Jack is a personal injury lawyer. He just walked into his office at 10th street and earned  enough points to steal the mayorship of his office from Dan, his colleague. On his way to the office he picked up a coffee at the local Starbucks with a 10% discount for being their mayor. A mayorship he really enjoys as he loves their coffee. Foursquare checkins determine a geographical location you check into through your smartphone. Points are awarded for traveling, for checking in, for adding venues and for other things if a company chooses to do so. And people are checking in to beat their friends on points. Everybody wants to be at the top of the scoreboard.

In the coming years we will see playfulness become a bigger factor in society. Playing is no longer just for kids. Managers play, ministers play, gardeners play, entrepreneurs play, kids play. And they all play together or against each other to achieve the top position on scoreboards we never even considered before. Ken posted the most replies on a travel forum to achieve the status of “World explorer” on the forum and the top spot in their “Biggest travelers of the world” scoreboard. He is proud of it and intends to keep it. But he knows Barbara is right on his heels with just forty points separating their positions. So Ken keeps on posting relevant content to the site, because when his posts are marked as helpful he receives extra points. It is the competition that keeps him on his toes. And he loves it.

Playfulness is a great tool to work with. Over the last two years we see scoreboards emerge on everything. The motto for playfulness, or gamification is “If you can count it, you can score it”. And if you can score it, you can use it as a trigger. A trigger for thought, a trigger to buy, a trigger to participate.

Within playfulness we also see social gaming as a fast riser. Games like farmville, where you build a farm and share livestock with your friends would never have become a success five years ago. But now everybody is playing Farmville or other social games through facebook, through portal sites or in other ways. Social gaming allows you to play along and against your friends in games without having to have them present. But you are still competing to be the biggest, the best, the friendliest etc. And people love it. They play it for hours on end and they are willing to spend money to achieve higher scores. Just as they do with many more online games all over the world. As an example, games company Spil Games serves 130 million unique customers about 30 billion games every single month. That means 11,500 people are playing a game with them every second of the day.

The statistics are great. But how do you translate that into something that you can benefit from? You might be in a very serious business. You might think that there is nothing playful about what you are doing. But you need to reconsider. You need to look at what you are doing in a new way. If it can be counted, it can be a game. If it can be shared, it can be a game. And your playing field is your whole target audience.
Alice runs the city council safety department. For years she has been trying to involve citizens in what she is doing. She knows that when she can have them involved, the streets will become a safer place quicker than she could ever achieve. Alice could use gamification in her process to involve people. Things change when there are things you can achieve for yourself and for others. Alice can go out onto the streets and ask people to add their worry to a list. The list is then transformed into an achievement board which shows problems, their owners and the people who solved the problem. By solving the problem you can earn points. Problem owners can also offer rewards for solving their problem so there is more to achieve than points. As Alice has found out the problems of the community often relate to their safety, solving these problems will solve a large part of the problems Alice’s department needs to address.

The trend is that we see adults play as much as we see kids play. And their games are not much more serious either. People will take time to just have fun. And there is an angle you can work with. Make what you do fun. Make it count towards something your target audience can believe in. Make it something that is in line with your goals or your product. And you can. Anything can be turned into a game. A good one. A game that triggers your target audience to have fun. And if they do, they will credit you and your products for it.

This post is part of a series on 10 social trends that can help you get your point across. For more information or a tailored advice on what could be your opportunities, get in touch on arne@arnehulstein.nl