Using Gamification to Minimize Community Management Costs

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management costHow much does it cost you to moderate your online community?
For World of Warcraft and its 11 million players, those costs include over 2,056 game masters and 66 community forum managers, and probably would have cost much more, if not for game mechanics to prevent conflict and manage community interactions.


Gamification is an innovative way to reduce coordination costs, decrease moderation requirements, and promote positive social behavior.  But before looking at examples of implementations, we first examine how our online infrastructures have evolved.

New York University professor of New Media Clay Shirky spoke at a TED conference in 2005 about the subject of Institutions and Collaborations.  (Video linked below) In it, he defines the coordination costs of a company as “all of the financial or institutional difficulties in arranging group output”.

He shared some of his insights:

•    Because the cost of letting groups communicate with each other has fallen through the floor, and communication costs are one of the big inputs to coordination, [an alternative to starting an institution] is to put the cooperation into the infrastructure, to design systems that coordinate the output of the group as a byproduct of the operating of the system without regard to institutional models.

•    When you build cooperation into the infrastructure you can leave the people where they are, and you take the problem to the individuals, rather than moving the individuals to the problem.  You arrange the coordination in the group, and by doing that you get the same outcome without the institutional difficulties.  You lose the institutional imperative, you lose the right to shape people’s work when it’s volunteer effort, but you also shed the institutional cost which gives you greater flexibility.

•    Build the system so that anybody can contribute at any amount.

Here Shirky presents the power of a cooperative community; the ability to surpass any amount of effort an institution could do on their own.  And tapping into this resource brings it’s own unique benefits – in this case, previously undiscovered photography. But he warns that the power of broad-reaching communication comes with some side effects:

•    We are used to support groups being beneficial, but it turns out that the logic of the support group is value neutral.  A support group is simply a small group that wants to maintain a way of living in the context of a larger group.

The normative goals of the support groups that we are used to came from the institutions that were framing them, and not from the infrastructure. Once the infrastructure becomes generically available, the logic of the support group has been revealed to be accessible to everyone.”

So in order to maintain some semblance of values and social protocol within an open and accessible infrastructure, companies are having to deal with high costs of moderation and community management.   And the larger the community, the more resources required.  There may be opportunities to channel this collaboration through a game-based design and allow institutions a scalable method of injecting values back into the system without the high overhead of additional personnel.

Gamification can add a persuasive framework of rules within a social online infrastructure to help guide user behaviors and actions.  By offering rewards and positive reinforcement, designers can build a foundation of acceptable social behavior within a community.

There are 2 ways to implement this:

1.    Create rewards and tools for self moderation.
2.    Design the environment to minimize social friction in game play.

public quest scoreboard sharleenLooking at existing MMO’s we find several examples of mechanics that minimize potential social conflict.  Mythic’s  Warhammer implemented an innovative mechanic called a Public Quest which removed the awkwardness associated with player invitations or dealing with potential rejections.

Public Quests (PQ’s) are area-based quests that trigger upon entering a zone.  They  involve a large number of players gathering together to complete the task at hand, and all rules are automatically handled by the system.  Anyone can participate, and by basing your roll, prize, and experience point gain on your contribution to the goal, they promote a fair system of reward with minimum stress.  This automated ability of giving players the chance to join teams and work together simply by being in the same area, presents a social game play mechanic that adds to the community experience.  In essence, the PQ becomes a way to bring players together and creates a sense of community pride.   (More on PQ’s are found in an article by Garrett Fuller here.)

An example of self-moderation through game mechanics is the design of eBay’s reputation system.   For every exchange on eBay, both buyer and seller are asked to post positive or negative scores to the person with whom he/she transacted.  A general score is publically displayed,  representing a user’s cumulative reputation within the system.  For the most part, buyers and sellers are honest.  And although the system can be abused, a completely open or unregulated marketplace would probably require higher moderation costs.

feedback profile
 eBay Reputation Screen
“The 2008 Tribalization of Business” study was conducted by Beeline Labs, Deloitte and the Society for New Communications Research, where they asked what were the biggest obstacles people face to making communities work:

obstacles sharleen

Beeline Labs is now Human 1.0
Not surprisingly, the top 2 results were user engagement and community management.  Gamification addresses many of these obstacles by offering a structure of incentives (points, achievements, titles, based on personality and motivations) that encourage users to vote (like/dislike), moderate content,  and invite people to join.

gamification framework sharleen
In essence, gamification is another way for companies to indirectly enforce value rules to a vast communications infrastructure.  And rather than penalizing users for bad behavior, the positive re-enforcement rewards in gameplay may be enough to moderate the majority of participants, providing a scalable, efficient, and cost-effective system.  Ultimately some people will try gaming the system, so providing a method of constant feedback, either through analytics or surveys, will help you evolve the mechanics as necessary.

Promoting positive social interaction reduces the stress and overhead of community management, and creates a welcoming environment for your community to grow.  It can potentially transform a environment where people are reluctant to interact due to fear of negative reaction, into a more welcoming atmosphere that encourages participation.  There is a great amount of potential in the use of mechanics in this manner, and the associated savings from community management resources should appeal to most institutions.  We hope to see more of this implementation in future gamified sites.

Clay Shirky’s TED presentation: Institutions and Collaborations:
 
 
Reprinted with permission from Strategic SynergySharleen Sy brings a hands-on perspective to issues and trends facing MMOs, virtual worlds and social entertainment. Armed with both an engineering degree and an art/comic book background, Sharleen has been involved in the graphics software and digital media industry since 1988 with a strong focus on game-based marketing, product management, UI/UX design and strategic business development.Sharleen was co-founder and Chief Creative Officer for CYBERWORLD International Corp, an early software developer of virtual worlds with innovative 3D technology for the web.  Sharleen was responsible for the executive management and marketing of the entertainment business unit and content studio. She built up strategic relationships with leading studios including Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Stan Lee Media, and the Discovery Channel.Prior to CYBERWORLD, Sharleen held senior product management roles for companies such as Delrina (WinFax), MGI Software(PhotoSuite) and Alias|Wavefront (Maya).