Unlocking the Potential of Game Incentives

In this presentation from the 2010 DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse Schell analyses the success of unusual games and predicts how that same model can be applied to life to give people incentives to use certain products and accomplish tasks at work or elsewhere.

Schell describes the paradox of Farmville, which at face value is just another Facebook flash game, but which has generated over $600 million and has more user accounts than all of Twitter. He also notes the success of other outliers from the typical game model, including the Wii, Guitar Hero, Webkins, and Xbox’s Achievement Unlocked reward model. Schell argues that all of these games and game elements have a commonality: they “bust through to reality.” Schell claims that this parallels a trend in media. The surge of reality TV, organic food, and other “real” products suggests that the public has a desire for authenticity. According to Schell, “everything is about reality now.”

In the second half of this talk, Schell goes on to theorize how this model can be applied to serious games. He states that the reason for the success of the Achievement Unlocked reward system is that it suggests a higher level of achievement – it goes beyond the fantasy of the game and acknowledges success in reality. Schell recognizes that companies are already using this model to give incentives – for example, a Ford hybrid model has a plant gage alongside its gas gage on the dashboard. The more gas the diver saves, the more the plant grows. “They put a virtual pet in your car! And it changes the way people drive!” Schell exclaims. He goes on to describe Lee Sheldon, a professor at the University of Indiana who has disregarded the traditional grading system in favor of giving out “experience points” for each assignment. Students can see how many points they need to “level up” to a higher grade. According to Schell, this model resulted in better class attendance and participation.