Funware Attacks! Games Invade Real Life

Funware Attacks! Games Invade Real Life

It’s already been a surprisingly good fall season for the concept of gameification, or making everyday activities more game-like. First, Mike Swift at the Mercury News reported that Google will seek to bring game mechanics to many different applications and features. Second, Facebook recently unveiled its Places application – the social networking giant will undoubtedly bump up its gamification offering to connect location, achievement and fun.

Here are the top 3 reasons these announcements are especially important for gamification, and gamers as a whole:

1. Google is a gamification pioneer.

Starting with Image Labeler, through its acquisition of early “game-like” apps such as dodgeball (way more fun as Foursquare) and now with its Slide acquisition, Google gets the basic power of games. In the early days, the company even had Image Labeler designer (and all-around brilliant guy) Luis Von Ahn come to Google to give a techtalk on game mechanics (focused on Human Computation). Google acquired jambool (a games/micropayment pioneer), invested in ngmoco and hired long-time industry vet Mark DeLoura (who’s since moved on) to head up the strategy. This means that Google will not merely seek to launch a games portal or provide games APIs to developers to build for Android (something the search engine giant already does). To whit, Google has said publicly that to “take on Facebook” it would be stupid to merely recreate the social graph without focusing on the games that make it sticky.

This suggests that the company will clearly use the power of points, levels, badges and achievements to shape user behavior. I think this takes the form, most obviously, of a point/currency system  – but my guess is that we’ll see some experimental product design and interesting overarching strategy.

One cool idea would be to gamify the ad buyer experience on Adwords. To some extent, qualifying for Conversion Optimizer (a more powerful bidding tool that Google offers only higher-volume advertisers) is already baked into a game-like experience: You have to level up and include a bunch of stuff before you can use it. There is a lot more they could do, including giving experienced advertisers status, a structured leaderboard (something many want) and a rewards program. With Yahoo/Bing’s rising traffic, there’s no time like the present.

2. Facebook Wants Their Own Currency & Brand Relationships

Setting aside the regulatory risks of this strategy, it’s clear that Facebook Credits is a core strategy for Facebook. The social network is going to bake it into the platform, effectively force developers to use it, and tie it into many of the basic interactions on the site.

While many different kinds of XP, Karma and Experience points systems can (and must) coexist with Facebook Credits, the firm’s foray into the market will make it a smidge harder to compete with a proprietary redeemable currency. Although this will be less of an issue for sites with large audiences (e.g. Pogo) or niche audiences (e.g. World of Warcraft), for most everyone else, it will be about creating an exchange mechanism for credits that works with Facebook and others. This will facilitate adoption but limit “exclusivity.”

As noted in recent book Game-Based Marketing, point systems are at the heart of any gamification or funware cycle, and having this ready-made platform will be huge boon. Of course, with millions of people using credits and places, the options for brands and retailers to make connections with game mechanics also increases by an order of magnitude.

3. Ecosystems and Competition Advance Gamification

Facebook and Google are building out some of the core plumbing of the gamified network – but they’re doing it differently than before. Instead of simply building pipes, like ISPs might, they are building both the platform and the services that make use of it – leading the way for brands to make connections to the new, gamified consumer.

Just like the epic battle shaping up in gamification platforms, this Google vs Facebook (vs Apple? vs Amazon? vs Verisign? vs the US Government?) tussle promises to create a vibrant marketplace of ideas, products and services. We’ll have multiple currencies to choose from, multiple geo-aware APIs to leverage, unlimited numbers of achievements, challenges, levels and badges to issue – and a world of opportunity.

And although this does nothing to reduce the complexity of designing a gamification strategy (it probably has the reverse effect, actually) it is an exciting time, especially for everyday fans – games and game-like principles will soon be popping up more places than ever.

About Gabe Zichermann
Gabe Zichermann is the co-author of Game-Based Marketing and CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME. He frequently muses about games and the world at Funwareblog.com
and Twitter as @gzicherm.

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