‘Gamification of life’ Category

Why cooperative games are better than competitive games

March 16th, 2011

Thor Muller and I did a panel at SXSWi this last week on cooperative games! We were expecting somewhere between 75-200 people, but I think there were probably 500ish people in that room (and many more waiting outside that couldn’t get in because it was full).  Luckily, by the time we figured this out, we had no choice but to go forward with our plan to play a cooperative game during the panel that required that everyone get up and move.

Room 12b: Gamechanging! With @tempo and lots of people! #sxsw

We played a game! We had bourbon for the winners. I got to talk about Health Month and afterwards got to meet some very interesting people who are thinking about many of the same things that we are.

Competitive vs Cooperative Games

Yes, it’s a false dichotomy. Yes, most things have both competitive and cooperative elements. Even when you play on a team, there is some taunting and competition amongst teammates.  And that’s healthy.

HOWEVER, the competitive and cooperative elements of a given game do serve different purposes and appeal to different kinds of players.

Competitive game elements work best in the following conditions:

  1. Everyone is highly motivated to play
  2. Everyone is of about equal talent, or balanced by luck
  3. The game is of finite length (doesn’t go on forever)

Cooperative game elements, on the other hand, work best in these conditions:

  1. The players are not highly motivated to continue playing
  2. The players of the game come in and out of the game
  3. The game is loose, casual, played over a long period of time
  4. The players have different skill levels, different areas of interest within the game

And, what I think is one of the bonuses of cooperative games: they allow cultures to emerge as groups of cooperative players create new rules that their group is required to follow.  Game ethics, game manners, and loyalties emerge.

We, as humans, work best in self-interested groups, where we can specialize, encourage each other, and help those who need help so that we are in turn helped when we need it.  Cooperative games help foster self-healing communities that are able to take on tasks that any individuals in the group could not have accomplished alone.

I’ll be linking to more info about the games we played and slides from the talk once Thor posts them in the next day or so.  In the meantime, here’s a rather long list of tweets from the panel, via storify.com.

Intrinsic Value vs Intrinsic Signifiers vs Extrinsic Rewards

October 23rd, 2010

I think I just had a bit of a breakthrough in my thinking about intrinsic vs extrinsic.

First, though, cleaning up some of my vocabulary.

Intrinsic Reward Value

I’m not going to use the phrase “intrinsic reward” anymore.  I don’t think “reward” is the right way to think about it… it’s more of an intrinsic value than a reward, right?

Intrinsic Value vs Intrinsic Signifier vs Extrinsic Reward

Let’s say that you value exercise, and are interested in living healthier.  In addition, you enjoy the “high” you get from running, or from a tough workout.  The workout itself is the intrinsic value.  If you get points or badges for the workout, I think it’s better to call them intrinsic signifiers than extrinsic rewards.  Here’s why.  When you do something of intrinsic value, you get some reward in that thing that doesn’t need to be represented by anything other than the thing itself.  Enjoying a good run, for example, has intrinsic value (if you’re do in fact enjoy such a thing).  If you are playing a game that encourages you to do things that have intrinsic value to you, I think you need to call them intrinsic signifiers because they represent (but don’t replace, or distract from) the intrinsic value in the thing you’re doing.

Intrinsic signifiers are different from extrinsic rewards.  An example of an extrinsic reward would be if you got a free donut from the Nike Bakery every time you went on a run.  The donut becomes something that motivates completely separately from the run itself, and is therefore extrinsic.  It’s OUTSIDE the sphere of the original value that the activity gave in itself.  I think it’s really important to make this distinction.

Another example… say that you get a point or badge or special token for each new business contact you make at an event.  Assuming that business contacts have a value in themselves, outside of the game, those points/badges/whatever are intrinsic signifiers.  HOWEVER, if you can turn those points/badges/whatevers in and redeem them for X% off of your subscription to the Economist, or something, then the X% off the subscription becomes an extrinsic reward.  The act of redeeming, or substituting one thing for another, is what makes it extrinsic.

So long as your rewards represent the intrinsic value of the action you get them for, and have no value outside of what it signifies, then it’s intrinsic (either of direct value, or pointing to the thing of direct value).

This is important to me because it opens up a whole new understanding for me about the value of virtual points.  The fact that points/badges/icons are virtual is what allows them to remain of intrinsic value, rather than being dirtied by the substitution/replacement quality of most non-virtual reward systems.  Virtual points might be better at motivating than real rewards in the real world, and might be immune to the problems that are mentioned in Drive, and Punished By Rewards, simply because they aren’t extrinsic.

Another way to label them other than intrinsic signifiers, perhaps, is virtual rewards.  They are empty in themselves, and that’s a good thing.

Someone who knows more about this stuff might be able to point out flaws in this line of thinking.  Please do, if you are such a person.

But, if I am thinking about this correctly, it confirms a hunch that I’ve had for a while, that points/badges/etc are value-less in and of themselves.  They gain their value from the intrinsic rewards (or lack thereof) that they point to.  Getting the Swarm Badge on Foursquare is only valuable insofar as it is valuable to be at a big event, and to feel like you belong to such an event.  If you gain no intrinsic value from that experience, the badge is worthless.  If you do gain value from it, then it has that much value.  And, in what explains the magic power of the whole phenomenon, the badge is actually the most tangible and real representation of the otherwise intangible, intrinsic, value of the experience.

Getting the virtual badge makes it feel more real.

Intrinsic signifiers, because they are digital, and have a concrete form, allow us to detect, appreciate, and remember the intrinsically valuable experiences in our lives better.

And that is what gamification of life is all about.

What is an intrinsic reward?

October 22nd, 2010

It’s a phrase that I’ve been reading a ton about, and even using in a lot of conversations about motivation, game mechanics, etc.  But now I’m starting to feel like the meaning of the word is getting away from me.  So I figured I should think it through.

well-crafted #gamedesign delivers Intrinsic rewards (fun, learning, power, self-expression) that are deeply compelling
Amy Jo Kim

The definition as I understand it is that an intrinsic reward is basically pure enjoyment of a thing for the thing itself.  The reward in itself.  It’s not a proxy for future enjoyment, or representative of work towards some other reward, but is the big salami itself.

What kinds of things fit into this category, and how subjective is the idea itself?

I am fairly convinced that autonomy (being able to make your own choices), mastery (getting better and better at a skill that matters to you), and purpose (doing something for the greater good) are all fairly convincing forms of intrinsic reward.  They are enjoyable in and of themselves.

Is fun/laughter/amusement an intrinsic reward? Is it enough to merely laugh?

Is power different from autonomy?  The ability to make your own choices is one side of power, but then there’s the ability to make choices for other people as well.  I would argue that this second half of power’s definition is NOT intrinsically rewarding.

What about self-expression? Yes, I think that is definitely an intrinsic reward.  It’s the reward of feeling alive, feeling understood (both by yourself and to others), and in communicating something true about yourself (whether it be thoughts, emotions, perspective, or other).

What is it that makes something enjoyable in itself, or not enjoyable in itself?  Need to think about this some more… it’s all foggy in my brain.

Gamificiation thought leaders

September 24th, 2010

I’m actually really happy with the group of people who are teaching us about the #gamification of life.  There should be a gamification thought leaderboard, shouldn’t there?  On it would be Jane McGonigal, Jesse Schell, BJ Fogg, Dens Crowley, Amy Jo Kim, Natron Baxter, Jen McCabe, Nicole Lazzaro, Raph KosterMark Pincus… I’m sure I’m missing a ton.

UPDATE: Suggested additions from the comments: Gabe Zichermann, Eric Zimmerman, Andre MoranKeith Lee, Keith Smith, Bunchball (Matt), Byron Reeves, Leighton Read.

I created a Twitter List with all of these people called Gamification if you want to follow it.  There’s also a daily newsletter automatically generated by paper.li from these people.

These are all really smart people.  A mix of professors, entrepreneurs, and game experts that as far as I can tell all hold very balanced views about why gamification is important, and how it can be misused.  The debate is super interesting.  I’m learning a lot from them as I catch up on their last few years of talks, papers, books, and videos.

Two questions.  1) Who am I missing and 2) how should they be scored?