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At maturity, green gamification takes on a new challenge

It’s no secret that gamification has a big potential impact on the success of corporate sustainability efforts. The recent Gamification Summit (G Summit) in San Francisco was a turning point in this effort. It marked signs of the movement's maturity, served as a ceremonial recognition in the continued integration between gamification and sustainability -- and presented a new challenge in how to move this integration to the next level.

Sustainability was named by G Summit Chair and leading authority Gabe Zichermann as one of three domains (including education and health and wellness) that the gamification industry should focus on based on its potential impact. And because of its increased viability as a tool to change behavior, gamification’s permeation into every business function, the increasing sophistication of gaming science and technology and the scope and size of companies involved represents a big boost for corporate sustainability efforts that have yet to be fully realized.

The importance of sustainability within the gamification industry at the G Summit was evident from its starring role. Discussions about the innovative platforms Recyclebank, Practically Green and OPower -- all of which employ game mechanics to make sustainability more fun and rewarding – demonstrated the momentum of green gamification and its recent success in advancing sustainability.

It’s not surprising  that new research predicts that the gamification industry will grow to almost $3 billion by 2016. After all, gamification exhibits enormous capacity to create sustained behavior change – especially in sustainability, health and wellness and education, the three areas referred to as “Gamification for Good” which aims to motivate people to solve problems and improve the world.

Photo of retro video game characters provided by Wilhelm Steiner via Shutterstock.

Rising to the next level

So how can green gamification rise to meet the impending industry growth? Its success does not hinge on developing the next Angry Birds. Digital media investor Tim Chang of Mayfield Fund suggested that gamification – like social media – will be far more influential as a horizontal business force than a standalone industry. Rather, green gamification depends on making sustainability more social and emotionally rewarding.

G Summit speaker and game designer Nicole Lazzaro highlighted how fun in green gamification applications differs when driving engagement.  In her presentation “4 Keys to Fun," Lazzaro suggested that green gamification is more suited to three types of fun that fulfill intrinsic emotional needs. Hard Fun challenges players by setting goals and providing feedback until triumph is achieved; People Fun, which promotes friendship by encouraging communication and collaboration; and Serious Fun, which fosters a sense of meaning by leading to real-world impact.

In comparison, the fourth type -- Easy Fun – is enjoyable and creates novelty through exploration and fantasy, but is not suitable for a desired outcome for a game which aims to influence its players to make more sustainable choices (such as ridesharing over driving, for example).

One promising start-up that incorporates Hard Fun, People Fun and Serious Fun is Greenbean Recycle, based in Boston, Mass. Greenbean, which develops software for reverse vending machines (RVM's) to gamify recycling, puts fun first and aims to transform recycling from an individual, inconvenient chore to an exciting and fulfilling social act.

The company Greenbean recently launched successful pilot campaigns at MIT and Brandeis University, which significantly increased both the volume and frequency of beverage container recycling on campus.

Among other fun challenges, students compete as fraternities and sororities and receive real-time feedback on the environmental benefits of their actions. Recyclers are also rewarded with eco-friendly prizes and cash that can be earmarked for charity. Achievements are updated on a dynamic web interface and posted to users' Facebook and Twitter pages to facilitate social comparison.

In order to integrate gamification and sustainability to the next level, the industry must develop games which epitomize the inherent fun in challenge, community and purpose, and avoid substandard green games and applications. These are the biggest risk to green gamification because haphazard point systems, random rewards and boring applications do not work. Inferior green products or services are destined to fail because most consumers refuse to pay a "conscience penalty" for going green.

On the other hand, research consistently finds that people will support green options that also compete on primary selling points, such as quality and price.

So instead of flinging angry birds against the sky, let’s create some new ways of having fun.

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