Below is a transcript of my interview with Professor Kevin Werbach, Associate Professor of the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, after his presentation on gamification last week at the 2013 HRO Today Forum in Philadelphia. If you'd rather listen to the interview, you can find it here.
Joel: Today I’m here with Professor Kevin Werbach. He’s a professor of legal studies at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. I just sat through a fantastic presentation on gamification. The word is tossed around so frequently and is defined in so many different ways but Dr. Werbach really did a phenomenal job of giving some practical applications. So, first of all, thanks for giving me the time.
Kevin: Oh, thank you.
Joel: So listen, a couple of questions. The first one I had is, talk to us about some of the students at the Wharton School that you’re teaching because that’s the one thing I found fascinating right out of the gate is that you’re really teaching this in the real world. So, I’m just curious as to the types of students that are taking this class.
Kevin: I started teaching courses about gamification at Wharton two years ago because I saw a demand in the market place. And, to be effective at gamification requires a combination of skills. You need to understand something about games and fun but you also need to understand something about design practices, and you also need to understand something about analytics because you need to be able to track and measure and use these systems. And it turns out, our students have a number of those pieces but they didn’t have the game design expertise.
And so I started an experimental class, didn’t know who would sign up. It sold out. We have a course auction and it sold out in the auction the first round. And I asked them, why did you take this class? All over the map.
We had people going to Wall Street who said, well I saw this Zynga chart and I wanted to understand what’s going on in this space. But then, I had people saying, well, I’m going to consumer package goods and marketing and I want to have a set of skills about applying these game techniques to motivate people in a marketing context. Or, people going into traditional enterprises who were thinking about HR or internal applications.
So, I think students are seeing that there’s demand. They’re hearing from employers that there’s a need for these skills, and no one teaches it. So, it’s a competitive advantage for them.
Joel: So, one of the things you showed—and what was the name of the company, the start-up in the Boston region that you showed us? Because I thought it was an excellent example.
Kevin: Yeah, I talked about a company called Objective Logistics.
Joel: So I would encourage our readers to check that out because it was a very good example of how this is being applied in the restaurant industry. But, here’s a question that you might not know but I’m going to put you on the spot anyway. This skill set and the fact that your students—I’m assuming they’re under graduate students, right?
Kevin: I teach both undergraduates and MBAs.
Joel: So they’re seeking the need for this because they see application for themselves. Do you see this skill set as being a higher demand across the board in business-to-business application, not just in the traditional gaming world?
Kevin: Oh, I see tremendous latent demand for game design expertise outside of the traditional games and entertainment industry. And then that’s again part of the reason that I’m doing it at Wharton. I think this is going to be fairly ubiquitous.
It’s similar to social media, that when things like Facebook started going, people said, well, alright, so this is like this trivial stuff. There’s no reason that anyone in the business context would need to know that. And now every Fortune 500 company has someone running a Twitter account, and they’re using Facebook and LinkedIn, all these things.
They need people who understand how to do that, how to manage those for business, not just for fun. And so, we teach social media at Wharton. We teach those skills and also the structures and analytics around them.
So absolutely, I think there’s going to be a great need for it, not just for specific positions that require that skill. Game design is a broad kind of design expertise. It’s about how to make things fun and engaging. And my general thesis is that as we get to the end of the advantages of pure efficiency—making things run better, faster, more efficiently—engagement, fun, excitement and motion, those are the competitive advantages and those are the differentiators. And, not a lot of people have skills.
If you say to someone, how do I make this cheaper, there are a lot of people who can talk about all kinds of processes. But if you say, how do I make this more fun? Not a lot of people have that skill.
Joel: Now, let me follow that up with this question because, and this is just an observation, we look at the social fitness mobile movement right now. And it seems to be a growing trend, Jawbone is doing quite a bit here. Is this a good example of an early entrance into breaking the wall, if you will, from the traditional game experience into more consumer-oriented applications and products that are gamified naturally?
Kevin: I think fitness and health and wellness generally is a big area, and I lump that under behavior change. Everyone wants to exercise more. They want to get healthier. It’s just hard to motivate yourself. So that’s something where gamifying—and also it’s something that naturally ties into competition and so forth—gamifying can be a really great push to keep you engaged and get some mobility.
Joel: I got you. Listen, Professor Werbach’s been very gracious. I want to make sure I point out his book. It’s called For The Win and it can be found at any of the basic online retailers. Correct?
Kevin: Absolutely. Online, in paperback, or all the eBook lines of course.
Joel: Very good and I encourage you to pick it up because the hour that I was able to watch you present was really very valuable. So, thank you Professor Werbach for giving me time.