Volkswagen unveils a gamified crowdsourcing campaign in China, the German automaker’s biggest market, inviting consumers to design a vehicle, post their designs online and rate others, with the results tracked on a public leaderboard. Volkswagen doesn’t actually build any of the 119,000 People’s Car Project submissions, but it makes a video simulation of one — a circular hovercraft meant to navigate narrow, crowded Chinese streets. The gamified ploy still achieves its intended purpose: driving 33 million visitors to the website in the campaign’s first year.
Jarret Brachman and Alix Levine of the security consultancy Cronus Global write for the first time about Islamic extremists embracing gamification. “Like virtually every other popular online social space,” they write on ForeignPolicy.com, “the social space of online jihadists has become ‘gamified.’” Gateway sites like IslamicAwakening.com — where virtually every American jihadist posted at some point — use features like reputation points or “rep power” to entice users to spend more time perusing their extremist subforums.
The U.S. Navy launches a massively multiplayer video game to generate ideas for fighting piracy in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. Unlike the popular America’s Army game series, developed in the early 2000s as a U.S. Army recruiting tool, this game is all about intellectual capital. The goal, according to the Office of Naval Research, is to develop strategies that “otherwise might not emerge from more traditional wargame approaches.”
Gamification earns serious scientific street cred as players of Foldit, an online protein-folding game created by University of Washington researchers, successfully map the structure of a retroviral protease that could help treat HIV infection and AIDS. What had puzzled scientists for more than a decade is accomplished by crowdsourced gamification in just 10 days.
During an eight-day offensive against militants in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military promotes gamification features on the front page of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) website, allowing visitors to score points for tweets and repeat visits. The move, like Israel’s announcement of the war via Twitter, attracts considerable criticism. “Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it,” writes tech blogger Jon Mitchell. “It makes me sick.”
Seventy percent of firms on the Forbes Global 2000 list will use at least one gamified application, according to the research firm Gartner. But some 80 percent of those applications are also expected to fail. If gamification endures, it might depend on turning big data into useful data. Already, more than 50 U.S. government organizations — and all 15 executive departments, as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force — use games to crowdsource ideas for everything from enhancing arms control transparency to mapping dark matter.
Ty McCormick is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.