Are you saying there are more reasons not to install some game program in an office than there are reasons to do it?
I don’t want to come across as a wet blanket. That’s an academic shtick, right? Take something that everybody thinks is cool and then talk about why it’s not cool. That’s not me. I believe this is a promising way of motivating people to collaborate more, and what we need is to have a more nuanced view of it. We can look more carefully and say, “Well, it’s not just that we want to motivate contributions; we want to motivate specific types of people who might respond to specific types of things to do specific behaviors. And then we want to reward them appropriately for the context they’re in.”
What’s an example of someone doing that correctly?
Wikipedia. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wikipedia barnstars. Barnstars are badges that are given from one Wikipedian to another for doing work the community values. So they have this social context. The point is, if you get a badge, you should be proud of having gotten a badge. And because they have this social context, I believe that’s more motivational.
Another advantage to the barnstars would seem to be that you can’t game the system. They’re awarded for quality work, not quantity.
Exactly—you can’t fake it. The barnstar example is great for another reason, which is that if I want to be a member of the Wikipedia community and I don’t know how, one of the things I might do is look at the list of barnstars. It tells me something about what this community values.
So you’re not down on adding a “game layer” necessarily—you just want to see it done with more sophistication?
That’s right. For example, people have different dispositions, and we can measure them. Some people are more pro-social, which means they care about my rewards and your rewards. Some people are selfish—they don’t care about mine. Some people are more competitive, meaning “it doesn’t matter about mine and yours—I want to maximize the difference.”
That’s what I mean about nuance. It’s not just this simple behaviorist-psychology idea, which is that you give people a reward just like you give a rat a piece of cheese. But what is the reward? Is it status? Is it reputation? Is it group identification, is it goal-seeking, or skill development? If you can identify those things, you can message people differently and cater to their being a pro-social or self-interested or competitive person, and maybe even get more involved and thoughtful participation out of people.