The Game of Life – Social Games and the Apocalypse- 1 comment(s)
A recent All Facebook infographic showed that 53 per cent of Facebook users play social games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, or, my favorite, PetVille. Of the 265 million Facebook gamers who spend 210 minutes on average playing games each month, they account for a total of 927 million hours of game time per month.
Tending to virtual cattle and crops, while noble in some circles, seems like an odd way to spend one’s time. But social gaming companies like Zynga are happy enough to monetize these activities through in game-benefits, for example food for your pet or equipment for a friend’s farm, something that 20 per cent of game players are all too happy to fork over real life cash for. Needless to say, Facebook sees games and currencies as an emerging revenue stream. But there’s also another way to look at it.
Professor and game designer Jesse Schell has warned of the coming Gamepocalypse, the idea that the rules and incentives that structure games are slowly creeping into real life. Imagine a sensor in your toothbrush that measured how long or thoroughly you brushed, and then awarded you points that translated into real life discounts on dental products. Or, lets say that each time you stepped on your scale it tweeted your weight, and depending on how well you’d been taking care of yourself, your insurance premiums adjusted to reflect that. This isn’t too far fetched. Schell notes “…anybody who has a product that can sense that the product is being used … they’re going to want to create motivations for you to use the product,” and that “fundamentally, they’re going to make games out of it, because games are reward-based systems that motivate us to do things.”
Location based platforms like Foursquare and SCVNGR already do this by incentivizing users to check-in at various locations in order to earn points, badges or discounts on products, among other things. Companies as large as Nike and MacDonald’s, which increased foot traffic to restaurants in a Foursquare pilot program by 33 per cent, have started using these tools for relatively successful marketing campaigns. But of course the incentives of social gaming aren’t only for marketing consumer products. Enterprise and educational institutions are starting to use games to engage their audiences as well.
IBM CityOne is a city-building simulation game that allows players to plan and manage the development of a large city, from population control, urban planning, and economic and infrastructure development. Conveniently and artfully embedded into the game are consultants introducing you to a host of services and solutions that IBM currently offers, which is essentially an effort to build a community around IBM’s brand and products.
A recent New York Times Magazine article profiled a school in New York that has integrated technology, design, and games into each and every part of its curriculum, teaching the fundamentals of problem-based learning to help students tackle complex issues in small or large teams. One of the teachers at the school described it this way:
Building a game — even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build — is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.
Schell, however, suggests that the Gamepocalypse isn’t something we should fear. Even if social gamers are incentivized through advertising and promotion, Schell believes that the growing sophistication of gaming design could somehow encourage us to be better people. The social psychology behind online social gaming involves the reciprocity effect, where one act of giving, an invitation to play, a gift for your virtual poodle, engenders another act of giving. This is the sweet sauce of social networks and gaming. Its communities grow like well-tended crop.
Naturally opportunities for shrewd and business-minded game developers abound, and more broadly game and experience designers. There are also opportunities for co-founder of Facebook types like Eduardo Saverin, who has been reportedly living in Singapore and funding ventures for Facebook game developers. The funny thing about Singapore is that it’s right next to Facebook’s second largest market, Indonesia. Game on.
A graduate of Seneca College's Corporate Communications program, Ron is interested in the intersection between technology and culture. Having maintained a blog for 6 years and developed a couple of social media projects, he's looking forward to contributing his ideas on the what's next in the digital space.
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