Friday, June 24, 2011

Gamification Will Save The World (Maybe)

Games are everywhere in our society. After all, video games are a multibillion dollar industry, sports are wildly popular worldwide, and even our "romantic" courtship process is commonly referred to as "playing the game." So it's not surprising that within the last few years, tech companies and marketers have been splicing together game mechanics with social media to promote brands and causes.

Lately, gamification has been used to promote everything from Lady Gaga to Green Giant. Just the other day, I was thinking, "why isn't anyone doing this with alternative energy?"

Well, it looks like dreams do come true, courtesy of SunPower:
Playing the game is simple. Just visit the Solar Discovery Game on Facebook and answer trivia questions to earn panels (or points) towards the grand prize. You’ll earn “virtual badges” for unlocking achievements along the way and can share your progress with your friends. Each week, we’ll add new questions to answer and new prizes to win.
This is a fantastic promotion on a number of levels, because:

1. The game has simple rules.
2. The game forces you to learn things about solar power.
3. You can share your progress with your friends, and also compete all over the world.
4. Putting "$25,000" and "prize" in a sentence is Marketing 101.

I would love to see organizations dedicated to changing the world add more game mechanics to their promotional campaigns.

Buster Benson, founder of goal-setting websites 43Things and 750Words had some interesting thoughts on the possibilities gaming can bring out in anyone:
There is a lot of talk about using gamification for different purposes. A lot of people see it as a loyalty program on steroids. Other people see it as a waste of time, or businesses trying to coerce their customers into doing things they don’t want to do.

On the other hand, if you can find businesses or games that tap into what the players naturally want already–and this is the area that I’m most interested in exploring–it’s always health, its a mastery of a skill, creation of habits, improvement of life, improvement of happiness, all those things that we’re trying to always do. This helps me avoid the whole other side of the gamification conversation which is all about loyalty. I’m really only interested in the portion of the conversation thats about helping people and empower them to do what they already want to do.
Even Al Gore sees the opportunities in using gamification techniques to solve problems:
Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium," says Gore. "This is a very large, extremely significant industry with a wildly diverse and rapidly-growing audience of players on all kinds of platforms. We already know the immense power of popular media to illuminate issues that can seem intractable and overly-complex, but [through games] can be illuminated and presented to general audiences in a way that invites people to become involved in trying to solve the problems that our society has to solve."
Of course, you can't just slap a cause onto a Pac-Man clone and call it a day.
Organizations and developers want to learn more about gaming so they can apply it to their causes, but that means many don't yet know enough about universal game design principles to develop games that are, to be blunt, actually any good.

The result tends to be well-intentioned interactive experiences that present or speak to issues, but with limited ability to achieve measurable impact or motivate players to action.
However, despite the inevitable learning curve many cause-based organizations and companies will face, people are already giving serious thought to ways to apply gamification to areas ranging from Smart Grid participation to interactive game-based journalism to changing the way we work.

After all, we all like to play games - why not design one where everybody wins?

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