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Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

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My name's Seth Priebatsch. I'm the chief ninja of SCVNGR. I am a proud Princeton dropout. Also proud to have relocated here to Boston, where I actually grew up. Yeah, Boston. Easy wins. I should just go and name the counties that we've got around here. So, I'm also fairly determined to try and build a game layer on top of the world. And this is sort of a new concept, and it's really important. Because while the last decade was the decade of social and the decade of where the framework in which we connect with other people was built, this next decade will be the decade where the game framework is built, where the motivations that we use to actually influence behavior, and the framework in which that is constructed, is decided upon, and that's really important.

And so I say that I want to build a game layer on top of the world, but that's not quite true because it's already under construction; it's already happening. And it looks like this right now. It looks like the Web did back in 1997, right? It's not very good. It's cluttered. It's filled with lots of different things that, in short, aren't that fun. There are credit card schemes and airline mile programs and coupon cards and all these loyalty schemes that actually do use game dynamics and actually are building the game layer: they just suck. They're not very well designed, right? So, that's unfortunate. But luckily, as my favorite action hero, Bob the Builder, says, "We can do better. We can build this better." And the tools, the resources that we use to build a game layer are game dynamics themselves. And so, sort of, the crux of this presentation is going to go through four really important game dynamics, really interesting things, that, if you use consciously, you can use to influence behavior, both for good, for bad, for in-between. Hopefully for good. But this is sort of the important stages in which that framework will get built, and so we want to all be thinking about it consciously now.

Just before we jump into that, there's sort of a question of: why is this important? I'm sort of making this claim that there is a game layer on top of the world, and that it's very important that we build it properly. The reason that it's so important is that, the last decade, what we've seen has been building the social layer, has been this framework for connections, and construction on that layer is over, it's finished. There's still a lot to explore. There's still a lot of people who are trying to figure out social and how do we leverage this and how do we use this, but the framework itself is done, and it's called Facebook. And that's okay, right? A lot of people are very happy with Facebook. I like it quite a lot. They've created this thing called the Open Graph, and they own all of our connections. They own half a billion people. And so when you want to build on the social layer, the framework has been decided; it is the Open Graph API. And if you're happy with that, fantastic. If you're not, too bad. There's nothing you can do.

But this next decade -- and that's a real thing. I mean, we want to build frameworks in a way that makes it acceptable and makes it, you know, productive down the road. So, the social layer is all about these connections. The game layer is all about influence. It's not about adding a social fabric to the Web and connecting you to other people everywhere you are and everywhere you go. It's actually about using dynamics, using forces, to influence the behavior of where you are, what you do there, how you do it. That's really, really powerful, and it's going to be more important than the social layer. It's going to affect our lives more deeply and perhaps more invisibly. And so it's incredibly critical that at this moment, while it's just getting constructed, while the frameworks like Facebook, like the Open Graph, are being created for the game layer equivalent, that we think about it very consciously, and that we do it in a way that is open, that is available, and that can be leveraged for good.

And so that's what I want to talk about for game dynamics, because construction has just begun, and the more consciously we can think about this, the better we'll be able to use it for anything that we want. So like I said, the way that you go through and build on the game layer is not with glass and steel and cement. And the resources that we use are not this two-dimensional swath of land that we have. The resources are mindshare and the tools, the raw materials are these game dynamics. So with that, you know, a couple game dynamics to talk about. Four. Back at SCVNGR, we like to joke that with seven game dynamics, you can get anyone to do anything. And so today, I'm going to show you four, because I hope to have a competitive advantage at the end of this, still.


So the first one, it's a very simple game dynamic. It's called the appointment dynamic. And this is a dynamic in which to succeed, players have to do something at a predefined time, generally at a predefined place. And these dynamics are a little scary sometimes, because you think, you know, other people can be using forces that will manipulate how I interact: what I do, where I do it, when I do it. This sort of loss of free will that occurs in games can be frightening, so with each dynamic, I'm going to give three examples: one that shows how this is already being used in the real world, so you can sort of rationalize it a little bit; one that shows it in what we consider a conventional game -- I think everything is a game, but this is sort of more of a what you would think is a game played on a board or on a computer screen, and then one how this can be used for good, so we can see that these forces can really be very powerful.

So the first one -- the most famous appointment dynamic in the world -- is something called happy hour. So I just recently dropped out of Princeton and actually ended up for the first time in a bar, and I saw these happy hour things all over the place, right. And this is simply an appointment dynamic. Come here at a certain time, get your drinks half off. To win, all you have to do is show up at the right place at the right time. This game dynamic is so powerful that it doesn't just influence our behavior, it's influenced our entire culture. That's a really scary thought, that one game dynamic can change things so powerfully.

It also exists in more conventional game forms. I'm sure you've all heard of Farmville by now. If you haven't, I recommend playing it. You won't do anything else with the rest of your day. Farmville has more active users than Twitter. It's incredibly powerful, and it has this dynamic where you have to return at a certain time to water your crops -- fake crops -- or they wilt. And this is so powerful that, when they tweak their stats, when they say your crops wilt after eight hours, or after six hours, or after 24 hours, it changes the lifecycle of 70 million-some people during the day. They will return like clockwork at different times. So if they wanted the world to end, if they wanted productivity to stop, they could make this a 30-minute cycle, and no one could do anything else, right? (Laughter) That's a little scary.

But this could also be used for good. This is a local company called Vitality, and they've created a product to help people take their medicine on time. That's an appointment. It's something that people don't do very well. And they have these GlowCaps, which, you know, flash and email you and do all sorts of cool things to remind you to take your medicine. This is one that isn't a game yet, but really should be. You should get points for doing this on time. You should lose points for not doing this on time. They should consciously recognize that they've built an appointment dynamic and leverage the games. And then you can really achieve good in some interesting ways.

We're going to jump onto the next one, maybe. Yes. Influence and status. So this is one of the most famous game dynamics. It's used all over the place. It's used in your wallets, right now. We all want that credit card on the far left because it's black. And you see someone at CVS or -- not CVS -- at Christian Dior or something, and then ... I don't know. I don't have a black card; I've got a debit card. (Laughter) So they whip it out. And you see men, they have that black card. I want that because that means that they're cooler than I am, and I need that.

And this is used in games as well. "Modern Warfare," one of the most successful selling games of all time. I'm only a level four, but I desperately want to be a level 10, because they've got that cool red badge thing, and that means that I am somehow better than everyone else. And that's very powerful to me. Status is really good motivator.

It's also used in more conventional settings and can be used more consciously in conventional settings. School -- and remember, I made it through one year, so I think I'm qualified to talk on school -- is a game, it's just not a terribly well-designed game, right. There are levels. There are C. There are B. There is A. There are statuses. I mean, what is valedictorian, but a status? If we called valedictorian a "white knight paladin level 20," I think people would probably work a lot harder. (Laughter) So school is a game, and there have been lots of experimentations on how we do this properly. But let's use it consciously. Like why have games that you can lose? Why go from an A to an F or a B to a C? That sucks. Why not level-up? And at Princeton, they've actually experimented with this, where they have quizzes where you gain experience points, and you level up from B to an A. And it's very powerful. It can be used in interesting ways.

The third one I want to talk about quickly is the progression dynamic, where you have to sort of make progress, you have to move through different steps in a very granular fashion. This is used all over the place, including LinkedIn, where I am an un-whole individual. I am only 85 percent complete on LinkedIn, and that bothers me. And this is so deep-seated in our psyche that when we're presented with a progress bar and presented with easy, granular steps to take to try and complete that progress bar, we will do it. We will find a way to move that blue line all the way to the right edge of the screen.

This is used in conventional games as well. I mean, you see this is a paladin level 10, and that's a paladin level 20, and if you were going to fight, you know, orcs on the fields of Mordor against the Raz al Ghul, you'd probably want to be the bigger one, right. I would. And so people work very hard to level-up. "World of Warcraft" is one of the most successful games of all time. The average player spends something like six, six-and-a-half hours a day on it. Their most dedicated players, it's like a full-time job. It's insane. And they have these systems where you can level-up. And that's a very powerful thing. Progression is powerful.

It can also be used in very compelling ways for good. One of the things that we work on at SCVNGR is how do you use games to drive traffic and drive business to local businesses, to sort of something that is very key to the economy. And here we have a game that people play. They go places, they do challenges, they earn points. And we've introduced a progression dynamic into it, where, by going to the same place over and over, by doing challenges, by engaging with the business, you move a green bar from the left edge of the screen to the right edge of the screen, and you eventually unlock rewards. And this is powerful enough that we can see that it hooks people into these dynamics, pulls them back to the same local businesses, creates huge loyalty, creates engagement, and is able to drive meaningful revenue and fun and engagement to businesses. These progression dynamics are powerful and can be used in the real world.

The final one I want to talk about -- and it's a great one to end on -- is this concept of communal discovery, a dynamic in which everyone has to work together to achieve something. And communal discovery is powerful because it leverages the network that is society to solve problems. This is used in some sort of famous consumer web stories, like Digg, which I'm sure you've all heard of. Digg is a communal dynamic to try to find and source the best news, the most interesting stories. And they made this into a game, initially. They had a leader board, where, if you recommended the best stories, you would get points. And that really motivated people to find the best stories. But it became so powerful that there was actually a cabal, a group of people, the top seven on the leader board, who would work together to make sure they maintained that position. And they would recommend other people's stories, and the game became more powerful than the goal. And they actually had to end up shutting down the leader board because while it was effective, it was so powerful that it stopped sourcing the best stories and started having people work to maintain their leadership. So we have to use this one carefully. It's also used in things like McDonald's Monopoly, where the game is not the Monopoly game you're playing, but the sort of cottage industries that form to try and find Boardwalk, right. And now they're just looking for a little sticker that says "Boardwalk."

But it can also be used to find real things. This is the DARPA balloon challenge, where they hid a couple balloons all across the United States and said, "Use networks. Try and find these balloons fastest, and the winner will get $40,000." And the winner was actually a group out of MIT, where they created sort of a pyramid scheme, a network, where the first person to recommend the location of a balloon got $2,000 and anyone else to push that recommendation up also got a cut of it. And in 12 hours, they were able to find all these balloons, all across the country, right. Really powerful dynamic.

And so, I've got about 20 seconds left, so if I'm going to leave you with anything, last decade was the decade of social. This next decade is the decade of games. We use game dynamics to build on it. We build with mindshare. We can influence behavior. It is very powerful. It is very exciting. Let's all build it together, let's do it well and have fun playing.

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 2 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 344
Posted by: tedtalks on Aug 20, 2010

By now, we're used to letting Facebook and Twitter capture our social lives on the web -- building a "social layer" on top of the real world. At TEDxBoston, Seth Priebatsch looks at the next layer in progress: the "game layer," a pervasive net of behavior-steering game dynamics that will reshape education and commerce.

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