Playing FarmVille To Save The World

Imagine if every time you played FarmVille you also reduced your carbon emissions… or, perhaps more realistically, you gained a point for every time you shopped with a reusable bag, and those points added up for coupons or savings? According to gamification advocates, those incentives might end up changing your behavior.

Big brands are increasingly seeing the potential benefits of gamification – a term used to describe the engagement of users via points, badges, rewards, or even just positive recognition to motivate behaviors and even solve pressing problems.

For marketers, there is a world of opportunity to use the theories of game-thinking and competition, aligned with savvy social media techniques, to influence and ultimately change behavior. Equally compelling is the potential to use gamification to crowd-source and problem solve. What if every time you played FarmVille, you were actually providing strategic insights to sustainable agriculture and resource management?

Additionally, there is the aspect of positive reinforcement – it’s slightly Pavlovian and proven to work: reward me with something that I want and I’ll likely not only repeat that action, but I’ll repeat it and feel good about it.

Charity Miles is new favorite application of mine. It’s a smartphone app that allows you to earn corporate sponsorships for walking, running or biking. Talk about a good reason to go for a run! It’s the perfect blend of gamification. It’s social, incentives personal good health while activating a greater good. As its tagline goes, “Changing the world is a team sport!”

Practically Green is a business that is using gamification to alter behavior. Geared toward both consumers and businesses, you can get points for “being green,” compare and share points with others and get tailored suggestions for steps to take and products to use. At the enterprise-level, it’s an intriguing concept to offer to employees, to help inspire employees to make office-wide changes. 

Gamification isn’t a new concept in the workplace – most companies employ it whether they know it or not. Who hasn’t participated in a competition to collect donations, canned food, recycle or even lose weight? (What is the “Biggest Loser” if not gamification of weight loss?)

As Kris Duggan writes in a recent Fast Company article, “Companies across virtually every industry are benefiting from gamification techniques. From technology to financial services to education, businesses can apply game mechanics across their existing user experiences to increase key user-driven objectives.”

Constellation Research predicts that by 2013 more than 50% of all social business initiatives will include an enterprise gamification component. That’s a lot of time spent playing games.

What do you think? Do you think gamification is smart or a waste of time? Let me know here or at @Measure4What.

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