Last month, I had the chance to go down to San Francisco and attend GSummit, a conference on gamification. Gamification has become a little bit of an obsession lately so I was looking forward to the conference and it turned out to be better than I expected.
So what’s gamification? It’s the idea of learning the principles of why we enjoy games and then shifting those same lessons onto other contexts. Usually gamification is used to encourage people to do things that they know they should do that they can’t motivate themselves to do.
A nice clear example is fitness apps. Everyone knows they should work out but most people have to drag themselves to the gym. Let’s look at running apps. At one extreme you have simple apps like Fitocracy, which awards you points for working out and lets you compete with friends. On the other extreme you have apps like Zombies, Run!, which has you listen to a story as you run; every once in a while, zombies will attack and you have to run as fast as you can. Once the danger has passed, you can return to jogging. (Some of you may recognize that this is actually interval training.)
Gamification doesn’t have to be as game-like as all that though (sounds weird I know). At my job we have a lot of complicated legal processes that we try and walk people through. We do a lot to “dumb it down” so that you don’t need a law degree to figure it out but, well, the law is inaccessible and there’s only so much you can do. Invariably we’re going to lose people along the way because the process is hard.
Which brings us back to something I hinted at earlier: gamification is really just the application of the behavioural psychology of motivation. The process is hard so how do we get people to maintain the motivation that they started with? Most legal issues (or really any big issue) can’t be solved in one sitting. They take time and, as that time passes, things crop up in their lives that affect how motivated they are.
Or outside of that context, how do you transition someone from reading a blog post, signing a survey, etc. to take more substantive action either online or in the real world? One of the keynote speakers at the conference was BJ Fogg, who is a professor at Stanford. To oversimplify his talk to one sentence: for someone to do a certain behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it, have the ability to do it, and then have the thought to do it. So you need to break those elements down into their component parts and figure out how to exploit them to encourage people to take action. In principle this sounds really simple but in practice I think it’s a lot harder. I’m keen to do some experimenting and testing.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some highlights and ideas that I found interesting here.
[Random note] I’m not sure if it’s encouraging or not that so many talks ended with notes about not using gamification for evil. I mean it’s good that it was said but it’s bad it had to be said.