Game on at TechEd 2011

The gamification of TechEd (photo: SAP)
Games taking the stage at this year's SAP TechEd (photo: SAP)

“I want to spend the next hour talking about how we can take games seriously,” said Jane McGonigal, the opening keynote speaker at SAP TechEd 2011, a visionary game designer and one of Business Week’s Top Innovators to Watch. “We are going to explore how games make us more resilient and enable us to rise to the occasion.”

McGonigal, who currently serves as the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research group in Palo Alto, California, made a convincing case that “gamification” or “Game IT” can not only help workers become more engaged, but also help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

According to McGonigal 3 billion hours per week are invested in online games. The possibility to do good with a fraction of this time is enormous. Additionally, employee disengagement costs the workplace USD 300 billion per year. “These employees aren’t getting positive emotions, which is what gamification is all about,” said McGonigal. “Gamification isn’t about giving points and achievements.”

After wowing the TechEd audience with a few eye-opening facts – by 2016, 70% of Global 2,000 businesses will have a gamified app – McGonigal introduced a special guest who set a world record as the top winner in massively multiplayer thumb wrestling. The TechEd crowd was then coaxed to its feet to participate in its own game of massively multiplayer thumb wrestling. By doing so, McGonigal proved that this game hit upon the key emotions of games like pride, joy, and contentment. And judging from the lively reactions on Twitter, the crowd had a lot of fun taking part in a real massively multiplayer game.

Jane McGonigal
Guest keynote speaker Jane McGonigal takes games seriously
The gamification of SAP TechEd continues with InnoJam 2011 (photo: SAP)

Applying games to the real world

But games are nothing more than “unnecessary obstacles” that we volunteer to tackle, according to McGonigal, who used the game of golf to underscore her point. “The goal is to get a little ball into a little hole. If this was a real task in work, people would simply pick up the ball and place it in the hole.”

Why are we spending so much time on unnecessary obstacles? McGonigal says it has a lot to do with “eustress,” or positive stress. This means when we opt in to tackle a problem, we still feel similar emotions when stressed out. But instead of feeling bad, the stress is perceived as exhilaration.

Applying this in the real world has proven to be successful. Awarding money to drivers who stay under the speed limit, funded by speeding fines, is one way. Kids playing soccer to generate electricity is another. An online social media tool called Ground Crew increased volunteerism by 100 times through gamification. Earlier, in his introduction, Mark Yolton, senior vice president of SAP Community Network, for example how SCN is itself a form of gamification, with its points and award system.

McGonigal says these examples have real business implications, and as gamification grows, rapid changes will occur within the enterprise. “A lot of it is driven by incentive and what we can do to change people’s behavior,” she said.

Working hard or playing games? Is there a difference? (photo: SAP)
Let the games begin: Knowledge Quest (screenshot: SAP)

Game on with Knowledge Quest

True to the theme this year, SAP TechEd is infused with games. In addition to the Innojam held Sunday, which brought developers together to apply gamification to a real working demo, the content itself has been imbued with a layer of gaming to keep attendees on their toes and engaged in the event’s offerings.

Knowledge Quest, as the game is officially called, is an online-coordinated “Amazing Race” designed exclusively for SAP TechEd attendees, a treasure hunt for tidbits of TechEd knowledge. Players earn points toward prizes of Apple iPads, Nintendo 3DSs, and Skullcandy headphones. If players collectively reach a million points by the end of the event, SAP will donate USD 10,000 to Kaboom!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving playgrounds for America’s children.

Knowledge Quest comprises six categories of play, including:

  • Session Quest: Attendees test their knowledge and earn points by completing content-based session questions and surveys
  • Exhibitor Challenges: Attendees earn points by completing challenges issued by exhibitors
  • Clubhouse Challenges: Attendees explore the Clubhouse to earn points
  • The KQ Daily: Attendees compete in head-to-head challenges with fellow attendees at the Knowledge Quest reception counter
  • What Have You?: Attendees earn fast points by correctly answering questions about SAP and SAP TechEd-related activities such as the keynotes and Demo Jam
  • After-Hours: Attendees keep the game alive for more points while they’re out and about in Vegas hitting the town

Jointly developed for the event by SAP Marketing employees Ellen Stangroom and Julie Barrier and implemented by technology-based team building company The Go Game, the Knowledge Quest pilot was designed to enhance learning and networking throughout the conference. Incidentally, one of keynote speaker Jane McGonigal’s first jobs was with the folks from The Go Game.

For more live information from the event, follow our reporter Tim Clark on the SAP TechEd Newsroom.