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KRISH ASHOK
TECHNO BABEL

Krish Ashok is a blogger, humourist, techie, columnist, liitle bit violin player, lot of fool-player.

Our thirst to outdo each other is at core of Gamification

ne of the hottest terms in the tech world today is "Gamification", and typically, "hot" in the tech world stands for "Yeah, yeah we knew this well before all you mainstream types needed simplified jargon to pompously describe something that's actually quite straightforward". It was the case with "Web 2.0" which geeks simply called "The Internet" and "Aynchronous Bi-directional Text Communication" which geeks called "Email". Okay, I was kidding about the second one but you get the drift. Jargon emerges from the murky waters of oversimplified misunderstanding, and "Gamification" is the new Loch Ness monster. Every's using "Gamification" like it was the new "2.0". About 5 years ago, it was Commerce 2.0. Now it's "Gamification of Commerce".

So what is it really? Some background first. In 2009, something interesting happened in the US. For the first time in history (okay, in the last 3 decades), the revenues of the gaming industry overtook box office revenues of Hollywood. It signaled an interesting change. Games had now become the predominant form of entertainment for the Western world, slowly supplanting movies and TV. But look at it more closely and you see that the effect is more pervasive than just the increasing sales of Nintendo Wiis and Xbox360s. When you look at TV today, the most popular shows are game shows, or reality shows, which are actually, when you think about it, game shows. People, it turns out, will pay to send those expensive SMSes to pick their favourite participant in a song and dance competition because, compared to watching a soap serial, this show is participative, and participation is pretty much at the heart of gamification.

Think about it. Farmville players planted 310 million blueberries in 2011. While the obvious thoughts that come to mind are "Why on earth wouldn't they go and plant real blueberries" or "Why would someone plant blueberries of all things?", the real question is "Why do people respond to social games?" and for that we have to turn to our old friend, Charles Darwin. Competition is ingrained into the fabric of nature. Even at a cellular level, sperms compete with billions of their peers to swim through horrific acidic hell to fertilise an egg. At a species level, the fittest survive and so on, so we are all programmed quite deep down to constantly compete. We love leaderboards, champions lists and scorecards because they reaffirm to us who is better, stronger and smarter.

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People, it turns out, will pay to send those expensive SMSes to pick their favourite participant in a song and dance competition because, compared to watching a soap serial, this show is participative, and participation is pretty much at the heart of gamification.

o "Gamification" in essence is the use of game mechanics to encourage users to exhibit certain specific behaviors we are interested in. Let's take the example of Stackoverflow.com. It's the world's most popular discussion forum for programmers, and the single biggest reason it's more popular than anything else is it's intricate system of points and badges that makes it stand apart from the millions of other forums that have existed since time immemorial. Before all of us got on board the Internet ship, it's primary purpose was for programmers to help each other out. That's pretty much how the whole thing was born, so when you look at how Stackoverflow managed to get every programmer's interest, you will realize that their gameful design is perfectly suited for its target audience.

All users get a small amount of virtual currency with which they can ask questions and they get "paid" when they answer or when their answers are "voted up" by other programmers. These voters in turn get points as well as they are doing the system a world of good by helping others differentiate between good and bad answers. In addition to the points, users earn badges when they reach certain milestones and the system constantly tells you what is the next milestone one can reach.

In the next few years, I expect to see everything getting gamified to the point of annoyance. Banks already do this with credit cards and airlines have had miles for ages, but in the Internet era, every mouse click of yours suddenly has far deeper consequences than just completing a transaction. As Shakespeare said it – "All the world's a stage."

 
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