Gamification on a Grand Scale

I’ve written several posts on Gamification in the recent past and it’s something that I believe, if thoughtfully applied to a problem domain, can increase not only user / consumer engagement but will also increase loyalty and customer expansion. This week I viewed a TED talk by Regina Dugan, the former Director of DARPA, now an executive at Google. The talk itself had nothing to do with gamification, per se, but there was one very interesting mention from her brilliant talk on innovation that was quite startling:

For 15 years [the three-dimensional structure of a protein that contributes to AIDS in rhesus monkeys] was unsolved in the scientific community. The gamers of FoldIt solved it in 15 days. Now they were able to do so by working together. They were able to work together because they’re connected by the Internet.

That struck me as absolutely amazing. I rushed to the FoldIt site and downloaded the “game” immediately. After going through a brief set of tutorials, I, too, began to contribute in a small way to the scientific research around protein folding. The game was engaging and could be rather addictive, if you enjoy puzzles. Rewarded and penalized on a point system, specific protein folds give you instant feedback on whether you’re succeeding or not. When I decided to take a break, I looked at the clock and I had been occupied by the game for 90 minutes.

When compared to gamification implementations on most sites, the FoldIt game is quite complex, but that’s because it’s solving a complex problem. What it demonstrates brilliantly is how a such a complex problem can be presented to someone with no experience in the complexities of molecular biology, yet people can, and do, contribute to scientific research in this area. It does this using a simple three step process to engage a player:

  • Informs the player of the possible outcomes and goals of the game before it is played
  • Educates the player on the rules of the game, within the game itself
  • Gives the player constant feedback on game performance and level within the game

If you’re saying to yourself, “What about an end state or finish line?”, I’d argue that the best examples of gamification have no end state unless you want to disengage from the player at some point. To put this in perspective, imagine a typical loyalty points program that allowed someone to reach the highest level, then stopped rewarding them.

In the case of FoldIt, the outcome of the game is to better our lives on this planet. Educating users on the complexities of protein folding takes a while and there are many tutorial examples to get someone ready for the task. The feedback received lets the user know how they are doing and potentially how they may affect the eventual outcome. It’s a brilliant example of gamification that is usable on a grand scale.

In the case of eCommerce, collaboration, protein folding or other healthcare applications, gamification can play a pivotal role in affecting the involvement of users and the outcome of their participation. Careful and creative planning, starting by defining outcomes and working backward toward an effective and engaging user experience will make gamification efforts worth their while.

In my opinion, FoldIt is a best-in-class implementation. What are your thoughts on existing gamification implementations?   Comment on this post to tell others whats out there that you think is game changing!

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