miércoles, 25 de septiembre de 2013

The Future of Gamification: From Behaviour Management to Functional Games

Why Gamification will be an intermediate step to functional games

Bullet points

- Gamification is a behaviour management technique to increase people's motivation towards a well-intentioned purpose

- The only way to motivate Generation Y is to play by their rules

- Gamification as we know it today is just an intermediate step to functional games

- Functional games have a greater purpose rather than entertaining

- The main areas of gamification in the future will be education, social good, health, research and business

From Behaviour Management to Functional Games

Gamification as a broad term

"It's not about game elements, it's about how human motivation works"

Gamification has been around us for a while, and there isn't a main definition we all agree with yet, and the reason for that is very simple: It's impossible to define gamification just as a set of game mechanics we can apply to non-gaming contexts, because the term is way broader.

Since the beginning, the term gamification has been really criticised just because it's been understood as a term to define very basic business strategies like points, badges and leaderboards to make people buy more, or in other words, a new marketing tool to modify people's behaviour using game-like elements.  Obviously, that's a wrong approach and trying to constrain gamification to those limits means leaving a great part behind.

If we think about it, the word gamification was adopted because games were the first ones in discovering and understanding better how human motivation worked, and I think that's the very key point. Because what we are discussing here it's not all about those game elements, it's about how human motivation works, about how we act, behave, and learn in our life.

Gamification is neither a game, nor just some bunch of game mechanics, it's a behavior management technique to increase people's motivation towards a well-intentioned purpose.

So that's why Serious Games, Alternative Reality Games (ARG's), social media games, business gamification or any other kind of technique that increases people's motivation towards an ethical purpose can be classified as gamification.

Gamification together is stronger

Gamification is here to stay

Generation Y has changed everything. It is a fact that things evolve with new generations but millennials and specially the ones after them have grown up with a totally different mindset. Their world is one with computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and full of video games since they were kids. And what does it mean?

Well, the most important thing is that their learning processes were different. Learning is at the heart of many of the actions that we take every day, and it is a critical issue nowadays because any kind of behaviour that we are going to try to improve requires a great dose of teaching. But what if the rules of learning have changed?

Technology has made everything simpler, faster and more social while video games got them used to immediate feedback and compelling learning curves. Besides, fun made it all more interesting. So when we take all these elements and mix them, it's pretty clear that in order to keep on motivating this kind of generations we need to play by their rules.

Playing by their own rules

Functional Games, ARGs and Serious Games

So far, it is clear that gamification is more than some game elements and that is here to stay, even though it has some great challenges to overcome as Isidro Rodriguez (@isidrorodrigo) states in  this fantastic article.
Besides, in order to increase new generation's motivation, we need to play by their own rules, and that means gamification.
But... Is gamification going to remain on this level or is there something else coming ahead? Maybe something that takes the best of real-virtual environments and gamification to achieve greater goals?

And the answer to that is what I have called Functional Games.

The term functional games refers to the function that these games have, it means as we said before, that games and in special video games, will have a greater function rather than purely being a way of entertainment. It means that in the future, games will be a way of teaching people while contributing to improve our society thanks to their function-focused design.

This is not something completely new, and it has to be said that some Serious Games and Alternative Reality Games have already adopted at some point, this kind of concept. Just to mention some of the most famous ones: The Free Rice Game, SuperBetter, Foldit, World Without Oil, etc.

But to really understand this term, we need to define what an ARG or Serious Game is, and compare them with functional games. So how to define an Alternative Reality Game and a Serious Game?

An alternative reality game is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions. On the other hand, a serious game is the one which main goal is to teach or train, often by realistically simulating some aspect of a world system.

Games and purposes? It's not that far

Defining Functional Games

a) Functional Games are 100% game-like. They are designed as if their main objective was to create entertainment but with one or more functions, purposes, goals, or objectives rather than just fun. In that way, they combine the best characteristics of both normal games and ARGs & Serious Games. This is a particularly interesting topic and Andrzej Marczewski (@daverage) has a great article on Serious Games nowadays that I recommend. You can read it here 

b) Functional Games are long-term experiences that last in time. Many serious games or ARGs are over whenever their main objective has been achieved, but functional games are thought to be a never-ending experience or at least quite long. In order to do so, we have to implement some of gamification/games best engaging techniques. Regarding this topic, I have an article on the main factors to create long-term experiences that you can read here.

c) Functional Games are mainly designed to be social. Many video games are meant to be played solo but social factors add many more possibilities and many ARGs or Serious Games designers have perfectly grasped this by turning the gameplay experience into a totally social one. Whether its social aspect is implicit (games with small social features that are played among very few players that comment their progress) or explicit (fully social games), functional games are designed to be shared in a collaborative or competitive way.

Functional Games? Almost there!

Some final words on it

The concept of functional games has been on my mind for some months already, but it still is a very basic approach. It requires way more research and discussion on it, so any comments or thoughts on it are well received. At this very moment, ARGs and Serious Games are still very young, and gamification is even younger but we can already see that many of these experiences have taken a "functional game" approach that is being highly successful. However and thinking of the present, the main obstacle in reaching functional games still lies on us.

So whenever we understand that gamification and Serious Games/ARGs are not that different and that we can the best of both to create more powerful experiences, then we'll be able to move on and start creating functional games that will revolutionise the future of education, business, social good, health, and research. 

Victor Manrique

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