TEDxBoston 2010

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

Filmed:

By now, we're used to letting Facebook and Twitter capture our social lives on the web -- building a "social layer" on top of the real world. In his talk, Seth Priebatsch looks at the next layer in progress: the "game layer," a pervasive net of behavior-steering game dynamics that will reshape education and commerce. (Filmed at TEDxBoston.)

- Entrepreneur
"Proud Princeton dropout" Seth Priebatsch runs SCVNGR, a mobile start-up trying to build the game layer on top of the world. Full bio

My name's Seth Priebatsch. I'm the chief ninja of SCVNGR.
00:15
I am a proud Princeton dropout.
00:18
Also proud to have relocated here to Boston,
00:20
where I actually grew up.
00:22
Yeah, Boston.
00:24
Easy wins. I should just go and name the counties that we've got around here.
00:26
So, I'm also fairly determined to try and build
00:29
a game layer on top of the world.
00:31
And this is sort of a new concept, and it's really important.
00:33
Because while the last decade
00:35
was the decade of social
00:37
and the decade of where the framework
00:39
in which we connect with other people was built,
00:41
this next decade will be the decade where
00:43
the game framework is built,
00:45
where the motivations that we use to actually influence behavior,
00:47
and the framework in which that is constructed,
00:50
is decided upon, and that's really important.
00:52
And so I say that I want to build a game layer on top of the world,
00:54
but that's not quite true
00:57
because it's already under construction; it's already happening.
00:59
And it looks like this right now.
01:01
It looks like the Web did back in 1997, right?
01:03
It's not very good. It's cluttered.
01:06
It's filled with lots of different things
01:08
that, in short, aren't that fun.
01:10
There are credit card schemes and airline mile programs
01:12
and coupon cards and all these loyalty schemes
01:15
that actually do use game dynamics
01:18
and actually are building the game layer: they just suck.
01:20
They're not very well designed, right?
01:23
So, that's unfortunate.
01:26
But luckily, as my favorite action hero,
01:28
Bob the Builder, says,
01:30
"We can do better. We can build this better."
01:32
And the tools, the resources
01:34
that we use to build a game layer
01:36
are game dynamics themselves.
01:38
And so, sort of, the crux of this presentation is going to go through
01:40
four really important game dynamics, really interesting things,
01:42
that, if you use consciously,
01:45
you can use to influence behavior,
01:47
both for good, for bad, for in-between.
01:50
Hopefully for good.
01:52
But this is sort of the important stages
01:54
in which that framework will get built,
01:56
and so we want to all be thinking about it consciously now.
01:58
Just before we jump into that, there's sort of a question of: why is this important?
02:01
I'm sort of making this claim that there is a game layer on top of the world,
02:04
and that it's very important that we build it properly.
02:07
The reason that it's so important is that, the last decade,
02:10
what we've seen has been building the social layer,
02:12
has been this framework for connections,
02:15
and construction on that layer is over, it's finished.
02:18
There's still a lot to explore.
02:21
There's still a lot of people who are trying to figure out social
02:23
and how do we leverage this and how do we use this,
02:25
but the framework itself is done,
02:27
and it's called Facebook.
02:29
And that's okay, right? A lot of people are very happy with Facebook.
02:32
I like it quite a lot.
02:35
They've created this thing called the Open Graph,
02:37
and they own all of our connections.
02:39
They own half a billion people.
02:41
And so when you want to build on the social layer,
02:43
the framework has been decided; it is the Open Graph API.
02:45
And if you're happy with that, fantastic.
02:48
If you're not, too bad. There's nothing you can do.
02:50
But this next decade -- and that's a real thing.
02:53
I mean, we want to build frameworks
02:56
in a way that makes it acceptable
02:58
and makes it, you know, productive down the road.
03:01
So, the social layer is all about these connections.
03:03
The game layer is all about influence.
03:06
It's not about adding a social fabric to the Web
03:08
and connecting you to other people
03:10
everywhere you are and everywhere you go.
03:12
It's actually about using dynamics, using forces,
03:14
to influence the behavior
03:17
of where you are, what you do there, how you do it.
03:19
That's really, really powerful, and it's going to be more important than the social layer.
03:21
It's going to affect our lives more deeply
03:24
and perhaps more invisibly.
03:26
And so it's incredibly critical
03:28
that at this moment, while it's just getting constructed,
03:30
while the frameworks like Facebook, like the Open Graph,
03:32
are being created for the game layer equivalent,
03:35
that we think about it very consciously,
03:37
and that we do it in a way that is open,
03:39
that is available, and that can be leveraged for good.
03:41
And so that's what I want to talk about for game dynamics,
03:43
because construction has just begun,
03:45
and the more consciously we can think about this,
03:47
the better we'll be able to use it
03:49
for anything that we want.
03:51
So like I said, the way that you go through and build on the game layer
03:53
is not with glass and steel and cement.
03:56
And the resources that we use are not this
03:59
two-dimensional swath of land that we have.
04:01
The resources are mindshare and the tools, the raw materials are these game dynamics.
04:04
So with that, you know, a couple game dynamics to talk about.
04:07
Four. Back at SCVNGR, we like to joke
04:10
that with seven game dynamics, you can get anyone to do anything.
04:12
And so today, I'm going to show you four,
04:15
because I hope to have a competitive advantage at the end of this, still.
04:17
(Laughter)
04:20
So the first one, it's a very simple game dynamic.
04:23
It's called the appointment dynamic.
04:25
And this is a dynamic in which to succeed,
04:27
players have to do something at a predefined time,
04:29
generally at a predefined place.
04:31
And these dynamics are a little scary sometimes,
04:33
because you think, you know,
04:35
other people can be using forces that will manipulate
04:37
how I interact: what I do, where I do it, when I do it.
04:39
This sort of loss of free will that occurs in games
04:42
can be frightening,
04:44
so with each dynamic, I'm going to give three examples:
04:46
one that shows how this is already being used in the real world,
04:48
so you can sort of rationalize it a little bit;
04:51
one that shows it in what we consider a conventional game --
04:53
I think everything is a game, but this is sort of
04:56
more of a what you would think is a game played on a board or on a computer screen,
04:58
and then one how this can be used for good,
05:01
so we can see that these forces can really be very powerful.
05:03
So the first one -- the most famous appointment dynamic in the world --
05:05
is something called happy hour.
05:08
So I just recently dropped out of Princeton
05:11
and actually ended up for the first time in a bar,
05:14
and I saw these happy hour things all over the place, right.
05:16
And this is simply an appointment dynamic.
05:19
Come here at a certain time, get your drinks half off.
05:21
To win, all you have to do is show up at the right place at the right time.
05:23
This game dynamic is so powerful
05:27
that it doesn't just influence our behavior, it's influenced our entire culture.
05:29
That's a really scary thought,
05:32
that one game dynamic can change things so powerfully.
05:34
It also exists in more conventional game forms.
05:37
I'm sure you've all heard of Farmville by now.
05:39
If you haven't, I recommend playing it.
05:41
You won't do anything else with the rest of your day.
05:43
Farmville has more active users than Twitter.
05:45
It's incredibly powerful, and it has this dynamic
05:48
where you have to return at a certain time
05:50
to water your crops -- fake crops -- or they wilt.
05:52
And this is so powerful that, when they tweak their stats,
05:55
when they say your crops wilt
05:58
after eight hours, or after six hours, or after 24 hours,
06:00
it changes the lifecycle
06:03
of 70 million-some people during the day.
06:05
They will return like clockwork at different times.
06:07
So if they wanted the world to end, if they wanted productivity to stop,
06:10
they could make this a 30-minute cycle,
06:13
and no one could do anything else, right?
06:15
(Laughter)
06:17
That's a little scary.
06:19
But this could also be used for good.
06:21
This is a local company called Vitality, and they've created a product
06:23
to help people take their medicine on time.
06:25
That's an appointment.
06:27
It's something that people don't do very well.
06:29
And they have these GlowCaps, which, you know, flash and email you
06:31
and do all sorts of cool things to remind you to take your medicine.
06:34
This is one that isn't a game yet, but really should be.
06:36
You should get points for doing this on time.
06:38
You should lose points for not doing this on time.
06:40
They should consciously recognize
06:42
that they've built an appointment dynamic and leverage the games.
06:44
And then you can really achieve good in some interesting ways.
06:46
We're going to jump onto the next one, maybe. Yes.
06:49
Influence and status.
06:51
So this is one of the most famous game dynamics.
06:53
It's used all over the place.
06:55
It's used in your wallets, right now.
06:57
We all want that credit card on the far left
06:59
because it's black.
07:01
And you see someone at CVS or --
07:03
not CVS -- at Christian Dior or something, and then ...
07:05
I don't know. I don't have a black card; I've got a debit card.
07:08
(Laughter)
07:11
So they whip it out. And you see men, they have that black card.
07:14
I want that because that means that they're cooler than I am,
07:16
and I need that.
07:18
And this is used in games as well.
07:20
"Modern Warfare," one of the most successful selling games of all time.
07:22
I'm only a level four, but I desperately want to be a level 10,
07:25
because they've got that cool red badge thing,
07:28
and that means that I am somehow better than everyone else.
07:30
And that's very powerful to me. Status is really good motivator.
07:33
It's also used in more conventional settings
07:36
and can be used more consciously in conventional settings.
07:38
School -- and remember, I made it through one year,
07:41
so I think I'm qualified to talk on school --
07:44
is a game, it's just not a terribly well-designed game, right.
07:46
There are levels. There are C. There are B. There is A.
07:49
There are statuses. I mean, what is valedictorian, but a status?
07:52
If we called valedictorian a "white knight paladin level 20,"
07:55
I think people would probably work a lot harder.
07:59
(Laughter)
08:02
So school is a game, and there have been lots of experimentations
08:05
on how we do this properly.
08:08
But let's use it consciously. Like why have games that you can lose?
08:10
Why go from an A to an F or a B to a C?
08:13
That sucks. Why not level-up?
08:15
And at Princeton, they've actually experimented with this,
08:17
where they have quizzes where you gain experience points,
08:19
and you level up from B to an A.
08:21
And it's very powerful.
08:23
It can be used in interesting ways.
08:25
The third one I want to talk about quickly is the progression dynamic,
08:28
where you have to sort of make progress,
08:30
you have to move through different steps in a very granular fashion.
08:32
This is used all over the place, including LinkedIn,
08:35
where I am an un-whole individual.
08:38
I am only 85 percent complete on LinkedIn,
08:40
and that bothers me.
08:43
And this is so deep-seated in our psyche
08:45
that when we're presented with a progress bar
08:48
and presented with easy, granular steps
08:50
to take to try and complete that progress bar, we will do it.
08:52
We will find a way to move that blue line
08:55
all the way to the right edge of the screen.
08:57
This is used in conventional games as well.
09:00
I mean, you see this is a paladin level 10,
09:02
and that's a paladin level 20,
09:04
and if you were going to fight, you know, orcs on the fields of Mordor
09:06
against the Raz al Ghul,
09:09
you'd probably want to be the bigger one, right.
09:11
I would.
09:13
And so people work very hard to level-up.
09:15
"World of Warcraft" is one of the most successful games of all time.
09:17
The average player spends something like
09:20
six, six-and-a-half hours a day on it.
09:22
Their most dedicated players, it's like a full-time job.
09:24
It's insane. And they have these systems where you can level-up.
09:27
And that's a very powerful thing. Progression is powerful.
09:30
It can also be used in very compelling ways for good.
09:34
One of the things that we work on at SCVNGR
09:37
is how do you use games to drive traffic and drive business to local businesses,
09:39
to sort of something that is very key to the economy.
09:42
And here we have a game that people play.
09:44
They go places, they do challenges, they earn points.
09:47
And we've introduced a progression dynamic into it,
09:49
where, by going to the same place over and over,
09:51
by doing challenges, by engaging with the business,
09:53
you move a green bar from the left edge of the screen to the right edge of the screen,
09:55
and you eventually unlock rewards.
09:58
And this is powerful enough that we can see
10:00
that it hooks people into these dynamics,
10:02
pulls them back to the same local businesses,
10:04
creates huge loyalty, creates engagement,
10:06
and is able to drive meaningful revenue
10:08
and fun and engagement to businesses.
10:10
These progression dynamics are powerful
10:12
and can be used in the real world.
10:14
The final one I want to talk about -- and it's a great one to end on --
10:16
is this concept of communal discovery,
10:19
a dynamic in which everyone has to work together
10:21
to achieve something.
10:24
And communal discovery is powerful because it leverages
10:26
the network that is society
10:28
to solve problems.
10:30
This is used in some sort of famous consumer web stories,
10:33
like Digg, which I'm sure you've all heard of.
10:36
Digg is a communal dynamic
10:38
to try to find and source the best news,
10:40
the most interesting stories.
10:42
And they made this into a game, initially.
10:44
They had a leader board, where, if you recommended the best stories,
10:46
you would get points.
10:49
And that really motivated people to find the best stories.
10:51
But it became so powerful that there was actually a cabal,
10:53
a group of people, the top seven on the leader board,
10:56
who would work together to make sure they maintained that position.
10:59
And they would recommend other people's stories,
11:02
and the game became more powerful than the goal.
11:04
And they actually had to end up shutting down the leader board
11:06
because while it was effective,
11:08
it was so powerful that it stopped sourcing the best stories
11:10
and started having people work to maintain their leadership.
11:12
So we have to use this one carefully.
11:15
It's also used in things like McDonald's Monopoly,
11:17
where the game is not the Monopoly game you're playing,
11:19
but the sort of cottage industries that form
11:21
to try and find Boardwalk, right.
11:23
And now they're just looking for a little sticker that says "Boardwalk."
11:25
But it can also be used to find real things.
11:28
This is the DARPA balloon challenge,
11:30
where they hid a couple balloons all across the United States
11:32
and said, "Use networks.
11:35
Try and find these balloons fastest, and the winner will get $40,000."
11:37
And the winner was actually a group out of MIT,
11:40
where they created sort of a pyramid scheme, a network,
11:42
where the first person to recommend the location of a balloon
11:44
got $2,000 and anyone else to push that recommendation up
11:46
also got a cut of it.
11:49
And in 12 hours, they were able to find
11:51
all these balloons, all across the country, right.
11:53
Really powerful dynamic.
11:55
And so, I've got about 20 seconds left,
11:57
so if I'm going to leave you with anything,
12:00
last decade was the decade of social.
12:02
This next decade is the decade of games.
12:04
We use game dynamics to build on it. We build with mindshare.
12:06
We can influence behavior.
12:08
It is very powerful. It is very exciting.
12:10
Let's all build it together, let's do it well and have fun playing.
12:12

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About the Speaker:

Seth Priebatsch - Entrepreneur
"Proud Princeton dropout" Seth Priebatsch runs SCVNGR, a mobile start-up trying to build the game layer on top of the world.

Why you should listen

Two things you'll notice about Seth Priebatsch: One, his infectious, get-you-out-of-your-chair enthusiasm. Two, the inventory of entrepreneurial feats he's managed to accumulate at a remarkably young age. The 21-year-old founded his first startup at age 12, and by age 18, he'd founded another -- PostcardTech, which makes interactive marketing tours for CD-ROM.

Now he's working on SCVNGR, "a massive experiment in building a mobile game together." Backed by Google Ventures, SCVNGR is part game, part game platform.  Players play SCVNGR by going places, doing challenges and having fun -- outside of the office, beyond the screen, in the real world. Organizations use SCVNGR by building on the game layer by adding their own challenges to the places they care about.

More profile about the speaker
Seth Priebatsch | Speaker | TED.com