Seth Priebatsch: Building the game layer on top of the world

Seth Priebatsch: Building the game layer on top of the world

My name’s Seth Priebatsch.
I’m the chief ninja of SCVNGR. I’m a proud Princeton dropout. Also proud to have relocated
here to Boston, where I actually grew up. (Applause) Yeah, Boston. Easy wins, I should just name
the counties that we’ve got around here. I’m also fairly determined
to try and build a game layer on top of the world. This is sort of a new concept
and it’s really important, because while the last decade
was the decade of social, the decade where the framework in which
we connect with other people was built, this next decade will be the decade
where the game framework is built, where the motivations we use
to actually influence behavior and the framework
in which that is constructed, is decided upon,
and that’s really important. I say I want to build a game layer
on top of the world, but that’s not quite true, because it’s already under construction;
it’s already happening. And it looks like this right now. It looks like the Web did
back in 1997, right? It’s not very good. It’s cluttered. It’s filled with lots of different things
that, in short, aren’t that fun. There are credit card schemes
and airline mile programs, coupon cards and all these loyalty schemes that actually do use game dynamics
and are building the game layer — they just suck. They’re not very well-designed. (Laughter) So that’s unfortunate. But luckily, as my favorite action
hero, Bob the Builder, says, “We can do better.
We can build this better.” And the tools, the resources
that we use to build a game layer, are game dynamics themselves. And so the crux of this presentation
is going to go through four really important game dynamics, really interesting things,
that, if you use consciously, you can use to influence behavior, both for good, for bad, for in-between. Hopefully for good. But this is the important stage
in which that framework will get built, and so we want to all be thinking
about it consciously now. Before we jump into that,
there’s a question of: Why is this important? I’m making this claim that there’s a game layer
on top of the world, and it’s very important
that we build it properly. The reason it’s so important
is that, in the last decade, what we’ve seen has been
building the social layer, has been this framework for connections, and construction on that layer
is over, it’s finished. There’s still a lot to explore, still a lot of people
trying to figure out social and how we leverage this
and how we use this, but the framework itself is done, and it’s called Facebook. And that’s OK, right? A lot of people
are very happy with Facebook. I like it quite a lot. They’ve created this thing
called the Open Graph, and they own all of our connections. They own half a billion people. So when you want to build
on the social layer, the framework has been decided;
it is the Open Graph API. And if you’re happy with that, fantastic. If you’re not, too bad.
There’s nothing you can do. And that’s a real thing. I mean, we want to build frameworks
in a way that makes it acceptable and makes it productive down the road. So, the social layer
is all about these connections. The game layer is all about influence. It’s not about adding
a social fabric to the web and connecting you to other people everywhere you are and everywhere you go, it’s actually about using
dynamics, using forces, to influence the behavior
of where you are, what you do there, how you do it. That’s really, really powerful. And it’s going to be more important
than the social layer, and affect our lives more deeply
and perhaps more invisibly. So it’s incredibly critical
that at this moment, while it’s just getting constructed, while the frameworks
like Facebook or Open Graph are being created
for the game-layer equivalent, that we think about it very consciously, and that we do it in a way
that is open, available, and can be leveraged for good. So that’s what I want to talk
about for game dynamics, because construction has just begun, and the more consciously
we can think about this, the better we’ll be able to use it
for anything we want. So like I said, the way you go
through and build on the game layer is not with glass and steel and cement. And the resources we use are not
this two-dimensional swath of land that we have. The resources are mindshare, and the tools, the raw materials,
are these game dynamics. With that, a couple
game dynamics to talk about. Back at SCVNGR, we like to joke that with seven game dynamics,
you can get anyone to do anything. Today, I’m going to show you four, because I hope to have a competitive
advantage at the end of this, still. (Laughter) So the first one,
it’s a very simple game dynamic. It’s called the appointment dynamic. It’s a dynamic in which to succeed, players have to do something
at a predefined time, generally at a predefined place. And these dynamics
are a little scary sometimes, because you think, “Other people
can be using forces that will manipulate how I interact: what I do, where I do it, when I do it.” This sort of “loss of free will”
that occurs in games can be frightening. So with each dynamic,
I’m going to give three examples: one that shows how it’s already
being used in the real world, so you can rationalize it a bit; one that shows it in what we consider
a conventional game — I think everything is a game, but this is more what you’d think
of as a game played on a board or on a computer screen; and one of how it can be used for good, so you can see that these forces
can be very powerful. So the first one, the most famous
appointment dynamic in the world, is something called, “Happy Hour.” So I had just recently
dropped out of Princeton and actually ended up
for the first time in a bar, and I saw these happy hour things
all over the place. And this is simply an appointment dynamic:
come here at a certain time, get your drinks half off. To win, all you have to do is show up
at the right place at the right time. This game dynamic is so powerful, it doesn’t just influence our behavior;
it’s influenced our entire culture. That’s a really scary thought, that one game dynamic
can change things so powerfully. It also exists in more
conventional game forms. I’m sure you’ve all heard
of Farmville by now. If you haven’t, I recommend playing it. You won’t do anything else
for the rest of your day. Farmville has more active
users than Twitter. It’s incredibly powerful, and it has this dynamic
where you have to return at a certain time to water your fake crops, or they wilt. And this is so powerful
that when they tweak their stats, when they say your crops wilt after eight hours, or after six hours,
or after 24 hours, it changes the life cycle
of some 70 million people during the day. They will return, like clockwork,
at different times. So if they wanted the world to end,
if they wanted productivity to stop, they could make it a 30-minute cycle, and no one could do anything else, right? (Laughter) That’s a little scary. But this could also be used for good. This local company called Vitality has created a product to help people
take their medicine on time. That’s an appointment. It’s something that people
don’t do very well. They have these GlowCaps
which flash and email you and do cool things to remind you
to take your medicine. This isn’t a game yet,
but really should be. You should get points for doing it on time and lose points for not doing it on time. They should recognize they’ve built
an appointment dynamic, and leverage the games. Then you can really achieve good
in some interesting ways. We’re going to jump onto the next one. Influence and status. This is one of the most famous
game dynamics, used all over the place. It’s used in your wallets, right now. We all want that credit card
on the far left, because it’s black. And you see someone at CVS or — not CVS — like, Christian Dior — (Laughter) I don’t know. I don’t have a black
card; I’ve got a debit card. (Laughter) So they whip it out and you see
that black card, and: “I want that because it means
they’re cooler than I am, and I need that.” And this is used in games as well. “Modern Warfare,” one of the most
successful selling games of all time. I’m only a level four, but I desperately
want to be a level 10, because they’ve got that cool red badge, and that means that I am somehow
better than everyone else. And that’s very powerful to me. Status is really good motivator. It’s also used in more
conventional settings, and can be used more consciously there. School — and remember,
I made it through one year, so I think I’m qualified
to talk on school — is a game; it’s just not a terribly
well-designed game. There are levels. There are C.
There are B. There’s A. There are statuses. I mean,
what is valedictorian, but a status? If we called valedictorian
a “White Knight Paladin level 20,” I think people would probably
work a lot harder. (Laughter) (Applause) So school is a game, and there has been lots of experimentation
on how we do this properly. But let’s use it consciously. Why have games you can lose?
Why go from an A to an F or a B to a C? That sucks. Why not level-up? At Princeton, they’ve actually
experimented with this, with quizzes where
you gain experience points, and you level up from B to an A. And it’s very powerful. It can be used in interesting ways. The third one I’ll talk about
is the progression dynamic, where you have to make progress,
move through different steps in a very granular fashion. This is used all over the place,
including LinkedIn, where I am an unwhole individual. I am only 85 percent complete on LinkedIn, and that bothers me. And this is so deep-seated in our psyche that when we’re presented
with a progress bar and presented with easy,
granular steps to take to try and complete
that progress bar, we will do it. We will find a way to move that blue line all the way to the right edge
of the screen. This is used in conventional
games as well. I mean, this is a Paladin level 10, and that’s a Paladin level 20. And if you were going to fight
Orcs on the fields of Mordor against the Ra’s Al Ghul, you’d probably want to be
the bigger one, right? I would. And so people work very hard to level-up. “World of Warcraft” is one
of the most successful games of all time. The average player spends some six,
six-and-a-half hours a day on it, their most dedicated players —
it’s like a full-time job, it’s insane. And they have these systems
where you can level-up. And that’s a very powerful thing.
Progression is powerful. It can also be used
in very compelling ways for good. One of the things we work on at SCVNGR is: How do you use games to drive traffic
and business to local businesses, to something that is very key
to the economy? And here, we have a game that people play. They go places,
do challenges, earn points. And we’ve introduced
a progression dynamic into it, where, by going to the same place
over and over, doing challenges, engaging with the business, you move a green bar from the left edge
of the screen to the right, and unlock rewards. This is powerful enough that we can see
it hooks people into these dynamics, pulls them back to the same
local businesses, creates loyalty, creates engagement, and is able to drive meaningful revenue
and fun and engagement to businesses. These progression dynamics are powerful
and can be used in the real world. The final one I want to talk about —
and it’s a great one to end on — is this concept of communal discovery, a dynamic in which everyone
has to work together to achieve something. Communal discovery is powerful because it leverages
the network that is society to solve problems. This is used in some famous
consumer web stories like Digg, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of. Digg is a communal dynamic to try to find and source the best news,
the most interesting stories. And they made this into a game, initially. They had a leader board where,
if you recommended the best stories, you would get points. And that really motivated people
to find the best stories. But it became so powerful,
there was actually a cabal, a group of people, the top seven
on the leader board, who would work together to make sure
they maintained that position, recommending people’s stories. The game became
more powerful than the goal. They ended up shutting down the leader
board because, while it was effective, it was so powerful that it stopped
sourcing the best stories, and started having people work
to maintain leadership. So we have to use this one carefully. It’s also used in things
like McDonald’s Monopoly, where the game is not
the Monopoly you’re playing, but the cottage industries
that form to try and find Boardwalk. There, they’re just looking
for a sticker that says “Boardwalk,” but it can also be used
to find real things. This is the DARPA balloon challenge, where they hid a couple balloons
all across the United States and said, “Use networks. Try and find
these balloons fastest, and the winner will get $40,000.” The winner was a group out of MIT, where they created sort
of a pyramid scheme, a network, where the first person to recommend
the location of a balloon got $2,000, and anyone else to push
that recommendation up also got a cut. And in 12 hours, they were able
to find all these balloons, all across the country. Really powerful dynamic. And so, I’ve got about 20 seconds left, so if I’m going to leave
you with anything, last decade was the decade of social. This next decade is the decade of games. We use game dynamics to build on it.
We build with mindshare. We can influence behavior. It’s very powerful. It’s very exciting. Let’s all build it together,
let’s do it well and have fun playing. (Applause)


  1. @simonwedege

    i know that they are not deal breakers, i enjoyed the idea of this talk just not so much the presentation or the speaker. What i meant by capitalism 2.0 is people aren't motivated by their own will so companies will put "carrot on a stick" to motivate people. i do believe it will be a helpful addition to society, anything to get people motivated, i'm just saying that anything that has a bottom line should be watched, just a bit of caution.

  2. @VitriolicAC

    No it wasn't harsh at all, if i got upset over the internet i wouldn't have posted such a comment. It was simply a list of small things that annoyed me in response to you, who annoyed me.

  3. @GGAlice1 Now you have some valid points. As a former WoW player myself, I noticed it too, but it had nothing to do with the points he is making. LOTR references will hit a broader audience, than WoW references. That's probably the reason for his choice.

    I don't think many people got your WoW reference either (carrot on a stick) 😀

  4. @eenkjet I kinda agree and not agree on this regard. I believe Game dynamics should be recommend to make boring life tasks such SCHOOLS more engaging I mean HEY Google do it to their employees and they are the most productive people in earth in.

  5. Note: In the DARPA balloon contest, the MIT group fed false reports to other teams in addition to paying for tip offs.

  6. @apocaRUFF 'if you pass the same group with VR Glasses, you'll see a group of orcs in full plate armor covered in blood.'

    Watch the TedTalks involving Sixth Sense technology.

  7. I have a question about the watch 'presentation' at the end. Was it part of the talk put there to illustrate our motivations or a genuine (rolex bought) advertisement?

  8. this is what happens when an articulate idiot who has spent too much time in front of PS3 is given the stage….

  9. All I got was the impression that this guy is messed up in the head and really needs to see some of the real world.

  10. I think there is a lot to be said for this especially since so many people are used to games already and more responsive to them than other mediums. People love fantasies so if we can merge the two, the possibilities could be endless.

  11. he's quite proud of the fact that he dropped out. nothing wrong with drop-outs but no need to be cocky about it. otherwise, rather interesting, seems to speak about foursquare and other such reality games.

  12. If the web is a "game dynamic" it's a challenge to anyone who manages a website or builds a mobile app, to make them fun and engaging, and build incentives and rewards into them. If people find it fun or motivating to strive for an incentive, whether cheap drinks at happy hour, completing a LinkedIn profile or rising a level in a game, more power to you. It may seem like manipulation — but in that sense all marketing/advertising/product design is manipulation. (Admittedly, I'm a marketer!)

  13. I realy think its time to switch off the internet. We need something large to wake everyone up and smell the roses. How you people cope with no phones, internet and power. Most people would fail at the dark ages.

  14. Didn't another guy on TED not that long ago talk about a points based system for society? Clean your teeth, get 50 points. Stuff like that. Anyone else remember?

  15. dangerous ! using this at work implies levels of commitment beyond the acceptable. and what for people who don't play the game, will they be able to do their job normally, be paid normally, without bothering about gaining XPs, or will they be fired because they don't have enough ? it should be forbidden. but it's also perfect as a means of pressure on a company's employees. the summit of merit culture. working for what ? winning the game ? I prefer regular money for regular extra hours.

  16. i love it when people try to relate crap to everyday things to give the impression that it is obviously needed. games and tech are on a sure road to no where. until i see all land-based cars replaced by flying cars I'll say that most tech is past-time rubbish. facebook, oh I like telling ppl rubbish and hearing rubbish so much!!! the most popular use of facebook is photosharing, Farmville and Mafia Wars. yet this crap is worth some made-up billions of dollars. what about food?

  17. And the same goes the other way around. It's just a style of living and using different resources,and right now computers are popular resources. And yeah, we all would fail in the dark ages no doubt, and so would they whom lived before those in the dark ages; People have always slowly progressed.

  18. @Kingha01 this guy has a solid track record from earning five figures since 12 yrs of age and at age 17 managed a factory in China via only the internet…plus a hi iq and with a solid academic foundation trained by a father whos a biotech entrpreneur and mother who is a business consultant….this guys the shit

  19. I really did not like how he said "if you dont like facebook, well too bad, thats the way it is" haha did Zuckerberg stuff some money up his ass?

  20. @12354blahbla just so you know, a digital watch is just one that shows the time as an actual number e.g. 12:45. it isn't necessarily electronic

  21. @disturbed119 manipulate, in the form you suggest, would suggest it was done against the influenced party's interrest or well being. While we may see that with a concept like this, what this guy talks about is ways to work for making it less prone to malign use, and instead increased efficiency and benefits for most (preferably all) users.

  22. So this is, in a nut shell, applied game theory mixed with game practices and consepts (he calls it dynamics) used in real life as an explicitly labeled game.

    What i'm waiting for is a real life GUI or HUD that can be used to project information and metadata i'm interrested in at any given time. This could be anything from stats on what i have availible (like items i carry and their state), to my location with instructions to a destination, and relevant data on what i'm viewing.

  23. @sperdoj I would help people become human again. When you are on face book etc you may that person typing away about the days going on but wouldn'"t it be better to talk face to face how we used to communicate so you can that smile or frown which we dont see anymore. Just like now. Its far better to have a face to face debate that a too and fro of words on a page. What do you think?

  24. I play a simple game everyday, its called a JOB!!! Show up, produce, get paid. This kid has the spirit but not the idea…

  25. Genuine….

    How you free your mind…

    Refused to conform…

    Acquire freedom…

    Takes your destiny in your hand…

    Imagine the future

    Breaking free, passion & inspiration…


  26. Hi guys, i'm not good at english, but i would be pleased if someone explained what this guy was talking about?
    Games, powerfull, influence.
    Short article would be nice, or link to his speech is welcome.

  27. @Agitpropist erm, u could do this pen and paper based to motivate yourself? you have an extreme perspective mate!

  28. @12354blahbla erm, the advert is at the end, just close the tab when the talk ends and before the advert starts? …

  29. Ha! I do this with gas milage.
    My car keeps track of the average miles per gallon to the tenth of a mile, so I'll end up coasting around town, regardless of the speed limit, just to make that .4mpg go up to a .5mpg.
    Fun way to reduce emissions!

  30. @Razorheadsnyc That's what the market and advertising create already. It's not new stuff, and you can't really call advertising "evil", can you?

    You can't say everyone in WoW is sick, and everyone in WoW takes antidepressants. That's like me saying everyone who plays sports gets broken bones and takes painkillers for fun

  31. A haunting person. “I want to build the game layer on top of the world.” You feel he could spend eternity repeating this mantra to himself, without losing any enthusiasm, without ever stepping back and asking "why"? This sort of vacuous single-mindedness we call "driven". We value it because we believe, perhaps correctly, that it breeds "success", but instead of that reflecting badly on the virtues of the successful, we thus worship the smart, but unthinking, the strong of will, but shallow.

  32. I have long felt that the education system was poorly designed and outmoded. I've taught, I've studied and I've done research. I am even working on new approaches to game design as an offshoot of my mathematics/engineering research. I regard myself an academic.

    This guy just gave the solution! My God! Granular, incremental progression in school REALLY is the answer.

  33. This creates more urgency for those that are just now jumping onto the social media bandwagon. It's not enough to drive traffic or maximize reach.. We need to consider the things that influence people in real ways. Good-bye to the days of hype and spin. Authentic experiences are the great equalizer.

  34. @dallew game layer creates a race to the top, to a pinnacle of human ingenuity, instead of this haphazard societal construction. Game layer for like, say, alternative energy could get us off fossil fuels (being energy independent), or for space travel, could expand the human frontier….

  35. I do something like this with my homework, I write down the work and when I fish it I draw I line over it. And at the end of the year I try to see how well I did I almost "Like a game" and it kindda works I do more homework than I use to and I feels more achieving.

  36. @JamesCalex He was born in Boston, MA but that's definitely not a Boston accent. Odds are he was raised in Eastern Europe or something to that effect and that's where it comes from.

  37. Gamification is amazing. VW's "The Fun Theory", folding puzzles for science had incredible impacts, and huge scientific discovery that also utilized the community teamwork. I wish we could see it more.

    I wonder how we can create it in our own lives. I feel like we need recognition or competition from others to make it practical. We can always reward ourselves, but that's only so effective.

  38. What he said about Digg that the leaderboard got to the point where the top 7 helped each other out even at the expense of good news just so they can keep their positions is the way out system works today. These top corporations and politicians will group up and help each other even at the expense of the people so that they can stay at the top no mater what. What do you guys think?

  39. you missed the point. everything is rewards-based. "triumph" and "feels fantastic" is a reward. the "game layer" is about harnessing whatever it is that motivates people. in a game there is a constant reward, wether intrinsic or material. and you're supposed to apply that to your trainings or work environment.

  40. Resumen:
    Cuatro dinámicas de juego realmente importantes que, si se las usa conscientemente, se las puede usar para influir en el comportamiento.

    La primera es una dinámica de juego muy simple. Se llama "dinámica de cita".
    Y esta es una dinámica que para tener éxito los jugadores tienen que hacer algo en un tiempo predefinido, generalmente en un lugar predefinido.
    Entonces, la primera… la dinámica de cita más famosa del mundo…es algo llamado "happy hour".

    Segunda dinámica: "Influencia y estatus".
    Lo quiero porque eso significa que son más cool, y lo necesito.

    La tercera de la que quiero hablar rápidamente es la "dinámica de progresión" en la que uno tiene que hacer progresos.
    Y así la gente trabaja mucho para subir niveles o aumentar su barra de progreso.
    Crea gran fidelidad, crea compromiso.

    La cuarta dinámica es el concepto de "descubrimiento comunitario".
    Una dinámica en la que todos tienen que trabajar juntos para lograr algo.
    Y el descubrimiento comunitario es poderoso porque aprovecha la red que es la sociedad para resolver problemas.

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