Using game dynamics to drive participation

Going out and checking in

I’ve been using Foursquare quite a bit lately (here’s my profile). There’s a lot to be impressed by: not least the level of mobile integration. Foursquare doesn’t make much sense if you’re sitting at your desk, so it’s far easier to see where your friends are and check into a new location from the mobile app.

The way it promotes participation is even more interesting. The designers decided that just seeing where your friends were, and getting personalized travel tips, weren’t enough. You gain points – the same kind you get in Sonic the Hedgehog, say – for checking in at a location, exploring new places and telling the app about venues it’s never seen before. In turn, the points lead to badges, and there’s a weekly leaderboard for the top scorers among your friends. There’s no real tangible value to any of this, but you feel good about joining in. As a result, Foursquare is hugely addictive.

Open source participation

Over on Twitter, I asked:

Could the game dynamics used by apps like Foursquare be harnessed to make a more participative open source community?

Open source projects depend on contributions from their communities. Getting people to participate can be difficult; although many people will join in because it scratches some kind of itch, moral incentives like a place in the credits help. However, adding these kinds of game dynamics over the top could provide an extra push. Currently, the only quantifiable open source contributions are source code patches, and any software project has a lot more going on; this would provide an opportunity to quantify other, equally useful forms of participation.

Game dynamics in the enterprise

Graeme Hunter pointed out to me that this model wouldn’t solely be useful for open source. An internal project communications framework that also incorporated game dynamics could be a very interesting platform for ideas, solutions and internal innovation. He’s right; I think it’s an idea to keep in mind if you’re looking for software to use internally for your project.

There are also implications for online communities, where game dynamics are often already used (to rate individual contributions, for example). What if we used similar ideas for education? Or a community centering around journalism?

Photo by dpstyles, released under a Creative Commons license. It’s of a Target store in Milford, Massachusetts, where they use game dynamics to encourage faster checkout times.

Update: Graeme comments below with an exploration of what a participation framework using game dynamics might involve.

2 responses to “Using game dynamics to drive participation”

  1. Just a few thoughts on an idea for how a very general app that took this approach could work, using game dynamics and crowd sourcing.

    A problem could be anything.
    “I want to build a web site that will show cinema listings, and send out the weeks listings for your local cinema in a tweet”
    “I’m looking for volunteers to help me clear up this bit of wasteland”
    “I’m after a cheap 70s outfit for a party, any ideas?”
    “Where is my bus?”.
    The app would add location automatically, and allow the user to add type by tags. It would offer to search for “nearby” problems and solutions that are similar (location, time and content). So say a PHP developer building a listings site that uses twitter who is in the same town would be likely to be result #1.

    “I’m writing a site in PHP that tweets local listings, but I keep hitting the API limit for twitter?”
    “Does anyone know who owns the wasteland down the road, it’s such a mess?”
    “Great old-fashioned jacket in Oxfam, only £10! Too small for me, but a real bargain if anyone fancies it?”
    “I’ve been stuck in a traffic jam on the Iffley Road by the Co-op for 20 minutes, does anyone know what’s going on?”

    Users logging into the app would first be shown “local” problems to them (either by location or interest). Scores would be given for asking questions, answering questions, answering questions usefully (i.e the person who asked the question thanks them for solving it).

    It would take an open-source approach, credit (and score) given where appropriate. Problems could be gathered together into a project, and could also include status updates, news etc. Contributors can be shown by the owner, acknowledged. Permanent record of those contributions, say a group of local kids helped out clearing up the wasteland, they could put the url in their CV when applying for a Saturday job, show they’ve made a quantifiable contribution.

    Take the bus example, think about the recent snow in the UK. Twitter was sometimes useful when trying to figure out how to get to work, could see local news, but also get observations on conditions, traffic etc from local twitter users to gauge the situation in real time. On a micro level of solving the problem of if the bus was going to come, it helped (if not solved!). What if as part of their question, as well as problems/solutions from other users of the service, they also got results from a time and location search on twitter?

    Type, location, time and people all become scoring factors for the search. One is more weighted than the other depending on type. With say a PHP issue, location has much lower value. With a volunteering request, location is much more valuable. With the bus, location and time are important. Also the scores of the people giving solutions/asking other questions is a factor in rating usefulness too.

    What could potentially result is a resource with lots of solutions and approaches to solving a problem, and a record of how the people involved went about it, both historic and current. It would be interesting to see how such an app coped with scale, handling small problems to large projects in a similar manner.

  2. Hey Ben – that’s our entire pitch – “Gamification drives participation”. We call our Nitro game mechanics platform a “Participation Engine”. And it’s being used by consumer companies, employers and marketers to drive participation.

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