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In 2009, Foursquare launched a location based social network that allowed you to “check-in” at various venues, turning “life into a game”. The service was initially limited to certain metro areas, but after it opened, it reached 10 million users, which enabled the company to raise $ 50 M in 2011 at a valuation of $ 600 M. Foursquare was a hit.
One of the core drivers behind the craze to check-in using Foursquare and not competing services was Foursquare’s use of gamification. Gamification is the practice of using game design elements to reward behavior in a non-game setting. It can be used to reward interaction with a service, such as Foursquare, or to reward a desired enterprise-related behavior as in Enterprise Gamification for employees. Foursquare gamified check-ins, letting users get points for certain activities (such as checking into a new place), get badges for checking in and even get mayor status, if a user checked into a certain venue on more days than anyone else in the past 60 days. However, social networks caught up with location based check-ins and Foursquare’s status eroded. Its enormous popularity tapered off.
Recently Foursquare separated its check-in service into an app called swarm and the new Foursquare, which “learns what you like and leads you to the places you’ll love”. Earlier Foursquare even ceased its famous points and badges system, the drivers of its immense popularity in the first place. This is what Foursquare says about its realization that its game mechanics were breaking down:
“…When we built Foursquare, the game mechanics were meant to do two things: help you learn how to use Foursquare, and help make your real-world experiences more fun. We never set out to make a ‘game’… Points gave you a way to measure how exciting your outings were; badges were to give you a sense of accomplishment; and mayorships allowed you to compete with your friends… even we were surprised by how much people loved them.
Back in 2009 when we had 50,000 people using Foursquare, they were awesome. But as our community grew from 50,000 people to over 50,000,000 today, our game mechanics started to break down.”
Recently Gartner released an update of their Hype cycle for emerging technologies (see this link for the Gartner research report, administration is required). The Hype cycle is a decision aid that helps boards, executive teams, business managers, CIOs, IT leaders and IT professionals to discuss and rationalize the technology and service investments in front of them. It was also Gartner which predicted that in 2015, 50% of the larger corporates will have at least one gamified application in place.
In this hype cycle update gamification moved from the peak of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment. So what does this mean? Let’s keep it simple.
Technologies which are at the peak of inflated expectations are considered the Holy Grail. They are the solution for everything and everyone. The technology is quite often considered as a goal on itself. I think that it is safe to state that this happened with gamification as well. Of course no technology can hold up to such high level of expectations and thus it always and naturally moves on into the through of disillusionment. Here we have realized that it is ‘just a technology’ with good qualities which has promising opportunities but turned out not the be the solution for everything. Technologies in this state are often regarded with a lot of criticism (‘’see, told you that it wouldn’t work”) until the real proper application is found and it fights its way back up the slope of enlightenment onwards to a plateau of productivity.
A progress bar or progress indicator is a game element which provides feedback to the player in a graphical format that pertains to the advancement to completion of a singular challenge or collection of tasks. Progress bars are on the lowest level of Kevin Werbach’s pyramid of game elements. Werbach places progress bars at the bottom of the pyramid signifying their basic purpose, to enable the game designer to achieve the higher level game mechanics. Regarding the Enterprise Gamification Wiki's category of gamification design elements progress bars can be classified as a systematic aggregate counting feedback element. As the variations of the visualization of information can affect the players’ perception of the task progress bars may have repercussive effects on attitudes and behaviors towards a gamified system depending on their design and implementation. Progress bars are important in systems as the feedback provides information for meaningful play an integral component to the discipline of gamification. Furthermore, progress bars may be used to drive behavior rather than being merely a progress indicator deriving from a human psychological desire for completion.
The value of progress bars in the computer-human interface was documented by Brad Myers in 1985. Myers found a that the presence of progress bars decreased anxiety, increased efficiency and resulted in a more positive experience for players interacting with the virtual world.
Even in the physical world aggregate counting feedback elements have been widely used by merchants to influence buyer behavior. In order to increase sale frequency or build loyalty leading to desired habit formation it is common for coffee vendors to give out and stamp a loyalty card with a final reward for collecting or completing a set number of stamps. This physical card can be seen as a progress indicator showing the progress attained and the further progress needed.
When you think you need a loyalty program, you are already in troubles. How else would you call bribing somebody into buying your product by giving out points to get free stuff? The companies with the most ardent fans do not even have a loyalty program. Think of Apple, Red Bull, Harley Davidson, GoPro or any sports team. Some of their fans are so loyal, they tattoo the company’s logo on their body to be a walking commercial for their favorite brand. These fans even go through the worst experiences with them, and that for a long time when their favorite sports teams is disappointing over and over again. They don’t have to get free things for their loyalty. It’s actually quite the opposite. The fans are willing to pay premium prices just to be part.
Here is the paradox: even though the fans pay premium prices, they talk about it and make free advertising for these companies. In a regular loyalty program I wouldn’t tell others. Because when there are scarce resources (such as an airline seat or a free mug), the thing I need least is more people competing for those freebies. And it’s not only the scarcity of freebies. If you collect points or miles, then you can redeem them for free products or services. Or you can try. Just try to get an upgrade or a flight ticket to a destination “purchased" with your earned miles. Or think about the way they make you jump through hoops to redeem them. And then companies keep changing their policies. In the end this does not create loyalty, just an annoying dependence. And as soon as there is a better offer somewhere else, I jump ship. I am not going through tough times with you.
Companies with such bribe-schemes focus too much on themselves. As Sebastian Deterding has explained, the messages that companies convey in those programs look like this: