Mar 152010

Penny Arcade discusses the leveling drive.

Gabe and Tycho have fallen down this rabbit hole as well...

It looks like this whole motif of life being a game is contagious. According to folks speaking at the Games Development Conference, the next potential “killer app” is getting people to apply gaming and leveling mechanics to their lives. For things unrelated to using electronic gizmos or mechanical pencils and funky dice, the notion of “leveling up in life” is earning gaining a lot of mental traction with folks outside of the gaming industry. This is an almost inevitable side effect of those of us who grew up gaming hitting the point in our lives where, not only are we a meaningful target demographic, we’re in positions where we can begin to shape corporate policies.

Take a minute if you need to cackle maniacally at that thought. I’m going to.

The conceit of earning and unlocking achievements in the big blue room isn’t new; it’s just not been called that quite so openly before. Loyalty programs, such as frequent-flyer miles, have been around for decades, and they are a fairly subtle but direct implementation of this concept. By reaching such-and-such a milestone (dollars spent, miles flown, nights stayed, or whatever), you earn perks to encourage you to continue to prefer a particular service purveyor, whether that’s an airline, a hotel, or credit card.

Achievements serve as inducement to put in extra effort and attention to things we ought to be doing (as the friend who pointed out the IDGC link out to us put it, “I want achievements for everything, dammit. Especially brushing my teeth.”).  However, just as leveling up in games gets tougher, it does in real life, too.

Achievements can also serve as motivation to keep going when you get frustrated. One commenter on an article about Gym Anxiety (a subject we’ll address in this space soon) said, “I’ve realized I need a goal to actually stay motivated to exercise – training for a race or moving up in the levels in Krav Maga – without it, I can’t be bothered to overcome my gym anxiety.” It’s no fun to stall, plateau, or feel like you’re otherwise wasting your time. Not everyone has a high achievement drive or competitive streak, but, at the same time, we all have our personal inducements to keep working.

Some achievements are easy to identify – a promotion or raise at work, or an increase in your credit card’s limit, or putting together your first home-built gaming computer, or comfortably using the next hole on your belt.  Some are subtler, like the first time someone comes up and asks for your advice about something you were a noob at not too long ago. Getting outside recognition and validation of our efforts and progress is enough to get some folks stoked. Others prefer something subtler, or perhaps just want to keep their head down altogether, just knowing for themselves, “I did it.”

But when it comes to leveling mechanics in commerce, at the root of it all, relationships matter. The nature of it may even shape the way you think about, and interact with, the company – where a customer rewards program that resonates with your attitudes makes you happy to maintain the relationship, one that is at cross-purposes might drive you off. The sense of accomplishment is a feel-good perk that costs the company relatively little, but earns them customer loyalty (even if it’s the resigned kind, as in “I already have a squillion purchase points on this account, I might as well keep it”).  Not that everyone’s going to be able to live off their loyalty program points, like this dude.

[IGDC link courtesy of @doctorparadox]

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