Jesse Schell on Psychology, Behavior and the Games of LIfe

Jesse Schell, game designer and faculty member of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University gives a fascinating talk on games as a form of persuasive technology.  The video is 28 minutes long and is worth the time.


His key points:

Unexpected Successes in the Game World:

Facebook is an unexpected disrupter in game design.

  • There are more Farmville players on Facebook than there are Twitter accounts
  • More money is made through lead generation on Facebook’s social games than through direct payments

Club Penguin, a kids MMOG, was acquired by Disney for $350 million.  ClubPenguin is persuasive in that it’s free to play and accumulate virtual money.  BUT if you want to spend your virtual money, you need to be a paid monthly subscriber ($6/mo).  Parents are persuaded to pay the monthly subscription based on the amount of accumulated virtual money.

Wii Fit has generated $1 billion in revenue.

Webkinz combines real stuffed animals with an online counterpart.  The psychological hook is that the stuffed animal comes to life online.

MafiaWars is a psychology driven text based game that has generated $100 million so far.  Unlike other video games, it’s grounded in Facebook and playing with your real friends, leveraging psychological triggers such as competition, and time invested to re-engage players.

Schell then acts the rhetorical question “who is brainstorming for new psychological angles?”  One of the threads that these new games have in common is how they breakthrough to reality.  In the past, game design was rooted in creating fantasy worlds.  These new social games are based in a realism different from visual or photo realism.

Guitar Hero is anchored to reality by the player using a physical guitar.

Webkinz connects the virtual pet with a real stuffed animal.

Marketers are realizing that people hunger for authenticity and reality and have tailored their products and advertising messages to suit, in part as  a backlash against the last 20 years of technology.  People feel technology and modern life has cut them off from nature, what is authentic and real.

Schell posits that perhaps part of Avatar’s success is the possibility of using technology to reconnect or provide a doorway to a more authentic, real life.

Increasingly game-attributes are creeping into a wide variety of activities and devices from geocaching (a walk in nature turned into a game) to the dashboard on a Ford Hybrid car where a virtual plant grows as you drive more slowly to the classroom where Lee Sheldon at the University of Indiana has replaced grades with experience points and student progress is tracked through leaderboards.

Schell then walks the audience through a scenario where, through the power of ubiquitous sensor networks, people earn points for activities they partake in everyday life – from brushing their teeth to the books they’ve read to riding the bus. How will this constant tracking of our every action change us?  What will our grandchildren think of us? Perhaps, Schell ponders, we may want to become better people.