Monday, March 3, 2014

Gamification-Focused Analysis of "Reality is Broken: How Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World" by Jane McGonigal

I recently read a book on how games can change the world through gamification called Reality is Broken: How Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal, and wanted to share my thoughts on how companies that are offering gamification as a service can adapt her main points into creating a fantastic user experience. 

This post uses her exact text quite liberally. I wanted the basis of what I wrote to start with her words. 

In short, her take is that "reality" is boring and that games are "way more fun." This is, of course. an oversimplification, but on the surface it makes a lot of sense. I have tried to summarize her major points that need to be addressed in the last section, numbered from 1-14. 

Executive summary: 
  • Reality, compared to games, is broken. And essentially... sucks.
  • Games give us something to do when there is nothing to do... their serious cultivation is perhaps our only salvation. 
  • Reality doesn't have the level of purpose of games
  • Where, in reality, is that "gamer" sense of being fully alive, focused, and engaged in every moment?
  • There are at least 14 ways to modify reality to make it more game-like, and therefore more enjoyable to "players"
  • These 14 items should be considered in every gamification solution for their merit and applicability to that situation. 
Reality is Broken
In today's society, computer and video games are fulfilling GENUINE HUMAN NEEDS that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.

Humans hunger for more satisfying work, a stronger sense of community, and a more engaging and meaningful life. 

We are starving for purpose, and games are feeding us. 

What if we used this power for good and made games to make reality better and more engaging? 

My Goal
Find ways to apply the intrinsic motivation of video games (play) to changing behaviors at work. What if we can make work more fun?

Facts (as of 2011):
  • 69 percent of all heads of household play computer and video games
  • 97 percent of youth play computer and video games
  • 40 percent of all gamers are women
  • One out of Four gamers are over the age of 50
  • The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing for 12 years
  • Most gamers expect to continue playing games for the rest of their lives
  • 61% of CEOs, CFOs, and other senior executives take daily game breaks at work. 
According to Rob Fahey in 2008... "It's inevitable: soon we will all be gamers."

Based upon the above facts and trends... In the 21st Century, games will be a primary platform for enabling the future. 

How are we going to harness this power? Hopefully for good, but before we can do this, we need to understand WHY and HOW games are doing a better job of providing us with the purpose that reality is not. 

PART ONE - "Why Games Make Us Happy"

What is a Game?
One DEFINITION of a game: Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. 

All games share four defining traits: a GOAL, RULES, a FEEDBACK SYSTEM, and VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION. 
  • Goals provide a SENSE OF PURPOSE
  • Feedback systems tell a player how close they are to a goal. This feedback serves a PROMISE of what is achievable and MOTIVATION to keep on going. 
  • Voluntary participation ESTABLISHES COMMON GROUND. Freedom to leave ensures that the work is PLEASURABLE and SAFE. 
Given that reality does not match what we do inside of games... we need to fix reality so it makes life more enjoyable. 

How to fix reality, with a nod to video games in each step of the way. 
Each of the 14 are followed with some examples / ideas of how to incorporate them into gamification strategies and implementation:

1) REALITY NEEDS Unnecessary obstacles: Compared to games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use.

Filling progress bars, earning badges, completing daily missions, tracking the number of times you perform an action, climbing a leaderboard, unlocking decorations for your avatar, and keeping a score are all examples of unnecessary obstacles. They give meaning to games.

2) REALITY NEEDS Emotional activation: Compared to games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we're good at and enjoy.

Users that can find something to identify and feel successful with in your product are much more happy with their experience. Taking into account the various player types and providing experiences for each provides you a better chance of users emotionally attaching to your product. Here's a take of player types as the apply to gamification:

3) REALITY NEEDS More satisfying work: Compared to games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying hands-on work.

Daily missions, quests, and goals that are tied to rewards that are understood by the user can provide a sense of gratification and accomplishment as well as get the results that the gamification provider wants to see from their users.

4) REALITY NEEDS Better hope of success: Compared to games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances for success. 

Allowing users to make mistakes that they can learn from and creating an experience where that may even be encouraged through training, etc., allows the product to train a user in its correct usage. Continually providing clear goals gives direction and ensuring that the user sees their progress gives direction toward that success.

5) REALITY NEEDS Stronger social connectivity: Compared to games, reality is disconnected. Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks. The more time we spend interacting within our social networks, the more likely we are to generate a subset of positive emotions known as "prosocial emotions." 

Creating ways for users to interact is vital. This can be as simple as allowing users to see their progress on a leaderboard, and can progress to allowing users to post their progress on their "real" social networks. The more social interactivity, the better.

6) REALITY NEEDS Epic Scale: Compared to games, reality is trivial. Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning to our actions. 

This can be done by adding an epic story to the product or finding a way to tie in a user's efforts to real world solutions. There are small games like Free Rice that tie your educational efforts to providing rice to the poor. This simple implementation can be very inspirational to users. Seeing the overall benefit (how much rice has been donated) gives your efforts a greater sense of purpose.  

PART TWO - "The Benefits of Alternate Realities"

What is Alternate Reality? 
It is where you "play" your real life in order to enjoy it more. (Definition of a game "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.").

7) REALITY NEEDS Wholehearted participation: Compared to games, reality is hard to get into. Games motivate us to participate more fully in whatever we're doing.

Reaching a state of "flow" is much easier in a game environment. This allows people to concentrate more on their activities. When your goals are clearly outlined and they tie into your perception of the product's epic scale, your involvement is complete.

8) REALITY NEEDS Meaningful rewards when we need them most: Compared to games, reality is pointless and unrewarding. Games help us feel more rewarded for making our best effort.

People love knowing that they are doing the right thing. Instantaneously providing positive feedback as the user moves through the product gives a sense of confidence they are making progress. Tying rewards to regular activities that may be repetitive in real life provides a sense of purpose for those users.

Using leaderboards and seeing instantaneously where you rank is an example, as is being able to share your progress socially.

Games can also adjust their difficulty and their flow based upon user success. Gamified products should be able to adjust as well. 

9) REALITY NEEDS More fun with strangers: Compared to games, reality is lonely and isolating. Games help us band together and create powerful communities from scratch. 

Playing the same game allows opportunities to express admiration for one another, become devoted to a common goal, and express sympathy for others' losses.

Two strong prosocial emotions are Happy Embarrassment and Vicarious Pride. Happy Embarrassment can be as simple as beating someone in a game of checkers and saying "I win." Good natured teasing actually helps people like each other. Vicarious Pride is something that comes from helping others succeed, like teaching someone how to play a game at harder levels or get them oriented with a new control mechanism.

Having open discussion boards linked to the product takes the experience to a new level, as new ideas and feedback are encouraged and taken to heart by the developer of the product. 

When people want to talk about your product, you are winning. When they don't, there is something wrong and you have to fix it.

10) REALITY NEEDS Happiness hacks: Compared to games, reality is hard to swallow. Games make it easier to take good advice and try out happier habits.

Finding ways to be positive to one another in a game setting can create happiness. This can be done as simply as congratulating someone for hitting a certain spot on a leaderboard or smiling at them as you see them playing. 

PART THREE - "The Engagement Economy"

What is Crowdsourcing?
Quite simply, it is "outsourcing a job to a crowd of people." And if you think of community as crowdsourcing, you can cultivate crowdsourcing in many ways you may not have considered before.

Good game community requires two things: "plenty of positive social interaction and a meaningful context for collective effort."

Finally, community is tied together by a "sense of meaning created by belonging and contributing to an epic project."

11) REALITY NEEDS A sustainable engagement economy: Compared to games, reality is unsustainable. The gratifications we get from playing games are an infinitely renewable resource.

Good games create a robust and rewarding investment path that is supported by consistent, rich and secure incentives that drive player behavior toward having fun and investing in their characters, and then validating those systems through intense simulation.

In the best games:
  • Players feel invested in the world and character. 
  • Players have long term goals.
  • Players cannot exploit the game or each other.
  • The game content is a reward in itself.
12) REALITY NEEDS More epic wins: Compared to games, reality is unambitious. Games help us define awe-inspiring goals and tackle seemingly impossible social missions together. 

Epic Wins can be cultivated by creating opportunities to do something right now, presenting clear instructions, and finely tuning them to our moment-by-moment capabilities.

Examples of Epic Wins: an underdog comes from behind and wins the Super Bowl or someone decides that they want to get to a really high sales goal that they set for themself.

13) REALITY NEEDS Ten thousand hours collaborating. Compared to games, reality is disorganized and divided. Games help us make a more concerted effort - and over time, they give us collaboration superpowers. 

Cooperating (acting purposefully toward a goal), coordinating (synchronizing efforts and sharing resources), and cocreating (producing a novel outcome together).

Collaborating is not just about achieving a goal or joining forces, It's about creating something together that would be impossible to create alone.

14) REALITY NEEDS Massively multiplayer foresight: Reality is stuck in the present. Games help us imagine and invent the future together.

The ability for a game to affect people in a way that makes them want to save the world, one small interaction at a time, is powerful. The WalMart game "My Sustainability" Plan is a strong example. Make one change and see how it changes your life, and it can continue to affect others.


What do YOU think? Any of this ring true for your gamification efforts? 


Billy Joe Cain is a gamification subject matter expert that has been providing gamification solutions to educational companies and game testing companies since 2010. 

Alongside his gamification consulting, he is an executive producer in the video game industry and has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman. 

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! Mention you read this blog for bonus points!

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