Media Perspective: Why keeping your players happy is the name of the game

This week, an exciting new feature - download our new app, scan this column into it and get yourself 50 points.

Be the first to collect every column this year and you win the title Emperor Of The Future (Media Division) and a special virtual badge.

Alright. Not really. This is just by way of introduction to this week's Future Things You Need To Think About selection: gaming. Or, more specifically, scoring points, levelling up and unlocking achievements. Because we media and marketing people are starting to recognise that the things that keep us playing games can also keep us doing other things: such as buying products and using services.

It seems very simple - give something a score and people will try to maximise it. And the success of Foursquare (or the potential everyone sees for it) on mobile devices and of games such as Farmville on Facebook has shown everyone that you can create an effective and captivating game, played by millions, without an enormous game studio, million-dollar budgets and high-powered consoles. Anyone with an interest in nudging human behaviour wants some of that action.

And the "scorification" of everything has already started - a system called OpenFeint, for instance, tracks your points and achievements across lots of different games, including productivity applications. It won't be very long before that extends to buying pizzas.

For an interesting primer on these ideas, Google a video of Jesse Schell speaking at the DICE 2010 conference. He's talking to other games developers, so it's a little insidey, but it's well worth watching - if only because it reminds you that there's a world of people called game designers. And they've studied game design, they have experience in it, they have read and written books about it and they have explicit knowledge that we don't, which is something we should be worrying about.

Giving things a score is easy, and so is awarding badges to people for doing our little actions. We can all do that. It's making these things into real games; compelling, playable, winnable, enjoyable games. Because that's different, that's an art we don't get. We need to hire game developers in the same way that though we can all operate a video camera, we can't all direct a great movie.

You can already see this effect happening with Foursquare. We've all checked in at loads of places, became mayor of here or there - and now the novelty's wearing off, we're not sure what happens next. How do you win this? What's the next challenge? What's the game? We need to worry about this. We need to make sure we're not just going to invent new ways to bore consumers - if we want to make games, we need to hire people who know how.

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