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VLAB Forum on Gamification

September 25, 2012

Last Tuesday evening I was lucky enough to attend the MIT/ Stanford Venture Lab Forum held at Stanford University, (known as VLAB) called “Gamify Everything: from Monetization to Social Benefit.”

The event was presented as a panel with 5 industry veterans chaired by the always well-spoken and approachable Margaret Wallace.

Since I was a little late finding the Knight Management Center auditorium, I got to my seat (way up in the balcony) peering down on ~450 attendees, around the time Margaret was wrapping up her presentation on why gamification and who the speakers were. Each speaker then introduced himself or herself (find their bio’s from the above link) and Margaret asked a few questions of her own before fielding questions from the audience.

This blog post, taken from my notes, roughly summarizes each speaker’s sentiments on gamification and some of their key points:

1) Courtney Guertin, CTO, Kiip, Inc: Courtney claims he is not actually in the gamification space, but beyond encouraging all of us to check out The Fun Theory, an initiative of Volkswagon (which I confess I did enjoy checking out…), Courtney spoke about why Kiip is building a business around what he calls “the achievement moment.” Kiip is, understandably so, mobile focused and Courtney stressed that successfully building a business around the achievement moment requires “delivering the right reward to the right person at the right time.” And to this end, Kiip is partnering with businesses to help them do just this, bringing their real world rewards to (their potential and existing) customers playing games or gamified apps.

2) Joshua Williams of the Microsoft Lync Group was invited to be on the panel because he was instrumental in bringing gamified techniques to the Lync group to make team members jobs more interesting and to rise the group’s productivity. Joshua said basically he applied crowdsourcing efforts and productivity games to meet business needs, but along the way figured out that gamification leaderboards as merely leaderboards were not effective in achieving what they wanted to achieve (everyone in the group being engaged and productive) thus he “abstracted leaderboards” culling their top tier leaders together into a raffle where one could win a prize. The goal being to motivate a wider group effort instead of encouraging a “winner take all” mentality.
3) Amy Jo Kim, founder of ShuffleBrain, well known game designer and public speaker with some serious street cred (and Rockband fame) was a welcome addition to this panel by offering her insights as a game industry veteran for where gamification is going over the next few years. Currently, Amy is focused on implementing and tuning social systems for web and mobile. Like many from the game dev industry, Amy Jo is not fond of the term “gamification.” She claims people are “getting smarter faster” and that its exciting to gamify without it being obviously a formulaic game. Amy also noted that since gaming is going mobile, this is where gamification has a huge opportunity for helping to create non-zero sum games via social collaboration and problem solving, where the team is more important than the individual. In fact, Amy Jo sees this as a new frontier and untapped market for gamification companies. She asserted that most games today are zero sum games – think of all the first person shooters and their individual strategy single winner goal and you’ll understand where Amy Jo is coming from. Amy Jo pointed to Code for America as a good example of what she hopes gamification enables.
4) Rajat Paharia – Founder and Chief Product Officer of Bunchball was the only panelist representing one of the well-known gamification companies. Rajat stated straight away that “guiding and amplifying high value activity (and loyalty)” is what Bunchball is all about. One excellent example of this is what Bunchball has done in their work for Adobe to gamify learning Photoshop. Rajat shared that Bunchball is enterprise brands focused and one of his key remarks was that “exclusive access to “gamified” communities means more to individuals than money.” Rajat also brought up Foursquare as an example of a company that was excellent at on-boarding new “players” but very poor at retaining them, because of their lack of true gamification techniques.
5) Andrew Trader of Maveron Ventures was a very engaging speaker, likely due to his experience in both the early mobile game business (as a co-founder of Zynga) and also due to his experiences at Maveron. He started out by lamenting how the daily deal sites (like Groupon) operate, and why they are losing mind share and market share, claiming they are truly missing out by not using gamification tools. He also pointed to some good examples of gamification, one being Livemocha – an excellent and engaging language learning site – and one that I use myself to better learn French when I have the time. Andrew claimed that gamification is really nothing more than creating and managing “incentivized behavior. “ Lastly, Andrew provided the audience with his formula for where he sees gamification’s future: Social + Mobile + Platform + Gamification + Social (as in the next generation of online social services) will help move gamification mainstream.

After the panelists gave their impressions of gamification, Margaret fielded some questions from the audience and I spoke with some of the organizers, learning that perhaps 20+ individuals who attended this very forum are in the early stages of their own gamification start-ups, including some from sponsor Stanford. This, along with the excellent gamification course I am currently taking from The University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, taught by Kevin Werbach on Coursera indicate to me that gamification has a strong future, albeit maybe not a very long one, but then, when does anything tech have a long future? Then the pundits will all be happy as gamification will no longer be called hype any longer.

Footnote: the vast majority of folks surveyed about gamification believe it will be coined simply as “design” or “social media 3.0” or something similar in a few more years. Also, check out Dean Takahashi’s excellent summary of the evening over at Venture Beat.



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