I play video games for a living now– sorta

Well, perhaps not traditional video games, such as Pac-Man or Space Invaders– I’m talking about how every website is now incorporating game dynamics. But if you consider how Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, MerchantCircle, Twitter, Farmville, or other sites operate, according to these game dynamics you’d be hard-pressed to tell me they’re not video games:

  • Points: Earn points for not just killing monsters, but fully completing your online profile and spamming your friends to join (LinkedIn and Plaxo).   You do want to be at 100% completion, don’t you?  Even Google is getting in the social media game with the 100-point scale for Google Local Business Center, as well as the “Favorite Places” program.
  • Levels: With more points, you unlock the next level. It’s amazing how hard people will work to get to the next level– for example, in Farmville, even though you’re not getting any financial benefit.  You can’t sell things, like you can with Diablo 2 items, World of Warcraft, or Second Life, where there are currency exchange markets.  The combination of earnings points to achieve levels is no different than the power of frequent flyer programs and MLM schemes. Name any forum and show how it’s not a video game to achieve ego.
  • Collection: In Boy Scouts, you had badges to collect. Online, you have the same thing, whether you’re checking in to FourSquare, collecting more friends on your Facebook Fan Page, or trying to win that Twitter contest for free Italian food.  You can be hooked on these games or Hooked on Phonics– the viral power is the same. Imagine how the US education system could be revamped with the viral nature of points, levels, and collections!
  • Randomization: What do Las Vegas and Christmas have in common?  When you pull that slot handle or tear open that gift wrap, you get that moment of anticipation not knowing what you’re going to get. Email is the ultimate game of unwrapping Christmas presents– it’s Christmas every day.  Are you one of those who refresh their email every 90 seconds or check Twitter?  Then you’re hooked on that intermittent stimulation. The move to real-time search increases this ADD, such that every website creates this type of anticipation.
  • Community: You get rewarded to sell out your friends. But it doesn’t have to be doing so for promoting Tupperware, unregulated health products, or virtual gifts in your favorite Facebook application. It can be used for recruiting local advertising resellers or even homeschooling your kids.  Games are only interesting when your other friends are there playing it.  How much fun would Facebook be if you had no friends?  And your “score” is only valuable in context to those of your friends. How much advantage is your laser hair removal if all your friends already have it?

Now consider any website or business from the viewpoint of video games– points, leveling, collection, randomization, community– and see how it’s not any different than a big big real-world video game.  In the world of local online advertising, it’s not enough to create business listings, multiply out local PPC campaigns, or have a solid platform in general.  It’s got to be social.

And in 2010, with the merging of local, social, and mobile– you’ll see game dynamics come together in ways that will astound you.  Unlike the desktop computer, the phone has a GPS to tell you where you are, a camera to read bar codes, and perhaps a gyroscope so you can shake, fake lightsaber battles– or do things that are actually useful for your business!

The world of online and offline is rapidly becoming one big video game– and portals such as Facebook, which have all your relationship information (in a good way) are going to make us all children play for points.  They have the social graph necessary to make the game possible, such that we can all keep score– and pay, of course.

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