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Build vs. Buy – The Gamification Edition

Build vs. Buy – The Gamification Edition

Rob Mullany

11/01/2012

By Robert Mullany, Sales Engineer, Bunchball
robert.mullany@bunchball.com / @RobMullany

Have you ever found yourself browsing for the perfect movie to fill a rainy Sunday evening? As you browse the endless titles, suddenly, you stumble upon a movie that sounds perfect. How has this film eluded you up to this point? After popping some popcorn and sinking into your couch, you hit play only to realize “Crap, I’ve seen this before.”

Build Vs BuyUnfortunately, many of you may feel the same way as you read through this post. You may have seen this “movie” 10 years ago when it discussed the merits of building vs. buying a CRM system. I still remember the much heralded ending that featured Salesforce.com and others riding off into the sunset. While fewer returned for the sequel, perhaps you tuned in a few years ago for the build vs. buy discussion as it related to enterprise social platforms. Well now, as we head into 2013, it seems that there are still some people out there wondering if in the case of gamification engines, things may somehow be different. I don’t need to include a spoiler alert as most of you already know how this story ends.  

To start, as was the case with CRM systems that essentially put a user interface on a relational database, it is very possible that an organization could build a gamification engine. As much as I would love to believe otherwise, our developers here at Bunchball don’t hold any magic pills or elixirs. They built the Nitro engine one line of Java code at a time, much the same way that Salesforce.com and Jive were built. (I warned you this story could get a little repetitive.) However, just because one can do something, it doesn’t mean one should do something. (I was going to add a few examples here, but they all seemed extremely career limiting, so instead, I would love to hear your examples on Twitter).

As has been a recurring theme in build vs. buy discussions around other types of applications, one of the main reasons you wouldn’t want to build a Gamification engine on your own is the time and resources involved. Our Nitro engine has millions of dollars invested in it. Our developers have spent thousands and thousands of hours over the past 5 years building and iterating on its features and functionality. Our operations team has optimized its performance to handle the millions of transactions it receives on a daily basis. This all means that while your developers are spending valuable time away from your core business, you will also be extremely slow to market with your engagement strategy. Your competitors could easily roll out Nitro in under 30 days while your in-house build stretches over months and starts celebrating birthdays. 

Additionally, to achieve the types of business results you need, your gamification program needs to consist of more than just technology. The strategy for best applying that technology is equally if not more important. While you could commit developers to building a leaderboard or a point system into your website or applications, just adding these game mechanics may not result in the increased engagement levels you were hoping for. Our Client Services team leverages best practices and strategies developed over hundreds of customer implementations to ensure your program achieves measurable results.

Finally, there is the question of how your program will evolve over time and how you will handle the ongoing administration required to keep the program fresh. Through the use of technologies like Jive and Salesforce.com, business users have become increasingly accustomed to the ability to manage and adjust their programs on their own without any IT involvement. If you want to adjust the reward structure in your loyalty program, do you really want to be at the mercy of the IT department’s backlog of strategic projects? If it takes three months to tweak a point value, you can be fairly certain that you will lose users before that change ever happens.

As software as a service has become more prolific, the chorus of voices arguing for build over buy has significantly waned. However, it seems anytime a new technology comes along, some remain skeptical that this situation may be different and building may make more sense than buying an established application. Unfortunately for these skeptics, in the case of gamification, the dynamic aspect of the programs ensure that an off-the-shelf solution and the point and click administration capabilities that go with it will provide significant value over building a home-grown solution.

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