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Game-ifying Google Reader, And Also Everything
by Shay Pierce on 04/08/10 11:38:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I’ve always wondered why, even though Google employs hundreds of the world’s most intelligent software developers, and then encourages them to spend 20% of their time on a project of their own choosing, there had apparently never been any game development coming out of that 20%. Maybe it’s just frowned upon, or maybe it’s just difficult to convince other people to spend their 20% of time on your game idea.

Of course they tried getting into something very close to game – virtual worlds – with Google Lively. But it seems like they considered that a failed experiment. Perhaps the ultimate answer is simply, “What does this have to do with Google’s core business – organizing all of the world’s information and making it accessible?”

Perhaps there’s still some impulse for game development within Google, and it’s expressed in different ways. For instance, I just discovered “Google Reader Play.” It looks to be an interesting way of taking your Google Reader behavior and “game-ifying it”, i.e. using the reward structures and idioms of gaming to make an activity more fun and encourage certain types of behavior.

Of course this isn’t the first time that there have been efforts to do that. Apparently Target has created a “game” for their cashiers to play: the faster they check people out, the more points they get.

Also I think that Jesse Schell gave a speech at DICE 2010 that talked about talking everything in the world into achievements and game reward structures that manipulate your every motivation and action and turns the entire world into a Skinner Box, though I haven’t found the time to actually watch that speech (since frankly the entire idea/prediction sounds depressing if correct, and stupid whether or not it’s correct). Here’s a link to that video, for people who actually have time to watch things.

And of course then there’s Dan Cook of the wonderful Lost Garden game design blog, who was tapped by Microsoft’s Office Labs to help design Ribbon Hero, a way of game-ifying the experience of learning Office. I’ve recently read Raph Koster’s book “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” and find its core assertion – that the real core of the “fun” we experience from playing games is the experience of learning – to be irrefutable.

I would criticize the rest of that book as being more of a way for Koster to explore a bunch of other barely-related ideas that interest him and spew out lots of cool/nerdy tidbits of information. But that criticism is probably pretty hypocritical, since I just wrote a blog post that was me doing that kind of spewing. THE ONE YOU’RE READING RIGHT NOW. :O

[This spew-of-links-to-interesting-ideas, which I suppose can be called a "blog post", was originally posted on my game design blog, Deep Plaid.]

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driver 01z
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I myself would be interested in owning a portable gaming device... but I first want it to have some sort of achievements/trophies, since I am used to them now with my console - I like having my game experiences totalled into one spot, something to show for my gaming time - even if the "something" is just a number/icon that doesn't provide anything else. And I'd also want it the device to function as a cell phone with a normal network. So if for example the next PSP had trophies and worked as a cell phone with Verizon/AT&T/whatever, I would probably buy it. I understand Microsoft may be doing this with their upcoming cell phones - integrating achievements into the games - but I have a personal boycott of microsoft...

Chris Bell
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Jesse Schell has since started a blog specifically for such ideas. I know because he's my teacher.

Shay Pierce
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Oh, FWIW I finally watched the video of Schell's infamous speech. I actually thought it was very interesting, insightful, and entertaining, until the end when he began laying out his bizarre vision of the future. Naturally this was the part that was widely re-quoted and talked about, even though I think it was the weakest part of the speech...

Near the end of his describing this future vision of a world in which everything we do is incentivized, he asked something like "Why WOULDN'T this happen?" The answer is simple: "Because most human beings are sane."

Of course I assume he exaggerated the possibilities (specifically because such exaggeration ensures that your words will be talked-about far and wide). I do think that a non-exaggerated, non-ridiculous, sane version of his vision is possible. Crafting laws (particularly economic laws) has a very clear parallel to designing games: both are about designing rules, systems, incentives, and punishments. Of course this is well known since "Game Theory" as a field has always been far more relevant to economists than to actual game designers.

Perhaps it's inevitable that there will eventually be more cross-pollination, and more incentives put in place for us to live our everyday lives in ways that are beneficial to everyone - I certainly hope so.