How to Use Gamification in Government

USC professor explains what gamification can — and can’t — do for your agency.

by / August 23, 2013

With ‘gamification’ reaching buzzword status in private industry, more government agencies are exploring how to use game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage citizens and employees.

Doug Thomas, an associate professor in USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, says gamification can be an effective tool for some tasks — but it’s far from a silver bullet. For instance, gaming principles can be used to boost innovation within organizations, according to Thomas, who spoke Wednesday (Aug. 21) at Government Technology’s GTC West conference in Sacramento, Calif.

But careful attention must be paid both to the design of the game and the payoff for participants. Thomas also pointed out two common gamification pitfalls: underestimating the difficulty of creating an engaging game and applying the technique to the wrong type of task.

Creating a good game is extremely hard — even for professional game designers — so agencies shouldn’t assume they can build one without help, Thomas says. “Don’t give game design to someone who isn’t a game designer.” And gamification can’t change the nature of dull, repetitive tasks. Applying game mechanics to these activities doesn’t make them fun, he says, it only makes them take longer to accomplish.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.