21 May 2011

Gamifcation: Making fun of the web.

Yes, it’s a word!

Gamification is one of the newest and I believe one of the biggest movements in the creative world today. It is the concept that you can apply game mechanics (elements that make games fun, engaging and in some cases competative) to things that aren’t typically considered a game, or even fun! From work, to health, to socialising, to cooking, to just about anything! In essence, it’s about fun and the enjoyment of sharing the game with your friends.

So all this is well and good, but what does it have to do with you? Have you ever bought a shirt and then scanned your fly buys card? Yes? Then you are collecting points to spend on something later, you are receiving a reward for your actions.

Taking this one step further, Nike, a few years ago, introduced a device that was embeded in it’s shoes and communicated with an iPod to record data that was generated as you went for a run. This was then stored and kept as a sort of Scoreboard that was used to motivate the user to keep on running and improve their “score”. Since then, they have added a whole social layer to the program, one that lets you share your run online via popular social networking sites. By now this should be sounding pretty much like the old leaderboards on the arcade machines of the 80s and 90s, but rather than you vs. Donkey Kong, it’s you vs. you vs. your friends!

Suddenly the level of engagement to the game, to the real world task has been increased. The frequency of return is higher, and depending on the activity, sometimes even for longer periods at a time. The use of game mechanics to boost engagement often translates into increased loyalty. Take Gloria Jeans for example, no one actually likes their coffee, let’s face it, they just want the free one after 10 visits!

While there are many platforms out there, only a handful thrive. Take Foursquare and Gowalla for example. They both gamify the same activity, going out. Yet one clearly out does the other. Foursquare has more influence over it’s users, there is more of an incentive to check in over Gowalla. It encourages users to compete against each other for the top spot, both on a leaderboard and a per place basis, influencing users to return to the app, thus promoting it and the place they check into.

This then contributes to the applications virality, encouraging users to pass it on to their friends (and unlike an actual virus, this is a very good thing!) With viralty, comes a larger user base and with users comes content. Content, now days anyway is important, as we are very much a consumer society. Would you go to facebook if your friends werent there? would you bother opening twitter if you weren’t following anyone? of course not, because there is no value to either of thoes services without content from a large user base. So why would a game be any different? All the fun would be stripped from Foursquare if no one else used it. There would be no one to compete against and there wouldn’t be any places (other than those you created).

At the time of writing, I am working on an application that I hope will gamify education and make it easy for students of all ages to learn and have fun doing so!