VLAB gamify everything panelMIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted its first event for Fall 2012 yesterday, September 18th 2012. The topic on tap was gamification.

“Gamify Everything: from Monetization to Social Benefit,”: The Recap

The event brought together start-up entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other tech, media, social/mobile types against the backdrop of a sunset at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of business.

Panelists from successful gamifying endeavors provided their insight, points, and counterpoints on topics ranging from the term ‘gamification’, to its actual meaning, to what makes a game successful.

Though the event was geared to address the general practice of gamification, i.e. applying elements of game design to non-game processes, there were some tactile takeaways for social entrepreneurs.


So, what do social entrepreneurs need to know about gamification?

VLAB gamify everything program1. Gamification is a relatively new, debated, and trending term.  Considering that Panelist Rajat Paharia spoke about coining the phrase “gamification” in 2009, a few years after founding Bunchball—it may seem like the term is still a toddler. But, as moderator Margaret Wallace of Playmatics pointed out, according to the 2012 Gartner Hype Cycle, the term has nearly reached its peak.

Panelist Amy Jo Kim of ShuffleBrain expressed some pushback to the term, saying that it has rubbed her and others in the field the wrong way because of its attempt to suggest that the concept of adding gamelike elements to non-games is new, and one that has not been in existence for much longer.
Key takeaway here: agree to disagree about the roots of the word, and be aware that the term has proponents and detractors.
2. You need to think hard about what the core purpose of a game is and what the end value of playing it will be for the user. With social entrepreneur objectives, there are creative and unique ways to implement gaming because the desired outcomes for gaming go far beyond purchases and engagement—and extend to societal, environmental, health, education well-being. For example, gamifying literacy, hunger, or clean energy can be compelling reasons to play and the end value for the players can be tailored differently to reward social change behavior. Panelists cautioned start-up hopefuls about trying to gamify before having a core business idea.
Key takeaway: don’t let friends gamify without a point.
3. How do you want to measure success. Onboarding? Retention? Mastery? Build games accordingly. One panelist pointed out the sheer success of FourSquare in onboarding new gamers. The easy to use UI, accessibility, and social aspects lead players to “check-in” to places, even become “mayor” and be active with the game. However, he noted that there has been a customary dropoff after some time. If their measure of success is onboarding, they are successful; however, if retention is the end-goal, they may have to determine other strategies to keep gamers playing.
For social entrepreneurs, ‘touches’ to a game are important. However, determining measures of progress will likely be more important. The game may be engaging users in a topic but to impact greater change, the collective gaming may have to seek some broader end-goal.
Key takeaway: measure with purpose.
4. Gamifying healthcare has proven to be difficult (in other words, big opportunity for social innovation!) Answering a question from the audience, Panelist Rajat Paharia noted that healthcare games (seeking to help patients get faster sooner, or help individuals lose weight or be more healthy) have traditionally faced challenges in keeping players motivated long enough to achieve the desired results.
It looks like the code to improving health through gamification hasn’t been cracked yet, and is a huge opportunity for social entrepreneurs.Key takeaway: design for health
5. Create incentives, rewards, and recognition that make sense. Panelist Joshua Williams of Microsoft talked about the effectiveness and equal non-effectiveness of leader boards. Knowing who is #1 may motivate the top players but may deter those who are new or far behind. Instead, he outlined ways to ‘abstract’ the leader boards to show ranges of top players, as well as to pit players against their own progress rather than others.
Additionally, panelists talked about creating real-life rewards for virtual engagement. Discounts, freebies, and special invitations were mentioned as ways to fire up the (gaming) base.
Key takeaway: If no one really wants it, it’s not a prize.
6. Gamification 2.0 has been about making non-game processes feel more like games, i.e. making them fun to play. Panelist Amy Jo Kim spoke about the shifting emphasis of gamification from adding game-like elements to non-game functions, to actually making non-games feel more like games. The distinction is about creating an experience rather than a game-like UI.
This can be key for social innovators as it can make difficult, complex subjects feel more handleable and addressable through play.
Panelist Courtney Guertin of Kiip mentioned a funtheory.org and referenced these two videos showing how successful gamification can make a task fun and engaging, and can inspire behavior such as throwing away trash in a trash can and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.



Key takeaway: fun may be the key7. There are different paths for monetizing gamification–and room to be creative. Some of panelists noted that their companies charge for each user engagement while others billed for licensing and users of the game. The diversity of ways to monetize shows that there is no single effective method.
Social entrepreneurs seeking double or triple bottom lines may find ways to create and generate value through what happens after a player engages in a game. Additionally, social innovators may be able to partner with foundations and government to subsidize game-creation costs for industries such education and health.Key takeaway: understand your game’s value, then devise a cost structure
8. CodeforAmerica is one way gamification elements are being created in conjunction with government activities. When asked whether IRS activities can be gamified, Panelists talked about gamifying for social good. Code for America was mentioned as one attempt to unite gamification and government. And Panelist Andrew Trader spoke about his focus on finding new spheres of intersection between gamification and social benefit.Key takeaway: seek to create unlikely partnerships to achieve far-reaching results
9. Education + Gaming + Mobile = massive potential. While the panel did not specifically address the growth of gamification in education, the sheer number of apps and start-ups in this space shows growth and opportunity. Panelists discussed increasing demands by consumers that they learn something new from games or understand a topic better.
Combine the needs of consumers with the handy smartphones likely in their back pocket, and there is a ready path for quick, bite-sized learning that can add up to meaningful mastery over time.Key takeaway: The way we read, communicate, and buy is changing because of apps and sites, why shouldn’t we learn differently too…

10. There is growth in non zero sum games through social and mobile apps. Panelist Amy Jo Kim discussed the rise of non zero sum games, i.e. refocusing the spotlight from winners v. losers to win-win situations, where users can share their experiences and guide others as they start their experience with a game.Key takeaway: win-win gives you two ways to win

Meet the Panelists

Margaret Wallace (moderator): CEO/Co-Founder of Playmatics | @MargaretWallace
Courtney Guertin: Co-Founder/CTO of Kiip | @courtstarr
Rajat Paharia: Founder/Chief Product Officer of Bunchball | @rajatrocks
Amy Jo Kim: Founder/CEO of ShuffleBrain | @amyjokim
Joshua Williams: Senior Software Design Engineer Microsoft Corporation | @joshuadw
Andrew Trader: Venture Partner, Maveron


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