IF11 Preview: SAP's Mario Herger on Gamification's Green Promise

In the runup to our Innovation Forum 2011, we are conducting a number of short interviews with some of the presenters at the event, which takes place October 11-13 in San Francisco.

Our first preview comes from Mario Herger, a Technology Strategist & Community Manager at SAP Labs, who talks about how gamification can help everything from company carpooling to energy efficiency, and why gamification means a lot more than playing video games. He will be presenting the Gaming for Sustainability workshop at IF11.

Matthew Wheeland: Mario, let's start with just an overview. Will you tell me briefly what you're presenting on at our upcoming Innovation Forum -- what is your workshop focused on?

Mario Herger: My workshop at the event is a 90-minute process where I and all the participants will try to gamify interactively during the 90 minutes, with a direct focus on problems around sustainability and developing applications for sustainability. We will use either examples that I've come across in my own work or any problems that participants want to bring to the table.

We will work at those problems and then try to understand the motivations for the behavior that you want to encourage: What do you want to achieve, who wants to achieve what, how does it conflict between users that are working with the application?

You also have to discuss the motivations of the people operating that application or introducing that application and to make sure that we are all in sync, that there aren't conflicting goals or targets. These are some of the questions and thought processes you have to engage with when doing this kind of work.

And by working and trying different game mechanics and understanding that, we are will try to figure out what is likely to work and where we might run into problems with using these game mechanics.

We also will look holistically at the different player types that we have there, like Bartle's player types: the Killer, the Socializer, the Explorer, the Achiever.

By discussing how people interact in game settings, we can learn not just how to cater to them, but also that participants can understand that there are four types of players; the misconception is that all people are just Killers, or single players who only want to win by beating others. In fact, the collaborative games outrace you three to one over solitary competitive games that appeal to Killers.

That is what we want to look at to get people understand what gamification is -- and also to understand an important point: Gamification does not mean that we are making a game. It means I'm using game mechanics, and while it could be a game in the end, but in most of the cases a game is not the result.

MW: Why do you think gamification is becoming such a hot topic right now, particularly in sustainability and innovation areas, but really just everywhere you look: Everyone's talking about gamification. Why is that?

MH: Well, video games have been around now for 40 years now, and people of my generation grew up with always having video games available. These people have marched through the ranks in corporations and we are coming now to a stage where some of these gaming ideas are able to be put in place easily.

We've seen also in the past few years the rise of mobile devices, and mobile devices tend to use a lot of game mechanics and game-like features and make it sticky -- so suddenly we see this stark difference between desktop applications and mobile applications.

One good way to understand why this is such a powerful idea is to look at how four-year-olds can use software on a mobile device -- which uses lots of game mechanics, remember -- without being able to read any instructions.

To understand that we can look at video games, why they are so encouraging, why people are spending so much time on there and really working hard. I mean, look at what they're doing. They're doing a lot of hard work with that. There are a lot of statistics out there. The technologies like wiki, the corporate world's use of wikis -- which [at its base level] is a game -- and the largest of them all, Wikipedia.

So if you want to know why that is happening and what can we learn from that, how can we direct this energy into the real world to make the real world better, as Jane McGonigal asked.

Next page: How games can make the world a better place.