Gamification, Barely a Year Old, Could Implode & Take a New Industry Down With It—Thoughts From Bobber Interactive’s Scott Dodson

5/12/11Follow @curtwoodward

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satisfaction of mastering a first-person-shooter video game was likely the most attractive part, rather than the violent war-game imagery that can become the topic of controversy.

Using the psychology of motivation as a backdrop, Dodson argues that three elements are crucial for real success: Participation has to be voluntary, the game has to fit well within a specific setting, and it has to be intrinsically motivating.

That last part is probably the most complex, so here it is explained further. To tap the spark of motivation, Dodson says, the theory goes that any given experience should give someone three things: The autonomy to explore on their own, the ability to get better at the task, and the feeling that your participation relates to other people around you.

This explains why, when you open the car door at the local park, your kid rockets toward the playground equipment—he or she is free to explore the whole thing at will, can conquer some new feature they’ve never climbed before, and share the joy of a thousand little games with the other kids there.

But if you took that same equipment and slapped on a bunch of points, badges, levels and other raw game mechanics, Dodson says, the kid would be able to sense the artifice of it all and probably feel like the whole thing was a big bummer.

“If I grab him and say, ‘Wait, wait—hold on. Before you go out there, look, here’s what I need you to do: I want you to play on every single thing in the playground, OK?’ All of the sudden it’s no longer an intrinsic experience—even though sliding down the slide is going to be the same fundamental experience. So it is really a tricky wicket, because it’s very much about creating that contract with the user and creating kind of a different mindframe,” Dodson says.

It’s fair to ask a guy working on game mechanics for kids’ savings accounts why his gamification company is better, deeper, and more meaningful than someone else’s. Of course, since Bobber’s product is still in stealth mode, Dodson isn’t willing to offer specifics about how Bobber is really on the side of angels in this whole discussion.

But he says the ideas of driving lasting, meaningful, real engagement, are a core part of the company’s mission—and he just hopes that more people, and more real game heads in particular, get involved in the field before the points-and-badges side of the trend gets too hot and turns off investors and customers.

This is how quickly the world turns—at last year’s Login conference, Dodson was spreading the word about a crazy new trend that stood to revolutionize the consumer web. This time around, his speech will boil down to a plea for gamers to get more involved before it’s too late: “Gamification needs you, so that it’s not just run by marketers.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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