Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Gamifying" everything can backfire

Gamification has been all the rage recently. It's assumed now that any social app and even new business app needs some form of gaming associated with them to incentivize people to do something.

A prediction market, in a sense, is gamification personified. The existence of a virtual currency drives you, just like in real life, to start comparing yourself with others and competing with them. We exacerbate that competition by adding leader boards showing who has made the most money.

Conventional wisdom says you lavish the top money makers with prizes and praise.

Unfortunately prizes and an over-emphasis on certain leader boards can incentivize exactly the type of behavior you don't want. In most applications, leader boards are simply meant to drive action: add or edit content, check in somewhere, or perform some task. But in a prediction market, we want people's actions to be more nuanced. We want them to make predictions, but ideally we want the right mindset behind those predictions.

Too much emphasis on leader boards and the virtual currency and you have someone asking themselves: "what prediction is going to make me the most money?" Instead we want people to be asking: "what prediction is going to be right or wrong?"

It's a fine line to walk which is why we've been removing focus from our leader board showing who the top money earners are and emphasizing other activities more focused on participation like making good comments and submitting new questions to be published.

In fact we've been redesigning our dashboard where people track their portfolio and in its current iteration we've omitted leader board information altogether. Instead we're trying to draw people more to how their individual predictions are doing and if there is new information that would drive them to change their mind.

TL;DR It's easy to jump on the band wagon to "gamify" everything but you may inadvertently be incentivizing exactly the type of behavior you don't want.

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