Five Examples of Gamified Crowdsourcing To Learn From

Image showing how crowdsourcing is powerful when combined with gamification

Crowdsourcing is a method of actionable community engagement that harnesses the collective wisdom, contributions, and capabilities of large numbers of people (i.e. the “crowd” in crowdsourcing). Crowdsourcing has been used to solicit, improve, and address complex virtual and real-world challenges. Some of these applications are in the areas of:

  • Innovation and creativity
  • Building accurate and vast knowledge
  • Solving complex multi-layered problems
  • Achieving complicated feats within a short span of time

Crowdsourcing utilizes several core behavioral drives that compel users to collectively work together to solve problems (sometimes by breaking them into tedious, and manageable tasks). Wikipedia is one example of a crowdsource information platform that utilizes gamification principles to entice users to curate and publish regular content while holding the community (and its content) responsible for accuracy and quality.

While different crowdsourcing application utilize a wide-range of gamification principles at varying degrees (and with differing success), the decision to implement gamification mechanics depends on the quality of experience the project seeks to offer based on the understanding of their users’ drives and motivations.

In some cases, people may be naturally inspired to contribute their time and efforts towards a particular cause (e.g. Wikipedia). In other instances, it may be beneficial to enhance the experience of the crowdsourced endeavor by making it more immersive and compelling through the integration of key game mechanics.

Here are several examples (in no particular order) which highlight the achievement of large scale or complex feats through the integration of gamification and crowdsourcing.


Tomnod is a digital initiative which uses high-definition images taken by Digital Globe satellites to pinpoint objects and places in the aftermath of natural disasters and man-made catastrophes. Their most recent search (launched in March) is focused on finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH370, in the Indian Ocean.

Participants are asked to tag various areas of a map to identify possible clues such as rafts, slicks, and wreckages. A crowdranked algorithm then filters out the most promising leads based on map locations that have been tagged by multiple players. This indicates a high concentration of wreckage which may lead to finding the potential location of the plane.

This initiative has been extremely populer: The map has generated over 257 million views, over 2.9 million areas on the map have been tagged by players, and over 3 million people have actively participated in the search.

Tomnod is highly driven by Core Drive #1, Epic Meaning & Calling because as a participant, you are engaged in an actual real-life mission of critical importance.  Therefore, the simple (and at times tedious) act of tagging and identifying objects becomes quite intriguing and naturally compelling given the mission of the search. Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness, is also in play as you want to positively identify tags which, combined with other positive I.D.s, gets picked up by the algorithm. And the satisfaction of securing a high number of completed tasks is driven by Core Drive #2, Development & Accomplishment, as well as Core Drive #3, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space

As you all are probably aware by now, DNA contains coding instructions for building the protein structures in our bodies. Certain deviations in these sequences result in malformed units which can ultimately contribute to cancer.

Therefore, the identification of these anomalies is quite important. Yet, scientists do not have the resources to map all of these out. However, it is possible to assist with this endeavor by playing “Genes in Space”.

The storyline is set in space (in case that wasn’t obvious yet). Players need to collect genetic data pertinent to the formation of cancer. Within the game, this is a substance called “alpha”. As this is collected, the players are empowered to shoot asteroids and reach the next level by upgrading their space ship to become even more powerful and therefore successful at breaking up the asteroids..

Gathering “alpha” along the plotted course is the gamified shell of the actual task of identifying faults in real gene data. Genetic information of countless tumors is integrated within the game and so as you progress, you are actually crowdsource participating in important cancer research!

Besides playing for a greater cause (Epic Meaning & Calling), the game is also propelled by Development & Accomplishment because as more “alpha” is collected, players are empowered to hit more asteroids and move up in ranking (Social Influence & Relatedness)

The Great Brain Experiment

In traditional brain and psychology research, participants are subjected to controlled scenarios and research data is gathered from their various responses. However, in order for scientists to form reliable conclusions, they need to collect information from large and sometimes highly unique and/or varied populations, a difficult feat to say the least. Fortunately, this challenge can be met through crowdsourcing administering tasks using a digital app game.

The Great Brain Experiment was developed at the Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London. Players hardly realize that they are contributing to scientific research as they engage in fun games. Targets of their current studies include:

  • Risk taking
  • Memory
  • Impulsivity

Newer games will be focused on:

  • Making predictions given a certain amount of information
  • Decision making
  • Hearing abilities
  • Performance under pressured situations

What is somewhat unique about this game is that it is not intended to compel players towards higher levels of performance (Development & Accomplishment). After all, researchers are primarily interested in how people react and behave under normal circumstances.

Although they are playing to contribute to scientific understanding (Epic Meaning & Calling), the actual experience is driven by other factors. A key element of the game is relative scoring. Players are given scores as percentiles of the larger group. For example, they might be told that they have better impulse controlled compared to 90% of the population. High percentile scores elicit feelings of empowerment (Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) as players are given immediate feedback that they possess skills or abilities that are greater than the average person, a clear example of Core Drive#5, Social Influence & Relatedness.

Google Image Labeler 

Google Image Labeler was a rather early example of a crowd sourced game. It was launched back in 2006 when Google was seeking to improve the accuracy of its image database.  They wanted to make sure that the images which came up during searches on Google Images were the most relevant to user queries.

To achieve this massive undertaking, the company decided to integrate this task into a game whose structure was based on the original ESP game (an idea in computer science for addressing the problem of creating difficult metadata- effectively the original concept behind crowdsourcing).

Participants were each paired with a partner online. Each was shown an image and asked to generate as many labels as possible. The partners were awarded points when their labels matched.

This game is largely driven by social influence (Core Drive #5), even though players were connected to just one other person (i.e. partner).


Scientists understand how proteins are made from different amino acid sequences. However, in order to generate treatments and other types of solutions, they need to have a clear visual understanding of how proteins unfold to become 3D structures.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science turned the study of protein folding into a game called Foldit.

Each player is given a basic structure which they can then manipulate. One participant likened the experience to a 3D version of Tetris, where the objective is to make certain components fill an empty space.

So far, Foldit has enabled two major forms of scientific achievement

(1)    Deciphering the structure of the Mason-Pfizer Monkey virus which causes AIDS. This took place in a matter of three weeks. But it was an issue that confounded researchers for fifteen years.

(2)    Redesigning the protein which catalyzes the Diels-Alder reaction which is used in synthetic chemistry. Players came up with a version where 13 amino acids were added. This addition increased the enzyme’s efficiency by eighteen times.

The motivation for this game is propelled by White Hat core drives:

1)      Epic Meaning & Calling where participation can lead to momentous scientific advancements

2)     Development & Accomplishment from being able to unravel protein structures and even improve upon existing ones

3)      Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, where the overall experience is like solving a puzzle by coming up with different possibilities. Scores are awarded for how well the protein is folded.

4)      Ownership & Possession. Players are able to feel a sense of pride in the structures they have generated. They are even able to share their expertise in groups

5)      Social Influence & Relatedness. Participants are rewarded for the ability to fold proteins. And this generates competition among the players which provides additional motivation to come up with innovative solutions.

From these examples, it is clear that crowdsourcing has enormous potential to achieve the seemingly impossible. The implementation of game mechanics fuels greater participation leading to the ultimate accomplishment of large scale and far reaching objectives. As marvelous new breakthroughs are made possible through crowd sourced initiatives, the power of connection and collaboration is increasingly being realized as a fundamental tool and not just an idealistic philosophy.

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