I’m beginning SXSW with a couple of sessions that deal with “gamification” – turning applications into games, and using the mechanics of games to convince people to change how they think and behave.
Games, especially social games, have become one of the most important places to look for consumers on the Internet. Zynga, creator of Farmville, actually engages over 60 million unique users a day. That’s not users who saw a zynga ad or clicked a link. These folks are deeply engaged with the games they play, and integrations with products like Pepsi have been massively successful. Users come back many times a day to engage with each other through these games, creating strong opportunities for repeat messaging that raises awareness.
Social games have been accused of hijacking users brains, being structured so as to create addictive behavior. They’re not wrong. Small rewards that function as social currency seem to have the ability to manipulate the way we function, creating a sense of satisfaction and social advancement that human beings crave. It’s a bit like junk food for social interactions, a “supernormal stimulus” that lowers the bar and provides a quick, easy reward for accomplishing something that feels like a positive, valuable social interaction – but may not be.
Recognizing the power of these game mechanics, many brands and software developers are looking for ways to use the addictive mechanics of social games in other ways. If you have ever gotten a “badge” or “points” in something that otherwise didn’t seem like a game, you’ve experienced gamification.
The Gamechanging session focused on the difference between cooperative and competitive games, arguing that games that focused on cooperative social gameplay built stronger social connections and were more viral than those that pitted users against each other directly. Farmville is arguably more of a social game than a competitive one, as users are dependent on each other for success. Essentially, in competitive games, I win, in cooperative games, we all win, and in hybrids, groups win. Kickstarter.com, a now famous site for collecting funding for artistic and philanthropic projects, is a great example of cooperative gamification in action.
Bruce Benson, creator of fast growing startup Health Month, is using the addictive effects of social gaming for good, leveraging them to help people improve their health behavior and track their goals. Bruce shared some of the cooperative gaming mechanisms he is experimenting with to drive engagement with his application.
A couple of the best practices:
1. Frame the change. Provide a context and rules that feel achievable to the user and provide constant feedback as to their progress.
2. Establish value, but let users give things away. It’s important that users feel that the application or service has a monetary value in order to get them to value the time they spend with it, but everyone wants to feel as though they got a deal – and letting users who bring others in or trade valued items be the channel for the deal helps establish social bonds through the app that increase usage.
Cooperative gamification is an extremely powerful way to change the way people behave, and there are a nearly infinite number of applications for its use. I expect this trend to continue to grow, as developers discover new and effective ways to convince us to engage with their creations and with each other, for good and for profit.
What behavior would you like to change, and how might you use cooperative gamification to do it?