Sethpriebatsch (13) Seth Priebatsch who calls himself the Chief Ninja at a company with no vowels: SCVNGR! gave a keynote at the recent SXSW in Austin this past week. Talk about a mouthful….not a name I’ll ever remember but luckily his energy and conviction was addictive and engaging. He discussed gamification, location-based services, social media engagement and more as it related to businesses, in education and beyond.

Seth talked about education. School is broken because while it is perfect for ‘game mechanics’ it doesn’t work because there is no engagement in schools. “Kids are bored,” says Seth. “Engagement is a critical concept that any good game designer thinks a lot about. When you replace the real reward, i.e., learning for learning sake, with something that feels like a chore, i.e., getting a grade, kids get bored. Right now, grades are a simple game mechanic in education and that’s how we reward today. Grades are naïve implementation of a status mechanic. The problem with grades is that it’s a game where you can lose and in education, you don’t want anyone to lose.”

He challenges the audience with this question: “Why not create a grading dynamic based on progressions? Rather than grade on a particular test or one experience, you grade and give points based on progression – focusing on the positive. In this scenario you can’t fail, it’s more how quickly do you move from x points to y points, starting with zero experience for everyone. The idea is to have kids focus on the end result and on progression rather than grades.”

He then dissected Groupon and explored various game mechanics, what works and why:

Free Lunch – this is one of the most subtle game mechanics in the deck. It plays off consumers own skepticism. We’ve been taught that no free lunch exists, but what we see with Groupon, we see something that is too good to be true. With Groupon, the free lunch is justified, i.e., so many people need to sign up and if they do, we get the free lunch. The brilliance of what Groupon has done is that they can present the free lunch, play off the consumer’s skepticism, but guaranteed that the consumer doesn’t have to take any action to do it.

Communal Game Play – based on the idea that you can give anyone a complex problem, you can solve it using a community. As a community, if you share the deal with your friends, together you all win. Groupon uses this game mechanic as a kickstarter.

The Countdown – whenever you see a deal on Groupon, you see a countdown, which is a game mechanic that creates a spike in activity as you get closer to countdown zero.

Loyalty: the idea of being a regular, i.e., Norm at Cheers. American Express uses status really well, making you feel really special every time you move to the next level with different colored cards (progression game mechanics).

The Level Up Game Mechanic: unlocking a higher reward. You have different levels, i.e., good, better, best. Levels one and two are locked, they can see them but not have them. New comers move to regulars and they receive rewards for leveling up.

Inclusive Ownership – Exclusive ownership means that you get the benefit from owning something and no one else can benefit from it, i.e., the game of Risk is a great example. Inclusive ownership are group owners – everyone gets a benefit. Community gains from a group checking into a place.

Reward Schedules – the idea behind reward schedules is ‘what do I get for doing this?’ Everyone has introduced something you get for doing something, i.e., badges, lotteries, free drinks, points at a place, something that allows you to engage with a place. Rewards actually work really well.

Communal game play and communal discovery – The idea behind this is that you give a complex problem to a group of people and the community solves it together. The mechanics to make a group give something away that will be bad for them in the short term in order to have a better result long term. Decentralized leadership can solve complex problems so much faster than centralized leadership with communal game play mechanics in play.

People want to be part of something epic and work harder tha you normally would because you’re fully engaged and you want to be part of something greater than yourself. In other words, a Global problem with a local solution.

He also used examples by getting the audience involved in games he created to prove his points. Have a listen:

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