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BuzzWords: Gamification


BuzzWords is a new feature from SMWTO where we aim to decode industry jargon and find out what it means—to social media and to you. Think of it as a crash course, or otherwise great preparation for the stimulating discussions you’ll have when you’re enjoying all that Social Media Week has to offer.

BuzzWord: Gamification

So what is it?

Gamification is the use of game design techniques to engage audiences in ways that traditional marketing cannot. Companies want take advantage of our natural predisposition to be attracted to game-like systems, so they use new tools to bring in new customers. Have you ever collected rewards points or earned a Barista Badge on Foursquare after visiting Starbucks? Congratulations—you’ve been gamified.

Gamification can be as simple as a progress bar that tracks your completion of an online survey, or as complicated as a system of prizes and feedback created to reward continuous engagement. The ultimate goal of gamification is to encourage people to perform tasks that would normally be considered boring so as to create as much value for the user as possible.

So what does this mean?

Depending on where you stand on its merits, gamification is either revolutionizing customer-based industries or exploiting and diluting video game culture for the sake of corporate gain. Yes, gamification allows companies to offer an improved level of customer experience in exchange for brand loyalty, but in the end, who benefits most?

Happening right now:

One of the most interesting examples of gamification came along this past September from researches at the University of Washington. In an effort to combat a protein-cutting enzyme from the Mason-Pfizer Monkey Virus (M-PMV), the researches and the Center for Game Science produced a video game called Foldit, a puzzle game where players are challenged to pin down the best structures for certain proteins. Within weeks, gamers helped form the shape of the problematic enzyme that had been baffling scientists for decades, and the result might result in a massive step forward in HIV research. This is an example of how gamification can live in the middle ground between real change and virtual satisfaction, and it would be nice to imagine gamification being consistently used to further such positive ends.

So is gamification an amazing way to engage large groups of people to solve problems? And is it inevitable that any cool technological advancement will ultimately be exploited for commercial gain?

Want more information on how gaming is hanging the world? Check out Jane McGonical’s TED talk on gaming.

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