Big Business Is Gaming You

Your world is being gamed, reports Nick Wingfield in the New York Times:

Congratulations. Reading the first paragraph of this article has earned you a badge.

If this made-up award makes you feel good about yourself, then you are on your way to understanding gamification, a business trend — some would say fad — that aims to infuse otherwise mundane activities with the excitement and instant feedback of video games.

Many businesses are using these game tricks to try to get people hooked on their products and services — and it is working, thanks to smartphones and the Internet.

Buying a cup of coffee? Foursquare, the social networking app that helped popularize the gamification idea, gives people virtual badges for checking in at a local cafe or restaurant.

Conserving energy? More than 75 utilities have begun using a service from a company called Opower that awards badges to customers when they reduce their energy consumption. Customers can compare their progress with their neighbors’ and broadcast their achievements on Facebook.

“I’m not going to lie — I hate those online game apps on Facebook. I delete them,” said Brett Little, who works for an environmental nonprofit group in Grand Rapids, Mich., and has been known to share his energy-saving progress online. “This one I really enjoy.”

Of course, people and businesses have long added game elements to parts of regular life. Parents reward their children for household work with gold-star stickers. Business travelers pump their fists when they hit elite traveler status on an airline.

But digital technologies like smartphones and cheap sensors have taken the phenomenon to a new level, especially among adults. Now, game concepts like points, badges and leader boards are so mainstream that they have become powerful motivators in many settings, even some incongruous ones. At a time when games are becoming ever more realistic, reality is becoming more gamelike…

[Earn points by reading more in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

Latest posts by majestic (see all)

13 Comments on "Big Business Is Gaming You"

  1. What can be perceived as harmful with utilizing our competitive nature?

    • It just seems…cheap, you know? People should buy coffee because they like coffee, they should conserve energy because it saves money and it’s good the the environment. Besides, as an ardent lover of video games and their potential, I feel as though gamification is a way of saying games aren’t good enough to stand on their own merit.

      • I can see how it could cheapen things.However, I feel this approach has the potential to enhance experiences if used in a certain way. Preferably if the person is aware of this, and not totally mindless as many like to suggest. Not to say that advertisers do not use mind control techniques. This is to say that one can be better off being mindful of the suggestions for and against any topic.

        for example:

        Gamifying Product Experiences: (hypothetical: can vs. is)


        Encourages participation –
        Environmentalism, human rights, etc…

        Encourages education –

        example: the gamifying could offer an experience that encourages understanding a product, a topic, etc.


        Influencing: Through subconscious triggers

        This is par for the course for much business and sales

        Dumbing down:

        Simplifying an experience and offering false information to encourage sales.

        so forth and so on

    • Jin The Ninja | Dec 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm |

      who is to say we have a genuinely ‘competitive’ nature, and this trait is not simply culturally reinforced via our economic system?

      • To say human nature is either competitive or cooperative is to say a coin has one side. It is less than one dimensional.

      • What compelled you to ask that question?

      • Even to accept the phrase “culturally reinforced” implies that there is already some structure in place that cultural pressures are strengthening.

        Also, the “cultural reinforcement” would have to be coming from something far older and more embedded than the modern economic system since competitiveness can be observed throughout much broader swaths of time, place, and social structure.

    • It does imply that the designers are playing puppeteer. Whether it’s good or bad probably largely comes from which end of the strings you happen to be on…and who’s at the other end of them.

  2. Hadrian999 | Dec 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm |

    everyone is trying to game you at all times

  3. This field is far more developed than most people suppose.

    I’d suggest anyone interested in learning more do some research on “captology”.

    A good place to start may be Stanford University’s “Persuasive Technology Lab”.

  4. Badges are also becoming job qualifications. Some of the free/non-free job-related online classes are awarding them to people who pass, some of these badges will show employers actual course content to show exactly what you learned.

Comments are closed.