Top 10 Social Gamification Examples that will Literally Save the World

Social Gamification

New to Gamification? Check out my post What is Gamification & my Gamification Framework: Octalysis. You can also check out my Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification

Gamification Examples that can really make the world better

As a Gamification Pioneer, one of the most common responses I get when I tell people about Gamification is some version of, “Interesting. But how can something like video games really create value in real-world important things?” In other words, “I’m going to be polite to you, but I think this is a gimmicky fad that has no impact.”

Instead of trying to convince people with the same arguments over and over again, I’m going to settle this issue here once and for all – Gamification not only has real-life value and impact, it even saves lives and could ensure our future as a race!

Earlier I wrote about Old Spice’s Genius Gamification Marketing Campaign DIKEMBE MUTOMBO’S 4 1/2 WEEKS TO SAVE THE WORLD. While I think it is brilliant and does a lot of things well, I can assure you that it does NOT really save the world, outside of making more men smell like an adventure and bake gourmet cakes with the kitchens they made with their own hands.

But the 10 Examples below will blow your mind away and show you why Good Gamification, or “Human-Focused Design” (as opposed to Function-Focused Design”), undeniably has a role in “adding more lives” to our future.

Many thanks for the help of 周唯中 for making the work below possible.

Gamification Example 1: Puzzle Game FoldIt made breakthrough in AIDS Research that Scientists couldn’t solve

By 2009, AIDS has already killed 30 Million people, or close to the equivalent of the State of California. As of 2010, there are still 34 Million people that have contracted HIV. For 15 years, many of the top PhD Scientists in the world were trying to decipher a crystal structure for one of the AIDS-causing viruses called the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), but could not solve it.

Luckily, the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science (yes, such center exists) collaborated with the Biochemistry department and created FoldIt, an online puzzle video game about protein folding. Foldit utilizes a game-like puzzle interface that allows people from all over the world to “play” and compete in figuring out various protein structures that fit a researcher’s criteria.

To everyone’s surprised, with over 240,000 “players” registering for the game and competing viciously against each other, a solution to the structure of the M-PMV was found in 10 days, creating a major breakthrough in the AIDS research field. 15 Years vs 10 Days? I would say for this alone Gamification added extremely concrete value to the world and could one day save a loved one.

Gamification Example 2: RPG Diary Game Pain Squad helps Patients Combat Cancer by providing both Purpose and Data

Along the lines of FoldIt, Pain Squad is a “mobile game” designed to help kids fight cancer better by providing the patients with purpose and the researchers with data. In 2007, cancer was the cause of 13% of all human deaths (or 7.9M people). Fighting cancer is not only painful, it could be lonely and full of despair. To better treat children patients, doctors need patients to keep a “pain journal” everyday to see what is working and what is not.

However, kids are generally too tired to keep a journal and only record data occasionally, which makes the data completely useless. Toronto-based company Cundari created a role-playing cop game with missions and rewards, as well as police encouragement videos to motivate these children to log their pains twice a day for 2 weeks.

Turns out, this game not only provided doctors with all the data they need for better research and care, it made children excited and fought their pains with a purpose. They now are not simply victims of cancer but detectives that is baring some pain to help humanity defeat cancer once and for all!

Pain Squad was a massive success in a few hospitals in Canada and is going through more test cases in a lot more hospitals in 2013.

Gamification Example 3: Zamzee makes Kids active by making running around Epic

Studies show that the activity rate for children between 9-15 have decreased by 60%, leading to obesity, diabetes or even worse diseases. I introduced Zamzee in an earlier blogpost, along with an Octalysis analysis, but basically Zamzee is a device that clips onto kids and tracks their activities when they run around – somewhat like the Nike+ FuelBand but cheaper for kids and has missions that are designed to get kids excited.

Kids can upload their activity data onto a website and see how many points they received and whether they have accomplished interesting challenges as well as earned badges. Amazingly, Zamzee has concrete data to show that the activity rate of children increased by 59%, a very sizeable increase that will help encourage kids to go to the gym more when they grow up.

Gamification Example 4: Khan Academy makes people fall in love with learning through Gamified Online Education

When you ask kids these days, “What is work?” They will say, “School.” If you asked them “What is play?” they will often say, “Video games!” I believe human’s have an innate DESIRE to learn, but for some reason current school systems does not motivate children to learn the way they’re supposed to. What makes matter worse is that many schools are getting their budgets cut, with teachers being laid off and children not getting properly educated.

In comes Khan Academy. What used to just be a guy teaching math on YouTube became a huge collection of over 3000 educational videos on math, physics, chemistry, finance, and a lot more, with millions of people learning from it. Khan Academy utilizes lots of game mechanics such as “skill-growth trees” to unlock new classes and learn new skills. Many have said that they couldn’t imagine themselves ever enjoying or being good at math, but now their world has changed, thanks to some great teaching skills by Khan, and a little bit of Gamification.

Gamification Example 5: CrowdRise turns Charitable donations into a Game

The Founder of Kiva.org once said, “the biggest competitor to Kiva is Zynga.” When people are occupying their minds with games, they are less concerned about helping the world through philanthropy. This is why an aspiring entrepreneur named Edward Norton, along with some other friends started CrowdRise together.

CrowdRise is a platform that Gamifies charity. People create their pages and profiles, and they can accumulate points and match up against others on a leaderboard based on how much they can fundraise.

Of courses, they don’t use very advanced Gamification techniques and simply stick to basic PBL (points, badges + leaderboards), but with some Epic Meaning & Calling on top of some celebrity power, CrowdRise managed to attract over 33M players and have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for non-profits worldwide.

Gamification Example 6: SuperBetter makes you Recover from Setbacks and Supercharges your Life.

This is a website created by game designer and known speaker Jane McGonigal. This site is unique because Jane herself once got into a brain concussion (hate those concussive shells!) and doctors were not very optimistic about her conditions. To her credit, Jane used her game design skills to create the first version of SuperBetter, a site to help people accomplish their goals by building physical, intellectual, emotional, and social resilience.

Through the process of forming alliances, using power packs, and defeating bad guys, she recovered from her illness and is now spreading the healing power of games to everyone who needs it.

The site is generally well designed, but it has some Ocean Paralysis towards the end of Onboarding. Of course, when you are curing people from a life-changing illness or setback, that hardly is an obstacle.

Gamification Example 7: OPower makes people responsible with their energy consumption

Energy is a serious issue in the world. It powers a nation’s efficiency to produce and transport, but also leads to war in some cases. OPower works to solve these problems by utilizing gamification to encourage people to use less energy. OPower works with utility companies to provide households with data on how much energy they are consuming, how they match up with neighbors, and if they are close to any new milestones.

Compellingly, people are consuming on average 2% less energy, which in 2012 led to over 1 Terawatt of energy savings in the world. This equates to $120,000,000 in utility bill savings, and decreased polluions equivalent of keeping 100,000 cars off the road.

Gamification Example 8: RecycleBank saves the environment by rewarding points that can be redeemed for goods

Perhaps not obvious to many, but there’s also a serious trash problem in the world. 195 Million Tons of Trash are tossed out by American’s alone each year. The trash needs to go somewhere, and they generally go into landfills. The problem is, many products can take 100-400 years to decompose, and we are slowly running out of landfill space. In 1988, there were about 4,000 landfills in the United States. Just 10 years after, in 1998, we only had 2,514 landfills left. In 2010, we dropped to 1,908. Starting to sense a problem here?

RecycleBank was created to encourage people to recycle more and reduce landfill trash by awarding points for recycling, saving energy, and answering sustainability quizzes and pledges. Points are redeemable for actual goods at WalMart, BestBuy and more places, as city government pays RecycleBank for reducing landfill waste. The project is backed by Al Gore and how won numerous awards in innovation, sustainability, and business. It now has 3 Million members and over 180 employees pushing the recycling envelope further.

Gamification Example 9: m.Paani aims to solve the clean-water problem in third world nations through an innovative loyalty program

In many third world countries, many people lack clean drinkable water, while others walk over 4 hours everyday to get clean water for the villages. A billion people in this world (that’s 1/7th of the world) do not have access to clean water, with 2.2M of them dying every year due to water-related diseases.

The crazy thing is, people in these third world countries own mobile phones. In fact, more people own mobile phones than toilets. m.Paani implements a very innovative loyalty program, where by purchasing mobile credits from sponsoring companies, individuals earn points towards sanitization products or water-related infrastructure for the entire village.

Gamification Example 10: FreeRice Feeds the Hungry by Quizzing the Intellect

Alone the lines of solving the water problem is solving world hunger. Every year, 15 Million children die from starvation, while another billion people having less than $1 a day to buy food. Almost 50% of the human population live on less than $2 a day.

Similar to what was said about Kiva, people are spending their time playing games instead of helping the poor, so FreeRice created a quiz game where each time you answered a question correctly, FreeRice will buy 10 grains of rice, which are paid for by the sponsors of the site. Now here’s a win-win, the user improves his/her education from answering these questions, hungry people get fed, and sponsors get their promotional bang for the buck.

The site was later donated to the United Nations World Food Programme. To date, FreeRice has donated 6100 metric TONS of rice, consisting of 93 billion grains of rice and enough to feed 10 million people.

With so many Gamification examples, this is too legit to quit

It’s hard to argue against these examples being extremely positive for our society and well-being. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of new examples are being created every month. Gamified products that help with fitness, getting out of debt, doing chores, cleaning up the environment, you name it.

What we’re seeing here is a complete shift from things we “should do” to things we “want to do.” But instead of shifting the tasks, we simply make what we should do fun.

Imagine a world where kids can save lives, get healthier, bond with family and even make a living by playing World of Warcraft. My vision for Gamification is a future where no one really works, but everyone plays and contributes to a happier and more productive society.

Let’s hope this is not just a fad.

For a more detailed approach to gamification and human-focused design, try Octalysis Prime, the gamified mentorship journey. 

79 thoughts on “Top 10 Social Gamification Examples that will Literally Save the World”

  1. I believe that gamification will continue to help transform social good. As I apply into my Community Health and Fitness Initiative, the examples you gave will certainly help.

  2. I was looking for inspiration on designing a gamified approach for a Green Building project. RecycleBank and OPower helped me a lot!
    Thanks for sharing this greatly curated article!

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  4. “The site is generally well designed, but it has some Ocean Paralysis towards the end of Onboarding.”
    What is “Ocean Paralysis”?

  5. Greetings from Shanghai!  Just found this post as I was researching the relationship between Khan Academy and gamification.  Great examples here of how gamified strategies can literally make the world a better place, Yu-kai!  Will share it on our LinkedIn Group – Gamification Network China! 

    Fad or no fad, I’m all in on the gamification movement!

    Thanks and look forward to the release of your new book.

    Rasul

  6. The best example, FreeRice Feeds the Hungry by Quizzing the Intellect is Alone the lines of solving the water problem is solving world hunger.-http://smashingtopten.com/

  7. I’m so thrilled I found this post – great notes on some deeply inspiring examples of gamification. Thank you for sharing 🙂 And I’m totally with you, looking forward to the day when working is truly playing.

  8. Great examples, Yu-kai! Gamification is a powerful concept and it’s nice to see it be used for social good. One of my favorite examples is “The Speed Camera Lottery,” where drivers were randomly rewarded for safe driving habits.

  9. 7_dials Zappos adds a lot of Core Drives into their entire experience of dealing with “people” which is mixed into both customers and employees.
    If you are looking for things that are more structured, then it’s usually stuff that involves customer feedback (thumbs up and down, rating) for employees, like customer service that is attached to a score customers give out, or the Target example where they are pretty much playing a kind of gun-game and processing everything faster (though need to be careful about losing qualitative stuff…such as human touch with customers).

    A mentorship type of gamified system would actually be a huge win for both employees and customers…or perhaps crowdsourcing employee work with customers together etc.
    More often than not, most gamified solutions have 1 motivation goal in mind though, or at least it’s something like buyers vs sellers, which is a asymmetrical game.
    There’s a TON of great discussions happening here btw: https://www.facebook.com/groups/octalysis

  10. Yu-kai Chou 7_dials  I thought Zappos only created a gamified employment culture, and the customers followed because they wanted to be part of it. 

    Did Zappos also create a gamified experience for customers (not employees)? Thanks for your help – this helps understand the topic a great deal. 

    On related note, what’s your all time favourite gamification failure?

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