All the world's a game for Jonathan Gillham of Intus. He shares what they're doing to motivate people to make the world a better place...

You just have to look at the rising levels of obesity in highly-educated countries to see that it’s hard to motivate people to improve themselves. Motivating people to improve the wider community is even harder. It is human nature to live for the moment – the further away a problem seems to be, the less we are inclined to address it.

But with our growing population and pressure on resources, this attitude isn’t going to cut it. Bacteria in a Petri dish will multiply until there is no more food or space to sustain life. Unlike them, we have the insight and ability to control the use of our resources. We know what needs to be done, but how do we do it? How do we encourage people to change behaviour when the positive consequences of that change might be felt far away and several years in the future?

We at Intus think that gamification is part of the solution. Gamification is defined as the application of game mechanics to non-game contexts.

In other words, turning something that may not seem fun or immediately productive into a rewarding experience. Of course, one person’s carrot is another’s stick so appealing to a wide variety of tastes is part of the challenge, just take a look at Richard Bartle's famous test to find out how he categorised different gamers.

Using gamification for social good is not a new concept and there are many companies that capitalise on it already. Take the satellite navigation app Waze, for example. People are encouraged to share real-time road traffic information to win points and gain ranking within the game. Sharing traffic information allows other road users to avoid congestion, reduce car journey times, and therefore reduce environmental pollution.

Successful companies like this often allow their user communities to help evolve the game mechanics to give them a sense of ownership and equity.

With the recent invention of global digital currencies such as Bitcoin, gamification is poised to become one of the most powerful and far reaching tools to motivate social good. Digital currencies make it significantly easier for companies to offer meaningful rewards as part of their products and have global reach. They can use game mechanics to reward their customers with more than a gold star or extra points and give something of practical value: money. And there are other benefits: bank accounts aren't needed, transaction fees are lower or non-existent, and counterfeiting is minimised.

Our company, Intus, runs a global Bitcoin lottery – a classic example of gamifying charitable giving. Players buy a ticket for the excitement of winning a prize, while a portion of that ticket sale goes to good causes. We have taken advantage of Bitcoin and the Internet to make our lottery more efficient and transparent – and potentially bigger – than conventional state or national lotteries. A typical lottery allocates 20% or more of ticket sale income to operating costs. Our operating costs are minimal so that nearly all of the money that we collect goes to good causes or is distributed in prizes.

To give players a sense of ownership, we let them choose which good causes proceeds are sent to. We do need to ensure the legitimacy of recipients, however, so we carefully vet them to ensure their integrity by looking at a variety of indicators. Websites such as Charity Navigator give good examples on how you can vet charities yourself.

We are currently searching the globe to find trustworthy good causes that have little or no voice internationally. In the coming year we aim to meet several of them face to face and report back to our players. Our goal is to have enough charities on our system to cover every country. If you know of any such good causes we would love to hear from you.

There are many social problems that would be perfect targets for gamification. How can you motivate people to car share? How can you motivate fishermen not to drop anchors on reefs and damage them? How can you motivate people to recycle batteries? We passionately believe that gamification has huge potential for social good, and our lottery is our first step towards making that a reality. If you share our passion and would like to help us realise the potential of gamification to solve some of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced, then please get in touch.

– This is a guest blog by Jonathan Gillham, from Intus. As it is a guest blog, it may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

Comment