Social Gamification on the TechSmart Podcast

Social Gamification. Perhaps even more than ‘Big Data,’ gamification is the buzzword of the moment. What is gamification, really? It practice goes deeper than you think and its rise to prominence has been a lot faster than you can imagine.

Before 2010, the word gamification didn’t appear in Google Trends.  Now it has reached ‘peak interest‘ according to Google. Why has game theory, formerly the domain of mathematical professorial types, become something of interest to brands, corporations and application makers?

gabe-zichermann-2011-400x400-02For some answers and perspective, I did a TechSmart Podcast with Gabe Zichermann, chair of GSummit, CEO of and dopamine, inc. He’s the co-author of The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition. (Scroll down to hit play and listen.)

First, a disclosure. Before I read the book, I wasn’t all that impressed with social gamification. Apps that used it, like Foursquare and Klout, seemed silly. My wife always gets mad at me as I struggle to get my phone to check me in at Target. (‘Target? Who will that impress?’) Though I proudly watch my Klout score go up, I stopped the app from posting results to my Twitter feed because it was an ego-fest.

Then I learned that gamification was part of the plan to create Kickstarter. Gamification helps drive the comment stream at The Huffington Post. Airline frequent flyer programs use it, and even the military. War games and combat simulations have long been part of warrior training. The X-Prize brought a game approach to space exploration and today encourages innovation in life sciences, energy, environmental research and education. So gamification, I realized, is more than Angry Birds or Words with Friends.

Gamification has a shadow side, too. Games on mobile phones are an incredible time suck. Employers may use gamification to make repetitive tasks seem somewhat interesting, such as a gamified approach to the check out at Target. Cashiers there get rewards for scanning your stuff faster. Whole Foods uses gamification to get its employees to stay healthy.  Meet  company health benchmarks like losing weight, and as a Whole Foods employee you get a discount when you buy stuff there.  It’s behavior modification with a carrot approach rather than a stick, and in Whole Food’s case it walks the edge of what’s fair. If an employee has a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels, that’s just tough on them. They might not score high enough on the Whole Foods standard to get the discount.

The better side of gamification involves clever ways to embed engagement into brands, life moments and processes.  Nike Plus helps you meet fitness goals in a game framework that lives online. Striiv is an app that assigns a point system to your exercise regimen, providing motivation to get and stay fit.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is not between its covers – it’s online. Gabe has launched an app that allows you to integrate gamification into your reading experience and read along with others, sharing comments in insights. You’ll find that application at

Have a listen to the 18-minute podcast to hear my conversation with Gabe.  The podcast is available on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher Radio. When on the Red Cup site, just press the orange button to listen.