Game on at #TFTLondon: level 3: the four Ms of gamification

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I wrote about the ubiquitous gaming culture, the second in a series of posts from The Fantastic Tavern (TFT)’s gamification evening. Now we move on to the final level – examining the 4 Ms: of mystery (easy learning), mastery (hard learning), membership (making it social) and meaning (a story with a beginning, middle and end).

At TFT, four speakers each gave a lightening talk on one of the Ms so, here’s each in logical (not chronological) order…


TFT’s founder Matt Bagwell (Global Creative Director at EMC Consulting) started out by describing some characteristics that might describe mystery in gameplay: Where am I? What is the story? Make it compelling by building in reward/failure – make us feel on the edge, in flow (one of the tenets of happiness) and compel us to play.

Matt told us that, for mystery we need:

  • A goal.
  • Rules.
  • Increasing difficulty.
  • Voluntary participation.

Golf is a simple game – the goal is to put a ball in a hole. Add some rules and increase the difficulty hitting the ball with a club and putting the hole a long way away. Then introduce elements such as other players, handicaps, etc.

Mystery is about the goal. But some games are actually about working out what the goal is! Mystery is about the player, their role, and what they are trying to achieve. Why are you here?

In short, mystery is about creating new worlds for us to discover; designing in some flow; and make us work hard to unlock it.


Richard Sedley (Commercial Director at Foviance) took this topic, explaining that games are about engagement; capturing moments of attention and elongating them; repeating interactions to strengthen involvement.  The aim is to achieve flow – to match skills and satisfaction.

There are various game mechanics but rewards alone don’t make for engagement. When people use a wastebin, they like to toss it in – to make it a challenge, some fun – that is mastery.

Richard outlined three techniques to make mastering a challenge both fun and engaging:

  • Set a task – collecting can be fun and motivating. An example is the Get Started page for Dropbox, which allocates additional storage space to users who have carried out all of the activities.
  • Create hurdles, obstacles and enemies (but not brick walls) – build on levels.
  • Reward randomly – build in variable reinforcements but don’t use a fixed interval – use variable intervals and rewards.


Tom Hopkins (Strategy Director at Fortune Cookie) explained that, to understand membership, it’s often useful to look at the opposite: exclusion, alienation, being an outsider and how the resulting feelings drive human behaviour.  Clicking to sign up for something, or Liking something or someone on Facebook is not membership. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and belongingness.

Social identity theory shows that we define ourselves through membership of groups; and we may have multiple group memberships.  We need to consider both inside and outside the groups – what do the groups’ enemies look like?

An example is the Mac and PC advertising that Apple used for a number of years – it creates vitriolic feelings between members of the two groups. Generally people are either in or out of groups like these [I’m unusual in being in both groups]. Another example is the Stanford Prison Experiment – proving that artificial tribes can be powerful (even if they are arbitrary).

Ultimately though, Tom concluded, membership must confer some form of identity.


Alex Lee (Creative Partner at Kempt) gave the talk on meaning, starting out by describing different types of games:

  • Core games, like Street Fighter, are typified by being difficult. They require the player to acquire skills and they punish – even the language is punishing with “lives”, “continues” and “game over”.
  • Casual games are becoming dominant – things like Angry Birds and Farmville. They generally don’t require skills, but time (and maybe currency)

Some games are about status – they reward everything so that the player earns more of something, has new opportunities, and can progress through the game. Alex gave an example that involved breeding celebrity puppies but I prefer the example of the pottery game that my children play on my iPad. They make pots, sell them (virtually), earn credits, buy more colours and patterns, and make more pots, to sell, etc.

We can gain meaning from slight of hand – a feeling of success – or by rewarding – rewarding failure as well as success.

Even health apps like Nike+ [or Runkeeper] are games that provide meaning when we’re exercising – they don’t chastise us, but talk in our ears and reward us for small achievements.

Another real-world gaming example is Weight Watchers – allocating points to “spend” on food, rewarding with real results – and now it’s gone online.  Movember is another example, growing a moustache, but having fun at the same time (and with meaning).

Alex left us with some food for thought on gaming and meaning: how do people feel about Just Giving? When you donate, how do you feel about the value of donations either side in the list?

Wrapping up

That’s it for this series of posts – if you want to read more about the science of gamification, check out my post from Michael Wu’s talk at Digital Surrey – and if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

Game on at #TFTLondon: level 2: the ubiquitous gaming culture

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week, I wrote a post about The Fantastic Tavern event on Gamification. That post was a bit light on details, so I’m now rewarding you with a move to level 2.

James Wallman from The Future Laboratory spoke about what they refer to as the ubiquitous gaming culture, starting out with a quote from Seth Priebatsch, CEO at SCVNGR and, as I hunted around for the source of the quote it seems he’s spoken about it at both SXSW and TEDx:

“While the last decade was the decade of social… where the framework in which we connect with other people was built…  This next decade will be the decade where the game framework is built.”

Remember 6 years ago when the first Facebook [or LinkedIn] invitations went out? The ones we ignored for a while until we saw that all our friends [and business contacts] were there… well, that social framework is in place now and, in an age with many messages, the way that brands will connect and change consumer behaviour is
game mechanics.

James broke his talk out into trend drivers, trend impacts, trend consequences, and trend futures so, looking first at the trend drivers – what is making this desire to gamify things happen?

To start with, gaming changes people’s behaviour. In trials with burns victims, it was found that gaming isolated the patient from real world (and hence provided pain relief) more than any other medium. Then, consider the blurring of work and play (“bleisure”) – we often check our email on a smartphone when we’re not at work? [go on, admit it]. The social game market has massive potentially monetary value (Inside Network says it’s a billion-dollar business) and John Riccitello, CEO at Electronic Arts is right on the money when he says that:

“Every new device ends up being a game device”

(in a market that’s grown from 200 million gamers, to over a billion.)

Moving on to the trend impacts – i.e. the implications of gamification – brands are incorporating game play elements into applications, products and campaigns.  Remember all those social networks that didn’t make it to the big time (Friendster?) – James suggests that today’s gamification is like those early social networks: an exciting, novel, concept.

From simple examples like the Braun/Oral B SmartGuide – a monitor with a display that changes according to how long you brush your teeth to the City of Melbourne’s interactive treasure hunt (to get people off the beaches and into the CBD) governments and commercial organisations alike are looking to gaming to control, nudge and monitor our behaviour.  Take, for example, Toyota’s A Glass of Water app – designed to improve our driving and reduce fuel consumption… or London commuters can play the game of Chromaroma through a link with their Oyster Card (the London RFID travel card), earning points for getting off a stop early, or using one of the many “Boris Bikes”.

Looking at trend consequences, gamification will change our social and economic structures – James cited examples like Macon Money from Macon (pronounced Makin’) in Georgia, USA – an innovative approach to community building that uses a local currency to build personal connections and support local businesses.  There’s even the possibility that people will pay to work (play + labour = “playbour”): Internet Eyes is one such example – a website where people pay a fee to watch live CCTV footage and are rewarded for spotting and reporting crimes!

So what trend futures does gamification offer? Research shows that a person’s behaviour in real life mimics their behaviour in the real world. This leads to the concept of “playfiling” – profiling through play.

James gave another example of gamification: New York’s Quest to Learn school. The school describes itself as school for digital kids – applying games techniques to digital learning. At work, when we don’t know something, we ask questions of our colleagues…. so why not at school? Quest to Learn works in 10-week problem spaces, with pupils co-operating as a team and playing games to learn. In terms of engagement, it’s now within the top 3% of schools in the United States.

James’ final example also came from New York – a clever foursquare hack called World of Fourcraft, that turns the city into a giant game of Risk – hopefully we’ll see something like this in British cities soon [are there some programmers out there that want to create a real-life game of Monopoly by mashing up Foursquare and Chromorama? I guess without the property purchases and the going to jail…].

In conclusion, James Wallman described a ubiquitous gaming culture toolkit for digital marketers:

  • Put game mechanics at the heart of the brand.
  • Consider engagement over time – get people to come back.
  • Combine online and offline activities.
  • Engage through the “4Ms” of mystery (easy learning), mastery (hard learning), membership (making it social) and meaning (a story with a beginning, middle and end).

My next post (“game on at #TFTLondon: level 3”) will take a look at the 4Ms of gamification – and if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

Game on at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

It’s been a long week… not just the normal work stuff but two great events meaning some late nights and I’m just not as young as I once was… in time I’m sure I’ll blog about Thursday’s CloudCamp and give some more details on last night’s Fantastic Tavern (TFT) but, for now, here’s the highlights on TFT.

Gamification. I wrote about that after a recent Digital Surrey event and it’s pretty big. Big? Hell, last night’s Fantastic Tavern needed a night club to house the 300 attendees – I only wish I hadn’t had to leave to catch a train home when the music started… anyway, if 300 people want to come along and learn about gamification, that gives some idea as to how hot the topic is right now.

Apparently, there are more than 10 million people in the UK who play games for more than 20 hours a week [they must be insomniacs, or don’t have kids/jobs with long commutes…] and some games are now so heavily played they feature rest rewards!

We all like the feeling of flow – that balance between skill and satisfaction that produces a neurological hit… so why is reality so dull? And that’s where gamification comes in, building out the game layer to cover education, leisure and work. Bringing in game dynamics and reapply them in the real world.

Last night’s TFT featured a talk on the ubiquitous gaming culture that is developing around us before we heard lightning talks on the four Ms of gamification (mystery, mastery, membership and meaning). Then, putting that into practice, we split out and brainstormed some topics to gamify Cancer Research UK‘s valuable work in a world where an increasingly cashless (and cash-strapped) society is giving less.

And just to prove the point, an old-school gamification method (i.e. a raffle) was used to get us to give up our cash for Cancer Research and win a Microsoft Xbox 360 system with Kinect.

I’ll write some more on the ubiquitous gaming culture and the 4Ms soon (I’ll try to line up some posts for next week, together with something on Kinect) but, if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

There was no “phone hacking” – but have you changed your voicemail codes?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Before I start, let’s get one thing straight – I’m not condoning the actions of the News of the World, or any other medium that is illegally/illicitly accessing people’s personal information. And I added my name to more than one anti-Murdoch/News International petition this week. I’m appalled by some of what’s come out over the last few days but this is a technology blog – and this post is about technology, not politics or crime syndicates news organisations [source: Google/Wikipedia].

I just want to highlight something that was posted on Phil Hendren (aka Dizzy)’s Dizzy Thinks blog last year:

“* Calling someone’s mobile, waiting for it to go to voicemail and then entering their four digit pin (0000) is not hacking. Hacking is about circumventing security, not being presented with [a security check] and passing [it].

** Calling someone’s mobile, waiting for it to go to voicemail and then entering their four digit pin (0000) is not tapping. Tapping is the covert act of real-time interception of active communication links.”

But we can all protect ourselves – David Rogers explains how on Sophos’ Naked Security blog. So I urge everyone to check their voicemail access code(s), and change it/them to something non-default. After all, you wouldn’t make your email logon credentials consist of your email address as a username and the word “password” as your password would you?

Failing WordPress updates fixed by enabling FastCGI

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For months, although it feels like years, I’ve been struggling with WordPress upgrades and it’s been driving me mad.  Each time I’ve attempted an in-app update of a plugin (or WordPress itself), it’s asked me for FTP credentials and then, usually, failed.  I’ve got used to re-installing WordPress but it shouldn’t be this way.

The problem, it seems was a combination of WordPress file ownership/permissions. I had to set the wp-content/upgrade folder permissions to 777 in order to successfully update plugins and that just didn’t feel right.  Luckily, I’m on good terms with my hosting provider and they started looking into the issue for me.  It seems (I think) that Apache was running as nobody and that was presenting some issues with WordPress. Changing the owner on my /blog folder (to nobody) fixed WordPress, but it meant I couldn’t FTP any content to the folder using my own username, so we went back to the drawing board.

I can’t claim to understand all the technical details but I’m told the fix was to enable FastCGI on the server.  It was originally disabled because it’s memory-hungry (spawning child processes for each user) but wow, FastCGI is a good name. Now my WordPress upgrades take seconds. I updated twice yesterday (to 3.1.4, then later to 3.2) and I was amazed how quickly things happened. That is good.

Will commoditisation drive us all to the public cloud (eventually)?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Tomorrow night, it’s CloudCamp London, which has prompted me to write a post based on one of the presentations from the last event in March.  I already wrote up Joe Baguley’s talk on why the consumerisation of IT is nothing to do with iPads but I also wanted to mention Simon Wardley (from the CSC Leading Edge Forum)’s introduction to CloudCamp.

As it happens, Simon already wrote a blog post that looks at the topic he covered (private vs. enterprise clouds) and his CloudCamp slides are below:

  • The basic principle is that, eventually, services trend towards utility services/commodities. There are some barriers to overcome along the way but commoditisation will always come.
  • One interesting phenomenon to note is the Jevons Paradox, whereby, as technology progresses and efficiency of resource usage rises, so does the rate of consumption. So, that kills off the theory that the move to cloud will decrease IT budgets!
  • For cloud purists, only a public cloud is really “cloud computing” but Simon talked about a continuum from legacy datacentres to “the cloud”. Hybrid clouds have a place in mitigating transitional risk.
  • Our legacy architectures leave us with a (legacy) problem. First came N+1 resilience but then we got better hardware; then we scaled out and designed for failure (e.g. API calls to rebuild virtual machines) using software and “good enough” components.
  • Using cloud architectures and resilient virtual machines we invented “the enterprise cloud”, sitting somewhere between a traditional datacentre and the public cloud.
  • But we need to achieve greater efficiencies – to do more, faster (even if the overall budget doesn’t increase due to the Jevons Paradox). To drive down the costs of providing each virtual machine (i.e. each unit of scale) we trade disruption and risk against operational efficiency. That drives us towards the public cloud.
  • In summary, Simon suggests that public utility markets are the future, with hybrid environments as a transition strategy. Enterprise clouds should be expected to trend towards niche roles (e.g. to deliver demanding servive level agreements or to meet specific security requirements) whilst increasing portability between clouds makes competing public cloud offerings more attractive.

What exactly is a 4G mobile data network?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’m not a telecoms expert but, every now and again, new technologies come along that cross over into my world. One of those is the evolution of mobile telecommunications networks and there’s a lot of talk right now about “4G”. So what is it all about? Well, I’m sure there are a lot of detailed technical references available on the ‘net but I recently heard Ben Roome from Nokia-Siemens Networks being interviewed on the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast and he gave a quick overview, which I’ve reproduced here:

  • First generation mobile networks were analogue – that is to say that the signal could vary, a bit like tuning in to get a (broadcast) radio signal.
  • Second generation (2G) networks came on stream in the 1990s and used digital signals for communication.
  • There were various “interim” generations (2.5G for example) to try and squeeze more data over networks but the advent of 3G allowed mobile broadband data access, although many 3G handsets still use 2G for voice communications (modern radio networks can handle 2G, 3G and 4G using the same hardware – all that is required is a software update).
  • There are different standards for each generation of network, and 4G networks use LTE (Long Term Evolution) or WiMax (since the ITU relaxed standards to allow other technologies than LTE Advanced as LTE was not originally considered a fourth generation network technology but is now regarded as a sufficient improvement over 3G to be called 4G). To achieve duplex transmissions (i.e. send and receive at the same time) channels may be divided by time or spectrum (frequency) – WiMax uses time division (as do some LTE variants) and was effectively an interim 4G technology that was good for fixed wireless access (i.e. wireless connections, to a fixed location, cf. mobile networks). 4G networks have the potential to offer big improvements in latency (round trip speed between asking for something and getting a response delivered) but high speeds also need a high speed backhaul between cell towers (i.e. the core network). Most backhaul is microwave, but the core architecture does makes a difference and LTE networks are “flatter” (all IP from handset to cloud and back again) so they have simpler routes and improved management (hence improved latency).

Commercial 4G networks are in operation in Germany, with trials in UK. Broadband is a huge driver of economies and society so coverage requirements may be greater (i.e. 98% in place of 95%) when the UK governement auctions the radio spectrum next May as 4G is a technology that can genuinely offer universal access. The UK 4G trial in Cornwall is intended to see if 4G offers an alternative to fixed line broadband. Fixed lines currently averages 6.4Mbps, with 3G offering 1.6Mpbs – so the question is “can 4G beat offerings and offer a solution for people in areas with poor copper infrastructure.

Whilst the increased coverage requirements may mean that less money is raised by the spectrum auction, Ben Roome commented that those countries who are leading the world in this area make the most of the infrastructure with “beauty contests” for spectrum rather than charging. The UK has gone down the charging route – hopefully that doesn’t mean that we’ll all have to pay too much in years to come for something that people really value.