Famed children’s author Roald Dahl was onto something when he said this, and the new wave of smart cities is taking its lead from this concept too.

There’s a certain pain and pleasure to city living – usually it means a vibrant, stimulating place to live, often with numerous services to serve a large, diverse population. But finding, accessing or reporting problems with them isn’t always easy.

The India Smart Cities Mission is just one example of ways to revolutionize and improve city living for all residents, especially with rapidly growing urban areas in India.

As cities undergo digital transformations in how they engage and deliver services to citizens, one area gaining traction is gamification for citizen engagement. Taking its lead from the latest in gaming apps, smart cities are incorporating certain features to make smart city apps more appealing and – the key word – sticky, so users keep coming back. Much like an addictive online game.

Combined with the use of social media platforms and features, plus the accessibility and pervasiveness of smartphones with their geo-locator capabilities, gamification is becoming more mainstream across a wide range of traditional business and workplace apps as a way to engage customers, employees or now citizens online.

A key feature of gaming apps is their high degree of immersiveness or captivation. It literally draws you in so you can’t put it down. Other characteristics includes some kind of reward system or points; different status levels; leaderboards to reflect player or team ranking; new challenges to test achievement and skills; and offering virtual goods to participate in a clearly set out virtual world with deep levels of complexity and narrative structure. How does this lend itself to smart cities?

Consider the breadth of services or issues any decent, functioning city provides, in no particular order:

  • Transportation – bus routes, trains, traffic alerts, road and bridge repair
  • Garbage collection, street cleaning and snow removal
  • Crime, police and fire services
  • Local elections and initiatives
  • Building permits and violations
  • Permit requests, notifying police of a gathering or parade
  • School and education facilities
  • Hospitals and health facilities
  • Trees, parks and other recreational services
  • Planning meetings, office hours, forms and contacts
  • Surveys
  • Special holiday events
  • Tourism information

Today, most cities have a decent website with various sections covering these areas. To engage usually requires calling a given number, sending an email or maybe there’s an email or text alert you can sign up for. Some cities use social media too for updates and alerts.

Now imagine this undergoes a digital transformation with gamification. The city is now rendered in a detailed, easy to explore virtual world. Users can click, slide and explore levels of detail not previously possible. They can interact, tag, share precise pieces of data with new types of feedback systems or build tailored communities perhaps around a specific neighborhood or interest group like cycling, transit or animal advocates. New residents can quickly find essential, and not so essential, services around their neighborhood or across the city. Geo-locators help citizens and city department pinpoint exactly where a service is being reported or requested.

Besides the more compelling involvement, gamification also creates an environment where users provide data that helps make the app more efficient – where they are located, how many requests they may have made for a service, the type and frequency of transportation they are using. In turn this allows the app to get smarter about where the high or low usage is, which are the popular requests or problems, etc.

And for the cities themselves, this new level of data collection, analytics and interaction helps with dramatic process improvements and workflows.

Active citizens and city departments alike now have much faster and efficient interaction for updates on everything from street repairs and farmers’ markets to snow removal and virus alerts (think the specific neighborhoods in Miami which first experienced the Zika virus).

The concept of smart cities is making its services – in all its forms – easier to access and engage with. This engaged citizenry becomes a community which actively participates in these services to a level never seen before.

Gamification is having a major impact on all areas of customer engagement – healthcare and hospitality, enterprise apps such as HR, offering new levels of personalization based on factors such as location, status or demographics. Just like cities and its residents, companies are introducing it for stronger employee engagement.

Gamification becomes the norm for how apps are designed, which is where the eMee platform comes into play. It provides a foundation for gamification across many domains and vertical markets. Smart city initiatives is just one example.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin also understood this concept:

“Games lubricate the body and mind….We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!”