The Not-At-All-Distant Future of Green Gamification

The Not-At-All-Distant Future of Green Gamification

Games are like ketchup: widely loved and diversely applied, with an appeal rooted in childhood. In fact, a new report reveals that over 90 percent of U.S. kids aged 2-17 are gaming today. Yet the gaming generation has been on the rise for three decades, leading to not only an army of young gamers, but also an influential adult segment. It is small wonder, then, that "gamification" is the most disruptive force to impact marketing since the arrival of social media.

Typically defined, gamification refers to the use of game mechanics, such as points, badges, leaderboards and challenges in non-game settings. Traditional examples include airline frequent flyer programs and "Buy 10, Get 1 Free" loyalty offers. But the proliferation of social media and smartphones along with the cultural adoption of gaming has increased both the scope and sophistication of gamification.

At its core, gamification is about one thing: fun. In today's competitive battle for mindshare, games are the most effective tool for leveraging technology, rising above marketing noise and engaging the socially networked consumer.

Like any marketing strategy, gamification can be applied to encourage frivolous consumption or provide superficial entertainment. But games are also uniquely suited to change the world for the better. As gaming enthusiast and renowned author, Dr. Jane McGonigal, points out, "When we are playing games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure."

In other words, the most compelling rewards fulfill innate human desires for achievement, reciprocity and appreciation. Great games make us feel alive.

The Game Era has arrived, and the rise of gamification is only just beginning. Gartner analysts predict, "By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application."

As a result, gamification presents an exciting opportunity to advance sustainability initiatives. Research from Ogilvy Earth [PDF] suggests that games can be a vehicle to create brand equity while also promoting green behaviors.

The synergy between gamification and sustainability is based on the fact that, like gaming, greening is largely a social action that triggers an emotional response. Innovative companies recognize the opportunity to tap into consumer passions and have begun to employ "green gamification" to create shared value for individuals, businesses, communities and the environment.

The recently announced union of Recyclebank and Greenopolis affirms the traction of two leading platforms that reward people for everyday green actions.

Recyclebank's "Green Your" challenges use quizzes, pledges and social sharing to educate and incentivize players on interactive microsites. Greenopolis' RecyclePix mobile app encourages users to share pictures of recycling to earn rewards. The interface includes a dynamic photo stream that can be voted on for bonus points.

Solar manufacturer SunPower recently ran a Facebook contest to teach people about solar energy in exchange for badges and prizes. Startups such as Simple Energy and Practically Green use the social web to calculate metrics like household energy saving and reward users for their relative performance. These companies validate that people are proud to share eco-conscious habits and that a little friendly competition positively reinforces their green activities.

Traditional industries are green gaming too. The Nissan Leaf includes CARWINGS, which is a digital tracker that both measures fuel consumption and ranks drivers according to fuel-efficiency. The Ford Fusion Hybrid adds graphical flair by incorporating a Tamogochi-style game, in which a small dashboard plant grows and shrinks based on green driving practices. Even social games on Facebook are experiencing a makeover; for instance, Guerillapps and upcycling pioneer TerraCycle partnered to introduce Trash Tycoon, which applies Zynga-like gameplay to bridge the gap between virtual and real-world sustainable living.

Gamification and game development are still in their formative years, evolving to exhibit more purpose and tangible impact. As the sustainability movement also matures, it behooves the stakeholders to embrace the potential of green gamification.

In order to propel green into the mainstream, we need to make it enjoyable, accessible and rewarding. As fellow eco-entrepreneur Anthony Zolezzi proclaims, let's embrace "fun and fame, not guilt and shame." This is the new spirit of sustainability and green gamification is leading the way.

Video game photo via Shutterstock.