We are kicking off our coverage of the GDC with a bit of EpicWin, a productivity app developed by independent developer, Supermono Studios. EpicWin was the pet project of Tak Fung, an independent game designer that came out of Lionhead Studios, developer Black & White and Fable. Some projects similar to EpicWin include MindBloom, and we previously covered EpicWin in October last year. Since then, the app has entered the top 100 productivity apps on iTunes, and Tak has received a number of requests from schools and businesses that want the app to be implemented. Even smokers are using it to quit, or as Tak says, its “insane because people are just getting addicted” to the game instead.
If you have been using the app or wish to take a look, you can see that calling EpicWin a “productivity app” does not really do it justice.
Many of the projects we cover are “gamified” in that they use points and leaderboards to often great effect, but I would like to highlight some of the things that Tak covered that we don’t normally concentrate on.
To take a half step back, gamification itself draws a lot from social and casual games. These are games that utilize the “fantasy of labor” (which will be covered in depth in an upcoming post). Fantasy here is thought of in terms of desire, as a motivator and not as an imaginative alternate reality. Basically, the fantasy of labor is the use of the typical features of work in order drive participation.
Labor as a motivator requires an awareness of quantifiable values such as time, currency, points, and status. As we all know, it has been a highly successful motivator, not only in FarmVille, Flight Control, and Diner Dash, but for many of our existing and historical social institutions (you gotta get paid after all).
The to-do portion of EpicWin is pretty straight forward, and, of course, it is highly dependent upon work and labor as a motivator. With our day-to-day tasks, it is often difficult to find the right motivation to do something that has no apparent and long-lasting benefits. Sure, we can do the dishes, but they’ll just be dirty again tomorrow! So just as you get paid for doing work in the office, EpicWin simply gives you points for accomplishing self-selected tasks.
But what other cultural “fantasies” or constructs are useful for motivating players, workers, family, friends or ourselves in order achieve our goals and improve the world?
Tak introduced two important motivators: the freedom of choice and the power of imagination.
Unlike CityVille, FourSquare, SCVNGR, or Groupon, the list items in EpicWin are not generated by game design or sponsored by businesses. Instead Tak created the bounds of the system, but allowed the users to structure their own missions, quests, and challenges.
This may seem subtle, but it is enormously important on one level: users are intrinsically motivated to not “game the system”. If they do, the only things they are defeating are their own personal goals. As Fung said, “this will only work when the game has intrinsic ties to the real world… real world consequences.” By generating supporting players and allowing them to have agency in the game, they become inclined to follow the rules.
The second motivator is imagination. Tak spent a lot of time on the art and design of the app. He consciously created a comprehensive, immersive environment so that the players’ own goals began to take on lives of their own. He “let people express their own freedom.” Subsequently, players began to fill in the details in order to create an immersive world. When they use the app, a narrative begins to develop that motivates players to return and continue their journey, accomplishing real world tasks along the way.
Although choice and imagination are much more subtle than the industrial fantasy of labor, they have proven powerful motivators for innovation and in the end, result in a boost to the bottom line. Businesses such as Google have pioneered implementing support for these motivators. The “20 percent time” gives employees time to pursue their own passions, and many of Google products today are the result of that freedom to explore. The policy has proven so succesful that Google has begun to consider an entire in-house incubator in order to support some of their greatest minds.
And how do businesses support something as ethereal as imagination? Again, Google as well as companies such as Pixar and Facebook have led the way. By creating a fun playful environment for people to “work” in, businesses become better at not only producing, but innovating as well as supporting a healthy and happy work force.
On the surface, EpicWin is simply a to-do list with a point system, but if you delve into the mindset behind the app, deeper motivations are revealed. Designing gamification around the fantasy of labor still has a lot of room to work in and has many benefits for productivity and user engagement, but an even more challenging goal is to design gamified systems around the “fantasies” or ideals of freedom of choice and creativity. The goal is the same: increasing individual agency in relationships, work, and life.