Games for all of us, young and old, have formed a big part of our lives. This is true for gaming nerds like me who grew up on Mario Bros., obviously, but this is true even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a gamer.
The biological imperative of “play” is hardwired into each of us. In fact, games, for a variety of species are used to learn new skills, create social bonds and for the forming of ideas through imagination. So really, fun is just a name we use for the release of the neurochemical dopamine to reward survival-positive behaviors.
In recent decades, technology has become better at hacking into this core instinct of ours and as virtual games become more sophisticated, so does its ability to elicit certain behaviours.
Guiding these behaviours to serve a specific function is the basis of what we call gamification. The use of typical game elements, like “unlocking achievements” to encourage certain actions.
While gamification itself is nothing new, one of the things that I think we will begin to see going forward is gaming as an activity moving from what is largely still a narrow experience to a pervasive experience. What do I mean by this?
So, if you think about the early days of the internet as an example — when I was younger and wanted to get online, it was a conscious effort that I had to make. Checking my favorite news site or starting an online chat, would require time to sit down, dial in, and wait for about 10mins for the web page to load. All the while praying that nobody picks up the phone. After a couple of hours, I would log off and move on with my life.
Guiding these behaviours — activating the innate human need to ‘play’ — to serve a specific function is the basis of what we call gamification
Nowadays, basically, every device that I own is connected to the internet. And every conceivable activity, from playing media to getting around or ordering food, all relies on an always-on connection that permeates every minute of my day.
Internet usage had, therefore, become what was this narrow experience — something that I had to make time for — to a pervasive experience that is as automatic as sleeping or eating.
When it comes to gaming, a similar shift has started taking place. Not everybody might have a console at home but I guarantee every one of you have a phone in your pocket, which is why gaming is already more accessible to a much wider audience now than ever before. But even beyond that with the emergence of wearable technologies, (I’m not just talking watches, but shoes, glasses, headphones) and connected technologies like your IoT-enabled appliances in your home, the platforms for gaming experiences are everywhere.
Uber has taken person-to-person apps to the next level in just a few short months. The company has nearly made yellow cabs obsolete—in cities like New York where cabs were once ubiquitous.
If you fast forward a couple of years from now these different devices will have matured to form a cohesive ecosystem, that will make up the basis of all manner of gamification opportunities. It’s not difficult then to imagine that gaming will begin to form a more pervasive part of our lives — much in the same way that the internet has.
In a future where games are everywhere, everything you do throughout the course of a normal day can have an impact on your gaming life. Shopping for clothes in the real world can unlock new swag for your digital avatar, playing FIFA with your friends can reward points that you’ll use to buy your next pair of trainers, happy meals will have augmented reality characters in the box that the kids collect and battle with.
In a future where games are everywhere, everything you do throughout the course of a normal day can have an impact on your gaming life.
I imagine that when the day comes that we begin to see this seamless blend of games in the real world, they will no longer be the standalone, linear experiences that they are now. They will instead form a mesh of interdependent activities that all exist on the same platform. This has been referred to as the “gaming layer” and much like the “social layer” that exists today, will form the foundation on top of which these experiences can be built.
The prospect of a gamified world is an alluring concept to a technologist/marketer like me. The potential for true engagement is phenomenal. Specifically, if these experiences add real value to the lives of consumers. Games that are actually fun and worth your time rather than just a flash in the pan marketing gimmick built for the next award show. I’ve long believed that you need to create value before you can expect to extract it.
But more importantly, this new form of gamification can be used to hack our innate need for play in service of changing our world. Unlocking badges for filling up the ITO recycling bin. Or getting to the top at the leaderboard because every kid in your class passed the exam. Even maybe unlocking an achievement for saving that adorable little runt from the shelter.
The great thing about gamification as a platform is that it’s nothing more than a conduit. A Blank canvas waiting for all of us to create the experiences that will make a difference.