In his career he developed a game for bankers using a virtual currency. In short order, all the bankers began fighting tooth and nail to get to the top of a leaderboard he’d built, and hold the highest amount of this virtual currency.
He began to wonder, “What if we do something more interesting?” so he decided to put real money behind the virtual currency. Suddenly he noted, he had to create inflation for his game-bank! When he cashed out players he found the exchange rate exploding everywhere. He turned to economics. And then he discovered that even less popular than “gamified inflation,” was the inevitable “gamified taxation.” It was, needless to say, not well received. (Hyper-inflation was not so popular either, he added.)
But by then, people were in the system, they were forming teams, coming up with ideas and manipulating markets. Ultimately he learned to his horror, that he had created a game that had prompted insider trading. But it was okay. In fact it was good! People were working on ideas and making things happen. They started making a significant amount of money on this game.
Overtime the bank came to the verge of collapse and his boss asked, “Where’s my breakthrough?”
So Gardner set to work looking at the characteristics of the game. What could they do?
He came up with this idea—Twists. For example, a nightclub— Here is a platform where men and women come to transact for a particular gain. When you have more of one group, you get more of the other group. And the more twists that are used the better the game becomes. Nightclub owners promote ladies’ nights. All the men come. When you build games with these features, things start to happen.
Gardner says it is important to build a product with observability. Smartypig, for example, publishes savings goals—The more people that see it, the higher the savings.
If you can create these platform-twist dynamics in herds of people, it’s hard to beat.
Curetogether.com is a site where you can put in your symptoms and it will aggregate thousands of answers and tell you what to do—(Depression is best cured by sunlight—no pharmacological company will tell you that.)
Eventually Gardner was brought in to innovate the British government, to get civil servants motivated. He designed the same game as he had for the banks, but this time there was no pay out. No currency. It was just as successful. And now the game is deployed in 17 government department in the UK and has saved millons of dollars in just 9 months.