Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gamification: Using Games to Change Behavior

At RootsTech today, I attended a session on gamification, the process of using game mechanics and game dynamics to engage users and keep them visiting your site.  The session was taught by Dave McCallister, of Adobe, who has clearly thought a lot about this issue.

Here's a quick sense of how gamification works:

These stairs were created as part of The Fun Theory, an initiative by Volkswagen to show that making something fun is the easiest way to change people's behavior.  After the stairs were installed, 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator.  Once the stairs were removed, half kept taking the stairs anyway!

Another example is the bottle bank arcade:
This had people standing in line for hours to use it!  Suddenly, people were excited to recycle.

One last example, the speed trap lottery:
Sweden is continuing to use this today, because it has proven to lower speeds, not just during the lottery, but even after it is removed from activity on a particular street.

Gamification is all about building a reward structure and a community.  Rewards can include a leader board, status, coupons, badges, and many other items.  Community structures allow your users to interact with each other, both through the game and outside the game, like via chat. 

You also need to recognize that users are driven by varied interests.  The Bartle Test classifies users as achievers (they want to play the game until they win), explorers (they want to explore the whole game world), socializers (they want to interact with other players), and killers (they want somebody else to lose).  Statistics show that 10% of gamers are explorers, 10% are achievers, 80% are socializers, and less than 1% are killers.

McCallister presented his 6 rules for gamification:
  1. understand what constitutes a win for the organization/sponsor
  2. unpack the player's intrinsic motivation and progress to mastery
  3. design for the emotional human, not the rational human
  4. develop scalable, meaningful intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
  5. in scaling your project, don't roll your own
  6. most interactions are boring: make everything a little more fun
It's also important to plan ahead for mobile environments and location-aware gaming, as these are big trends right now.

Some important people/sites to know about in this field:

Why am I interested in this subject?  Because I have a group of students I'm advising that are building a genealogy web site and associated mobile applications, and we want to change the world.  What better way than to make genealogy fun?  This area seems ripe for exploration.  And there is a long history of advertising and incentivizing that this topic links to.