Gamification Roundup, March 22: The post-SXSW edition

In which we try to assess from afar what's been said and done with regard to the use of game design elements in non-game contexts in Austin around those fateful Ides of March – and there has been no sign of the "gamification" trend waning at SxSWi 2011. The audio of most sessions has already been put up by SxSW, so you can listen to what's been said during the panels if you – like myself – were unable to attend. But what to listen to? Here's a subjective list of suggestions.


  1. In chronological order, the first session was Thor Muller's (of Getsatisfaction) and Buster Benson's (of HealthMonth) session "Gamechanging: Turn Your App into a cooperative game", which also started the trend of conference games by tasking all audience members to reseat themselves in birthday order in 5 minutes -- and that was only the first of a planned three games. You can find the audio below, as well as a writeup by Buster himself. As a player of HealthMonth, it was good to hear Buster unfold the design thoughts underlying the platform and match them with my own assumptions and experiences.

    The most-often repeated quote from this panel came from a blog post by Jay Parkinson, pediatrician and preventive medicine specialist with the mission to redesign health care:

    "Most health solutions aren't medical, they're social."

    Which of course applies to many other domains beyond health.
  2. Next up on my list (in no particular order) is Stephen P. Anderson's brilliant-as-always session "Long After The Thrill" (which some might recognize as a heavily extended version of his Interaction 11 talk). Essentially, Anderson grounds his thinking on games in the psychology of intrinsic motivation, suggests an actual design model/process in the making, and leaves with a word of caution wrapped in the Kano Model: "Seductive elements" like these currently fall in the features category of "delighters" – providing added valued, but not required, and in and of themselves insufficient to ensure long-term usage and satisfaction. Read: You still have to build something useful and usable. Amen.
  3. Close on his heels is Aza Raskin's "The Behavior Change Checklist. Down With Gamefication", which basically elucidates the design thinking behind his startup Massive Health: Create tight feedback loops or what he calls "the behavior change cycle: data to meaning to action to seeing a change in the data."
  4. (And if you're interested, they just raised money and are hiring. See below.)
  5. This will come as no surprise to frequent travellers in all things gameful: Jane McGonigal's talk "Reality is Broken" won best talk of the event, and was, as always, a splendid and much-needed battle cry. If you don't want to wait for the slides to appear on her slideshare account, I suggest you find a way to download the audio below and listen to it on your mp3 player during a nice spring jog.
  6. Another quote dominating the SxSW gamification twittersphere came from Gowalla CEO Josh Williams on his "Future of Location" channel (audio not up yet, good writeup below):

    "Gamification isn't cool. You know what's cool? Story is cool."

    As long as someone invents a better word than "storyfication", I couldn't agree more – in the sense that story is an inherent and as-of-yet mostly overlooked part of good games.
  7. And yes, of course, there was the big keynote by SVNGR "chief ninja" Seth Priebatsch on "The Game Layer on Top of the World", again with a little (well, big) cooperative conference game in it.
  8. Seth Priebatsch: Gamification & Location Stuff (LBS) at SXSW
  9. To sprinkle a healthy dose of realism in, in his session "Flexible Morality of User Engagement & User Behavior", Dan Ariely basically confirmed the old truth that people are as likely to cheat in games and online as anywhere else.
  10. In "Game On: Design Patterns for User Engagement", Google senior designer Nadya Direkova gave a nice overview of some design principles that can be gleaned from games. Audio below.
  11. The final conference game I spotted came on the last day of SxSWi at the "1up! Games for Change" panel with "Tweet a Tree!".