100 ideas that changed the Web: Gamification

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

More than 5,000 years ago the ancient Egyptians played a board game called Senet. The object was to race your opponent along an S-shaped path to the final square of a rectangular board. Winners could look forward to a glorious afterlife. Losers had better keep practising.

The outcomes of today’s games are not quite as important, but whether they are played on a park, on a board or online, the fundamental motivation remains the same: self-betterment.

All games share a set of common attributes – rules, interaction, scoring and an element of surprise. It turns out that these characteristics are perfectly suited to the Web.

Computerised environments are rules-based and websites are inherently interactive. Add irregular rewards at irregular intervals and we have the perfect incentive

By definition, computerised environments are rules-based and websites are inherently interactive. Friends, followers, likes and shares are all indicators of performance. Add to this irregular rewards at irregular intervals and we introduce the perfect incentive.

If a pigeon is rewarded with a seed every time it pecks a lever, it will repeat the task when it is hungry, but if it is only rewarded intermittently, it will peck the lever continually. The same is true when we visit a social networking site. Until we get there, we do not know if someone will have liked our post, shared a link or updated their status. It is this unpredictability within a predictable system that drives our engagement.

Our love of games has not escaped the notice of marketers. By giving away useful tools, brands can earn our time and attention. When done well, these are more than marketing gimmicks. They embed a brand into people’s daily lives. The Nike+ running app is the most obvious example. The combined app, website and bracelet tracks performance against goals and shares results with the Nike+ community. Similarly, Fiat’s eco:Drive assesses your driving skills, while LinkedIn incentivizes you to keep your CV up to date.

Central to enjoying games, social networking sites and branded utilities is feedback

Games are not just about winning, but they are not just about taking part either. They are about improving. Central to enjoying games, social networking sites and branded utilities is feedback. By providing feedback, we learn how to master tools. By mastering the tools, we gain a feeling of achievement and the respect of our peers.

Fundamentally, playing games and improving our skills raises self-esteem. All people play games. No wonder – they make us happy.

Extracted from 100 Ideas That Changed the Web by Jim Boulton, published by Laurence King Publishing, £9.95.

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