Friday, April 23, 2010

Let the games begin...

I had a client a few years ago that told me when he arrived at work every day, the first thing he did (after he started his computer), was stretch his hands in front of him, clasp his hands and say: “Let the game begin.”
Jane McGonigal, director of research at the Institute of the Future, believes that gaming is the platform for world change.... as a marketer with 50% of my work focused on the non-profit market, that’s interesting to me.
This week boys, girls, young men and women, old men and women will spend 3 billion hours playing online games. The average child spends 21 hours a week playing video games – that’s about the same time as they spend in school.
She suggests that gaming is a place where we can set the bar to perform at our own level, making an environment where we are rewarded for our performance, where markers of performance are raised as we become more proficient at our game. In the game we are the best version of ourselves.
But, for the most part, we don't believe we are good at life. The realities of life make us frustrated and depressed. So we play games.
Games also provide a social environment where we collaborate for success, playing together for the higher good – so to speak. World of Warcraft is just one example. Millions of people come into the alternative reality and when they come there are hundreds of other characters that are willing to trust you straight away. You are challenged with a mission that’s matched with your skill level. You are inspired to collaborate and cooperate to increase your level of achievement. Ultimately you get immersed in an alternative world in which you can succeed in ways that you can’t in your real life.
Studies also show that games increase our optimism. We like people better after we play a game with them. We learn trust them. Games build bonds.
She calls gaming “Blissful productivity.” Urgent optimism... extreme self motivation – to act immediately to tackle an opportunity and the opportunity to win.
McGonigal has designed several change motivated games. The most recent is EVOKE – a hub of gamers who attack a new mission each week, working together to solve world problems. At midnight every Wednesday night EVOKE sends out a new mission and the participants work together to find solutions to the problem.
McGonigal's research inspired ideas that are still spinning in my own mind.
Barefoot worked with MEDA to create a microfinance site that is built on some of the principles of gaming. The foundational idea of the site is to engage participants, not to develop a passive giving structure that simply requires financial participation. At MEDATrust, donors are able to engage more deeply, getting involved in the issues.
I think MEDATrust is at the cusp of interesting site development. But it is only a very small step towards donor engagement. There are several challenges that need to be overcome:
1. Investment dollars in development. Direct mail is easy. For every dollar I put out in cultivating my house list I will receive from $4 to $20. In acquiring more donors, I am able to set target dollars to mark my success. Boards understand those numbers.
2. Understanding the mass. Mafia Wars on Facebook earns more than $100 million annually because people spend bits of money to increase their digital economy in order to beat their friends. iTunes changes the way music is purchased. For just $0.99 I can buy the song I like. It’s so much cheaper than $20 for the album. But studies show that we actually spend more on music because it’s so easy to spend $0.99. Non-profits are still hanging on to the major donors, resisting investment into the mass to build a stronger, more stable donor platform.
3. Access to resource and the time it takes to make it relevant. We have not yet come to the place where web development has been forced to be intelligent. We are still using digital platforms to dump all of the information we have – because we can. We are coming to the end of that era. Successful web sites will position the organization for growth in engaging, donor centric ways. It will not be an unlimited and inert brochure.
Barefoot is building for the future, working to understand the generation that believes games are the essence of reality.


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