Make it into a game

Turn onerous tasks into a game by providing (minimal) rewards for participation.

Examples

  • In 2009 Volkswagen ran a competition to find the best ideas for changing people’s behavior for the better. One entry showed how installing touch-sensitive strips arranged like piano keys on the staircase exit from a train station in Odenplan, Stockholm led 66% more people to choose the stairs than the escalator, simply so they could “play” the piano as they walked. Adding a choose-the-right-hole game to a bottle recycling center (and displaying a high score) led to 100 versus 2 uses in one evening. The winning entry was a speed camera lottery that redistributes fines levied for disobeying the speed limit to the people who actually obeyed it. The pilot implementation resulted in a 22% reduction in speed from an average of 32km/h to 25km/h.
  • Waze is a GPS navigation app for mobile devices that integrates a social element into the route finding process. Users of the app (“Wazers”) can see each other on the map interface. Any user can report traffic jams, speed traps and other slowdowns and can update map information such as points of interest, addresses and road changes. Reporting changes gives Wazers points, which unlock different avatars and denote status in the Waze community.
  • DigitalKoot was an effort run by the National Library of Finland to correct words that had been poorly digitized when the National Library moved their newspaper archive online. Players typed in words as they were presented on-screen by in-game mole characters, thus allowing the moles to build a bridge and cross the water. The game-like elements (tasks and scores) led to some individuals volunteering over 100 hours of their time, with the top ranked player completing almost 350,000 tasks over 395 hours

Principles

Rewards don’t necessarily need to have any monetary value. Instead they can have societal value – at least within the community of fellow game-players. That societal value is enough to keep people coming back and participating, earning points in exchange for their time and effort.

How to use this pattern

  • Find a way to let two individuals compare their ability at the task you want them to complete. Once you have the comparison point, turn it into a scoring mechanism and keep track of individuals’ scores.
  • Publicly broadcast the top scores so that players can claim bragging rights.
  • Make the underlying reason for performing the task clear, especially if it is for a charitable cause or for the greater good. That will give people more reason to participate.
  • Add an element of fun to the task process. For instance, DigitalKoot chose to use moles holding up placards with the scanned words on them. That created much more whimsy than merely showing the word on the screen. Waze has drivers chasing dots on-screen like a version of Pac-Man, with occasional cupcakes as a special reward.

Blog posts about this pattern