December 26, 2010

AND YET WE'RE BANNING DODGEBALL?:

Not motivated? Make a game of it: The Internet is prompting some people to get it in gear. The rewards include virtual badges and group encouragement. (Zachary Pincus-Roth, 12/26/10, Los Angeles Times)


Companies such as Health Month have begun to harness people's innate craving for competition to turn the world into one giant virtual summer camp. Now that 97% of teens and more than half of adults play video games, companies have caught on to the medium's addictive powers. Websites and apps are using virtual points, levels, leader boards, badges and challenges to motivate people to stay healthy, watch television or read a newspaper. "Games are starting to creep into every aspect of our day," says Jesse Schell, a game designer who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.

In the tech world, gamification is now a full-blown movement, and the first Gamification Summit will take place in San Francisco in January, organized by Gabe Zichermann, author of "Game-Based Marketing." But while some believe this phenomenon is a motivation machine that will dominate lives in coming years, others think it's a manipulative fad that does not acknowledge how humans' brains really work.

Games with a sales twist have existed for years. Sweepstakes, frequent flier miles and the punch card you get at the frozen yogurt shop are all games of sorts, and the "serious games" movement has brought video games into military training, workplaces and therapy. But new technology allows gaming to extend its tentacles even further. Blackberries and iPhones can record and monitor personal information at all times. Social games such as FarmVille — in which an estimated 54 million monthly users harvest virtual crops to rise to higher levels while collaborating with Facebook friends — have introduced video games to new demographics and shown that simple, low-cost games can be engaging even when the prizes are virtual.

Gamification got a jump-start from Foursquare and other location-based social networks, which turn every outing into a contest. When you go to a bar or restaurant, you "check in" to that location on your Foursquare app and eventually earn badges, such as a "Pizzaiolo" badge, which you get when you go to 20 pizza places.

Companies are now bringing this model into other areas of life. Campusfood.com gives students badges for ordering takeout. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post give badges for interacting with articles online.

Some of these games are standalone enterprises that make money by charging for apps or extra features, while others are created by existing brands to hook customers. An industry of third-party companies, such as Bunchball, Badgeville and BigDoor, help companies add these game elements.

A game can be particularly helpful in an area such as financial planning, in which it makes arduous tasks sexier. The personal finance site Mint.com, which has more than 4 million users, introduced a "goals" feature, which makes a game out of buying a home or erasing your debt. "Personal finance is not necessarily the most exciting topic," says Stew Langille, Mint.com's vice president of marketing. "We wanted to add a layer of fun."


Liberty beats Security again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2010 9:43 AM
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