Japanese entertainment giant Sony unveils its first home console, PlayStation, selling more than 100 million units over the next decade as the global video-game industry explodes to roughly $15 billion in 1996 (from $4 billion in 1990).
Ben Sawyer and David Rejeski co-found the Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to solve challenges in education, healthcare, homeland security and national defense. Some games spawned by the movement are purely educational — like Spongelab Interactive’s “History of Biology” game — while others are designed to actually change players’ behavior. In 2008, for example, a game called “Re-Mission,” developed by a nonprofit, is shown in clinical trials to improve pediatric cancer patients’ adherence to chemotherapy regimens.
Howard Dean’s campaign rolls out the first official U.S. presidential election video game. Produced by Persuasive Games, the “Howard Dean for Iowa Game” helps supporters visualize grassroots outreach and drum up real-life support for Dean. The game is played 100,000 times in the month leading up to Iowa’s caucuses, and it generates considerable buzz in the blogosphere, despite costing only $20,000 to produce. “The bang for the buck was worth it,” one campaign adviser tells The New York Times.
The Washington D.C.-based production company York Zimmerman Inc. teams up with one of the co-founders of Otpor!, known for its role in ousting Slobodan Milosevic, to produce A Force More Powerful, a game designed to teach nonviolent resistance.* (The game is later adapted to train members of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement prior to the 2011 revolution.) Even the United Nations gets into the game, literally, with Food Force, which helps players learn to deliver aid to war zones.
Bunchball, a California-based company that uses game mechanics to help clients improve online engagement, lands its first contract — to build a fan website for the NBC comedy show The Office. Soon, more industry leaders come calling, with everyone from Playboy to Ford Motor Co. enlisting Bunchball to “gamify” their operations. Conceptually distinct from serious games that aim to teach or alter players’ behavior, the marriage of advertising with game dynamics is all about getting consumers hooked on a website.
Sweden unveils a “speed-camera lottery,” temporarily gamifying traffic laws in Stockholm to see whether people will drive more safely for money. The camera snaps photographs of speeding motorists so they can be fined, but it also documents those driving at or below the speed limit, automatically entering them into a lottery funded by their lead-footed compatriots. It works — at least in the immediate vicinity of the speed cam — inspiring drivers to go 22 percent slower during the three-day experiment.
Corporate gamification takes off. Fueled by the success of gamified applications like Foursquare, thousands of companies — including Coca-Cola, IBM and global software giant SAP — jump on the bandwagon. In 2011, global revenue from gamification marketing, software and consulting reaches nearly $100 million, according to M2 Research. “The business world,” innovation expert Saul Kaplan writes for the Harvard Business Review, “has gone gaga for gamification.”