“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players,” sure, Shakespeare wasn’t talking about gamers, per se, but there’s something to his suggestion that we are all playing at something, that life, and the world as we know it are but a game. What if that were true? What if literally everything we do was a game? Well, businesses are certainly beginning to take this idea more seriously.
Mixing Business with Pleasure
Businesses are hoping to make even the most mundane tasks and services more appealing to their customers. By applying game design principles and mechanics to their products, companies hope to motivate customers to buy, refer, use their services more often, or otherwise perform some other task (not always linked to profit). This emerging business practice, known as gamification, while seemingly simple at first, uses an intricate blend of game design, marketing, and behavioral psychology when implemented successfully.
Created with the intention to “turn your run into an epic adventure,” Zombies, Run! attempts to make a typically challenging and otherwise boring task, running, more fun by using various gaming tropes and elements. The game uses sound, music, and narrative cues to immerse you in the world of a zombie apocalypse! Instead of just running, you are actively playing a game! With missions, resource gathering, statistics tracking, and social media integration, the game has proven to be a successful implementation of gamification that will motivate users to run for whatever reason they like. Fitness is a common candidate for gamification, because, let’s face it, exercise is not always fun!
Foursquare, like Yelp!, is built on the premise of social recommendations. By checking into various locations, you can earn points, badges, and a place on the leaderboard amongst your friends. These three components are very common in implementations of gamification. Foursquare tries to further incentivize user engagement by offering deals and recommendations based on your data.
While this is a subtler instance of gamification, when users join LinkedIn, the site features a progression bar with suggestions for completing your profile. Each recommendation or section contributes towards the total percentage of completion. LinkedIn uses this tactic to encourage users to fill out their profiles in its entirety.
XBOX Live & PlayStation Network
Gaming consoles use gamification to motivate players as well! XBOX Live and PlayStation network each reward the player with achievements/trophies (a spin on badges) to encourage players to complete games. Few players will attempt to gather all of the achievements, but these small challenges help to further enhance the gameplay and replay value of a video game. In addition, these badges correlate with a score that reflects your reputation in the gaming community.
Nintendo has yet to really jump on board with the social component of gaming, but while it does not currently use a console based recognition system like its Microsoft and Sony counterparts, it applies gamification principles to its loyalty program, Club Nintendo. The website rewards customers for purchasing titles from the Nintendo franchise, as well as offering feedback in the form of surveys on the games. Each game, console registration or survey response earns the player points. A progression bar tracks the player’s level toward a particular status, which will earn them a special reward at the end of the earning period. In addition, players can use their points toward rewards of their choice!
Gamification is not only applied to frivolous activities! As it becomes more common, it spreads into other areas, such as education and social good: for example, think Rice and Kickstarter. As it has just begun to be explored in academia, I am certain more exciting applications will come to mind.
The Dark Side to Gamification
Looking at these examples, gamification features common threads of points, badges, leaderboards, and rewards. There are countless other examples and success stories. People love games, so why not seek out the fun in everything? Well, behavioral psychology might have something to say about that. You see some of these gaming components can actually demotivate players as well.
Wait, what? Why wouldn’t you want to play a game instead of doing things the old fashioned, boring way? Why wouldn’t you want to be rewarded? Well, sticking a badge on something and calling it fun does not make it a gamification. Leaderboards, after all, are fairly ubiquitous, and do not always serve to encourage people. Take for example grade rankings among students. Some students are driven by external motivation factors such as a leaderboard, while others are not. In fact, these types of gaming mechanics may have serious effects on their esteem. In fact, gamification, when implemented successfully, is a delicate balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. To illustrate, “I play video games to have fun,” an intrinsic motivation, whereas, “I play video games to compete against others,” an extrinsic motivation. When the extrinsic motivators like rewards exceed intrinsic motivators, or the reward becomes expected, demotivation is very likely.
Gamification and psychology go hand in hand. Without understanding why we play, and not just how, we cannot successfully implement this principle. Some people believe that gamification is dangerous, and exploitative, particularly with the risks of addiction. Others still think it devalues games and further infantilizes people. I for one welcome the opportunity to engage with business in a new way that encourages us to start thinking differently or perhaps just like a kid again. At the heart of innovation, is creativity, and creativity is play… with ideas.
Asia is a freelance writer for Girl Gamer Vogue.