Rewards, Doing Chores and Social Games

07/19/2010
From my previous posts, you know my enthusiasm for using social games to motivate activity, increase engagement and even teach new skills. In my last few posts, I discussed the idea of gamification and how we’re observing a trend that increasingly sees game elements deployed in the service of practical activity. Case in point: I wanted to share an article with you that I just came across in the New York Times tech blog about a new iPhone application that will actually reward players for doing chores.Just like our Facebook game Healthseeker, this new game also aims to help players control their own behavior and get them to think about doing chores in a different, more playful way. What’s immediately evident is how both games aim to motivate behaviour with rewards. As for Healthseeker, the idea is that we can turn what has typically been a long-term investment into an activity driven by instant gratification. Encouraging one tiny steps at a time, we hope to see a larger overall improvement in their behavior. Our rewards are socialized, so that seeking that achievement becomes more meaningful because you’re sharing it with your social graph. We also use the emotional trigger of rewarding players with very special and scarce goods called Kudos to incent players to act. Kudos are achievements that a player earns over time as they level up and they can only be given away. This would act as a reward intensifier, something that once again is very effective to engage people in changing their behavior.
Implications
What was once a boring, time-consuming and non-engaging “action,” chores in this instance, or skipping post-dinner dessert for others, now becomes an accomplishment. The game mechanics of achievements and compulsion loops positively reinforce the players’ actions, so whether it’s a chore or a lifestyle habit that someone needs to modify, re-framing them as positive achievements is a great way to incent players. The progressive series of rewards for their accomplishments, building the anticipation of future rewards, creates a positive emotional loop, drawing them through the game.
Conclusion
Achievements and rewards are a big part of how games motivate activity. While some do argue that it’s the delivery of rewards and not the quality of the game mechanics that keeps players engaged in gameplay, I like to think that it’s a combination of both. In any case, the fact that game play is increasingly appearing in unexpected places should trigger a EUREKA moment for businesses trying to drive consumer engagement with their brand. What do you think? Email me at michael [at] ayogo [dot] com or leave a comment.