When we think of gaming, we probably have an image in our mind of a young person sitting in front of a screen using a console. However, the gaming industry is serious stuff – it’s valued at over $300bn globally and increasingly companies are turning to gaming to support their development and growth. This was the focus of the TechRevolution 2.0. full network meeting which took place in November 2021 at the PISMO gaming incubator in Novska, Croatia.
This article sets out some of the benefits of gamification of industry, presents a couple of examples from Croatian startups, outlines the approach being taken by Novska to grow its gaming sector and explores the role of cities more generally.
Change is coming – if you don’t change, your competitors will & you’ll be left behind
Potential and benefits
In the Spring of 2021, Accenture estimated that the full global value of the gaming industry was over $300 billion. This is more than the combined markets for films and music and has increased considerably over the last 18 months because of the surge in mobile gaming and the need for social interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And recently too, gaming has increasingly been used in the business world – this is known as gamification – the idea being to take the best bits of gaming and apply them to real life activities and challenges in the workplace.
‘Gamification is the strategic attempt to enhance systems, services, organisations, and activities to create similar experiences to those experienced when playing games to motivate and engage users. This is generally accomplished through the application of game-design elements and game principles (dynamics and mechanics) in non-game contexts’. - Wikipedia
The business benefits, as set out by Alisa Aliti Vlasic during the TechRevolution 2.0. network’s visit to Novska are many – and include:
- Better engagement and motivation of both internal teams and of users or customers
- The ability to track work progress in a fun and playful way and to tag strengths & weaknesses
- The opportunity to enhance company direction and planning by setting clear goals against a baseline and then tracking achievements
- Better alignment and improved adaptability
In short, companies are adapting features which we are more used to using for online games such as scoring systems, badges, leader boards and avatars to drive business performance and competitiveness.
In Novska we heard from a start-up called Grow which is using gaming and augmented reality to support education and innovation activities with young people. The founders – 2 local entrepreneurs - have created an app which aims to inspire young people to go out into nature and discover new plants, animals and habitats. They want to counter what they see as the bad reputation that gamers have of sitting in dark rooms in front of screens all day. They want to show how the same technologies can be put to more positive uses, to get people moving around outside and learning about the community in which they live.
We also heard from InfoBip – a Croatian unicorn which is using gamification to support internal skills development, team, and user feedback. Using a game format, they gather feedback on their technical documentation and user experience and then use the information to plan improvements and to onboard new engineers. This has enabled the company to better understand internal pain points and to make changes which take them into account.
When asked about the challenges faced, the 2 companies responded that companies need to balance the need to both entertain and get value from gamification – there needs to be a pull in terms of gaming elements but it also needs to support core company goals. Sometimes, they said, it’s hard to get the balance.
PISMO - The Novska story
With the potential outlined above, perhaps it is not surprising that Novska, the Croatian partner city in the TechRevolution 2.0. URBACT Transfer Network, has decided to seize the opportunity and is investing heavily in growing a local gaming industry, driven by local entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Faced with high levels of unemployment and outmigration of young people, the Regional Development Agency (SIMORA) opened the doors of the first gaming incubator – PISMO 1 – in 2016 and then quickly expanded to PISMO 2. This small city (which has a population of less than 14,000) is now home to more than 60 gaming start-ups and has an enviable suite of gaming equipment, including a motion capture studio, VR equipment and music and video studios, available to support them to develop and grow. The incubator also offers a range of start-up support including grants, office and event space, mentorship, marketing and events to enable local entrepreneurs to start and scale gaming companies.
The local and regional authorities have also developed a series of education, training and curriculum-based interventions which they hope will grow local talent and encourage young people to stay in the city rather than relocating to nearby Zagreb or internationally. This includes workshops for high school pupils, integration of gaming development technician training into the curriculum and paid 6-month education programmes to support gaming development for local unemployed people.
The Regional Development Agency now has its eyes on an even bigger prize and is seeking to raise almost 20meuro to develop a new 90,000 square metre gaming campus with another enterprise incubator, a faculty offering five-year courses in programming and graphic arts, accommodation, and an eSports hall where up to 4000 video gamers can come together and compete.
This would be the first of its kind in Croatia and one of the largest in the EU. The ambition is huge and I for one will look forward to watching it being realised over the coming years.
What can cities do?
But what does this mean for other cities? What is the role of municipalities and other public authorities in supporting the growth of this new employment sector? Based on our discussion in Novska, the city role can be summarised as:
- Help understanding the nature and scale of the opportunity – a lot of SMEs don’t understand the potential impact of gamification and need to be educated about the opportunity on offer
- Support with funding – both in terms of direct local grants to start-ups and signposting to other funding and investment opportunities and networks
- Funding the delivery of sector-specific incubation and acceleration programmes like those offered in PISMO Support through education to ensure that local towns and cities have the skills that gaming start-ups need to grow
- Support with networking to enable connections with new opportunities they might not otherwise have considered - such as mentor and investor contacts or introductions to potential new customers and contracts
- Walking the talk by working with local tech or gaming start-ups to develop and deliver local public services in an innovative way.
However, it is not easy. There is still a perception that tech in general and digitalisation in particular will destroy jobs. It continues to be vital that cities realise the potential of creating higher value jobs. And for local people to be able to take on these new jobs, they will need help with digital skills. In Novska, we were reminded of the mantra adopted by the former URBACT TechTown Action Planning Network – that cities faced with the challenge of digital transformation need to ADAPT or DIE.
Article originally written November 2021.
Alison Partridge, Lead Expert, TechRevolution 2.0.
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