Interview: Gamify

Interview: Gamify
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

March 4th 2011 at 3:00PM

We speak to the firm that plans to turn your life into a game

Like it or not, your life is slowly being turned into a ‘game’.

Foursquare, Gowalla and FarmVille have been vying for your attention, and now San Francisco firm Gamify hope to bring such systems to every part of your life.

Conceived before the recent explosion in gamification ideas, Gamify are on a quest to gamify the world, by applying achievement systems to processes in everyday life.

Develop, and its sister site Mobile Entertainment, have been following this trend closely, as more companies explore its potential.

We spoke to Nathan Lands, CEO and co-founder of Gamify, about why he started the business, what separates it from the pack and the possible dangers of layering reward systems on top of everyday life.

Why did you decide to setup Gamify?
I began my career in gaming at the age of 15. When I used to make money playing games as a kid, I always dreamed of doing this, turning the world into a game. Later in my life I also taught English part-time in Taiwan while I was studying Chinese and taking time off from start-ups to explore, and during that time I once again began dreaming about how you could apply game thinking to enhance education.

Over the last few years as the concept began becoming popular I realised I would soon have an opportunity, so I purchased Gamify, Gamification.org and over 80 other domains to do with gamification. I thought that Gamify would be the word that would become mainstream for Gamification and was the only word that made sense for what we wanted to do, gamify the world. I was then very fortunate to have a friend donate significant money and equipment to get us started.

What does (or will) Gamify offer companies and developers that other game enhancement services do not?
A Gamification App Store that will always grow, offering new kinds of rewards, widgets and game mechanics to engage users. An active community of Gamification Experts that anyone who uses our platform can ask for advice and potentially hire.

What’s your focus for this business, to sell your new ‘universal gamification platform’ or offer advice to companies on how to implement gamification features?
Our focus is on making most things in life more fun and rewarding by making them more like a game. To do that, we are building the largest community of gamification experts (it’s very early stages right now) as well as the best platform to enable gamification of the world. That’s phase one, phase two is much bigger.

Which kinds of business in particular are you hoping to appeal to with Gamify?
Everyone. We’re already working with major corporations on case studies for education, social good, e-commerce, retail and news.

Who do you see as your competition in this market?
The three B’s: Bunchball, Badgeville and BigDoor. But we’re very different than all three of them. We’re not pure consultants (Bunchball), we’re not throwing shallow badges on everything without much thought put into it (Badgeville), and we’re not a platform with no gamification community (BigDoor). Also, we’re the only company out of those competitors with game industry people as the founders. The rest are mostly sales guys/pure tech, non-gaming backgrounds, trying to make a quick buck off of this.

You’ve also setup an open wiki about the gamification concept. What was the thinking behind this if you aim to sell expertise?
First off, we’re not selling our expertise. We’re making the best gamification platform in the world and helping build and empower the best community of gamification experts. Gamification.org will be evolving in a big way, and we hope to get the community involved in building it to be the ultimate knowledge base for gamification, with the wiki only being one piece of that.

Would you say there’s an element of opportunism behind your branding as ‘Gamify’?
I’m not sure how you’d like me to answer this question. It’s the only word that makes sense for what we do. I used the word Gamify before anyone else I ever heard use it, and I first used it at E3 last year with some members of the media in private after which they began heavily using it. Out of all of our competition, we’re the only ones from the game industry and that is why I own Gamify and Gamification domains, as well as the social networks for both on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Can you name any gamification experts you’ve consulted or who work for you?
That will be our community and the world, not just us. I have consulted game designers including David Perry, but I think it’s really early and [those who aren’t] gamification experts [today], can become one using their current skills and an open mind for learning.

Beyond adding point scores and virtual rewards, what game elements do you hope to enhance?
Our Gamification App Store will continue to grow with new ways to interact with users in interesting ways. The initial options we’ll offer are all listed on our website at under the Rewards, Widgets and Games tabs.

The reasoning for having so many options is that every application of gamification has different needs and considerations to take into account. Gamifying education, charity, retail, etc, should have different options available to them based on the target you are gamifying.

With this trend being ‘gamification as virtual reward’ is there a danger we could see such a thing bolted on to almost any real world process, without much thought to innovate game design itself?
There is definitely that risk, that’s why we’re building a community to find and document best practices for gamification, and, as a collective, figure out how to overcome the potential hurdles and pitfalls. We do not want people to think it’s okay to just throw points and badges on everything, or that gamification is something that can be done without careful thought and planning put into the design and user experience.

We believe it’s not something to worry too much about because survival of the fittest will take its course and gamification that just throws shallow badges on everything will ultimately fail.

What are your goals for Gamify in the immediate future?
Our top priority is to grow our community and empower them to learn and be a part of the gamification movement in fun ways that are also rewarding to them. As we roll out Gamify Experts, we’ll be listening to feedback from our community very closely.

We’re heads down preparing the launch of our beta and working closely with our first partners.

Where do you see the gamification concept as a whole going in five years?
Many things that today are boring will probably be a whole lot more fun in the future. I believe Gamification will take social interactions and interactivity to an entirely new level. The divide between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ will begin to disappear as online and offline begin to merge.

This is going to change how we think about game design and marketing, and will likely reshape many industries. As the famous game industry veteran Bing Gordon previously said, in the future game designers are going to be one of the most in demand professions as game thinking begins being applied to everything.

I believe that fear of change is why we’re seeing such a negative uproar from traditional game designers against gamification right now, the same way they opposed social games companies like Zynga. We expect a new generation of game designers will emerge to create the game layer above the world.