012

From The News Desk

Buzzwords ride the hype cycle in Silicon Valley the same way companies do. Right now I'd argue the term "gamification" is in what Gartner calls the "Trough of Disillusionment." The question is whether its industry leaders can resurrect the idea. With its new labs program, enterprise gamification company Bunchball hopes to do just that.

Gamification is certainly an easy target. A perfectly snark-tastic example came just yesterday in Francisco Dao's TechSpeak dictionary. He defined it as such:

Gamification: We realized our product had no legitimate purpose of any kind so we had to pretend it was a game.
He's not the first to note the term's negative connotations. In May I wrote that the word was "loaded with hype-y, buzzword-y annoyingness." Aside from the term itself, Nathaniel made the point that gamification for work felt patronizing:
The first time I posted to PandoDaily I was greeted with a little sidebar that screamed “Congratulations, you’ve made your first post! Next goal: Make five posts!” with a little star next to it, which made me feel like I had just learned the alphabet and impressed my kindergarten teacher…
Posting to PandoDaily is my job, and I don’t need WordPress to hold my hand and make me feel like a Big Boy Writer.
He argued that gamified apps like Fitocracy work because they're designed to be games and market themselves as such. Encountering gamification elements in unexpected places ("Way to go, you snagged a seat on the subway! You earned the Commuting Warrior Badge!") builds resentment.

Bunchball would argue he's wrong--the company has more than 150 clients, including Adobe, Cisco and VMWare to prove it. More than 125 million workers have used Bunchball to complete more than 15 billion actions. And now, Bunchball has hired four analysts to dive into the data collected on those actions.

Through the labs program, they will produce models, impact reports and analytics that demonstrate the benefits of gamification."The group is well on the way of developing behavioral models that can be used to analyze and predict user behavior," says Joe Fisher, VP of Products at Bunchball. Further, companies may be able to use the Bunchball Labs insights to "elicit specific behaviors" from employees and customers, the company said in a statement. Which sounds more like manipulation than gamification--but whatever gets the job done.

One of the biggest benefits Bunchball offers companies is finding out how much employees use the software that's been purchased for them. If a work force doesn't know how to properly use Salesforce, or whatever other clunky software the company has dropped millions on, they're less productive. Bunchball uses gamification for training and engagement, which the company argues that that leads to more info sharing, collaboration and a more skilled workforce for companies. It's essentially calculating an ROI for enterprise software investments.

Tech companies serving the enterprise often struggle at first to convince the industries they sell to whether their solution is, in fact, a thing. It's taken social media enterprise companies five years to reach critical mass and catch the eye of big enterprise players. (Once they did, it was all over--the biggest three players--Buddy Media, Wildfire, and Vitrue--were acquired within a matter of months.)

Gamification has been around for the same amount of time. Bunchball takes credit for inventing the concept in 2007. With its labs program, Bunchball isn't taking any chances on whether the concept will catch on with enterprise customers.

If it doesn't succeed in legitimizing the term gamification, the company might do well to drop the tainted buzzword and start calling its products what they are: motivation and measurement tools. But maybe that just doesn't sound as cool.