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'Gamifying' The System To Create Better Behavior

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'Gamifying' The System To Create Better Behavior

Digital Life

'Gamifying' The System To Create Better Behavior

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Say you're zooming down the highway when you spot one of those speed-limit enforcement cameras from the corner of your eye. You hit the brakes, but not before the camera's flash catches you breaking the law. A speeding ticket is surely on its way to your mailbox.

Now, imagine that same camera also snaps a photo of your car when you're driving at or under the speed limit. And for your safe driving, you're entered in a lottery to win a portion of the money from the fines paid by speeders.

That idea was tested in Sweden with great success. It's an example of something called gamification, considered the next wave of social engagement and Internet technology.

Gabe Zichermann is here to explain it all. He's the chair of the Gamification Summit and workshops. He's co-author of the book "Game-Based Marketing." And he's at the NPR studio in New York. Welcome to the program.

Mr. GABE ZICHERMANN (Chairman, Gamification Summit): Hi, thank you very much.

HANSEN: What's your definition of gamification?

Mr. ZICHERMANN: Well, gamification really is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems. It's an interesting idea that's based on really the last sort of 25 or 30 years of trends in technology and society that's coming to a head now, because were looking for new answers to some very, very serious and intractable problems, both in business and society that possibly gamification is best suited to solve.

HANSEN: Okay, let's take that speed camera example from Sweden. How does gamification apply there?

Mr. ZICHERMANN: It actually turns the whole idea of speeding fines and penalties on its head, in a way that only game people think of. Speeding fines are normally what we think of as a huge outsized penalty with no reward. And we can think about many systems in life which are designed that way. Think of, you know, generally the legal system.

So instead of being structured around, you know, all this punishment and negativity, speed camera lottery is all about positive reinforcement. If you go under the speed limit or at it, you might win some money. And that positive incentive to create better behavior is a core tenet of gains. Games are not about punishment. Games are about reward and pleasure.

HANSEN: There's also - I think you write on your gamification blog about positive incentives helping people lose weight and get in shape. What's an example of how it works?

Mr. ZICHERMANN: Well, one of the best examples I think in society is the "Biggest Loser." We take an activity which is normally thought of as private and very, very embarrassing - which is I am overweight and I want to lose some weight - and we make that public. We put a lot of pressure on the user. We give them a nominal reward. But the big one that works really well is the fame. And we put them through this ringer and they tend to lose a bunch of weight.

Now, what's interesting about "Biggest Loser" and other gamified examples of weight loss, is they hue to a model that I've developed for user rewards called SAPS. And SAPS stands for: status, access, power and stuff. And that's the order things that people want in their lives as rewards. It turns out the cash isn't that good of a reward. Status is a fantastic motivator for getting people to do stuff.

HANSEN: You know, I imagine that this makes a lot of sense to younger generations. How do you make gamification appealing to the older generation?

Mr. ZICHERMANN: Well, broadly speaking, you know, games are actually very appealing to older people today. I'll tell you a funny story. We were called in to a company that works with investors. They were giving investors badges for various levels of achievement, things like bull, bear, pig, whale, shark. These are all terms that the finance industry uses to describe a particular kind of investor or market situation, right? You've probably heard these terms before.

But they actually assigned little icons to the people. So you logged into the system from one day to the next, and all of a sudden there's a cutesy little whale on your page. It says: Congratulations, you're now an investing whale. And they just started getting a ton of angry calls from their mostly white, 50-something, rich male audience.

These people do want to be known as whales. They just don't want to be cheapened by looking at a whale. So the example that I gave them for how to fix that was instead of actually using, you know, literally those images of whales, bulls, bears and so on, they should have just change the color of people's profiles to gold, platinum and black, which everybody immediately recognizes as the American Express card levels, which are considered more universal for a 50-something, white, male, rich audience.

HANSEN: Gabe Zichermann is co-author of the book "Game-Based Marketing." Thanks so much for your time.

Mr. ZICHERMANN: Thank you.

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