Whether you like the new buzz term or not. Gamification – that is the use of engaging playing principles applied to desktop and consumer applications, products, and services – is a big thing in research and (non-game) industry. Even SIGCHI was kind enough to let us organize a CHI 2011 workshop on gamification. It is interesting that most of the buzz surrounding gamification comes mostly from people outside the games industry (probably the game industry just does not like the term and the badges concept). However, in December 2010, Valve took up gamification concepts to promote Steam sales, which I found particularly interesting. The sales gamification was called “The Great Steam Treasure Hunt” and it features all gaming concepts necessary to foster engagement in the Steam community: rules, goals, challenges.
As pointed out in the work of Caillois, Huizinga, Juul and Salen & Zimmerman, games need rules (otherwise we talk about toys or free-form play). The Steam treasure hunt contest featured a very simple rule: Complete a daily challenge to enter a contest.
The goals of the contest were also simple and tied to short-term and long-term rewards, such as the possibility to instantly win daily game specials or enter the grand contest at the end to win a whole lot of games.
This was the interesting part of this contest that made me think of gamification. The challenges were most often to earn certain achievements in games or setting up new achievements to amass a number of points. All of these challenges were designed to get people interested in games that might not have received the necessary attention on Steam or in the gaming community before because they were some lesser known indie games. However, most interesting were the challenges that were easiest and therefore most enticing to most gamers, such as watching trailers or writing reviews of games or even just creating a community profile. Here, it was clear that Valve wanted to foster a certain player behavior and grow the gaming community that fuels their Steam platform. And nothing is better to drive behavior change than gaming. Cleverly played.