World Food Programme – Gaming For Good

I have been meaning to write about the United Nations World Food Programme and their amazing work for sometime. WFPs Free Rice website is a wonderfully simple concept, in essence it provides a range of “games” mainly in the form of multiple choice questions covering a wide range of subjects including English, Maths, Sciences and Language Learning.  Every correct answer given “earns” a donation of 10 grains of rice to help fight hunger, as the website says

WARNING: This game may make you smarter. It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, job performance…

What a wonderful way for children (of all ages) to learn, revise and help to fight world hunger! As of March 8th 2012 the programme had donated 95 097 040 800 grains of rice.

They have also just launched a new quiz to coincide with International Women’s Day

Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate Molly and girls like her who are beating the odds and having lots of fun along the way. Celebrate with us by watching Molly’s World. Then, take our brand new quiz to test just how much you know about this incredible young lady.


By taking Molly’s Quiz, you’re joining a growing community taking action to make sure more boys and girls like Molly have the chance at a better future. For every quiz taken, WFP can provide one more meal in school.


Working together, we can make a lasting impact on children’s lives all over the wold.


Celebrate International Women’s Day with us today by taking a few moments to get to know Molly. I hope she inspires you as much as she inspires all of us here at WFP.



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Generate your own Android Apps For Free!

The MIT Center for Mobile Learning has just announced that they are meeting their goal of making MIT App Inventor available as a public service in the first quarter of 2012.


For the past two months, we have been conducting a closed test of the system for an increasing number of testers, and we’ve currently scaled to 5000 testers. Today, we’re taking the next step, and opening the MIT App Inventor service to everyone. All you will need is a Google ID for log-in (for example, a Gmail account).

App Inventor will now be suitable for any use, including running classes. But please be aware that this is the first time the system will be under load from a large number of users, so there may be bumps and adjustments as the load increases. For now, we suggest that you maintain backup copies of important apps, as we see how things go.

Of course, there are glitches and minor errors and lots of room for improvement. We’ll be turning our attention to these improvements, once we have more experience with running the system at scale. We will also be developing more resources and support for using App Inventor as a learning tool. We look forward to working with you over the coming months to build the community of App Inventor educators.

We owe a large debt to our testers of the past few months; it’s been their feedback that’s given us the confidence for today’s announcement. And we’re tremendously grateful to the folks who have been running their own system with the MIT JAR files. Their experiences have been an invaluable source of information, and their work has been critical in keeping App Inventor alive while the MIT service was not yet available. We also want to acknowledge the growing group of developers who are starting to explore the App Inventor source code. They are the seeds of an open source community that we hope will take App Inventor beyond anything we could do by ourselves at MIT. And our extreme gratitude and admiration goes to the Google App Inventor team who, even while their project transitions out of Google, have continued to share their expertise and the fruit of their hard work of the past three years.

Please join with us in helping the system move to its next phase as an MIT service. You can learn about MIT App Inventor by visiting our new home at

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Gametuned on The Gene Pool

I was this weeks guest on Martin Franklin’s Digital Culture Podcast “The Gene Pool” which can be accessed directly here or played in iTunes by clicking on the banner below.

It takes 10,000 hours of practice for musicians to approach virtuoso status. With a new generation who have grown up with gaming, their time spent with computer games gives them the equivalent skills as “master gamers”. Rising to the fast-moving needs of a new workforce of “digital natives” and driving engagement in the workplace – James Monjack of joins us to talk about the emerging field of “gamification” – the science of applying game mechanics to aid motivation and engagement.

In an information packed conversation, we talk through broadcast techniques that cater for the “dual screening” viewing experience, burning synaptic pathways, large companies setting up their own social networks for employees and taking radical new approaches to keep their workforce productive and engaged with the company brand.

This episode features music by Japanese musician, Saywhut! via SoundCloud.

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Enterprise Gamification – Approach With Caution

Lauren Carlson, CRM Market Analyst for Software Advice the Austin TX based advisory firm has recently posted an excellent article entitled Gamification: The Key to Preventing Support Agent Burnout on the company’s CRM blog.

I found this post of particular interest as Lauren has suggested what I believe to be a highly appropriate use of gamification, Help Desk Software.

The support team environment is a demanding one, where support agents can get easily burned out, leading to a high turnover rate.

Lauren quotes Richard White, CEO of customer support software vendor UserVoice

“We found that part of the reason for the high turnover rate is that there’s no sense of accomplishment for the agents. If you ask a guy in support, ‘What did you do today?’ He’ll say, ‘I answered support tickets.’ If you ask him, ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’ He’ll say, ‘I’m answering support tickets.’ They have no concept of, ‘Am I getting better at this? Am I achieving anything?’ Many feel like they just get on a treadmill and run every day.”

Clearly this is fertile ground for a gamified system! However not all Enterprise environments are so suitable.

As Lauren notes around a year ago when she first posted on gamification

At the time, the idea was fairly novel. Today, gamification—the process of adding gaming elements to a non-gaming activity to encourage action and participation—is an idea that is moving beyond acceptance and into development.

I couldn’t agree more, back then talking to large corporates about using gamification to increase employee engagement and productivity was a difficult proposition. At that time the vast majority of organisations were extremely skeptical.

How times have changed… in just a few short months it seems the doors have been flung wide open, now everyman (and his dog) appears to be embracing gamification and investigating ways to incorporate game mechanics into their systems, but why the sudden change?

Quite simply gamification is becoming “big business” with an increasingly high level of investment from VCs. Great news! Well, yes it is, in a way. However the problem with these investors is they demand growth and ever increasing returns. This growth imperative means that many of the emerging “plug and play” platforms are tantamount to corporate exploitation systems. The danger here is that some unscrupulous purveyors of gamification goodness, with their requirement to please their investors, end up completely ignoring motivational theory and the “science behind gamification” leaving them peddling purely carrot and stick driven systems.

On the corporate side one can imagine executives rubbing their hands in glee at what they perceive to be “proven” ways to increase employee performance and engagement that are suitable across the entire organisation. And once they hear that non-monetry rewards are perceived as more valuable than cash? Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them skip off giggling into the sunset.

Which is why I found Lauren’s post interesting. You see gamification does have a place and a function in the Enterprise, it does have the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool for driving engagement, loyalty and productivity. HOWEVER, let us remember gamification is about extrinsic rewards, if a task is intrinsically rewarding adding an extrinsic reward system is often counter productive and will almost certainly have a demotivational effect. Therefore the best, most appropriate uses of gamification in the Enterprise are where it is used to drive engagement in tasks with little intrinsic reward, job functions where

“Many feel like they just get on a treadmill and run every day.”

So I  recommend reading Lauren’s post for an excellent example of an appropriate suggestion for a gamified system.

To be sure, you cannot simply add gaming elements to a system and expect success. You have to take a closer look. Who is your user? What is their motivation? How does that align with the success of the company? When coming up with our ideas, this is where we started, and as software vendors begin to embrace the idea of gamification, this is where they will need to start, too.

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Gamification / Motivation

Seems we have picked up A LOT of new readers recently, which is probably testament to the overall increase of awareness and interest in Gamification in the market. We owe regular readers an apology, due to the success of our consultancy businesses the website has been sadly neglected over the past couple of months – for this we are sorry!

There will be new material posted soon as well as an announcement on the future direction of Gametuned, in the meantime for our new readers enjoy a classic from our archive…

The following post was originally published on this website on May 20th 2011.

Within a previous post on this website “Is Sales Force Gamification Possible?” I quoted Daniel Pink, author of Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. For that post I asked Daniel about his thoughts on gamification to which he replied

“Gamification could go either way — towards 2.0 if the rewards are the point of the exercise, towards 3.0 if the rewards are a form of feedback, information, and a way to make progress and achieve flow.”

As a major advocate of gamification and a fan of Daniel’s work I have been pondering this challenge and have attempted to lay my thoughts out in this follow-up post.

For those who are not familiar with Daniel Pink’s work the 3.0 referred to above is the system he describes as Motivation 3.0 which basically states that if people have autonomy, gain mastery and have purpose then they become fully engaged and motivated within their environments. In relation to gamification if there is no purpose to a campaign or system then really, don’t bother trying to gamify it. So this post is really about autonomy and mastery.

The science of Behavioral Economics suggests that people are not homo economicus, rational deciders who make decisions based purely on evaluation and rational decision making. There are many studies that support this field, one of the most interesting was studying the work habits of New York City taxi drivers. The study observed that taxi drivers pay a fixed fee to rent their cabs for 12 hour shifts and then keep all their revenues, and they decide how much of the 12 hours they work each day. A purely rational, economic person would work longer hours on good days (such as rainy days or when a big convention was in town) and then work shorter hours on bad days thus maximising revenue and minimising unproductive time. However the study found that the vast majority of cabbies do exactly the opposite, they fix a daily earnings target and keep working until they hit their target, thereby working less ‘productive’ hours on good days and more ‘unproductive’ hours on bad days.

Another commonly used example is The Ultimatum Game which is a simple game used in economic experiments. In this game two players are offered an amount of money, they have to decide how to split it between them. If I was playing the game with you and the amount we were being given was $100, if I offered to split it 50:50, $50 each you would most likely say yes. However if I offered you only $5 and kept $95 for myself would you accept?
The majority of people say no. Clearly this is not a rational economic decision, rationally it is in ones’ interest to accept any offer made. By saying yes you get some money, saying no just because “it is not fair” gets you no money and is therefore not economically rational.

Behavioral Economists show us that we are not rational deciders, in fact they suggest that we make predictably irrational decisions. Behavioral economics is therefore the study of how to predict our irrationality. Experts in the field say we often make economically poor decisions due to the influence of a whole range of cognitive biases. These biases include theories such as loss aversion, hyperbolic discounting (the principle that the further away in time an outcome is the more we discount it’s value) and the bandwagon effect. Understanding these biases means that through the application of gamification mechanics we can “nudge” people towards making better decisions.

The danger is that these “nudges” are usually applied through the use of extrinsic rewards. A common theme of gamification detractors is that, by applying extrinsic rewards to everything – points, badges, achievements etc we risk devaluing intrinsically rewarding tasks and having effects contrary to desired outcomes. This kind of carrot/stick approach (or Motivation 2.0 thinking in Daniel Pink’s terms) when applied to creative and intrinsically rewarding tasks is not effective as it reduces one’s sense of autonomy and therefore it’s poor application is hugely de-motivational.

In order to understand when and how to use extrinsic rewards, or in other words where gamification best fits, it is worth gaining an understanding of the brain’s intrinsic reward mechanisms.

Neurologists tell us that our brains are hard-wired to reward us for making successful predictions, choices or behavioral responses through the Dopamine Reward system. After making what we perceive to be a correct prediction, choice or action our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that  helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Games designers use this powerful pleasure response to get us engaged with their products.

The effect this has on our decision making processes is that once the brain rewards us for making a choice we will be inclined to make that same choice again. By then attaching an extrinsic reward to the preferred choice we can use this hard-wired intrinsic reward system to affect behavior and reinforce a sense of autonomy for our decisions.

Gradually our brains then learn to intrinsically reward us and extrinsic rewards become of less value (and risk decreasing our sense of autonomy). In order to keep people engaged it then becomes necessary to consider the intrinsic/extrinsic reward balance.

To get people initially engaged with gamified systems the extrinsic rewards need to have a high value (in economic currency – real, virtual or purely social) and the path to mastery needs to be well defined. However, over time giving the same level of reward leads to dis-engagement and we risk getting stuck in a Motivation 2.0 rut. In order to move the system towards Motivation 3.0, (autonomy, mastery and purpose) it is important to reduce the value of extrinsic rewards given for a specific task, and increase the choices on the path to mastery, thereby keeping users engaged, motivated and achieving flow.


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