Why People Are Gaming Your System
While at an unusual sort of gathering a few weeks ago, I finally got to rub shoulders a bit with Jane McGonigal, my new favorite performance and gaming theorist at the University of California – Berkeley. She’s also the Lead Game Developer for 4orty2two, the team that did ilovebees, so those that know me understand why I’d find her work particularly interesting. If you’re really nice when you contact her she might even give you a pre-release peek at her forthcoming journal article in Modern Drama about “Supergaming.” You’d have to be a pretty clever marketer, though, to realize why the concepts of “ubiquitous play” and “massively-scaled community” should interest you: because your marketing channels (particularly massively-scaled ones, like affiliate programs or SEM/PPC) are already the subject of other people’s gameplay.
Gameplay, conceptually, is based upon a set of mutually agreed upon rules: woe to you if you didn’t define the rules well, though, because part of gameplay is getting away with as much as you can within the rules: there are no rules about bluffing in poker, for example. The more people involved, the more likely every rule is to be tested to it’s limit, and the more people’s behavior starts to look like gameplay, or is even openly courted as gameplay. Affiliates test the limits of the rules, exploit loopholes, brazenly ignore the rules and hope to get away with it, and protect people looking at their hands just as much as poker players in a casino. Ditto for search engine arbitrage, and the dance of Google AdWords. Don’t even get me started on the on-going game (that frequently looks more like an arms race) between virus and spyware makers and their cooresponding anti opposition.
Let me give you three quotes to show you where all this starts to come together as a common human trait. The first is historical, but is featured on Jane’s site AvantGame, someone who’s focused on gaming as organic supercomputing and play as problem solving:
“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough” – George Washington Carver
The second is from Derek Vaughan, writing about Google AdWords strategies that he compares to “cheating” because they are so good:
“If so, you may be able to save a bundle by cheating Google! Okay, so it’s not exactly cheating per se, but if you’re not using all the tools and tricks that AdWords provides, then you’re definitely leaving money on the table. And, when your competitors see your results, they’ll think you’ve somehow cheated the AdWords system.”
The third is from PaperGhost writing about the newest discoveries in how a certain piece of spyware is spreading:
“A wonderful game of connect the dots is being played out…and it looks like we have a winner. When a raft of circumstantial evidence is available, putting the pieces together usually solves the puzzle. And what a puzzle it has been! A globe-spanning paperhunt, multiple translations and a whole bunch of testing has driven me to one conclusion…”
I know I said before we were bred to gossip, but it is equally true that we were bred to play games and that the ways in which communities function (online and off) has something to do with both. It’s also very likely that part of what networked technology does is enhance those kinds of natural tendencies in communities while increasing the number of emergent possibilities that come from them becoming massively scaled. Which is another way of saying, for example, that affiliate marketing gave birth to spyware and the Internet gave birth to virii as a natural product of gaming the system. If you read the Wikipedia entry on why you shouldn’t game the Wikipedia system, does it remind you of any conversations you’ve had about anything else? What about this, this, this or maybe this?
About Brian Clark
Brian Clark of GMDStudios (http://www.gmdstudios.com/)