Desertification – Gamifying The Desert


The game of countering desertification

Some time ago we were contacted by Andreas Buechel and he shared with us some of his creative ideas. This week’s post will be about one of his ideas, a gamified experience to counter desertification.

First of all let’s define what desertification is. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica :

desertification, also called desertization, the process by which natural or human causes reduce the biological productivity of drylands (arid and semiarid lands). Declines in productivity may be the result of climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, poverty, political instability, unsustainable irrigation practices, or combinations of these factors. The concept does not refer to the physical expansion of existing deserts but rather to the various processes that threaten all dryland ecosystems, including deserts as well as grasslands and scrublands.


Andreas had a pretty ambitious idea regarding this problem which uses robots and gamers to counter it. How, you might be asking? Well, a player could be at his home controlling a robot in a remote area, many miles aways, creating some kind of a personal garden in a desertified area.

This is the simple view on it.

Getting on, a lot more have to be thought of and Andreas helped with some more details.


No garden survives without water.

This has to be carefully planed in a way so that the player and the associated robot have the necessary materials to build an irrigation system.

Since the player probably doesn’t have much knowledge about irrigation systems, or the creation of a garden for the matter, a set of tutorials is necessary to teach them.

As the game has more players the more experienced ones could earn some resources like more terrain or different seeds according to their effort to teach the new players.

In some places where this strategy could be used is very difficult to gather enough water for a constant water supply. However there are systems used to obtain water directly from the atmosphere like this example which could provide the essential water supply.


Andreas suggests once again a creative solution. Fertilizer could be obtained through micro-algae being grown in a solar-powered algae bioreactor. As a positive side effect this bioreactor would also help to reduce pollutants such as NOx and CO2 on the area.

The Deal

The countries where this game would be played would have to ensure that these zones would be treated as global biosphere reserves.

All of the equipment would also have to be guaranteed in the way of maintenance and security. In exchange, the technology could be used to help the local population taking in consideration however, that this could not interfere with the main purpose of the experience .

The costs

This experience could be monitored online through video by everyone in the world which would create a huge potential for the advertising market, being one of the possible financial sources of the project.

Another way of getting funds is asking from the players an initial fee to help cover the equipment expenses such as the robot, and a monthly fee to help maintaining it.

Keep up with the score

As in any other game, we need to be able to effectively check what the player’s score is. We have to consider two factors, the more objective and tangible one, the size of the area that the player is already having success on, and the more subjective and intangible evaluation of the amount of work developed in the garden and the relative success of it.

We have yet to consider the aesthetics and that could be easily attained by an online voting which would reward the best looking garden. Do you have some more ideas about this?

Share them with us.

Simple to Complex – Different Players, Different Needs

complexityOne thing to consider while building a gamification experience is the learning curve associated with it.

A lot of people are gamers, but inside the universe of gamers we find different levels of experience and knowledge about that said universe.

On one side you have the hardcore gamers which are people who know most of everything about the game universe and don’t have much difficulty to adapt to a new kind of game, even if the mechanic strands a bit from the usual.

On the other side, you have the soft-core gamers who mostly play casual games, like Candy Crush and Farmville, which are simpler and require less knowledge about the gaming universe.

In gamification we have to consider not only these types and the whole specter in between, but also those who have never played a game. Even so if they are a rarity nowadays.

The gamification experience must be able to reach all and effectively help all, so it’s important to consider several kinds of players in layers of game complexity and ways that the experience may need to transform so that fulfills the needs of all.

5320119828_11172c9af2_mIt’s not an easy thing to accomplish though. Instead of thinking about levels of difficulty like it’s normal in a video-game, in which you find something similar to, “beginner”, “regular” or “difficult”, but instead thinking about levels of complexity.

Lets think about a little example:

In the summer, forest fires are always a problem. A good strategy and the collaboration of the population from the outskirts is a fundamental factor to prevent this kind of disaster.

Thinking about gamification we can setup various levels of action so that everyone can help. In a simpler base, the player will be awarded points for each forest zone that he has helped clear out of any potential fuel – such as leaves, needles, grass, branches, and logs.

The more zones the player helps clearing the better his score is.

However, who is to define these zones? Well, maybe that’s the next level of complexity of the experience, the study of the area, division in zones and calculating the number of people and time needed to clear each specific zone, which will signify a different number of points for each specific zone according to the complexity of the area.

Competition between the “planners” is a must, and would probably be based in the size of the area attributed to each one, taking in consideration the time it took to clean all the area.

A jury would of course be needed to judge how well the work was done to avoid negligence from the teams.

So you don’t like this planning thing or the cleaning and scoring is not enough for you?

Well, a lot of fires are started by human hand. Are you ready to “recruit” collaborators and create schedules to watch over some area in times when the heat is at its worst? Maybe a system similar to that of the “planners” is advisable here.

Ensuring competition between security teams, but instead being evaluated by the number of patrols made.

It would be a challenge to get enough people to create security teams and even more to create shifts and ensure that those teams would actually go through with the surveillance program. This, of course, is just a simple example and was not profoundly planned.

A lot of things were not thought of and more planning would be needed before this experience could possibly be considered as having good enough potential to be a success, it was meant as simply an example.

Simple is not always the answer

1411702665_9d1a23f19b_oOne thing that you might be thinking: Why not create just a simple experience, simple enough for everyone to appreciate?

Some people crave for the complexity. Well, not exactly for the sake of it being complex, but for the possibility of choice, for the sensation of an “open world” where the evolution of the experience may have different results according to the decisions of the “player”. Free will if you must.

The experience feels like having endless possibilities and therefore giving a sense of freedom.

At the beginning everyone may be satisfied with the experience being simple, but soon enough a good portion of the “players” will feel bored and want move on to the next experience.

Just think about it, when you learn something new, if that is something that interests you, in the beginning the simpler tasks are a good thing, but as you master them, they become old news, fast.

If you don’t see a perspective of evolution you may even give up on the spot. You feel ready for the next level, but there are no more levels to master.

10 Examples of Gamification

10 Gamification Examples


In today’s post we will be showing 10 examples of gamification applied in different areas. These examples are displayed in no specific order.


We have talked about Duolingo before in our free report. Duolingo is a game for people who want to learn a new language. The different steps necessary to the process are well divided in levels increasing in complexity.

Microsoft CodeHunt

Codehunt is a somewhat recent game created by Microsoft which aims to teach programming either in C# or Java. The game has, for now, 14 levels of growing difficulty that aim to create a progressive learning process in software development.

Nike +

Nike+ (plus) app creates a gamification experience around the act of running. By setting challenges and keeping track of the runner’s results and improvement, it adds a motivational boost.

Zombies Run!

Zombies Run! is yet another running app, but in this case the approach is a little bit different. It creates a setting where the story is based on an invasion of zombies. The runner has missions that he has to accomplish and at the same time have the possibility of building his own base. More important than that, your have to run from those hungry zombies.

According to the app’s website, 800,000+ runners already use it.

Google Ingress

By itself, Google Ingress may look as just a game, an ARG (Alternative Reality Game) for the matter, but Google uses this game to gather precious data with the help of the players. Using augmented reality, the game divides players in two factions in a science fiction setting. The objective is to create “control fields” by capturing portals.

For more information you can visit this link.

America’s Army

America’s Army is a game that was developed by the USA Army as a recruitment tool. The game reproduces the essential activity of a soldier in the field and is meant to be closer to the real deal as possible.

The player starts by being evaluated in a bootcamp and only after positive results he can really start playing the game. To be able to access certain maps or classes (like sniper or medic), the player has to complete special courses.


Solve puzzles for science.

Foldit is maybe the more scientific gamification experience of the all the examples. It is an online game about  folding proteins. Used in a crowdsourcing manner it helps scientists find solutions to solve “real-world” problems by targeting and eliminating diseases among other life-changing discoveries.

World Peace Game

The World Peace Game is a game created by John Hunter for his 4th grade students.

This game is a political simulation that is based on the economic, social and environmental crises and the threat of war that the world often faces.

The goal of the game is to achieve global prosperity with the least amount of military intervention. Students gain a greater understanding of the critical impact of information and find through their decisions and agreements between teams the path to create a better world.


Carrot is a task list with an attitude. At least that is how it is presented.

It is a simple form of applying gamification in a way that tries to make people meet the goals they have set for themselves.

The Speed Camera Lottery

The Speed Camera Lottery is a gamification experience that have won the VW Fun Theory Contest. In this game, those who don’t obey the the speed limit pay a fine while those who respect that same limit will be automatically enrolled in a lottery. As you probably might already have guessed by now, the prize is the total of the fines paid by the offenders.

Honorable mentions:

Frequency 1550

This gamification example was created in the Netherlands in 2005 for students at the ages of 12 to 14 (HAVO+MAVO basic curriculum).

This mobile game experience had the goal of teaching the students about History while having some fun.

World Without Oil

This was another ARG which was created so people would start talking about, planning and engineering solutions to a possible and probable near-future global oil shortage.

The game started and ended in 2007. It was nominated in the games category for a 2008 Webby Awards.Won a Special Mention in the Environment category for its contribution to humanity in the 2008 Stockholm Challenge and won the award for Activism at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in March 2008.

Exploits In The Gamification Experience

Exploits in Gamification
The way of the exploit


One thing that we have mentioned before was the creation of rules necessary to the implementation of a good gamification environment! In video-games since the game-designers control the environment, it’s easier to enforce those rules.  For example, you can limit an area in a map creating by obstacles that the player just can’t get through, so you know that the player can only move in a specific area.

However there is a limit to the number of variables that human beings can foresee and prevent in complex environments. This brings to the table something called exploits. Exploits, in this setting, is taking advantage of a flaw in game design or a glitch, to the advantage of the exploiter.

Some exploit examples in games: 15 funniest, most unfair and memorable exploits .

For example in Skyrim you could use the enchanting skill to create a weapon that would give you a boost to your alchemy skill, which in turn could be used to create a potion that would boost your enchanting skill and so on, creating a loop in skill boosting until your skills were strong enough for you to be practically unbeatable.

In another example, in battlefield 3, a lot of experience points could be earned in multiplayer matches by having friendly engineers damaging the player’s EOD bots while the player would repair them. Doing this repeatedly, and, of course, taking turns on this exploit, both players would earn a lot of experience without even playing the game per se.

The possibility for exploits in gamification is also an important thing to consider. This behavior will most probably arise in the case where the reward assumes more meaning than the action by itself (overjustification effect). This kind of pavlovian behavior might even not be a problem if we’re talking about some task in which only the outcome matters independently of the way it happens. Of course we’re considering that, in this specific case, this behavior will not affect negatively another player or anyone for that matter.

An example on recycling


Lets consider a very simple gamification(so simple you could even argue that’s not gamification) experience regarding recycling.  The “player” would be rewarded with 10$ each time that he would send 100 plastic bottles to recycling. If the player contacted several companies which would normally throw away they used plastic bottles to the garbage bin and promised to pay them 5$ per 100 bottles that they would deliver to recycling, that would be obviously an exploit of the system, since that was not what was in mind when this incentive was created.

In practical terms this “player” would be earning half of the reward without doing what he was expected to do. He probably even only had a mind for the reward and not really for the action of recycling by itself. But in this case, the outcome of the experience is probably better than expected since those companies which otherwise would not probably even know about that initiative, are now contributing.

Of course that this is still ethically questionable and a good candidate for debate but we wont be judging that.

Some things can be done to try to prevent it


In the gamification process the gamifier must be ready to consider a lot of different approaches and ways of circumvent the rules already created to make sure that the experience is functional and still serves a purpose. It’s important to consider the relative value of the extrinsic reward in comparison with intrinsic value of the experience by itself, the latter should be higher or equivalent to the first. However even the intrinsic reward can pose a challenge to an exploit free environment.

If you consider competition, it is an effective motivational gimmick, but the higher the level of competition the more the person is prone to corruption, exploitation or cheating. You can even witness it in many worldwide scenarios, you just have to keep up with the News. At the end, it really depends on the type of person that we’re talking about. Here we’re talking about, of course, of the different types of psychological profiles different people present and how these profiles affect the way they behave in specific scenarios.



Cheating, on the other hand(despite exploits can be considered cheating), is not a big deal in gamification for a very simple reason, the “player” unlike in a game is not merely searching for entertainment as is normally the case in game playing, but has an objective which he wishes to complete.
While cheating, he’s only fooling himself and probably his objective will remain unfinished, so I guess no “player” will conscientiously want to cheat. Unless, of course, there is some kind of multi-player competition where in fact one “player” has an unfair competitive advantage over another because of cheating, then there is a problem with which the gamifier has to deal.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality

Augmented Reality – A Doorway to Gamification

Augmented Reality has yet to reach its full potential. However, the rising of smart glasses, smart watches and other smart gadgets, is a clear indicator that we are probably on the verge of a new reality. Everyone wants to get their hands on these technological novelties.

Isn’t that extremely good news for gamification? Continue reading

Player Types… can you please them all?

Different Player Types

Player Types: the importance of its definition

In a gamification environment, the type of player – we can consider, for example, the approach of Bartle’s player types – can be important in a case of a specific scenario where that environment will be shared by many different people. For example, gamification applied to a company in a way to motivate their collaborators must consider the different types of players and what makes each one of them tick in a game. But if we are talking about creating a product available to everyone to use in their daily lives, that’s not really important, since each person will seek the product that appeals to them the most. That way it is normal to observe certain type of players going after certain kinds of gamification experiences. Once again, differentiation is an important thing to consider. Continue reading

How to Avoid Boredom in Gamification

Avoid Boredom in Gamification

One of the main objectives in the world of gamification is to make you avoid boredom from those difficult tasks. Gamification helps in the attenuation or even elimination of this boredom. But wont we eventually get bored from gamification itself?

Let’s think about video games for a second… We need to understand that, despite how good a game is, a lot of players tend to get bored and give up on the game after some time. How much time the game stays “alive” depends on a lot of factors, but sooner or later that game will be put on the shelf. Later on, some players might pick it up again, but the game will still get some dust while sitting on that shelf. Continue reading