Now, take game principles and apply them to real-world scenarios and you arrive at a much more interesting world to live in. Imagine a world in which people look forward to everyday activities (like work) as much as they look forward to playing games. And if you're unsure what this actually translates to in terms of time, according to Jane McGonigal, gamers have spent more than 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft and have created the largest wiki in the world on the game -- all voluntarily. Most adult games spend an average of 22 hours per week playing games, basically a part-time job. This is an amazing amount of productivity. I am passionate about McGonigal's dream of directing these efforts towards solving poverty and inequality, but in the meantime, consider some of the other ways that gamification is being used now:
- Advertising: One of the most intricate and fascinating examples of gamification is Warner Bros. campaign for the movie Batman - The Dark Knight. In the months leading up to its release an entire alternate reality game (ARG) was created for fans that would play on the devilishly mischievous nature of the primary antagonist the Joker. This included a Gotham Times newspaper with clues about the plot of the film, billboards and posters in different cities that tied together to contain clues about the film, and an army of websites including one for those who wanted to gather together to fight crime. The entire campaign pulled in the likes of Hershey, Comcast, Nokia, Verizon, Kmart, MySpace, and other retailers to cross promote the film and brought together a world wide audience. The website MovieMarketingMadness.com does a great job of walking through the various components.
- Solving diseases: The game Foldit is a highly publicized game in which players - usually non scientists - come together to identify the correct structure of specific proteins. This is no easy task and the answer is unknown, but by working together to identify patterns, gamers were able to uncover the correct structure of proteins that are involved in HIV/AIDS. The success of this game has led to a revolution in how scientists work to solve the diseases of our day.
- Crisis response: Brett Horvath outlines an excellent framework for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in which the small actions gamers are already doing in video games can be harnessed during crises (such as earthquakes and tsunamis) to organize massive amounts of information so that emergency responders can take action.
- Terrorism: NPR recently did a piece on how "Islamic extremist websites have borrowed from the gamification playbook by incentivizing participation in terrorist activity." As frightening as this is, it adds weight to the argument that there are an unlimited number of scenarios for leveraging this concept.
- Career performance management: It isn't hard to see how Google's new platform Schemer - a social network that allows users to share their personal goals - could be enhanced with a few additional game design features and then be implemented in corporations for employees to develop performance goals. This wouldn't automatically make work more engaging, but with a little creativity and some employee freedom, an additional layer of fun can be added to what is otherwise often a boring and meaningless environment.
- Talent acquisition and product development: The giant cosmetics company L'Oreal currently uses a game called Reveal in which prospective employees compete to launch a new product. The success of the player helps the company understand skill sets from talent across the globe and determine a potential career path. This platform could easily be extended to existing employees to test product launches and marketing campaigns, or even to work together to design completely new products. It's a scenario that engages employees and creates loyalty and camaraderie while also providing a platform for enhanced knowledge sharing within the firm.
- Customer engagement: Loyalty programs have been trying for decades to enhance customer engagement and yet they often result in simply paying the customer (in points) to make specific purchasing decisions. With the money and audience already in place through millions of credit card programs around the world, it wouldn't be hard to tweak these programs to make purchasing decisions more fun. One of the most successful loyalty programs in the world, Nectar, is already experimenting with incentives not just for purchasing, but also for "green" behaviors such as riding a bike to work and bringing re-usable shopping bags to the grocery store instead of using plastic. Imagine this being extended to entire sustainability initiatives across a company or across a nation.
- Health and wellness programs: Currently, many corporate health insurance companies act like loyalty programs and pay employees to make healthy choices such as exercising regularly or quitting smoking. And while people do respond positively to monetary incentives, other virtual currencies such as positive feedback from other users, "like" points (think Facebook and LinkedIn), and Facebook credits can be leveraged as well. The game SuperBetter for example would be an excellent platform for encouraging healthy choices within a broader health and wellness program.
Yet the potential for gamification to completely revolutionize the world in which we live is huge by changing our every behavior. And, hopefully, this goes beyond just influencing consumers, but that the technology actually extends towards making us better people. Whatever the changes, from problems of poverty to worker boredom to gaining a competitive business edge, there are both economic and philosophical reasons to implement these programs.