Fun Before Green, Except…No Exceptions

Fun Before Green, Except…No Exceptions


The following is an op-ed by Ashok Kamal, Host of GSummit and CEO of Bennu:

In many ways, the recent Gamification Summit (GSummit) in San Francisco marked a turning point in the development of gamification. GSummit speakers and participants celebrated gamification’s integration into every business function, the increasing sophistication of gaming science and technology, and the scope and size of companies involved. It is no surprise that new research predicts that the gamification industry will grow to almost $3 billion by 2016. Moreover, esteemed 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 stand-alone industry. While the positioning and application of gamification continues to evolve, one message at the GSummit was constant: gamification is about fun.

GSummit Chair, Gabe Zichermann, closed the event by declaring that gamification may have its greatest impact in the domains of sustainability, health & wellness and education – a triad popularly referred to as “Gamification for Good.” These increasingly important applications of gamification are another sign of the movement’s maturity. After all, gamification exhibits enormous capacity to create sustained behavior change. In particular, Gamification for Good aims to motivate people to solve problems and improve the world.

Yet while it is easy to understand the connection between gamification and pure entertainment, the relationship between gamification and more serious topics, like sustainability, is less obvious. On the surface, a carbon reduction challenge may seem incongruent with play. The “fun” can be lost if the “game” feels like “work.” Indeed, gamification without fun is like Iron Man without armor – the power disappears. Therefore, a more nuanced understanding of “fun” is needed to fully exploit gamification’s potential.

GSummit speaker and game designer, Nicole Lazzaro, highlighted the importance of fun in driving engagement when she outlined “4 Keys to Fun.” In Easy Fun, the experience is enjoyable and creates novelty through exploration and fantasy. Popular games such as Fruit Ninja offer good examples. But making more sustainable choices, such as ridesharing over driving, may not, in and of itself, be perceived as Easy Fun. Green gamification is more suited to leveraging other types of fun that fulfill intrinsic emotional needs. Specifically, Hard Fun, which 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.

A promising start-up that incorporates these types of Fun is Greenbean Recycle, based in Boston, Massachusetts. The company develops software for reverse vending machines (RVM’s) to gamify recycling. Greenbean recently launched successful pilot campaigns at MIT and Brandeis University, significantly increasing 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. Greenbean puts fun first and transforms recycling from an individual, inconvenient chore to an exciting and fulfilling social act.

Like gamification in general, the sustainability movement is accelerating at breakneck speed and progressing toward mass adoption. However, the development and marketing of greener living would have been stunted if early evangelists had not highlighted a fundamental principle: good comes before green. In other words, 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. Similarly, substandard green games and applications are the biggest risk to green gamification because haphazard point systems, random rewards and boring applications do not work. As Greenbean Recycle’s example illustrates, the success of green gamification does not hinge on developing the next Angry Birds; rather, it depends on promoting sustainability while evoking the inherent fun in challenge, community and purpose.


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