Gamification: A How To

Sustainability is hard to define and understanding what it might mean is complicated, often lonely, and not always fun.  It is no wonder that many sustainability programs fail to inspire widespread changes.  It is tedious to conduct an energy audit.  It is hard to sort through nontoxic cleaning items.  And very few people ever want to talk insulation.  The Cool Choices way is different.  We make sustainability easy, popular, and fun.

Cool Choices is conducting a live playtest of an online sustainability game with employees at Miron Construction.  So far, it is working.  Seventy-five percent of the company signed up to play and more than half have taken at least one action to increase efficiency and conserve resources.

The magic in our game is the social rewards for real-life actions.  When you play our game, you earn credit at work by sharing the sustainable choices made within your household.  You make progress when you turn off the light and earn even more points when you make a video about it.  The points you tally demonstrate your progress.  And you work with teammates to create a path to success.  You are recognized for being smart enough to spend less money and live more comfortably.  And you earn some fabulous prizes in the process.

Mironites have taken to it.  Construction industry professionals from Neenah to Cedar Rapids are eagerly sending in smiling pictures of themselves screwing in light bulbs.  They are submitting videos where they talk about the romance of sustainability –turning off the TV might mean catching a sunset with your sweetie after all.  They are writing stories about an added sense of relaxation by simply slowing down on the freeway.  People’s lives are changing and the game is a part of the equation.

So how does it work? I do not really know, completely.  But that will not stop me from offering a few kernels on what it took to succeed to date:

  • Understand your players.  Our pilots have been designed with players.  They have asked for an experience and we deliver.
  • Serve your players.  Our goal is to leave no question unanswered and no dispute unresolved. And no frowns.  Ever.
  • Embrace imperfection.  Absolute purity is not our goal.  Progress is our goal.  So we do not expect everyone to become sustainability junkies immediately.  And we do not expect our games to be mind-blowing every time – just most of the time.
  • Become a contortionist.  You have to anticipate and react to situations with grace, flexibility, and imagination.
  • Looks matter.  Great creative buys you time and helps establish credibility.
  • Substance matters too.  Our goal is to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  We are pretty serious about it.


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