Introduction

Game designers have been building games for a long time. From the first versions of pong lovingly rendered on scientific equipment in 1947 to the AAA games of today, we have learned a lot. And nothing has developed more than our understanding of human motivation. We know how to get people to do things, and have fun doing it.

What many game designers do not realize is that this ability is incredibly powerful. It can make you a lot of money. And more importantly, it can change the world for the better. I call it, Conscious Gamification.

Timing is Everything

The single biggest reason that startups succeed is timing. The idea matters. The team matters. But ultimately, if the world isn’t ready for what you are building, you will fail. WebVan famously failed to create a web delivery service, whereas Amazon is a literal juggernaut in the same space today. If you aren’t riding a wave, you’ll get nowhere.

This begs the question, “What trends are ripe for innovation now?” It isn’t VR, or CryptoCurrency. Instead, what we are seeing across the board is an increase in consciousness. Companies that care do better, and that makes sense. If I, as a user, feel a company cares about me, I am more likely to purchase from them. These sorts of companies constantly beat their competition, and the trend won’t be stopping any time soon.

So why, as an experienced game designer, should you care about trends in business? Well. Because it can make you a lot of money. And even better, it can help you make a positive impact on the world. This is where Conscious Gamification comes in. So let’s get to it.

I couldn’t find a more, “gamey,” cartoon… but this’ll do

Traditional Gamification

Gamification as a practice has seen some fits and starts. It was remarkably popular for a time, with experts like Yu-kai Chou moving the field forward. The term has seemingly fallen out of style as of late, but the practice is very much alive. For the uninitiated, gamification is:

Applying game design principles to non game systems

Me 😀

In its most basic form, gamification is taking elements that you have learned from building games and applying them pretty much anything. Most commonly, it gets used to improve products. As game designers, we are, after all, very good at getting people to do things. When you boil it down, that is the very core of what we do.

Gamification is powerful. According to the website Snipp, posts that employed gamification showed a 43% increase in engagement. Leaderboards showed a 60% increase in employee participation. And Gartner predicted that up to 70% of innovative products would include gamification in the coming years. Not only that, but it is widespread. I have worked with people from the theater industry to mindfulness apps to medical technology. So why are so few people talking about it these days?

Basically, it’s because the power of games have been abused. Why is Facebook falling out of style? Because they have spent untold resources getting their users to be addicted to their platform. While this makes sense in the short term, in the long term, they are literally motivating their users to leave them. We, as a country, love self improvement. We assist each other in removing roadblocks in our lives. Roadblocks like predatory companies with no respect for our time and humanity.

So what is the answer then?


Conscious Gamification

Okay so maybe it was obvious that I was leading up to this. The solution is Conscious Gamification. A more caring, but also more effective, version of the traditional practice. My whole thesis comes down to a simple idea.

Game design practices can be used to dramatically improve desired results in any organization, and help to create positive changes for their users in doing so.

Also me

I have been building games for over 11 years and products for 6. And just a few years ago, I found the organization Conscious Capitalism. All in all, it means that I quickly found a niche that was somewhere in between all three. And then people started hiring me. Because that is a unique little market that more and more people care about.

This is how Conscious Gamification can make you money. I am now a consultant, a speaker, and a tutor. I am also the CEO of a little company with this field at its roots. All of these things are only possible because I know how to combine these fields in ways that make companies money. And when the person hiring you makes money, you make money.

Enough of the appetizer. Let’s get to the main meal. This article will start to get you primed on how to be a Conscious Gamifier. Really, it comes down to four areas of research: Game Design, Product Design, Empathic Design, and Conscious Theory. Mastering these four fields will put you on a fast track to being an epic world changin’ money makin’ machine. So here we go.


The 4 Pillars of Conscious Gamification

Pillar 1: Game Design

I am going to assume that if you are reading this article, you are a game designer. But everyone knows what making assumptions makes us, so let’s still start from the beginning.

Games have been around for as long as humanity has been around. We’ve thrown rocks, made toys, and eventually developed games. Chess was designed so well that it has been around since the 6th century AD.

As we got into the digital age, video games were a natural progression for us game people. And today, gamers spend roughly 6.3 hours a week playing their favorite hobby. I think we all know one or two people who spend a whole lot longer than that too.

John. We miss you. Come back to us. We have smoothies.

Now, I’m not going to go in depth into how to actually design games well. This is a ridiculously big topic and I highly doubt I could really make much of a dent with one article. If you are interested in improving your game design knowledge, I recommend checking out the blog Gamasutra. I also like the book The Art of Game Design.

Instead, let’s talk about game design in the context of Conscious Gamification. In his book Actionable Gamification, expert gamifier Yu-kai Chou talks about White Hat Gamification. Basically, the parts of gamification that make people feel good. He also mentions the opposite, Black Hat Gamification.

I love his book and if you take nothing away from this article, read it. But what I think he misses in his book is that there is nothing wrong with what he calls Black Hat Gamification. Addicting somebody to something is not inherently wrong. It is the abuse of this addiction that is actually a problem.

Nike+ is my favorite example. The app uses game design elements such as milestones and social encouragement to get you to run more. I don’t think anybody is going to complain about being addicted to keeping themselves healthy.

My Game Design Challenge for You

So here is my challenge to you. If you want to get maximum value out of this article, pull out a piece of paper. This is your first step towards being a kick butt Conscious Gamifier. I want you to decide what your favorite game of all time is. I know, that’s hard. But do it for the experience. With that game in mind, I want you to write down three reasons it is your favorite. That’s it. For now.

video game art
You best believe mine is Chrono Trigger

I’ll do this with you, as an example. My favorite game of all time is Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo. If you haven’t played it, get on it. I love it because it makes me feel like a hero, it has an epic plot, and because the world it creates feels alive.

Pillar 2: Product Design

So here is where I am assuming you have a little less experience. Ugh. Dangit. I said I wouldn’t make assumptions. Product design is a fascinating field. It is the development of a product to be sold by a business. There are so many parts to it.

Much like the previous section, my point here is not to teach you product design. I may get into that with some blog posts later, so sign up for my email list. But if you are feeling the need to learn, I recommend this Udemy course, and this book.

So how does product design fit within the Conscious Gamification lexicon? Well, basically, the life blood of a business is its profit. And there is nothing wrong with that. We have this conception lately that it is somehow wrong for a company to make money. Just like my issue with Black Hat Gamification, we WANT more people to be making money! It’s good for the individual, business, and the entire economy.

What is wrong with businesses lately, and there is something wrong, is not profit. It is their abuse of their users, their employees and the world at large. And as I mentioned above, they are starting to pay the price for these short sighted decisions. I say this to suggest something very simple. This is the theory of Conscious Capitalism, a movement I care for.

So here is the bottom line. You, as a game designer, have skills that no other product designer has. And if you can use them to make a company money, you can make money for yourself. It just so happens that the best way to make money for a company is to genuinely care about its people.

Genuinely caring for your user = dolla dolla bills

My Product Design Challenge for You

Alright so let’s get you started on this road. You already have three reasons you love your favorite game. Next, I want you to think of a product you use, and come up with one of its weakness. Now here is where it gets awesome. I want you to come up with a potential solution to that problem inspired by why you play your favorite game.

Once again, I’ll do mine as an example. So, I will admit that like many single millennials, I use the product Tinder pretty frequently. It gives you a general rush of endorphins and that’s great. A weakness it has is that people use it very intermittently. How many times have you heard a friend say that they are quitting online dating for a while?

Okay. So how do we fix this using games? Well, Chrono Trigger has this epic plot that makes me feel like an influencer and a hero in a grand world. It gives me meaning, in its own small special way. What if we instill a better sense of meaning in Tinder? It seems antithetical, because Tinder is generally for quick hookups. But quick hookups don’t fill me with much meaning, so what’s the alternative.

What if we reward users for giving a profile feedback when they decide somebody isn’t for them? Perhaps we occasionally have a popup asking why the user swiped left on a profile, and give them some kind of virtual reward for filling it out. Suddenly, I’m not just swiping. Instead, I am helping people improve themselves. I have meaning.

All of a sudden, I feel like this guy

Pillar 3: Empathic Design

Here is where I am going to have to do a little more convincing. Empathy is another growing trend, this one mostly in the design world. Companies like Google are studying the positive benefits of deeper design thinking. And just like consciousness, it makes sense. The more you know about your users, the better things you can build for them.

Just like consciousness does, empathy also improves the bottom line. One of my favorite facts is companies that employed empathic design saw a yearly growth rate of 299% versus the average S&P growth of just 75%. It’s pretty impressive. To give you a glimpse into how interested the world is in the subject, I’ll actually be speaking about Empathic Game Design at GDC this year.

Empathic Design is a pretty young field, so there aren’t many great resources I can recommend for you. What I suggest is that you read my article on empathic playtesting and learn about Empathy Mapping, if nothing else.

So where does empathy fit inside of Conscious Gamification? Well, it is a big part of what gives you the edge over a traditional gamifier. Up to this point, I’ve basically been describing standard gamification. With the application of empathy, you have a unique advantage that nobody will be able to compete with you on.

A lover and a fighter. Both empowering each other. Goodnight, sweet prince. Spoilers?

My Empathic Design Challenge for You

So let me give you a glimpse into how to use empathy to make lots of money and change the world for the better. This is your next challenge. I want you to write down how the product from the last exercises makes you feel. If you were to do this right, you would also do a typical user test of the product on a handful of friends, and fill out an empathy map for each of them.

Next, I want you to create an additional product solution that builds on your previous solution with this feeling in mind. It helps to try to figure out how this feeling is influencing the products weakness. Figure out how your solution can give the antidote to that feeling.

Tinder predominantly preys on insecurity. Users feel bad about themselves and their current relationship status, and so they start swiping to relieve the pain. And yet people frequently quit Tinder, at least temporarily. Being rejected too often leads to a buildup of this insecurity. So how can we fix it with games and a sense of empathy?

Let’s try this. We automatically detect when somebody has a long string of rejections. When this happens, we send them a compiled list of the feedback they have received from others, and we actually reward them for updating their profile based on that feedback. We’ve flipped the emotional problem. The sense of insecurity now gets replaced with a feeling of accomplishment and hope for the future. My users will stay, and keep trying. And therefore, I will make more money.

You can do it, little homie!

Pillar 4: Consciousness

Ah yes, I am now descending into true hippy territory. I’m talking about emotions openly. And now I’m going to convince you that you should also care about the rest of the world. Well, either you can hop on the bandwagon and tag along, or you can keep doing things the old way and fall behind. No sweat off my brow. More money for me.

Consciousness is not just a trend. It is the way of the future. It is already happening all over the world. Timberlands donates time and money to forests in need. Genetech uses an open garage to build interest in the medical field. Appolition literally bails people out of jail with their spare change. The trend is obvious.

And what’s more, these conscious companies make money. A lot of money. Popinjay is an artisan handbag company that helps girls who would have been working extreme hours in horrific situations go to school. They work part time for the company, and get to go to school for the rest. How does Popinjay make this happen? Because their handbags can go for as much as $500, sometimes more.

It’s another trend that make intuitive sense. I will simply pay more for a handbag that is helping to make the world a better place. And this is the real reason that Conscious Gamification is awesome. Because not only can you make yourself and your company a lot of money, but you can genuinely make the world a better place while you do it. I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty freaking excited.

As I have said before, the Conscious Capitalism movement is a big part of what inspired me to do what I do. To further your understanding of this trend and rock on as a Conscious Gamifier, I recommend you read their book. I will be perfectly blunt in saying that I think it needs a lot of work, but it will really set you up for success in the future.

You have no idea who this company is. Neither do I. But how good does it already make you feel?

My Conscious Challenge for You

So you already have some suggestions that you could literally offer to whatever company you are thinking of for money. But let’s sweeten the pot even more. And then I’ll shut up, and let you contemplate everything I’ve said here.

I want you to come up with one more product feature. This time, I want you to tell me how it can positively affect the user, and therefore, the world. Why? Because 93% of users are more loyal to a company that treats them well. That’s right baby, I’m about to tell you how Tinder can make the world a better place.

Alright. So we are working on the theory that Chrono Trigger’s excellent application of a sense of meaning can make Tinder better. We already have two excellent new gamified features. We ask users to occasionally give each other feedback, and offer this feedback when we suspect our users are feeling bad. We also reward them for either of these cases. How can those two features be combined with games to make the world better?

Here is my idea. We create a new scoring system. Let’s call it their, “Positivity Benchmark,” Whenever a user submits feedback for somebody else, we give them a few points. Whenever they listen to other people’s feedback, we give them some more. But here is the kick, whenever one of their pieces of feedback get’s used by somebody else, we give them a ton of points.

Boom. Suddenly, we have a community of people who are still just swiping left and right, but they are now doing it for the good of the world. And their swiping is directly informed by how positive of a person the user on the other side of the glass is. I fully suspect, “Tinder Saves the World,” to be a headline within the year.

I just searched, “Wholesome Tinder,” and found like the best pic ever

Conclusion

I hope I have given you enough reasons to believe in The Heroic Power of Games by now. And I hope that you will consider joining me in my quest to create empathy in the world. And also I hope you make a lot of money, because that is awesome for all of us. Just remember that famous line.

With great power, comes great responsibility

Do I even have to say?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining my mailing list. I send emails whenever I write a new article and more, and promise not to abuse your trust in me. It would also be hugely helpful if you would share the article around. If you would like to hire me as a tutor, consultant, or speaker, head over here and shoot me a message. You also might enjoy some of my other articles, like the fact that we have brain cells in our gut.

Cheers. And have a kick butt day.

Bye bye!

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