Gamification is the use of game elements and aesthetics in non-games context.
The practice is gaining increasing success on Internet based services. Some of the most common examples of successfull gamification are Foursquare with its badges and Stack Overflow reputation system.
At the moment I’m reading Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal, In the first pages I found an excessive enthusiasm on bringing the joy of videogames in so-boring real life. Going on reading I found many relevant examples and explanations of how videogames work at a psycological level, it’s a really interesting reading to better understand games, but I’m not sure if the behaviors explained by McGonigal can have a real impact outside game context.
For sure games mechanics have been used successfully in other context since long time. For example recruiters use role games to better understand candidate social skills, loyalty programs and points systems are used in retail marketing to stimulate consumers to buy.
Another interesting resource on the topic is the Google Tech talk Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right by Sebastian Deterding.
Deterding analyzes what UX designers and product managers can learn from games.
Some of the ideas expressed in the talk:
1. when designing a score system it is important to connect with users personal goals and community shared interests.
2. In games the story, even if basic, can be fundamental for the fun.
3. Goals have to be linked with learning and reaching goals have to be increasingly difficult.
4. Failure increases the pleasure of success.
Other resources about gamification
The Gamification on codinghorror.com
One of the founders of Stack Overflow explains where did they get the games-like ideas used on their Q&A engine.
What Web Designers Can Learn From Video Games on smashingmagazine.com
Anne Miles gives some examples of videogame interface elements that can be used in web design.