Tuesday, November 3, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) The difference between game theory and games theory

I've had a post brewing in my head in a while, and this excellent post from Michelle's blog prompted me to write my post. First, here's part of what Michelle said:

Identity introduces the concept of accountability. Social media tools allow us to bring our identity and our networks’ identities to the forefront. Basically if you hose somebody, they can now call it out to your friends and followers, which they would not be able to do in the often anonymous world we used to live in.

Basically, what Michelle does is analyze a particular transaction between two parties in which the decisions of both parties affect the outcome of the transaction. Michelle's post is entitled "Game Theory and the Use of Social Media," and she asserts that if the two parties know each other ("identity" above), the outcome to the game will be different. In essence, the t-word comes into play here.

Let me explain. As is noted here, game theory is a mathematical exercise in which rational players interact with each other to produce various outcomes. This is studied in economics and other areas. Probably the most famous example of game theory is the Prisoner's Dilemma.

A fascinating dilemma, a fascinating theory, and a fascinating observation from Michelle, but it has nothing to do with what I want to write about - not game theory, but games theory.

I define "games theory" as the application of games motivators to activities that appear to be non-game related. It is well known that we like to play games, so why not make a game out of other activities?

I spent some time thinking about this, and realized that I play games all of the time. This is as good a time as any to note that I reached level 34 of Farm Town on Monday evening. (Haven't bought my mansion yet.) And no, I didn't buy any sleazy products. Or fund terrorists.

More to the point, I've already shared some information about a couple of other games that I play. I have an entire blog devoted to the NTN Buzztime trivia games, and I've posted about the FourSquare location-based game that I play (for example, see my October 22 post).

One common feature between these two games is that businesses that encourage the game can potentially see revenue increases. The theory behind NTN Buzztime trivia is that if people stay in your bar or restaurant to play trivia, they order more beer and pizza and spend more money with you. Similarly, the theory behind some of FourSquare's advances to business is that if you encourage people to "check in" to your business, they'll spend more money at your business. I can attest that Foursquare has changed my spending habits - to maintain my mayorships at various locations, I've been more inclined to visit the locations than I would have been if FourSquare had not existed.

But you don't need a social media venture capitalist to conduct your own games. How many people make a game out of exercising, and if they do 12 repetitions of an exercise on Wednesday, try to do 14 on Friday?

But the Oracle AppsLab people are way ahead of me on this score, and they actually have the power to put their ideas into action. Even if I were still in product management, I suspect that I would meet serious opposition if I attempted to make our automated fingerprint identification system interface more game-like - although sending Pac-Man between fingerprint ridges has some appeal. The AppsLab people, however, might have a bit more leeway to design more game-like interfaces for the internal products used within Oracle.

And Paul Pedrazzi from the AppsLab goes one step beyond me in this post in the "Game the Machine" blog. While I just described some goal-oriented play (better physical workouts, etc.), Paul looks at my example in a different light:

[I]n the adult mind, play itself has not only changed, but in many cases, it has been lost altogether, morphed into some hobbled likeness of itself. Play becomes a scheduled 30 minute block on the treadmill or a set of reps that some trainer mandated be completed before gulping a protein shake of predetermined size.

So what is "play" to Paul?

If you asked an adult about the value of [playing in a playground], they would list off several: physical fitness, learning group communication skills, imprinting gross motor movements, and the list goes on. So clearly something worthwhile is being produced, but that is an observer’s perspective. That is looking at results and outcomes. That is the objective thinking of management. To the player – there is only one objective – to have fun. The moment the fun slips through their fingers, they drift to another activity meeting that simple criterion.

This distinction is essential since I posit that we can see work as an adult in the same way.

In Paul's original post, the next sentence is in bold:

The key is to understand that making an activity fun in itself does not remove, change, or eliminate the benefits of the activity – it just makes the activity inherently enjoyable.

Let's use Yogurtime (in Upland, California) as an example. They're listed in Yelp, and I'm presently the mayor of Yogurtime on FourSquare. But what happens once you get into the store? You pick up a brightly-colored cup, you squirt frozen yogurt out of a nozzle (after selecting the type of frozen yogurt you want, you sprinkle toppings on your frozen yogurt, and then you weigh it. Perhaps more could be done to make these activities fun, but even as it is, this is a lot more fun than picking up a pre-packaged frozen yogurt from a refrigerator shelf.

There are all sorts of directions in which you can go with the "fun" idea, and sometimes the fun may be your own secret joke. For example, my blog post titles are derived from all sorts of sources. In this blog alone, in October alone, I managed to sneak in a TV reference (Now is the time at the conference when we dance), a music reference (Don't worry about the government), another music reference (Oracle showed the video star), and...well, there are a lot of music references scattered in my titles. And guess what? The games help me enjoy my blogging more, which means (for better or worse) that you read more stuff from me.

But I'll close this post, appropriately written during World Series time, with a quote from former Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell:

It's supposed to be fun, the man says 'Play Ball' not 'Work Ball' you know.

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