Instructional Designers can take a lesson from the popularity of social games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars. These social games are played primarily through Facebook and allow players to play asynchronously in competition and cooperation with their friends. A recent study conducted by Popcap resulted in some interesting statistics (via Raph Koster's website):
- There are around 100 million social game players
- 24% of US and UK Internet users play social games at least once a week
- Slightly more women than men
- Average age of 43
- Only 6% of them are 21 and younger
- They’re not all housewives: 41% of them work full time, and only 11% are homemakers.
- 2/3 of them also play other sorts of games — casual or hardcore.
- And if they, do they spend more time on the social games than on the casual or hardcore games
- And they’re stuck: more than half have been playing for a year.
- A third play more than once a day
- 2/3 of them play over an hour a week — 12% report over 10 hours.
- And they report that their social game playtime is increasing
- For half of them, it’s the MAIN reason they use Facebook.
- And also, half of them say it’s very unlikely they will spend real money
The underlying phenomenon behind these statistics is in the factors that motivate players to repeatedly engage -- this audience isn't the stereotypical hardcore 20 hour a week WoW addict -- the motivating factors seem to be the granular achievements earned while playing combined with the inclusion of the player's real friends.
Jane McGonigal has repeatedly said that games will eventually infiltrate every aspect of the human experience. And when you consider how an "achievement index" can easily be applied to everyday tasks, it's not hard to imagine a "running leaderboard" throughout the day where we earn points for everything we do from making coffee to appropriately recycling our lunch containers, to taking out the garbage.
Given the infiltration of technology into our lives it would be easy to incorporate measurement of granular achievements:
- NikePlus allows you to measure miles run or walked by placing a device in your shoes.
- Smartphone apps encourage you to "check-in" to destinations where you can earn achievement by just showing up.
- Electric companies have begun displaying household energy usage in comparison to others in the community to encourage conservation.
As Jesse Schell states, "earning achievement will lead to compulsive play” if the lessons of Facebook are applied to real life. After a great meeting where the VP liked my ideas, I could broadcast an instant achievement to my "work stream" which my network immediately sees and can respond to (or be jealous of). This can also lead to enhanced interactions in the workplace, feeding an "auto-compulsion loop" between co-workers -- similar to how Farmville motivates players to continually seek achievement.
If instructional designers integrate measurable elements that capture small, but authentic achievement into their learning design, perfomance may improve. If you consider the social gaming examples where the prospect of granular achievement motivates the player to barter, exchange, discuss, and monetize, then it's not a stretch to imagine similar mechanisms in a real-time learning situation. The behavior that social gamers engage in to continually gain achievement leads to an endless play loop where new achievement is not necessarily based on play difficulty, but in how well the player negotiates new opportunities. This continual achievement loop is what compels the player to continue.
This "achievement stream" can also open new opportunities for contextual feedback. If gaming eventually permeates every aspect of our seemingly routine and rote tasks, there's no reason to keep "achievement" bound to formal learning environments such as the classroom or eLearning courses. Let's create "achievement indices and triggers" in everyday work tasks and feed the auto-compulsion loop that exists within us all to improve performance.