In 2011, Volkswagen Group invited consumers in China, its largest and most important market, to help the company develop new versions of the “people’s car.” Participants were given a tool to help them easily design their new vehicle, and they were able to post their designs for others to view and to pick their favorites. The results were tracked on leaderboards so contestants and the general public could see how the competing designs were faring.
Within 10 weeks, the online crowd-sourcing campaign had received more than 50,000 ideas. By the end of the campaign’s first year, at least 33 million people had visited the site, and the general public had chosen three winning concepts. One of them, a two-seater, zero-emissions vehicle that hovers over electromagnetic road networks, was turned into an online video that swiftly became a viral hit on YouTube. Small wonder that VW, acknowledging its long-term importance for the company’s future product development strategy, has announced that the project will continue indefinitely.
The People’s Car Project owes its success to VW’s recognition that participation in a popular business initiative needs to be not only enticing and rewarding but also engaging and fun—more than a bit, in fact, like playing a game. Indeed, the name of the elimination section of the design contest—P.K., which stands for “player kill”—was borrowed directly from the sort of multiplayer, online games that millions now play worldwide.
The application of such game-like elements to the sort of business challenge that VW faced is known as “gamification”—and it’s catching on fast. Gartner research projects that by 2014, more than 70 percent of Forbes Global 2000 organizations will have at least one games-based application, and that by 2015, half of all companies that manage innovation processes will have “gamified” them.