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Glued to Games, a new book by Scott Rigby and Rich Ryan that explains the motivational dynamics of video games, can be ordered now at Written for all audiences, this book explores the psychology of games in detail - offering every reader a stronger understanding of the remarkable power of games to engage us.  Check it out!


True Clout is not spelled with a “K” 

I was reading the NY Times the other day and it noted that some nightclubs are using a person’s “Klout” score to determine whether to let them past the velvet rope. “Klout” score? Hmmmm…what’s that all about? Let the Googling begin...

As I read about Klout, I was simultaneously amused and troubled. Based on the description from its own website, it apparently determines how “important” you are in the world by how frequently you are talking in the twitter-sphere (probably about yourself), as well as how much others subsequently re-tweet, link, or otherwise reference what you are saying.

And get this - Part of the Klout formula is an “echo chamber” in which Klout gives higher ratings when those with more Klout reference a Klout user, which increases that user’s Klout, thus allowing that user to increase others Klout. Yep…it’s pretty much the social media equivalent of a circle j_rk, which I’m sure is not an accident. In fact, by mentioning “Klout” here I probably increased Klout’s Klout score. Hey, you’re welcome Klout…it was nothing!

No, really. I mean quite literally it was NOTHING. And that’s the problem. Klout is the empty gamification of our lives that is exactly what I feared would happen when I first blogged about the topic last year. It’s this meaningless “score” that is put up on the screen – a way for us to become famous for being famous and finally rise to the lofty heights of societal contribution previously only reached by heroic figures such as the Kardashians and Snooki. Except we’re probably not as good-looking, or as loud.

On Klout, anyone who talks a lot and gets others to repeat what they said somehow has value on that basis alone. This has some bizarre implications if we look back at history. Apparently Hitler would have had a great Klout score (particularly in the European market). Oh wait…so would Aristotle. Hmmmm…does it strike anyone else that because Klout’s scoring system is bereft of anything substantive, these two folks would probably score quite similarly?

My wife pointed out that perhaps Klout is supposed to be agnostic to substance – and only rate influence: That since both Hitler and Aristotle had a big impact, they should have a similar score. Good point - although still troubling for me I must admit, particularly because in my research I am starting to see it being used as a rating of substance.

But I see an even bigger problem: Other incredibly influential people – let’s say Jonas Salk – would probably have a crappy Klout score because he was keeping his head down working on silly stuff – like curing polio and saving countless lives - instead of trying to blather in ways that got others to re-blather (that idiot actually gave the vaccine away for free…pfft….What a loser). Are you going to tell me the guy who cured polio didn’t have influence? That Da Vinci guy was also so busy on his little “experiments,” and “art” he probably wouldn’t have tweeted too much. Another potential low-Klouter. They should really get their priorities straight.

The fact is that the people I respect the most – and who have tremendous actual clout – don’t do a lot of twittering or blogging. I don’t think that’s an accident. I think they are working hard in a variety of really cool areas of research, medicine, business, media, and elsewhere – and doing amazing work that ultimately has tremendous influence in meaningful ways. That’s what I call real clout. Maybe we should be scoring for that. Sure, at the highest levels the Nobel family already beat us to it, but there is some more room in this space perhaps, if we start caring more about truly meaningful contributions.

In the end, as I finish this NY Times article I guess it’s okay for “Klout” with a Kardashian “K” (which really is a happy coincidence) to determine if you are cool enough to drink $20 cocktails at a trendy NY bar. I doubt cancer is being cured over Appletinis anyway. And perhaps the founders of Klout will walk away someday with a boatload of money, which is of course the most important measure of worth and value (right Jonas Salk?)

But truly, my hope is that we’ll focus on how our lives, our businesses, and our relationships with those around us – including our employees and customers – are being meaningfully pursued. As I’ve said before – gamification can be so much more than what Klout represents, because gamification is about the potential for meaningful connection and motivation through true need satisfaction that deepens value and sustains engagement. And I do think that businesses will see greater success at the bottom line as well, because this level of meaningful engagement is intrinsically valued.

But Klout’s got nothing to do with “Real Clout” in this respect, or anything else of value that I can see. Glad my velvet rope seeking days are behind me… 


Gamification: Intrinsic Motivation FTW!

Just in time for the 2011 GDC in San Francisco, I find myself encouraged by the developments in the field of “Gamification” over the last six months since I posted Getting Gamification Right back in August. The forces of good are gathering!

First, that post seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and thanks to everyone who contacted me with support for the ideas and the importance of focusing on meaningful satisfaction of basic psychological needs. A lot of industry leaders are now rallying behind the concept of “intrinsic motivation” that we’ve been promoting to game devs since 2004, notably through white papers and our first Gamasutra feature four years ago introducing the idea of intrinsic motivation and basic need satisfaction (competence/mastery, autonomy, relatedness) as a model for design and player experience testing.

A few things from some of the luminaries in the game space:

  • First, industry veteran Chris Heckler spoke at last year’s GDC (March, 2010) on  the important distinction between intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards, and the danger of focusing too much on extrinsic. While he wasn’t aware of our research at the time showing this effect directly in games – we have it Chris! In several studies that a focus on extrinsic rewards is unrelated to long-term engagement, and intrinsic rewards are related to a player’s sustained interest in games. Here’s a brief chart pulled from one off our presentations on the topic:


Note here that when players are focused on extrinsic rewards, it is related to their expectation of play in the short term (i.e. in the next day), but unrelated to (i) their actual enjoyment/immersion and (ii) their long-term motivation to play. Here’s a great example of why focusing only on short-term behavioral metrics can lead you down the wrong path, vs. collecting meaningful motivational metrics to understand the quality of motivation for play. Only intrinsic reasons were related to an expectation of play over weeks and months, as well as interest in playing more games by this developer. In other words – when people are intrinsically motivated to play your game, they think you rock. But if they are extrinsically motivated…well…don’t gussy yourself up and sit by the phone waiting for a third date.                     

Additional data we’ve collected also support that player’s engagement behavior follows these intentions. Feel free to download some of our talks (2008, 2009) that focus specifically on extrinsic and intrinsic rewards from the Immersyve site.

  • Finally – If you haven’t had the chance to pick up Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken, do yourself a favor and grab it. In particular, the back half of the book is an inspiring look at how we are entering what she calls an “engagement economy” in which motivation – the right kind of motivation - is the whole ballgame. We hope our book – Glued to Games – will provide everyone a closer look at what specifically the “right kind” of motivation is, and how it can be put to work.

There is still a lot of work to do on this issue, and happily there are many other presentations and talks that are being given specifically in the area of gamification that are drawing upon the motivational research work we’re doing and exploring exciting new areas.  Please keep letting us know what you’re up to in this space, and also a reminder: For those of you doing basic science/not-for-profit research – we make our metrics freely available to you for your projects! To date, our Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) model is being used in 30+ studies around the world. Let us know if you have a project you’d like to discuss!

Finally - I propose we gamify the extrinsic vs. intrinsic debate and get some cool Realm v. Realm contests going. You extrinsic guys can have special spells that root us with pop-ups and stun us with spells like the "hellfire of 1000 badges." We'll fight back with self-buffs of inner strength from meaningful need satisfaction (Team Intrinsic: Please email me your cool spell names and mechanics).

My only request: Can our side have the good-looking avatars? Please?


Getting Gamification Right

“Gamification” is a relatively new term that refers to using video game mechanics – like points, scores, and levels – to build greater motivation for customers to stay engaged with a business. The idea is simple: Video games have a remarkable ability to draw players in and keep them engaged hour upon hour, week after week, and in some cases month after month. They are highly motivating. So much chin-scratching has begun on how those same strategies can be harnessed to create sustained engagement and “buzz” with non-entertainment websites, social networking hubs, and really any online business. That’s what this gamification thing is all about.

Back in the good old days (read: The 90’s) we started talking about the “stickiness” of websites as shorthand for keeping people engaged. But today’s world of constant connectivity, multiple platforms, and social networking has outgrown this term. Stickiness made sense when we just wanted folks to click a few more pages, and perhaps buy an extra lava lamp or two. Now we want to forge deeper relationships, where customers are not only loyalists, but evangelists – tweeting away about how great we are and getting their friends to sign up for what we’re cooking. Enter the magical mechanics of games as a means to that end.

Gamification 1.0

Because we are just past the starting line of the gamification movement (see Jesse’ Schell’s engaging presentation at DICE to get a flavor for it) there will be much stumbling about as we find the best solutions. What is it about games that really builds the sustained engagement that we’re looking for, and how can we best implement that? We’ll make wrong turns as we get started, but we’ll get to the best solutions faster if we start by acknowledging a few things:

1)      The core of gamification – the whole point really – is to deepen and sustain engagement. We want customers to be staying with us longer and coming back sooner and excitedly anticipating spending time with us. In other words, it’s fundamentally a question of motivation and satisfaction that is meaningful enough to stay in the relationship.

2)      It follows that before we do anything else we need to really understand the psychology of game motivation and satisfaction if we have any chance of leveraging its power to build this kind of deeper engagement.

3)      We may not understand (2) as well as we think we do.

Wait…go back. What was (3) again? C’mon, of course we understand game motivation! It’s right there on the screen. There are points and levels and flashy things and scores and badges and achievements and stars and...and…stuff! We love stuff! Stuff is fun. Stuff motivates and rewards. A tasty candy-shell of stuff around anything can’t fail. I wish I could dip my whole life into it. As a friend from college once said, “I’ll eat anything as long as you deep fry it first.” Yum.

Vegas knows this better than anyone. Vegas is all about stuff. Winning stuff, consuming stuff, and being brought to the edge of a grand mal seizure by the sheer wattage of it all. And of course, as any psych 101 student can tell you, we know how Vegas motivates quite successfully: Rewards and Reinforcement! Slot machines keep us pumping away through variable reinforcement schedules, and other principles of operant conditioning keep us rolling along until it’s time to go back to our real lives. And as we drive out of town, probably poorer but hopefully with a tired smile, we’re reminded by a huge billboard that “what happens here, stays here.”

Great slogan. It winkingly acknowledges that even Vegas knows that it’s an indulgence, and perhaps not a healthy one except in short, controlled bursts. But is it a model for sustained engagement? For building loyalty and commitment? Put another way, what’s your first impression of someone based on the description that “he spends every day of his life at the slot machines?” How would you guess that life is going? How truly satisfied do you think he is?

This is relevant to gamification because this same kind of “bauble-based” reward system is found quite often in video games, and as I look at the first round of gamification solutions it appears to be one of the first strategies being ported over. The problem is, when it comes to actually sustaining motivation and satisfaction, it doesn’t work. Not in games, and not outside of them.

We’ve completed several longitudinal studies of sustained engagement with video games, and we’ve looked at what happens to people’s relationships with products when they are focused on “bauble based” rewards. Gotta play to get more points. Need to do this thing every day to win that badge. We often call this kind of reward strategy “extrinsic” rewards, because the motivation to pursue something lies outside the activity itself. The activity is simply a means to an end.

What the data show is that players who are primarily focused on extrinsic rewards are less likely to continue playing the game. Research by my colleagues has shown this to be true in sports at many levels (even professional athletes). And the same effect occurs with video games. In one diary study that looked at the daily activity of gamers over thousands of sequential days, weeks and months, playing for extrinsic reasons did not keep players engaged over time. Just like Vegas, for most people it motivates us only for a short while. Then we want to move on to more truly satisfying things.

So what then are these “truly” satisfying things? Are games supplying those?

Yes, the good ones are. And the data we’ve been collecting for the last seven years show that’s a big reason why great games have so much staying power. In particular, games have a powerful ability to satisfy basic psychological needs that are the source of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation doesn’t need a bauble or a badge to get going – it naturally arises from several places:

1)      Our basic need for autonomy energizes us to seek out experiences in which we feel we are acting volitionally (and not being controlled by outside forces). Autonomy is satisfied when we feel we have meaningful options and choices from which we can choose, but is also satisfied simply by endorsing and valuing the activity we are engaging (i.e. what we call “volitional engagement”).

2)      Our basic need for competence (or mastery) energizes us to extend our abilities and grow, both in our moment to moment experiences and in our overall development as a person.

3)      Our basic need for relatedness energizes us to seek out relationships and interactions with others in which we feel that we matter. We want to be supported and feel that we are important and valued to those around us.

When we present these concepts in workshops with game developers, the reaction is uniformly positive. Not because these ideas are surprising, but because they clarify and more precisely define what lies at the heart of valued experiences for customers.  More importantly, because developers have heard every theory under the sun about what gamer’s value, they are relieved to hear that we have lots of data to back this model up as an applied approach: Across dozens of studies with thousands of gamers, no matter what genre or market segment we study these experiences of basic need satisfaction are the strongest and most consistent predictors of player value, enthusiasm, likelihood to recommend games to friends, and sustained engagement with games over weeks and months. In fact, assessing the “player experience of need satisfaction” (PENS) is a much better predictor of sustained engagement than bauble-collecting. And even better at predicting sustained engagement than asking players how much fun they are having. Because even fun can be fleeting when you think about it. Relationships require more substantive satisfaction.

Based on our study and research in this area so far, I believe that gamification folks who embrace this idea will be the most successful over time. Solutions that bring out the truly need satisfying elements of games, and leave the less nutritious mechanics behind, will be appreciated more strongly and will rise above bauble-based approaches. Greater fulfillment will lead customers to happily – and autonomously –  give their loyalty and endorsement to these organizations in return. Everybody wins, except maybe the bauble factories. But don’t worry…they’ll always have Vegas.