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February 26 2014

February 20 2014

July 06 2011

7 Winning Examples of Game Mechanics in Action

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the books Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, now available) and Funware in Action (Manning, Q3/2010). He is also the CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME and frequently muses about games and the world at funwareblog.com.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification’s impact can already be felt.

While some have criticized the concept of gamification as shallow or demeaning, the initial findings from gamification specialists are nothing short of astonishing. Regardless of your business model, the following seven gamified innovations should inspire you to strategize via game analysis.

1. Make a Market: Foursquare

The first incarnation of the location-based networking field was littered with carnage, leading many to write off the entire concept. But Foursquare’s founders, veterans of the now defunct Dodgeball, succeeded with an ace in the hole: game mechanics. Exposed to the concept while working at Area/Code (Zynga’s recently acquired New York City-based game design shop), Dennis and Naveen concluded that mobile social networking would work if you were to change the dynamic from multiplayer to single player.

Instead of depending on the action of the crowd to provide intrinsic reinforcement (e.g. “Hey, you’re around the corner. Let’s grab a beer!”), Foursquare overcame the empty bar problem by becoming a single-player game. The user competes for badges and mayorships whether or not anyone is there to meet him. In the process, Foursquare proved that location-based networking wasn’t doomed to fail, that simple game mechanics can affect behavior, and that you can engage 10 million customers — all while raising $50 million.

2. Get Fit: NextJump

When you listen to NextJump CEO Charlie Kim describe his zeal for physical fitness, you immediately understand the energy that has propelled this interactive marketing platform into one of the nation’s fastest growing businesses. But keeping fit isn’t just Kim’s personal goal — he told me it’s also a practice he believes his employees should value as a tool for improving their lives, reducing company insurance costs and preventing employee absenteeism. To achieve those goals, NextJump installed gyms in its offices, and built a custom application that enabled employees to check in to each workout. Ultimately, they rewarded the top performers with a cash prize. After implementation, around 12% of the company’s staff began a regular workout regimen.

But Kim wasn’t satisfied. By leveraging the power of gamification, he retooled the fitness “game” to become a team sport. Now NextJump employees could form regionally based teams, check in to workouts and see their team performance on a leaderboard. Leveraging the game themes of tribalism and competition had an astonishing effect on behavior. Today, 70% of NextJump employees exercise regularly — enough to save the company millions in work attendance and insurance costs over the medium term — all the while making the workplace healthier and happier.

3. Slow Down and Smell the Money: Kevin Richardson

In many countries, speed cameras snare thousands of drivers each year — a quick shutter flash earns a miserable ticket in the mailbox. In some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, ticket amounts correspond with the driver’s salary, rather than his speed. But Kevin Richardson, game designer at MTV’s San Francisco office, re-imagined the experience using game thinking.

His innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.

When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

4. Generate Ad Revenues: Psych & NBC/Universal.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but these days, creating value for TV advertisers means connecting to the web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified.

The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by over 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

Other content publishers, like Playboy, have seen similar results. Their Miss Social Facebook app has achieved an 85% re-engagement rate and 60% monthly revenue growth with gamification.

5. Make Research & Evangelism Count: Crowdtap

Getting product feedback is a costly and challenging effort. Therefore, most marketers have come to loathe ineffective surveys and expensive focus groups. Enter Crowdtap, the hot New York City startup launched earlier this year that reached $1 million in revenue and 100,000 users in just over 90 days. The company offers consumers gamified rewards to complete research tasks and to share brand advocacy with others — something mere market research simply cannot do.

Through the use of gamified, virtual rewards, the company has been able to raise average user participation by 2.5 times, thus reducing research costs by 80% or more for key clients. By targeting consumer rewards along a motivational (not demographic) axis, CEO Brandon Evans reports that competition-oriented users are four times more likely to create quality comments and 12 times more likely to refer others to the platform. Instead of competing against the system, they challenge themselves and peers to excel — an extraordinary achievement by any measure.

6. Save the Planet: RecycleBank

Modern life is wasteful, and easy fixes are rare. By tapping into people’s desire for reward and competition through gamified experiences, governments, utilities and entrepreneurial powerhouses are rewriting the rules of sustainability — and making the world a better place.

In a Medford, MA pilot program, households competed in an energy smackdown in which the winning family managed to lower its carbon footprint by 63%. In a program called Putnam RISE, Indiana families are making thousands of pledges to reduce power usage through a competition. The schools whose families conserve the most energy receive a cash prize. And across the country, incentives experts at Recyclebank are using the power of gamification to radically improve home environmental compliance. So far, they’ve utilized game mechanics such as points, challenges and rewards to drive breakthroughs. For example, the project has seen a 16% increase in recycling in Philadelphia, where the recycling rate has broken 20% for the first time in history.

7. Make Teaching Fun: Ananth Pai

As former globetrotting business executive turned elementary school teacher, Ananth Pai has seen it all. But when he inherited his class in White Bear Lake, MN, Pai realized there had to be a better, more engaging way to teach. So he grouped students by learning style, and retooled the curriculum to make use of off-the-shelf games (both edutainment and entertainment) to teach reading, math and other subjects. Students play on Nintendo DS and PCs, both single and multiplayer, for example. Their overall point scores are tabulated and shared using leaderboards.

In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went from below third grade average reading and math levels to mid-fourth grade. The classroom success is supported by video interviews with his kids, who say “Learning with Mr. Pai is fun and social.”

In addition to these seven great tips, dozens more success stories pour in each week, underscoring the tremendous investment of time and money into gamification. Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.

Gamification spans the gamut — from the hundreds of startups that launch with game mechanics incorporated into their products, to the big brands that make gamification a hallmark strategy. Regardless, the message is the same: the future will be more connected, more social and more fun than ever before.

More About: competition, foursquare, game mechanics, games, gamification, incentives, social media

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April 07 2011

Why You Should Stop Obsessing Over Your Competitors

Gabor George Burt is an internationally recognized expert on innovation, creativity and strategy development. His book Slingshot explores the connection between systematic creativity and smart strategy. Download your free copy of the first chapter at SlingshotLiving.com.

Steve Jobs certainly gets it. The unveiling of the iPad (and subsequently, the iPad 2) was not merely a product launch, but a defining moment in which Apple shared its grand vision for the consumer electronics marketplace. The company symbolically stepped away from the familiar confines of the PC era, leaving behind its own initial core business along with the competition.

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to step away from the shore,” said Nobel Prize-winning author André Gide. In Gide’s remark, the notion of new discovery is linked to bravery. In today’s marketplace, I would argue that doing something unprecedented is not just adventurous but imperative, and that the far bigger risk is focusing on current competitors as the barometer of strategy. Eliminating competition by trying to beat it is dangerously shortsighted. It deflects the attention and the resources of an organization away from the far more important and exciting question of how to shape consumer lifestyles. 

A great illustration of this predicament is what happened to Kodak in 2003, when it was caught sleeping as the world transitioned from film to digital photography. The company severely misjudged the speed and impact of this transition and its lifestyle implications. As a result, Kodak’s core business, in which it was clearly dominating its competitors, was on a fast track to obsolescence. What were the consequences? Well, after 74 years, Kodak was delisted from the Dow Jones Industrial 30 Index of leading American companies in 2004. Kodak then embarked on a radical and painful restructuring to reestablish its relevance. It had to cut 25,000 jobs. It posted eight consecutive quarters of losses through the end of 2006, with a single quarterly loss of as much as $1 billion in 2005. Worst of all, the new reality was that even though Kodak quickly became a leader in digital photography, it was not a sustainably profitable business. In simplified terms, the company’s core business shifted from being a monopoly to being a commodity in the blink of an eye, and it had to scramble to reinvent itself.

So instead of trying to figure out how to beat competitors, smart strategy looks to change the rules of competition altogether. To see the distinct mindset and exciting implications of this approach, let’s consider an example from the world of sports. The Hungarian national team of the 1950s is widely considered as one of the most successful squads in the history of European football, by far the world’s most popular sport. In a six-year span, the team went undefeated (aside from the controversial World Cup Finals in 1954), scoring over four goals a game, and recording the highest rating ever for a national team. They won the 1952 Olympics, and in 1953 decisively beat England 6-3 in the “Match of the Century” in front of 105,000 people at Wembley Stadium.

What was their secret? For one, the management ensured that the Hungarian team was made up of extremely talented players. But it was the team’s groundbreaking strategy that enabled them to reshape the very way the game was played and to leave the competition behind. Instead of playing strictly defined positions, the Hungarians introduced unparalleled flexibility and continuous rotation on the field that other teams simply had no answer to. Moreover, they invented the concept of the “playmaker,” which gave a designated player free reign to improvise and creatively run the team’s offense. It was this willingness to go beyond prevailing boundaries rather than compete within them that allowed the Hungarians to elevate the sport to new heights of enrichment for players and spectators alike.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories is about The Zax, imaginary creatures who can only go in one specific direction and are very stubborn. In the story, two Zax, one southbound, the other headed north, happen to bump into each other in the middle of the desert, each perfectly blocking the other’s path. Neither of the two is willing to budge, expecting the other to get out of the way first. And they remain there, nose to nose, obsessed with winning the standoff. They become so preoccupied with and consumed by each other’s presence that they don’t notice the world passing them by — which it does. A new highway is built right around them in the desert. As Dr. Seuss puts it: “And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax. And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.” Make sure that your strategy doesn’t resemble that of a Zax, otherwise you risk getting left behind in the desert.

Interested in more Business resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shironosov

More About: business, competition, small business, strategy

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March 12 2011

Facebook Hosts Its First Ever Hacker Cup [PHOTOS]

Facebook‘s Hacker Cup is the Olympics of hacking.

Twenty-five finalists from 10 countries were flown into Palo Alto to compete. These few represent the elite cream of the crop, the top coders in the world, and as this post is being written, they’re all sitting in Facebook’s cafeteria, chewing pencils, staring at monitors and typing furiously.

It’s a bit mind-boggling to think about, all that raw talent and brainpower in a single room focused on a single task. Facebook has brought them all here on an all-expenses-paid trip to tour the Facebook campus and compete against one another in this event.

Almost 12,000 developers entered in the competition, which centers around algorithms, one of the more esoteric aspects of the hacker skill set.

This isn’t a hackathon, where devs and designers collaborate in teams to build one-off consumer apps; and it’s not one of Facebook’s Developer Garages, which focus on using the Facebook Platform. The hackers in this room are solely concentrating on finding solutions to elaborate and complicated computer science questions.

In each round, the hackers were given three problems to solve. Each problem had one correct answer. Contestants for the next round were chosen based on who could correctly solve the most problems in the shortest amount of time. The three problems for the final round were developed by ten Facebook engineers. (We’ll write about the questions and solutions, as well as the winners, in a separate post later tonight.)

Facebook’s Hacker Cup isn’t entirely unique; in fact, a lot of these coders already know one another from past hacker competitions and from sites like TopCoder. In fact, most of the highest-scored hackers on TopCoder are actually in the room today.

We talked with Facebook software engineer David Alves about the event; he said that, while being able to solve problems at this level is something of a marvel, it doesn’t necessarily apply to common day-to-day coding tasks. In other words, while this does give the company face time with the most skilled hackers around, it’s not a recruiting event. However, all the finalists were able and encouraged to apply for jobs at Facebook once the competition had ended.

Still, recruitment is only a happy byproduct of this event; Facebook, long renowned as being a singularly engineer-driven and engineer-focused company, is hosting this competition purely for the love of the game.

As the time on the clock winds down, only three hackers have submitted solutions to all three problems, and Alvers says it’s unlikely that all of these solutions will be correct, given the number of fringe cases for input that the devs have to take into account.

In the end, as the official Hacker Cup T-shirts read, “There can be only one.” The “one” in this competition will have his name engraved on a plate on the Hacker Cup trophy, which itself is a huge, dystopian-looking cube of concrete with a metal fist emerging from the top. However, three of the finalists will go home with checks: The first place finalist receives $5,000; the second place, $2,000; and the third, $1,000.

The Hacker Cup will be an annual competition; Facebook plans to improve and expand it in the years to come.

Check back later to read the problems (your mind will melt about two paragraphs in) and find out who won the first ever Hacker Cup.

In the meantime, here are some fun facts and a gallery of photos from Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto:

  • Contestants by country included:

7 hackers from Poland,
6 from Russia,
4 from the U.S.,
2 from Japan, and
One each from China, Germany, The Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland and Ukraine.

  • The vast majority of the hackers were running Windows with Cygwin, a suite of tools that give Linux feel and functionality to a Windows OS.
  • Exactly zero hackers were using Macs.
  • Although several women made it into the later rounds, the final 25 hackers were all men.
  • Most of the hackers were in their mid-twenties and have been writing software for years.






























More About: competition, contest, developers, facebook, hacker cup

For more Dev & Design coverage:

July 15 2010

Why You Should Be Your Own Toughest Competitor

ipod image

Jeremy Britton is a Partner and Design Lead at ZURB, an interaction design firm that has helped 100+ startups design better products & services. ZURB is the creator of Bounce – a free, fun and easy way to share your ideas about a website without logins.

You’ve got a good product, happy customers, and a solid space in the market. Now what? You can’t stop doing what you did to get here — by stopping you’ll mark a slow death for your currently successful product.

Your competition can see this and will exploit your weaknesses sooner than later, so you have to beat them to it: Be your own toughest competitor. You have to take calculated risks and innovate on your product. Ask the same questions your competitors would ask: What if we threw it all away and started over? What if we tried a totally different approach to this core feature? Ask “What if,” prototype new designs, test it out, and keep exploring.

Not taking any risks is the worst risk of them all. Being your own fiercest competitor is the best way to keep your product relevant and crowd out your competition. It’s a lesson that Apple took to heart with their designs and re-designs of the immensely popular iPod.

Constant Evolution

breakdown image

Apple gets it. They’ve never rested on their laurels with a successful product, but instead exploited their own weaknesses to push out new releases of products that crowded their competition from the market. Let’s hop into the time machine to October 2001 and look again at the iPod, one of their biggest success stories of the past decade.

Can you imagine using this iPod right now? Can you picture Apple’s market cap topping Microsoft if they’d just stuck with this original design after they won the market? The original iPod was not the first mp3 player in the market, nor the first to innovate by using a hard drive. Looking back at this design you can see how Apple separated themselves from the rest of the market through its industrial design, hardware, and software interface. You can also see a lot of warts in the product.

Set a Furious Pace

generations image

Apple saw the faults in its design and they moved quickly to address them before their competition could. Apple beat themselves to market again and again in their next series of releases to the iPod. The company set a furious redesign pace, constantly tweaking, improving, and perfecting their product.

There are lessons we find when we zero in on the details of what Apple actually did with their product:

  • They believed they were the market leaders and looked to themselves, rather than to their competition.
  • They asked big questions of their most successful elements. They didn’t settle.
  • They weren’t afraid to rebuild their product from the ground up: Gens 3 and 5 were complete redesigns.
  • They treated each release like a revolutionary new product, creating a marketable moment (for example, the Video iPod).

Over the course of five years they had four major product releases. Each redesign and relaunch took risks, even if none of them were “perfect.” (How many of us remember when Apple risked dropping the iconic jog wheel with Gen 4?) Through the course of all these releases they captured the audience and crowded out their competition.

Apple was not first to market, but fastest to market with the next innovation. Not an overnight success, but a long-term winner.

Survival of the Fittest

We remember the successes and forget the failures. What happened to all the companies with mp3 players that did not manage to mount the same frenzied competition Apple did with itself? Here’s a look back at three major competitors to the iPod that did not reinvent, grow, and succeed like the iPod:

  • Compaq Personal Jukebox (1999-2002) – With a clever name and first to the market, this player grew to a 60GB version with a nifty backlight LCD. It never saw a radical redesign of its interface before they shut it down.
  • Creative NOMAD (2000-2004) – Sporting the look of a miniature CD player, it is survived by the MuVo and Zen who still fight over market scraps.
  • Archos Jukebox (2000-2002) – This was a pocket “jukebox” with a heavy duty blue-and-silver shell that looked like it could survive a drop from ten stories.

  • Conclusion

    It’s important to note than none of these products rested completely on their first release. They all developed new versions and improved parts of their products. But what distinguishes Apple’s approach to the iPod is the frenzied pace of innovation and the size of the risks they took. In contrast, Compaq, Creative, and Archos were tentative in their steps to make their products better and more appealing to customers. They competed with each other, rather than with themselves, and thus none of them were ever pushed to radically innovate.

    At the end of the day, that’s the whole point. “Being your our toughest competition” means looking deep within and being honest about how good your product really is. It means being restless to find new opportunities that one-up yourself. It means continually pushing new product into the market over the long haul.

    Do that and you’ll win over and keep happy customers by squeezing out “would-be competitors” who aren’t prepared to work as hard!

    More Social Business Resources from Mashable:

    - HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business
    - Top 5 Ways to Make Your Site More Fun
    - 5 Social Media Trends to Watch Right Now
    - Beyond the Checkin: Where Location-Based Social Networks Should Go Next
    - What the Future Holds for the Checkin

    More About: apple, archos, compaq, competition, Creative, innovation, ipod, MP3 player

    For more Business coverage:

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