Making Games & Social Networks Useful

I used to play games all the time.

Even though I enjoy gaming – I haven’t had a chance to play anything for the longest time (I used to be a huge World of Warcraft player – still have a level 66 Paladin I haven’t seen in a while) – I find that spending time doing something which ultimately does not actually generate anything at the end, other than really kill time (I know some of you out there are going – what do you mean – that’s the whole point of games!). I suppose if I were the kind of person who could spend hours entertaining myself with no result other than the amusement during play, then I’d be playing more often.

There has been a lot of focus on gamification lately – adding a gaming aspect to things to drive people to use them more – for example, you can gain points and badges from reading your corporate intranet, following people, etc. To connect with some internal competitive instinct in people, all sorts of apps are now adding gaming aspects.

Most of the aspects are just bolt-on – underneath the games, you are still undertaking the tasks which the developers would like you to do – you are now a rank of “innovator” because you read 50 articles, contributed to 10 conversations, and followed 20 people, which is cool for some people. That’s a topic for another post.

When it comes to expanding the universe of games, you will always come up against the “time suck” window. Actually, this is not just a gaming thing. Many people I know have dropped out of social networks like Facebook and Twitter because they find that they aren’t getting as much back from the amount of time they are putting into it. I smell an opportunity here.

We have been focused on adding gaming to more useful tasks to drive more people to perform them. Has anyone thought about the reverse – adding “usefulness” to gaming to make the play more useful, to actually generate results from it? I know that there is likely a huge swatch of the population who stay away from gaming and social networks because of the time suck aspect – if they could get something useful out of it, they would be more likely to use it.

Case in point – while I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, I do check into LinkedIn much more often, and I can probably say the same for many. People I’ve discussed this with admitting that the reason they prefer LinkedIn is that it’s a “useful” social network – it can help your sales, your career, etc. It seems to me that LinkedIn can provide a more defined upside.

So here is my proposal – how can we make gaming and social networks like Facebook and Twitter more “useful” – I know that I would probably play more Warcraft or spend more time on Facebook if I were getting back a more concrete result which will help me in my life – other than the amusement of play? Are there ways to augment gaming so that useful tasks are being performed while the user is gaming?