Playing for Profits

New course applies gamification to business

For many people, games are simply an enjoyable way to pass the time. But for Karthik Kannan, a professor in Krannert’s management information systems area, games can be a valuable tool for teaching and for helping businesses to better engage with their customers.


A new course developed by Krannert professor Karthink Kannan focuses on how businesses can use game design to influence customers’ behaviors. (Photo by iStock)

Kannan uses a variety of games in a new gamification course he developed for MBA students that examines how game design can be applied to different areas of business. Kannan focuses the course activities and materials on a concept he calls “Design for Instincts.”

“The main idea is that businesses and managers are successful if they can design products, processes and policies that appeal toward human instincts,” Kannan says. “Whether the target audience is customers or our own employees, we can achieve the desired outcomes by simply appealing to these instincts.”

From Angry Birds to tic-tac-toe to auctions, Kannan shows students how different games — and even their rules — appeal to a person’s basic instincts and desire for pleasure. In much the same way, Kannan says, businesses can change customers’ behaviors by using a series of incentives and rewards to produce a desired outcome, such as purchasing a certain product.

But the gamification techniques are not limited to the customer side of business operations. Kannan says an increased number of companies also are applying game design to human resources management, productivity enhancement and employee training.

“Gamification is about creating engagements. Businesses are looking at how to structure systems to create or generate engagement with customers and employees,” Kannan says.

For Kristopher Knotts, who works as a marketing specialist for Krannert and took the course as a part of the Weekend MBA program, gamification provides a framework to structure business problems and solutions so they can be studied and researched.

“The course looked at problems faced by many, if not all, companies and how games already provide answers to so many of the problems,” Knotts says. “Gamification isn’t a solution to all issues, but the number of issues it can provide solutions for is as wide and deep as the creativity of the companies implementing them.”

Kannan also believes the structure of his gamification course — which includes interactive games and class discussions — could work well for other courses as universities offer more classes online.

“In practically every class, they play a game or discuss a case whereby they learn and also observe how gamification techniques can be applied,” he says.