Startups Prove: Life's a Game

Games aren’t just for kids anymore. Thanks to a handful of startups, including the much hyped Foursquare, people are using game mechanics to actually accomplish real-life goals.

Rudimentary game elements such as sweepstakes, punch cards, and even Pepsi Points have been successfully used by traditional businesses for decades, but with today’s online environment, we’re seeing some increasingly sophisticated stuff. Ever since location sharing services such as Foursquare introduced game elements; rewarding users with badges and titles; online startups have embraced game mechanics as a way to engage users.

The idea of rewarding users with badges or titles for participation online is not new. Nearly every Web forum platform comes with a built-in ranking system that rewards users for posting in discussion threads. Foursquare simply built it into a business model. Others are following suit.

The Huffington Post introduced badges in April as rewards for user actions on its news site. And in October, the Philadelphia Inquirer began providing badges and rewards on using a system from Badgeville, a company founded in January 2010 to provide game-based user engagement systems to existing businesses. Similar third-party “gamification” startups include Bunchball and BigDoor Media.

Badgeville was also used by Silicon Valley fashion boutique Moxsie, which added badges in December.

Game mechanics aren’t limited to badges either. Intuit’s personal finance site added “goals” this past summer as a way to help its users pay off debt or save for large purchases.

Mobile app Epic Win from game studios Supermono and Rexbox turns the boring old to-do list into an epic role playing game, where tasks become “quests,” and doing your chores levels up your character.

And Health Month, which launched in June, turns nutrition and behavioral goals into a social game.

The LA Times has more details about how game elements motivate people.