A gamification course which also teaches ethics

The Gamification course on Coursera, by associate professor Kevin Werbach (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), has ended. The course got 80,000 registrations and it is expected it will run again in the future. It was a very interesting experience, making me think about using gamification in the news media. In fact, we already use game elements in the media, but there is so much more which could be done.

Professor Werbach is about to publish the book For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Okay, the title sounds very hype-like, but having participated in the course I can testify that Werbach is not advocating simple, manipulative techniques to be applied in whatever context. On the contrary, we learned how crucial it is to analyze the situation and to think hard about the objectives and the impact gamification can have on people and how important self-determination is.

I guess most of us watched the 2010 presentation by Jesse Schell:

However, there was another video we had to watch (and which was used extensively for the ‘final exam’), the futuristic film Sight by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo:

The video choice was illustrative for the ethical preoccupations of the course.

There is more about games than competition…

I’m working on my final written assignment for the Gamification Course at Coursera (our professor is Kevin Werbach, The Wharton School, Univ. of Pennsylvania). One of the most inspiring comments were made during the interview by Werbach of Amy Jo Kim, an expert in game design, gamification and and ‘the development of social architectures’.
On the question about the future of gamification, she answered:

I think what we see right now is the awakening of what will be a much bigger and longer trend, and I don’t think it will be called gamification cuz I don’t think it’ll be one thing. I think it will be many different techniques that are inspired by games, that get embedded in different ways in software. So short answer is, I think the word will go away but the wave will only grow bigger and will become an integral part of most software.

Werbach asked about Richard Bartle‘s notion of player types – something which is also much discussed by virtual worlds experts. In Bartle’s player type model for Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) we distinguish:
- achievers, acting on the world, wanting recognition for their achievements.
- explorers, those who want to interact with the world.
- socializers: those who want primarily to interact with other players.
- killers: they not just want to win, but want to totally vanquish and destroy other players. Or they can control a group by playing a very crucial role, like that of a healer, keeping the whole team together.

Amy Jo Kim warns that while useful for a specific kind of game, Bartle’s model as such is not useful in other contexts – like in most gamification contexts (which are not games in themselves, but where elements and gaming design principles are being used). She works with ‘social engagement verbs’:

Very similarly, there’s competing, collaborating, exploring, and expressing. Explore is right out of Bartle, so that one is similar. Competing is similar to the achievers, but more specific. Collaborating is very much what he calls socializers, but with a very game perspective. (…) and then what Bartle didn’t talk about at all that is a huge driver in social media and social gaming is self-expression. That one was missing. And the drive toward self-expression. For many people, that’s a primary player
type.

This is crucial, as for instance young moms or middle-aged moms will respond more to collaborative mechanics and social mechanics. Which is very interesting, as games do not have to be zero-sum games. There is competitive gaming, but there are also collaborative games. Games such as The Sims and The Sims Online, or Rock Band (she worked on those games) don’t have quantifiable outcomes. ‘You just keep playing’. Amy Jo Kim defines those games as a structured experience with rules and goals that’s fun to play. ‘Rules and goals are pretty critical, fun to play is pretty critical, or at least pleasant, engaging.’
I think what she describes is very interesting for gamification in general, it really broadens our vision of what ‘games’ are, and I guess it could also be applied to open-ended virtual worlds, such as Second Life or OpenSim.
Here you see Amy Jo Kim during Google Tech Talks about applying game mechanics to functional software:

Gamification by design

There are not that many books available about gamification, I learned at the Coursera Gamification course. A colleague at the newsroom wants me to read the O’Reilly book Gamification by Design, by Gabe Zichermann & Christopher Cunningham. The publisher’s description:

  • Discover the motivational framework game designers use to segment and engage consumers
  • Understand core game mechanics such as points, badges, levels, challenges, and leaderboards
  • Engage your consumers with reward structures, positive reinforcement, and feedback loops
  • Combine game mechanics with social interaction for activities such as collecting, gifting, heroism, and status
  • Dive into case studies on Nike and Yahoo!, and analyze interactions at Google, Facebook, and Zynga
  • Get the architecture and code to gamify a basic consumer site, and learn how to use mainstream gamification APIs from Badgeville

Gamification becomes ‘hot’

Okay, gamification – using elements and design principles from games in non-game contexts – is already pretty hot. But now the real money could get involved. Ryan Kim at GigaOm sees gamification startups as the next big enterprise target:

Gamification is thought of as a hyped buzzword by skeptics, but it’s increasingly being used by corporations to incentivize consumers and motivate employees. As enterprise adoption of gamification grows, that could make gamification startups the next hot acquisition target in the coming years.

So I better continue the Gamification course at Coursera!