Do Ethics Have a Place in Gamification?

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This article is written by Anish Dasgupta, Brand Manager at Kuliza. The article was published in issue 07 of the Social Technology Quarterly.
Summary: Gamification on one hand is an effective way to change behaviours. But on the other hand there is room for exploitation and manipulation. It is important to determine a framework and gauge how gamification raises ethical concerns.

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Do Ethics Have a Place in Gamification?

  1. 1. Gamification on one hand is an effective way to change behaviours. But on the other hand there is room for exploitation and manipulation. It is important to determine a framework and gauge how gamification raises ethical concerns. by Anish Dasgupta Photo Credit: jantik DoEthicshave aPlacein Gamification?
  2. 2. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 07 Communities Gamification is not a new concept. The practice of giving incentives to consumers to influence their actions has been around ever since marketers first started offering discounts and freebies with their products. The more modern points-based system of rewards came into being with frequent-flyer programs in 1979. Even tax-deductible charity contributions are a form of incentivized influence. In the past, gamification was more localized and consisted of long- term rewards programs for consumers. These programs targeted those living within five kilometres radius of a store. If one were a part of a frequent-flyer program, it would take at least two years before one began to reap benefits of the program – that is more than enough time for anyone to experience the airline several times and make a rational decision about being loyal to it. With the intervention of the Internet, gamification has gone beyond loyalty programs. When FourSquare first launched, it was touted as a way to let your friends know where you were so that if someone you knew was in the same vicinity, you could meet up. This evolved further when Starbucks started offering free lattes for check-ins. Today, a great number of brands have gamified several aspects of their online presence. Widely implemented now in social media, gamification has generated a great deal of buzz. Marketers are using the concept to engage customers better, create opportunities for sponsorships and partnerships, build opportunities to communicate with audiences, create loyalty, and spread brand awareness. Using gamification to achieve these outcomes leads to questions of ethical integrity. While for consumers being active online has never been so rewarding, gamification tactics have raised a lot of questions on the ethics of manipulating consumers through incentives. This has labelled
  3. 3. gamification as ‘exploitationware’ and ‘monkeyfication’. The controversy of gamification ethics comes down to answering one key question: When does gamification become exploitation? To answer the question, looking at the concept of ethics becomes essential. To begin with, the term ’ethics’ is ambiguous. The meaning could bend towards individual feelings and personal beliefs or could represent a collective framework of how to do and not do things. Sociologist Raymond Baumhart, author of ‘Ethics in Business’, demonstrated this ambiguity. He asked business owners and key executives what ethics meant to them. They responded with answers such as: “Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.” “Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.” “Being ethical is doing what the law requires.” “Ethics consists of the standards of behaviour our society accepts.” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics defines ethics as “the study of behavior which promotes human welfare” and refers to ethics as “standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues… including honesty, compassion, and loyalty.” Placing this in the context of business, business ethics can be defined as “the study of business behavior that promotes human welfare.” Photo Credit: KCruz511 Feelings, religion, laws, and society to a large extent encourage us to make ethical choices. While philosophy too gives us insights into how to approach ethics based on being utilitarian, rights-based, fairness and justice, common good, and virtue approaches, a universally accepted and accurate definition is not possible. In terms of business and marketing decisions, ethical standards can be derived using any or a combination of the approaches. But each may lead to different solutions, as all these approaches are not without ambiguity. For instance, human, moral and civil rights vary from country to country, and who decides what is ‘common good’? For example, the Buffalo Wild Wings ‘Protect the Football’ game explicitly states “There’s no time for everyday responsibilities when football’s on TV. When it is gameday, you need to avoid distractions like yard work, laundry, exercise and babies…” and rewards players with discounts and free food and drinks. This blatantly encourages watching television and eating junk food. To locate the space for ethics in gamification, here is an analysis of gamified campaigns with the help of a framework developed at the Santa Clara University’s Center for Applied Ethics in 2009: 1. Recognize the issue 2. Collate facts and information 3. Evaluate
  4. 4. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 07 39 Nike Fuel and Adidas MiCoach Fuel is Nike’s universal measure for activity. It analyzes users’ daily lives by measuring all activity using a variety of apps and monitors such as iPod sensors and the Fuel Band and shared them with the Nike+ community. On a similar front, Adidas MiCoach is to football what Nike is to running. Adidas’ offering is a selection of fitness monitoring devices and apps targeted at football players, rather than runners. In both cases, the users get engaged by accumulating points for being active. They will have to buy either fitness monitors or download a free app to be involved. This engagement increases loyalty of consumers towards the brands. Consumer behavior modification: • Increased activity in everyday life • Increased competition for fitness • Desire to remain fit • Increased propensity to spend on fitness accessories Kwarter’s FanCake FanCake is an iPhone application that rewards loyal sports fans in real time for watching sports. Fans can play mini games, answer questions while watching a game, collect points, and redeem them later for real rewards from the FanCake Catalogue that includes merchandise such as branded t-shirts and memorabilia. For FanCake, the users only need to download the iPhone app. They make money through advertisers and sponsors for the various activities (quizzes, games, etc.). The users don’t spend separately on any accessories. Consumer behavior modification: • Increased concentration while watching TV • More incentivized to watch TV The FanCake campaign is free and easier for users to be a part of. However, it encourages viewing more television and incentivizes relative inactivity and passivity, raising the ethical dilemma of enticing consumers to entice or not to watch more television. McDonald’s Catch One Catch One is a game in which passers-by use their phone cameras to take a picture of a fast-moving food item on a digital billboard. If they are successful in taking the photo, they go to their local McDonald’s outlet, show a waiter the picture and get that item for free. It works in McDonald’s favour as a burger is generally not eaten in isolation. One is bound to order a bag fries and/or a soda. Consumer behavior modification: • Eat more burgers • Buy more fast food Similar to Bufflo Wings and FanCake, this one too seems to promote a unhealthy lifestyle – the same reason cigarette advertising is banned in mass media in several countries. Green Giant In 2010, vegetable company Green Giant partnered with gaming company Zynga for in-game advertising. Zynga’s hit game Farmville was the perfect tie-in for them. Users who bought Green Giant packaged vegetables could peel off stickers with Coupon Codes printed on the back, which translated into Farmville gaming currency. Consumer behavior modification: • Buy more vegetables • Play more Farmville While many consider addiction to online gaming a waste of time and as an opiate for users, on the flipside it also acts as a stress buster for many. The upside is that users are encouraged to buy and eat more vegetables, which undoubtedly is good. While this would seem to show a pattern which suggests that the argument is decided by the product being promoted, it is not so. Firms such as Nike, Adidas, and Green Giant are using gamification to promote a ‘lifestyle’ not a product. That is definitely a great direction for any company to take. The subjectivity of ethics makes it difficult to ascertain gamification in absolute terms as good or bad. We have a more discerned global population who know what they are consuming. As marketers and sellers we can definitely judge individual campaigns for positive or negative user manipulation. References Velasquez,Manuel,Claire Andre,et al,and Michael J.Meyer.“What is Ethics?.” Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics. Santa Clara University Charlotte. “Understanding Gamification Trends.” MyGamification.com.28 Nov 2012. Olding, Elise.“Engagification”of the Enterprise – Gamification and Employee Engagement.” blogs.gartner.com.Gartner Inc,14 Nov 2012.
  5. 5. A game propo how its custome From “Conditioned to Play” by Vandana U.
  6. 6. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 07 e’s value osition is it makes s players- ers think and feel

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