Last week, Dave and I attended the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Saturday’s keynote was given by Seth Priebatsch, the orange-clad and exuberant Chief Ninja of SCVNGR, a location-based gaming start-up.
The title of Seth’s keynote was The Game Layer on Top of the World. As he explained, the changes we’ve observed in social media over the last ten years have culminated in the “social layer.” Real life connections have become online connections. Facebook has become your social life. Twitter has helped you make new friends. The social layer is primarily about these connections. And it’s essentially done being built.
But now that this foundational social layer has been built, Seth believes the “game layer” can be built on top of it. Over the next ten years, we’ll see (and help build) an interactive layer built on an amalgam of our personal motives. Whereas the social layer is a layer of connections, the game layer will focus on influencing these individual motivations — something far more powerful than simply being connected, especially if those individual motivations can affect a larger group goal.
Seth discussed several ways in which game layering can improve current problems. School grading systems could shift from getting good grades (in many ways, simply a “status” that can change on any given test day) to reaching a new level (indicative of progression and achievement). Schools could reward accumulated knowledge and achievements, similar to how players “level-up” to a new status in a video game — unlike grades, it’s very difficult to quickly “level down” in most video games. Email lists can become customer acquisition tools (after all, he argued, Groupon is just an email list with some basicgaming aspects like “free lunch” and “countdown” added on). And restaurants and bars can increase loyalty among location based service users by shifting from exclusive ownership (becoming a mayor) to inclusive ownership (joining a society).
What Seth didn’t talk about is the game layer in the enterprise. The potential exists for an organization to create “games” that will influence individuals to alter their behavior in order to benefit both themselves and the organization as a whole. While there are game aspects currently at play in many parts of a company, these mechanics are often tacit games — they’re not formally structured as games and lack intentioned corporate outcomes driven by consistent personal motivations. These tacit games result in intrinsic rewards that vary per employee, while intentioned games result in both intrinsic personal achievements and extrinsic rewards that are desirable to all individuals, and in the end, the organization itself.
For example, many training programs are tacit games. After a day of training, employees may receive intrinsic benefits like increased competence, more self-confidence, or a larger knowledge base — all things that will help them succeed at their job. But intentionally adding a game layer to a training program could give employees an extrinsic reward for completing training — a virtual ‘badge’ indicating that they’ve become an expert in a certain topic area.
As the game layer is spread through the organization, the employee can seek out more rewards. Attend more training? Earn a badge. Sign up for an external course? Earn a badge. Eventually, after earning several badges, the employee would level-up to a new status, indicating the progression of their acquired expertise.
But these badges and statuses won’t just be virtual tchotchkes. They’ll be real-world indicators of expertise and competence. If a coworker is looking for an internal expert, they won’t have to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations or even an internal directory where employees often self-define their expertise. They would simply seek out their coworker who has reached the appropriate level needed for the task at hand. Ultimately, the enterprise benefits from this intentional influencing of individual motivations with a work force that is more trained, more connected, and with more clearly identified skill-sets.
Farther down the road, performance reviews and promotions will be able to partially account for how much an employee has learned on the job by simply noting how many badges have been earned or what level has been achieved. After all, wouldn’t the decision to promote one of two equally skilled employees would be just a little simpler if one had five more “badges” than the other?
At the end of his keynote, Seth showed how communal gameplay can solve complex problems. Everyone in the audience was given either a blue, a green, or an orange piece of paper. In order to “solve global warming”, players (the entire audience) had to exchange their color cards so that every person was holding the same color as everyone in their row — instead of a random arrangement of colors, the first row would be all green, the second all orange, etc. If everyone could achieve this in less than 3 minutes, SCVNGR would donate $10,000 to the National Wildlife Federation! In less than two minutes, the audience won, proving that large problems can be solved if individuals focus on their own personal motivations that drive towards an intended group outcome.
In the next post, Dave and I will explore one way in which game mechanics could play out in the enterprise.