Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Social-squared... or, what Nike teaches us about gameification

I recently acquired a Nike Fuel Band. Once I've used it for a bit, I'll post a full review, but in the interim, I thought it worth writing down why I spent £150 on what's ostensibly a gimmick.

It's really all about gameification. Nike+ was the first truly mass market attempt at bringing elements of professional fitness monitoring to the mass market. Before Nike+, one had to shell out hundreds of pounds on a connected heart rate watch. This reduced the barrier to entry to a few pounds for a shoe sensor - all the processing is done in an iPod or iPhone.

I've been using Nike+ for years and I really like it. The trouble is that it is 'project' based fitness. When you go for a run, you can log it. When you stop, it stops. Although it's motivational to see your progress (slow, in my case), it's easy to forget about it or make excuses not to go today because it's too cold/ too hot/ I'm too hungover etc...

Hardly anyone has the commitment and stoicism of a a professional athlete.

What Fuel Band does is monitor your activity throughout the day. You wear it all the time and it syncs back either to an iPhone or computer. You set a goal for the day in terms of activity (abstracted into 'Fuel' points), which can be shared with other users.

Curiously, I already find myself obsessed with hitting my daily goal. We'll see if it continues, but I've started to make healthier choices about how to travel, how far to run and so on. It's a social game in the sense that by being fitter, I'm less of a strain on society, as well as by virtue of its social network integration. Social-squared, if you like.

This effect is similar to the 'growing tree' graphic in the Toyota Prius. The more efficiently you drive, the more leaves appear on the tree. And you can't cheat - you need to drive efficiently for long periods to build the tree. Indiscretions will kill it. Miles per gallon is an abstract concept. Everyone knows what a tree is.

Soon cars will be connected and we'll be able to compare ourselves to other users. Provided the games are set up sensibly, we could all benefit the environment and have fun at the same time.

Achievement is a core part of the human condition. We love that rush when we've done something well, particularly if we're going to be rewarded. Recognition is the best bit of achievement.

The latter makes me wonder there's a market for a social gaming points exchange. A sort of carbon trading for socially responsible behaviour with an exchange rate between activities and a universal social currency. There'd need to be incentive, of course, so the points would need to be exchangeable for something useful.

Treats are always popular. Or if we really wanted to get radical, tax credits from the government. We're always told that being healthier, smarter and greener is better for the country. Maybe legislators should put their money where their mouth is?

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