Sunday, June 22, 2014

Save or Enslave the World: Takeaways from #gsummit 2014, the Gamification Conference

GSummit SF 2014 was a gamification conference organized and run by Gabe Zicherman and his cohorts at Dopamine,, and Livecube.

Why I Went

I went to the conference to a) understand the disconnect between what the theorists write, what gamification companies present, and what real companies implement, and b) find out what I could contribute to the gamification world, either as a writer, an employee, or a consultant.

Gamification companies present basic, or even bad, game mechanics as implementation examples and in their turnkey products. Often there is no relation between their implementations and the motivational psychology that they espouse. The papers, articles, websites, case studies, and books on gamification present some good information about psychology and motivation, but they present gamification systems with only basic game mechanics. Simply adding points, badges, missions, and leaderboards to a process doesn't make a good game, let alone a more motivational process. Some case studies mention more complex mechanics but leave out the complex implementation details.

A small number of gamification critics who present more comprehensive motivation models are entering the gamification business. Their gamification implementations are allegedly constructed to match their motivational principles, but these implementations still lack the rich potential of complex game mechanics developed in the last forty years. Their systems are still built around an endless parade of points, badges, missions, and leaderboards abstracted from games like World of Warcraft, Farmville, and Second Life. This is akin to watching publisher after publisher espouse the rich potential of board games and then release an endless stream of games based on Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.

What I Found (Overview)

The con was held in downtown San Francisco in a sketchy, treeless neighborhood that hosts Zynga and other trendy companies in posh buildings half a block from drug dealers and the ramshackle homeless. I estimate that around 300 people attended. Except for some audio problems, it went smoothly.

Every company with a remote connection to any definition of gamification thinks that theirs is the only correct one: they define what gamification is, they present an implementation that conforms to the definition, and then they mention case studies that have little to do with their definition. Companies that promote straight gamification were present together with those who promote play gamification, each one presenting evidence that the other ones didn't know what they were talking about.

When you carefully look at the numbers presented by these companies, few point to a challenge that was properly defined and solved using gamification. They throw out percentage increases in a metric that has little to do with the actual problem. For instance, they might say that a particular system was used by 98% of a group of people. Were these people forced to use the system? What was the net effect in those participants compared to those who didn't use the system? What was the net ROI for the company or the participants? Also, they don't present the implementations that didn't work.

Researchers on standard motivational theory, as well as companies that had nothing to do with gamification, such as purveyors of rewards, gift cards, and loyalty programs, were there. The new gamification companies presented evidence that old-school methodologies don’t work or never worked, while the old loyalty companies trotted out case studies and evidence proving that they work perfectly.

Loyalty programs, customer management, data collection, location tracking, rewards, and manipulation techniques are black hat motivation techniques (getting consumers to do what you want, or playing on consumers’ fears) and these sessions were depressing. Many sessions were sales pitches for services or books; their claims and evidence presented were directly contradictory: loyalty programs worked; loyalty programs didn't work. Don’t design for games or fun, design for engagement; you can’t design for engagement without games and fun. Rewards work amazingly well; rewards actually demotivate.

Sessions from companies or organizations that had implemented systems (straight gamification, play gamification, gameful design, or playification) described how they achieved buy-in from their organization, what were the results, and what they plan to do next. These sessions were the most helpful; they tended to be more honest than the vendors who sell gamification platforms, and in some cases they described the implementations that didn't work.

What I Heard (Details)

Rather than present the contents of each session, I will present what I learned by topic [with my comments].


While gamification tokens (points, etc) are extrinsic “rewards” awarded after completing a task, an argument was presented that gamification increases intrinsic motivation by orienting you to do tasks that you will find rewarding. Some said that there is no fine line between the two, and most motivation is a complex combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic motivation can trump rewards or threats of punishment. For example, if you are threatened about submitting a report late, you might still submit it late because you want it to be just right. Threats (an external demotivator) actually increase intrinsic motivation that can remain after the threat is removed.

One robust theory on motivation (Octalysis) includes eight parameters: 1) meaning (purpose), 2) accomplishment (mastery, competence), 3) empowerment (autonomy), 4) ownership (acquisition), 5) social influence (relatedness), 6) scarcity (limited awards, rankings), 7) unpredictability (random awards, exploration), and 8) avoidance (loss, opportunity cost). Some of these parameters are extrinsic and some are intrinsic; some are white hat (positive) and some are black hat (negative).

As the ease of performing a task increases, the required motivation to do it decreases. If a trigger to do a task falls under this curve, the act is not performed; above the curve, the act is performed. In any case, a trigger is needed (you may be motivated and able to exercise but forget to set your alarm). Every action is measured independently: the same action may require more or less motivation as it becomes easier or harder (or the motivation changes in some way). So you have to decide between managing the motivation, making the task easier, or providing a trigger.

The methods you use should depend on whether you want the task done once, over a period of time, or long term, and whether you are asking the person to perform a new action, repeat an action done before, change an action, do an action less, or stop doing an action.

Different gamification techniques are more effective at different points; this makes sense due to flow theory. Points are easy to acquire, so they are short term; reputation is more challenging to acquire, so it is long term, and it is also harder to game. Ramp up the processes and switch people to long term focused systems as they gain familiarity.

Happiness is short term and transient. Purpose, which may include short term unhappiness (struggle, challenge), is long term and sustained. The chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin make us happy, but they each have a different trigger. Dopamine: anticipating rewards. Oxytocin: bonding socially. Serotonin: feeling pride.

There are different types of fun, including hard fun (challenges), easy fun (exploration), people fun (social), and serious fun (purpose). [This correlates – kind of – to Bartle's four gamer types.]

A special note about Rajat Paharia on BunchBalls' philosophy: there is no place for game deign or fun in gamification; it is all about engagement. His philosophy makes zero sense [it's engaging because it is fun and designed well!], but it's (I hope) mostly a matter of terminology and the fact that he presents his product as black hat gamification. Several companies are using BunchBall's turnkey system.

Black Hat Motivation

Rewards: A big prize (like the XPrize) focuses effort and legitimizes the time spent working towards that goal. It motivates disparate teams to accomplish things outside of companies. The cash value, above a certain amount, is not relevant, since the research results, interesting nature of the challenge, and community built during the process is rewarding to the participants. This allows you to get people to do more while spending less.

People also love lotteries and unearned coupons, which are prizes offered for no challenge.

However, rewards signify the end of a process, while business motivation must remain indefinitely.

Tracking: The Internet of Things will enable locators in billions of objects that can track people by their smartphones (or other devices). You can use exact data about people’s movements throughout a store – you can even use hidden cameras that capture their facial expressions while they interact with certain products – to gain insight on how to sell to them.

Subversion: People are entrenched against persuasion from people they oppose. You can influence their behavior more readily by using people in their own camp or people whose opinion they respect. Exploit social behavior: tell people stories while pitching to them, and use human interest and their friends.
Channeling: People are less likely to opt out than to opt in. Provide wizards. Show empty areas that need filling or populate things by default. Consider page scanning on websites and thumb reach on devices for elements you want clicked. Reduce choices, chunk, block options, block sites with popups, guilt people to not choose undesired options or make them unattractive, hide escape links, and disclose only what is necessary. People think that presented choices are valid choices: this makes them feel smart and valued, which is more effective than rewards. Make your site look credible.

White Hat Motivation

Companies that focus on making virtual things more real (like the big game companies) are ignoring the market for making real things more virtual. [The speaker ignored companies that do ARGs and other pervasive gaming. However, gamification needs more and better game designers creating better gamification techniques.]

Gamification provides a means for people to reach their goals; your company’s goals should align with people’s goals. Collaboration is better than competition. Have people compete with a system, not each other, win or lose together, interact with shared but different responsibilities and resources, and allow for user-generated and emergent features.

Gamification fights boredom. Companies in the entertainment and food industries have been attacking consumer boredom for ages, and there is no reason why we shouldn't do so in the business world for employee boredom. Motivated workers are more productive and their work is better quality. Games can provide holistic experiences that model complex systems. Emergent behavior can produce viable solutions [like in Ender's Game]. Gamification systems must include ROI, understand the learning and pain points, and consider the genre and platform.

Most disruptive technologies provide people with better means of communication. MyFitnessPal has trounced Weight Watchers in a short time because it uses effortless peer-to-peer communication. Education can be similarly disrupted. [I’m not sure that this is absolute, since apps require self-motivation without a trigger, as opposed to coaches and teachers. Not everyone is motivated by their peers!]

Case Studies

IBM created a rich and complex series of gamification processes that includes training and brainstorming. They consider it to be very successful. See Serious Games for Business.

T-Mobile is gamifying 38,000 call center workers, but balancing the rewards is very tricky, since people do what gives them a reward regardless of whether it is the best thing for the customer. If you reward quickness, customers get hung up on. If you reward no return calls within X time (a short time), workers give “solutions” that delay the return call. Etc. Groups in different locations and cultures respond to different rewards, mechanics, and structures.

Applebee's (RMH Franchise Corp) introduced a straight gamification system with no rewards. It reduced a 130% employee turnover rate by about 20% in a year. They plan to add status rewards, such as a special colored jacket for best performing employees.

Wikipedia and Delta Airlines presented gamified training programs, but it was difficult to see if these made any real substantive difference to their bottom line. The people who took the gamified training programs liked them and were trained.

The Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy gamified its scrum (agile software development) program. All of its participants were student game designers. The gamification included a full D&D-like experience played on a whiteboard with moving Post-It Note characters, earned equipment, etc. One goal was to increase the accuracy of time estimations; this also had the side effect of making people more familiar with teammates' work items. Another goal was to reward showing up for scrum meetings. The system worked for one group that had a supportive leader, but not for another whose participants saw it as additional busy work.

Gabe Zicherman led us in a workshop. We had to come up with ideas to solve a problem, including voting on the best solutions. It was "gamified" because a) we voted on the best solution, so there were points awarded (kind of), and b) he gave a prize, a t-shirt, to the winning team's solution. [In my book, it was an example of a non-gamified task nearly destroyed by an incredibly sucky game. We were already motivated to come up with a solution; the "award" of a t-shirt was actually demotivating.]


Jane McGonigal said that a controlled study now proves the efficacy of Superbetter. Superbetter's effects can change your life even if you stop playing it after six weeks. Games of any kind help with real world problems; for example, playing Tetris for 10 minutes within 6 hours of a trauma can help reduce PTSD. People find this weird, though they wouldn't find it weird if the activity was meditation or prayer; games still make people uneasy. 10 minutes of games also help push out other drives, like overeating or the desire for alcohol.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk was interrupted frequently by microphone problems. He is a dynamic and funny speaker. He talked about how science is becoming mainstream, with examples from pop culture. He also briefly mentioned gamifying science using crowdsourcing.

Adopting Gamification in Your Company

Here are some steps that you can use to bring gamification to your company:

  • Create a business case. Find other companies in your sector who use gamification, especially competitors.
  • Shamelessly promote the idea of gamification until people are used to the idea and agree to a pilot project to see if it works.
  • Identify the specific problems you want to solve. Take the time to do a proper survey.
  • Ensure that gamification is the right solution. For example, gamification is great at providing immediate and progressive feedback, and at clarifying complicated procedures, making them less threatening and more likely to be completed.
  • Estimate the ROI. Define the metrics that define success or progress.
  • Find a champion for the pilot. Find coworkers willing to give time to the project, especially gamers who believe in the idea. For future projects, ensure that you’re not the only champion, or you will become a bottleneck and it will fall apart when you’re not around.
  • Ensure that there is someone leading the process, so that people don’t become lost.
  • Use outside solutions if they make sense and it simplifies things.
  • Define desired actions and how they report the metrics.
  • Design for different types of players.
  • Create seamless, non-intrusive flow for discovery (finding out about the system) and onboarding (first steps to use the system), habit building (becoming comfortable with the system in the short term) and mastery (continued relevance in the long term).
  • Reward people for using the system, since it is saving time and money elsewhere.
  • Integrate gamification into many parts of the company (the whole flow, if possible). It should become a natural part of business.
  • Keep the system fresh; games become stale so a gamification system requires constant input of fresh ideas. It may not be suitable for all people.
  • [I will add: Provide autonomy so that people don’t feel like they are forced to do things they don’t want to do. Provide purpose: the reason they’re doing this, and the benefits for the company or for the world, whichever is relevant.]


Before, during, and after the conference, I also met or talked to professionals who didn't attend the conference but who work in motivation, games, or both. They say that gamification is a meaningless buzzword, a con, or nonsense (they used less polite phrases). I think that their complaints were aimed at straight gamification and the companies that sell it.

When you consider play gamification, the gamification is a tiny part of it. In the same way that Dan Pink didn't really add much to self-determination theory, but his simplifying and popularizing it added a great deal of value, gamification simplifies and popularizes playification, which may not be too bad.

Gamification proponents call points "rewards", and critics rightly point out that points are not rewards. A game where you click a button and get a million points isn't rewarding. Minesweeper gives you a point every second, but your object is to get the least amount of points; are these points rewards? People don’t run a 100 meter dash for the points, but for the intrinsic value of the race. But not so fast. The critics are not entirely correct. When a person runs all out and sees the numbers, the numbers matter; they focus the runner and provide a goal to achieve. I admit that, despite the inanity of the conference's gamified chat system (Livecube; see below), whenever my points closed in on a round hundred (500, 600, etc), I was motivated to post a few more times just to see the number roll over that hundred mark. After it did, I no longer cared one whit about my number if it was not attached to a real reward, and the additional posts I wrote to increase my score were valueless. Still, point-driven motivation does exist, at least in the very short term.

I went to the conference to a) understand the disconnect between what the theorists write, what gamification companies present, and what companies implement, and b) find out what I could contribute to the gamification world, either as a writer, an employee, or a consultant.

A) The disconnect exists because there is no clear definition of gamification, companies are still carving out a space, and as a result they disagree on what works. The long term results are inconclusive, but they are also promising for certain types of goals, especially for training and cooperation.

B) A game designer has experience with the application of hundreds of mechanics that could be used in gamification systems but currently are not. To give you an idea, consider what a game designer could do with “points” (this is off the top of my head):

  • Points that are positive, negative (used sparingly!), themed, tradeable, or assigned only collectively
  • Multiple point tracks, for example green points, blue points, and red points. The biggest problem with black hat gamification is that it reduces autonomy (by incentivizing some tasks and deincentivizing others); by allowing participants to select among multiple point options, you add autonomy back into the process. In any case, different point structures are required for different positions in the company (you can’t use the same point structure for call center workers and IT personnel).
  • Goals based on different point tracks and levels, with badges earned either by concentrating more on one track or diversifying between tracks.
  • Participant created goals and levels, thus establishing point goals that work for each participant (see flow theory)
  • Additional factors to earning points. For example, if tasks are completed in a certain time, in a certain order, or with a certain buy-in, they scale upwards or include residual effects.
  • Limited replenishing points that can only be assigned to others.
  • A rich set of point redemption packets that utilize different point combinations, as well as a series of redemption missions (redeem A to acquire B or C, redeem C or D to acquire F).
  • Ensuring that play and mastery is part of the system, and not just more work for virtual rewards.
  • Most importantly, ensuring that points encourage people to do things that they already want to do, not things they will regret, feel tricked into, or come to regard as busy work.


A final word about Livecube, the conference chat system designed by the guys who ran the conference.

Livecube presents chat rooms for sessions and lists of speakers and sessions, and also integrates with Twitter. It includes a gamification system that awards points for posting (more for posting pictures), reposting, favoriting, getting reposted, and checking into and rating sessions. I appreciate the chat rooms, though a real chat system works just as well. As it stands, its gamification system is a disaster. Leaderboards kill the motivation of anyone but the leaders to post anything, and demotivate reposts (since it gives leaders more points than it gives you). The badges are worthless and repetitive. The points don’t reward any accomplishment, but inspire inane post after inane post; the result are chat sessions filled with noise instead of signal. Worst of all, encouraging people to tweet when they should be listening to a speaker is a Really Bad Idea. On the technical side, conversations are hard to follow. Limiting posts to twitter length makes many types of conversations and useful information impossible to communicate. In short, the system encapsulates everything that is criticized about gamification.

A few ideas to fix it: Remove the points and badges for things that are not actually accomplishments, such as hitting the send button. Reward a random participant each day for each session; this keeps people checked in, but not posting too frequently. Deincentivize multiple posts that are not favorited or reposted. Deincentivize posting during a lecture; incentivize for posting after the lecture (or maybe lecturers should give two minute tweet breaks during lectures). Create group incentives for teams. Remove the leaderboards; leaderboards are only appropriate for when you want only a few people to do something, not when you want everyone to do something. Create achievable missions. Create rewards for tagging people physically to foster real world social interaction. Etc.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What is Gamification? On This The Experts Disagree

Not everyone agrees on what gamification is (and this is not even considering alternative approaches that are not gamification). It is not simply a matter of definition; people talk about gamification while meaning different concepts.

I wrote a brief introduction to the three types of gamification. Now let's go a little deeper into what gamification is.

There are two main approaches:

1. Gamification is a feedback system that fosters engagement

Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game contexts. This either means adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks – making the world a better place - or manipulating people into doing things that they might otherwise not want to do – making the world a worse place (take your pick).

People spend a massive amount of time playing multi-player online games doing what superficially seem to be unfun tasks: repetitively killing, jumping, farming, building complex virtual properties and characters, and so on. Considering the “Tom Sawyer” principle, gamification people figure that they can take the feedback systems from these games - points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions - and apply them (with some customization) to many work, health, charity, etc tasks to achieve the same motivating results. The reasoning is that any boring activity becomes engaging if the context feels like a game, feedback is immediate and progressive, and competition or collaboration is leveraged.

These proponents see gamification as this:

For these proponents, the play mechanics are not that relevant. The gamification elements are all you need to make an engaging and fun system. The quest for points, or badges, or a high ranking on a leaderboard is fun, in and of itself. Play elements are just icing.

Let’s call this “straight gamification” (the term I used in my original post).

2: Gamification is a play system that includes video game elements

Gamification is a thin veneer of video game elements added onto playification. Playification is adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks; gamification is adding points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions as part of playification.

Adding rewards and making boring tasks more playful to motivate people is an old idea. Loyalty programs, recess, team building games, and vacation time have existed for centuries. Philosophies about reforming education and work processes to be more fun have existed for just as long. This is called playification.
Gamification systems do a lot more than just take the feedback systems from video games; they include elements that make the process more playful.

Challenging and interesting tasks make games fun, not feedback systems. Points, badges, etc, are not rewards; the fulfillment of a challenge, the ability to freely choose an activity, and relationships (to people or to a higher purpose) are the rewards. Points and badges track or reflect these rewards in some instances, but they do not motivate people. Assigning points and offering badges to non-challenging tasks is insulting and ultimately empty, and leaderboards applied haphazardly only motivate the top few people who are winning.

Gamification repackages the old idea (make work/school more playful) with a new name and a set of cookie cutter interfaces that orients people raised on video games.

Let’s call this “play gamification”.


Neither of these two are to be confused with gameful design or playification.

Gameful design is the application of either of these two gamification philosophies to user-centered tasks. In other words, tasks that a person wants to do or has to do, but wants to make more fun - making the world a better place. This is opposed to a gamification system created by companies in order to get you to do something you were not necessarily going to do, and for no real long-term benefit to you - making the world a worse place.

Playification does not require the presence or absence of game mechanics. Play gamification is one form of playification.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Shabbat in Berkeley, Back in Israel

Gamification conference post still to come. Here's the rest of my trip:

I spent shabbat in Berkeley around the synagogue Congregation Beth Israel. The area was pleasant and suburban. The shul does not arrange places for visitors to sleep (there are many every week), but they arrange meals. The couple Ruchama and Avraham Burrell took me for Friday night meal. They invite any stray travelers for shabbat meals, as they have been hosting people for over twenty years now and they consider it a life mission of sorts. Contact me for details.

Another couple hosted me for shabbat lunch. At both meals I ran into souls who had gone through, or were in the process of going through, difficult times: who had MS, who had been (in the past) homeless in San Francisco, who were estranged from their families, whose mother had recently died but who had no support network for grieving and no connection to a Jewish community (this was her first time in a synagogue). They were offered community, support, and meals.

At shul, they said psalms multiple times for the three boys who went missing and appear to have been kidnapped by Hamas.

BART took me to the airport on Sunday morning and the trip home was uneventful, which was surprising for me. Even the TSA agents who patted me down were more relaxed than the ones in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) in Concert

I saw The Both in concert at the Great American Music Hall, with the opening act Nick Diamonds (Thorburn) of Islands.

Nick Diamonds of Islands
Nick and his accompanist were interesting. He plays indie rock. It was hard to hear the lyrics because the mics were too low; the music and melodies were pleasant; they were not catchy hit songs, but they also sounded like they were not trying to be. I think his music would be best at an acoustic house concert. Nothing in the arrangements stood out, and without full access to the words, it was just ok (he also performed a number of covers).

The Both
Aimee Mann is famous for her hit song Voices Carry from the band 'Til Tuesday in the 1980s, after which she has had additional success as a solo artist (Academy and Grammy awards, though no other top ten hits).

I know less about Ted Leo, but his guitar playing was very good. The two spent a lot of time bantering and telling stories with each other and to the crowd (too much time, I thought, though they were funny). The crowd knew a number of their songs, collectively and individually. Their melodies and arrangements were exceptionally good, and their play (including a drummer) was tight. Everything they played could be a hit record. Like with Nick, the mics were low and it was hard to hear the singing; what I heard was serviceable. I'm inspired that Aimee Mann still rocks out at age 54, but she doesn't (can't?) belt it out like she once did in the above video. I was pleased she played the one song I knew during the encore.


A description of the gamification conference is in the works.

The rest of my SF trip has not been notable. Pier 39 is so over-commercialized and so touristy I would compare it to visiting a web page that contains nothing but (mostly irrelevant) splashy and shallow advertisements. Shudder. I saw some sea lions that looked depressed.

Sea lions
Chinatown is funky if you dig Chinese groceries, but similar to what I saw in Sunset. Downtown is unremarkable and has lots of homeless. The one kosher restaurant is ok but overpriced. The area I stayed in, near the freeway entrance/exit, is bare and impoverished.

The only other moment of interest was a short trip to see my friend L'vannah and her baby. She lives in a gorgeous home in San Carlos.

L'vannah and baby

The view from her backyard

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Think Your Game is Educational? Here’s How You Can Prove It

GlassLab's Evidence Centered game Design (ECgD) assessment engine can prove scientifically if your game really helps players learn [1]. Alternatively, it can help you redesign your game so that it does. That makes GlassLab’s approach to playification different: rather than construct games to provide education, they discover and elicit education from within existing games.

GlassLab’s assessment engine can be hooked into video games using an API on a variety of platforms. Players’ choices while playing the game are sent to the assessment engine, which provides multiple views into the metrics generated during each game session. Each player’s performance can then be assessed to determine if they are actually learning.

On Monday I visited Zynga’s San Francisco HQ in the company of Tamas Makany, a learning designer at GlassLab Games. GlassLab is a non-profit put together by the Institute of PlayElectronic Arts, and other entities interested in the intersection of digital games and education.

Creating the right hooks requires not only the API, but also the assistance of GlassLab's learning experts and statisticians to:
  • Identify what students are supposed to learn.
  • Construct metrics to measure that this learning process is actually taking place.
  • Identify (or create) the game mechanics that provide these metrics.
For GlassLab's own games, they also design the user interface and experience and provide assistance to teachers to help them implement the games in the classroom.

GlassLab currently has two games. The first is a modified version of SimCity called SimCityEDU that GlassLab built using the actual SimCity code under license. The game provides multiple missions that start SimCity at specific states and require students to handle specific problems, such as how to reduce carbon emissions in their city while still providing the city with sufficient power. The second game is Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, an original game from GlassLab featuring squabbling Martians that requires players to assess whether and how much certain sentences support an argument. The Martians then simulate a debate using the players’ arguments as weapons.

Both games are built to teach lessons based on Common Core educational standards.

[1] ECgD is based on the principles of evidence centered design, a methodology that ensures that what you think is happening is really happening.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Day 3: Two San Francisco Festivals

The first was Union Street Festival. This was a festival like any other, with light entertainment, local and chain food stands, and local and chain artisans. Mostly local. What made it San Francisco, or California, was the high proportion of products and services that are new age, artisinal, fair trade, vegan, gluten-free crystal, yoga, etc. People were very supportive of "kosher", too; though much of what they sold wasn't kosher, the idea of kosher in California is apparently new-agey, like gluten-free and hand-sourced.

The second was the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. This festival is more like retro hippieville than like actual hippieville. Many vendors were posers making a lot of money selling generic products (like tie-dyed shirts and stuff) to tourists, but some of the people and products looked authentic. There were drugged out looking guys lolling about on the street and the smell of hemp was pervasive. The music was raucous, and the bands were actual bands of the sixties/seventies or bands that played similar music.

The Union Street Festival had items like cold-brewed coffee, soy kale shakes, and light brunch foods, in addition to barbecue and beer, while the Haight-Ashbury Fair was mostly barbecue and beer.

I walked back from HASF through the park.

Plaque dedicated to Allen Ginsberg

Sign reads: Herbs to help you feel happy, healthy, horny, and naturally high

In today's Haight-Ashbury, the freaks and the pigs mix comfortably.


Duck and turtles in Golden Gate Park

Boats on the lake in Golden Gate Park

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Gamification: Adding Fun

This is my fourth post on gamification and motivational strategy (see Adding Purpose, Adding Autonomy, and Adding Mastery). A successful strategy can use some form of gamification, as well as other tools, to develop and enhance motivation from within.

In this post I present how to provide opportunities for fun.

A gamification process is empty if the process is not compelling. Adding points and so on must be complemented with fun. Too many gamification procedures leave this as an exercise for the reader. They tell you to add fun, but they don't tell you how to do this. "Make sure it's fun! Tweak it until it is!" [1]

You can create fun in a gamification system by luck; I wouldn't rely on it. Odds are high that luck won't be on your side and your system will fail, as most do.

You can create fun by stealing a tested game design from an existing game and slapping a new theme onto it with some gamification extras. This is a popular choice for many designers, and it has the benefit of presenting game mechanics that requires little or no further explanation to its users. The drawback is that the original game is also accessible to the player, and probably already has a bigger fan base (their friends already play it), so they will probably only play with your system if they are forced to (or the theme is killer).

Alternately, you can create fun by designing and testing a good game. For this you need a game designer who understands fun. First time game designers often fail at fun. Successful, proven game designers have a decent track record for creating subsequent games that are also fun. Once you know how to find fun, you are more likely to find it again (not always, but more often than people who never find it in the first place).

Any design for fun requires extensive play testing with a wide variety of people types. Different people have different ideas about what is fun. Don't expect the same interest in a particular activity from the CEO, the graphic designer, the call center operator, and the 8th grade student.

The elements of fun include the following:
  • Socializing: Many people's idea of fun is sharing time and conversation with family and friends. A game can be a backdrop against which they socialize. Either the game itself becomes a topic of discussion (such as humorous party games) or it simply keeps the hands occupied and fills in the pauses in the conversation. Winning or losing might be entertaining but irrelevant to their motivation for playing. Examples: parties, meetings, cooperation (less serious), eating or drinking, downtime.

    You can build social activity into gamification by having competitive or cooperative activities that do not require the players' undivided attention while they complete the tasks. Play can be set during group activities, such as a meal or "fun day". Interaction is key.
  • Entertainment: Entertainment can be be either thoughtful or mindless, such as Sudoku, Candy Crush, YouTube, gossip, conversation, action/adventure movies, fantasy, and so on. Dramatic entertainment can be fun even when it is serious or poignant (though perhaps not when it is morbid).

    You can include entertainment by splicing in entertainment media (adding sound or movie clips), by creating dramatic stories around which to hang your activities, or by providing simple, non-challenging game play with well-build, accessible achievements, levels, and bonuses.

  • Aesthetics: Many people's idea of fun includes aesthetic or sensual pleasure: art, music, film, eros, food, nature, and other such things. In gamification contexts, this also includes well-presented graphics, pictures, or sounds.
  • Recreation: Many people's fun includes sport, exercise, vertigo (swings, balancing, alcohol), and so on to be fun, while others find these to be work or painful. Many people don't have the necessary abilities to partake in these kinds of activities.

    You can include recreation with any activity that requires your body to participate, from treasure hunts, to races, to physical touch (use with caution).
  • Challenge: See my post about adding mastery. Despite what you might have understood from reading Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun, challenges are fun for some people at some times, but not for all people at all times. Challenges are the best fun for personal growth; our brains are wired to see and solve safe problems. But many people simply don't want to expand their brains, especially after they have spent a day already using them at work or school. For these people, challenges are not fun.

    Example challenges include puzzles, pattern matching tasks, trading, auctioning, racing, cooperation, and competition.
  • Humor: Comedy, laughter, funny or inappropriate graphics, pictures, or sounds. Most people describe comedy, pratfalls, or anything else that makes them laugh as fun, or having fun. Examples: humorous stories or characters, funny roles or costumes, ridiculous challenges.
You can remember these elements by their acronym: SEARCH.

[1] Some gamification proponents claim that acquiring points is inherently fun. This ill-conceived notion might lead to a short burst of interest from someone who discovers a "game-like" system in a non-game context, but this interest will quickly fade (all the more so as gamification becomes more ubiquitous). Worse, a person lured into a "game-like process" that is not fun can feel betrayed, demotivated, and disappointed, leading to the exact opposite of gamfication's intent.

Day 2: San Francisco Shabbat

Shabbat was quiet. I was invited to daven Carlebach on Friday night, which was nice. Dinner at the Rabbi's house. Lunch was given by someone at the shul. The rabbi and his wife know the family that my nephew married and were at the wedding (as was I). The guest speaker and his wife knew me (or at least my parents) since they live in my old neighborhood in Beit Shemesh. I'm no longer even surprised by things like this. The eruv does not extend to the ocean or to Golden Gate Park, and I didn't feel like  bothering the guy who owns the house to keep the key for me.

With not much to do in the afternoon, I wandered around until I came to a laundromat that had some magazines around for people waiting for their clothes. One was a New Yorker with a lovely story from Nathan Englander: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank [PDF]. Shabbat was out so late that there was not much time to do anything (leastwise, when you have no one to do it with).

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Day 1: Sunset District San Francisco

Sunset District in San Francisco is beautiful. I was expecting "urban"; it looks like England small-town urban, not big city urban.

This morning, with little jet lag except for a head buzz, I left my AirBnB apt on 31st and Lawton and walked to the Safeway on Noriega to buy groceries. Despite rumors to the contrary, the supermarket has everything kosher I could possibly need, except meat. It is possible to find thousands of kosher products in pretty much any supermarket across America and Canada without any difficulty. The only problems will be meat and wine (this supermarket actually had kosher wine, as well as some Hebrew National hot dogs).

Dropped off the groceries and walked down Lawton to the beach. All of the houses are pastel and pretty. The streets are clean. The air is foggy and chilly. Birds chattering, little in the way of traffic, and everyone drives very slowly. At least half of the population appears to be Asian (Korean or Chinese, I'm guessing). On the streets with stores (Irving, Noriega), store after store has signs in both English and Chinese, with hundreds of Asian-style restaurants and Asian food markets.

Sunset District, Lawton St looking from 31st Ave

Street names are etched into the sidewalk. Street signs have house number ranges on them.

The beach was nearly entirely deserted with the odd jogger or two. It's clean and expansive.

Off the end of Lawton is the Pacific Ocean

One of my only fellow life forms on the beach

There were red rose singles dropped on the beach every thirty feet or so. Was this due to something happy or something gone awry?

I walked north and crossed over to Golden Gate Park, also very lovely in the corner that I saw.

Entrance to Golden Gate Park

In the park

I tried to get a SIM card in a Verizon store, but they don't sell SIM cards, only phones with plans. While waiting in line I struck up a conversation with a mom and teen who were buying a new iPhone 5S to replace their two year old iPhone 4S; the only way to renew their plan is to buy a new phone, apparently. I was already considering whether to spend money to replace my own tired one, and was looking at picking up a Samsung Galaxy S3 from Amazon. When I asked, they said that I could just have their old one for whatever I felt, since they would probably toss it out otherwise.

Sad. It's weird how these phones cost a huge bundle if you buy them unlocked but since they are given out for free with service plans they become valueless.  Even programs that encourage you donate old cell phones often just recycle or safely dispose of the materials in them (which is better than having them dumped in a landfill, I suppose).

I picked up a SIM from T-Mobile.

I also checked out the synagogue I will be visiting this shabbat. They are setting me up for dinner and having a communal lunch, as well as hosting a rabbi-in-residence.

Shabbat shalom.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Day 0, continued in Philadelphia, San Francisco

  The room for Catholic worshipers at Athens airport.

The room for all other worshipers at Athens airport.

The re-booked flight had kosher food for me, but not the guy next to me who didn't think to ask for it (like me, he knows that airlines need 24 hours notice to supply kosher food, but apparently it doesn't hurt to ask even with only 8 hours notice). The flight was fine.

I watched The Way Way Back. A shy and awkward boy goes to some place for the summer with his sister, and his mom and her new boyfriend. He hates his mom's boyfriend, and he makes some unrealistic personal progress over the course of a few weeks. This is an unexceptional movie that doesn't have anything new to say. It was mild cliche entertainment, but not at all compelling. Like these movies do, it had a few ok scenes.

I interacted with four TSA agents at PHL. Number one was ok. She checked my passport and boarding pass and sent me to the disrobing line.

Number two put me on the side when I opted out of the porno-scanner. She called the third agent to come and process me. She was friendly.

Number three apparently didn't hear number two's call for pat down; after two minutes, I asked who we were waiting for and had to get number two to call number three again. Number three took my bags off of the X-ray machine conveyor belt and put them onto a different X-ray machine conveyor belt that was currently not in operation (so that my bags weren't holding up the line).  He then began reciting a legalese script about what he was going to do and with what part of his hand he would touch my niggly bits and do I have any sensitive parts, etc. When I interrupted him and said I was fine and he should just go ahead, he RAISED HIS VOICE, told me in douchebag mode (angry, aggressive, assertive, threatening) that if I did not let him finish, he would have to call other agents over to continue the procedure. I told him to go ahead and continue the script, and he started the spiel over from the beginning in loud douchebag voice. After he was done, including the chemical test for bomb residue, he walked away.

I began putting on my shoes and belt, etc, when TSA number four, suddenly noticing me from about ten feet away, RAISED HIS VOICE in douchebag mode and yelled at me that I CANNOT PUT MY ITEMS ONTO [second] X-ray machine conveyor belt and I must remove them immediately. While struggling with my belt, I started to say that I wasn't the one who put them there, but I didn't get out four words of this before he raised his voice EVEN LOUDER like a policeman about to shoot me and told me that I cannot place my items there and I had to get them off of there immediately. Wow.

You can find basic kosher items like drinks, nuts, fruit, and cookies in the Philli airport.

A moving K'nex sculpture at Philadelphia airport.
The flight to SFO was half empty. The captain came out and informed us that 4-5 people had to move from in front of the wing to behind the wing for the plane to be able to take off. [1] Then we would all have to move to the right side of the plane if the plane need to make a right turn. [2]

SF: As usual, I am still moving blindly through life when it comes to making good decisions. I decided to take the Shuttle service from SFO to my AirBnB place, because I was late and I thought it might be faster (and easier than navigating a train and a bus and some walking at this time of night). Mistake, I think. The guy drove no more than 25 miles an hour, usually less, and I was second to last one off. He also ignored the instructions given to him by his guidance system and the dispatcher (I saw him delete all of these from his little pad before starting) and then got lost and drove in many circles. It took an hour fifty to get to my place.

The AirBnB place, which was the cheapest place anywhere near the SF Ortho synagogue, appears to have been a fantastic win. The guy running it is a Korean guy (I think he runs it with his wife, too), and the place is awesome. All I needed was a clean bed. The place is clean, pretty, has it's own entrance, linens, TV and cable, fridge, breakfast, washing machine and dryer, Wi-Fi, etc. It's totally like a BnB. And did I mention cheap?

36 hours travelling. Tired boychick.

[1] This is true.
[2] This is not so true.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Day 0, continued in Greece

You might wonder why, on my flight from TLV to PHL to LAX to SFO I am posting a picture from the Athens international airport that says "Welcome to Greece".

Apparently, a number of people smelled fumes on the plane out of TLV and got sick, including the lovely Bahai girl sitting next to me on our unexpectedly short flight. She didn't throw up, but she felt close to doing so.

So we diverted to Greece and had to collect our luggage (I don't have any checked in) and rebook entirely new flights. We landed in Athens at 2:00, they let us off the plane at 2:45 (after emergency medical people dealt with some of the sick 'uns) and then we queued up at the US Airways ticket counter. By 5:00, about 10 people had successfully booked new tickets, with hundreds more waiting in line. I know they woke those two poor US Airlines people to come help us out, but 30 minutes per person is just a tad slow. No one has had any sleep or eaten since Israel.

Lucky for me, some woman in line called the US and re-booked her ticket directly with the US Airways ticketing office and then gave out the number to others to do the same (she even lent her phone to me to do this, since mine doesn't work here). So, while the line is still going and probably will until, oh, July, I am already re-booked. Another 15 minutes of cajoling the airport workers, and they also opened boarding lines for those of us who had re-booked, so we could get our boarding passes (US Airways won't open any lines until 3 hours before the flight; they can't check in luggage yet, but I don't have any haha). And we got a 15 EUR voucher for food (or, in my case, cans of coke I'm guessing).

My new tickets skip LA entirely and go straight to SFO from PHL, arriving 2 hours later than the original itinerary. So instead of 7 hours in LA, I now have 9 hours in Athens, but it's all in the airport. I was planning on buying a Ready SIM in LA, which is not available in SFO, so I'll need an alternative plan.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Day 0: Destination San Francisco

And I'm off on another crazy trip. This time to SF for the GSummit gamification conference. I will be returning on June 15/16.

I'm flying into SF 6 days before the conference in order to recover from the jet lag; from experience, it is a waste of time for me to fly half way across the globe in order to sleep through a conference the next day.

I never really thought about visiting SF, so this is somewhat of a surprise to me. I have a few planned activities, and a few days where I'm just going to "explore". At the con, I hope to learn more about what real people do with gamification: how much business is going on, and how much is just hype. Theory is one thing; practice is another. I will attempt to report all of this to you, my faithful reader.

My first flight is a bit of a killer: TLV to PHL to LAX, 7 hour stopover, and then on to SFO.