Gamification: What if People Cheat?

A few years ago I was working with a major European research institute. In celebration of their 75th birthday they wanted to raise awareness for research and innovation, their core business.
This required us to come up with a concept that would generate exposure with a much broader public than the academics, scientists and policy makers they were used to talking to.

Part of our idea was a contest. Basically we asked people to dream up new innovations and inventions that might change the shape of the future. Contestants would present their ideas using self-made videos uploaded to a special site. Everybody else could rate these videos and by doing so nominate a selection of them. From these a professional jury would pick a winner.

We had no trouble convincing our client to build a better-than-the-real-thing YouTube clone (which was still in its infancy back then). They pulled this off in a matter of weeks. Our biggest challenge was one single question:

“What if people cheat?”

‘What if they rig the vote by having all their friends, family and every one they can get a hold of vote for their idea?’ It took a little effort that this kind of cheating was exactly what we wanted to happen. And as it turned out many contestants did cheat. Greatly increasing the exposure and number of contestants.

A few months we found ourselves in a similar situation. A colleague of mine had developed great proposal for a serious game for one of the world’s largest professional facility service firms. The game basically tested the knowledge of people about various aspects of their work by presenting various questions in a typical game show format. After pitching our idea, we got that same question again:

“What if people cheat?”

“What if people cheat by watching colleagues play and copying the right answers?” This time we came a little better prepared. We allowed people to cheat. In fact we made cheating relatively easy for them in two ways:

  • First players could recruit new players from among their colleagues. They would receive a few bonus points for this. Players could cheat by recruiting extra players. Not a bad thing from our perspective.
  • Second players could cheat learning the correct answers from their colleagues. With clever game design we made sure they could only do so by actually discussing the questions one by one and figuring our which was the best answer.

Not only had we created a challenge in which thousands of people played hard to improve their professional knowledge; we had also created dozens of trainers and teachers who would share their newly gained knowledge with their co-workers.

Perhaps next time you face a similar situation and someone asks you: What if people cheat?” Tell them:Great! How can we benefit from it?”

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