Thursday, 21 February 2013

Some thoughts on Gamfication

It seems everyone is talking about gamification: the idea that any service can be turned into a game, reasoning that through reward and bargaining mechanisms a user will interact more with that given service for presumably greater rewards.

Although gamification seems to be the current zeitgeist, the idea is relatively old and the new part is this explicit in the customer-server interaction and inherent in the development process of applications and services. 

Many of the underlying concepts of gamification come from Game and Economic Theories such as those extensively researched and developed by Nash, von Neumann and. It is the principle behind the usage of store cards, air miles, nearly every loyalty scheme and most recently (in internet terms) the idea behind the “free” service. 

Despite gamification now coming to the fore, gamification is already relatively well established in many areas including privacy, although not as explicitly as currently being suggested.  For example you get your social networking (or blogging provision!) for free by giving up your privacy – you get a free service (and advertisements) and the service provider gets your behavioural profile. 

We can simply demonstrate this aspect of gamification in privacy by constructing a small normal form model using Game Theory techniques. Consider the payoff  between a customer and some service – if the customer registers with that service then they obtain an enhanced service:

Basic Enhanced
Anonymous Random advertisments, No personalization, No identification of user, No targeting, No profiling 0
Customer Pseudo-Anonymous Random advertisements, Some session provisioning, Pseudo anonymous tracking Limited profiling – non traceable 0
Registered/Identified 0 Targeted advertising Full user experience, Customisable, Profiled

The difficulty here is assigning values to the sets of features available versus the data collection. In the above example disabling cookies has probably better payoff than leaving them enabled, primarily at the expense of the quality of data being collected by the service versus the consumers’ privacy. If we consider what the enhanced service might provide then the fact that the consumer is being profiled is outweighed by the advantages of the enhanced service. Certainly in the above, it is in the service’s interests to ensure that the benefit to the consumer outweighs any privacy (or other) concerns.

Payoff matrices for services such as Facebook, Google, Skype, Amazon etc, can be similarly constructed? It might just be that a well-defined payoff is what is contributing to those services’ popularity when put in the context of privacy.

Things get more interesting when services are combined. For example would letting Amazon provide Ikea with your purchase details being a step too far regarding personal privacy? Maybe Amazon should consider teaming up with Ikea… 10% discount vouchers on book cases for every 20 books bought…as long as you tell Amazon your Ikea Loyalty Card number. Just no recommendations for books on interior decorating please!

To further strengthen the gaming link, in the above the customer is also presented with a challenge in optimizing the reward – what is the cheapest way of getting a cheaper bookcase?

It might also just be that gamification becomes one of the drivers behind improving the quality of Big Data. The more “points” your score using a service, the better the quality of the profile and better service. The question here then becomes are we as individuals (or even as collectives) that interesting or for that matter, are we as consumer that discerning in the content from service providers and the back-and-forth bargaining? Do we care enough to be interested in playing the service improvement game?

Will gamification improve on the experience for the consumer and turn us all in to marketers of our own information?  Will recasting your service as a game lead to greater popularity, more consumers and success? 

What interests me, assuming the above answers are positive, is then how to do this through the embedding the economic principles of gamification inherently into the system design.


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