Crowdsourcing, Co-op Game Mechanics, and Rewards without Badges

via Mark Burgess,

At its heart, gamification uses game logic and mechanics to solve problems, engage users, and build loyalty. In the popular media, though, this often translates to nothing more than a process of action and reward – activity for digital validation. There are, however, more to modern game mechanics than unlocking achievements, and it just might be possible that gamification can be effective without the displayable collection of badges.

Cooperative game play and crowdsourcing have a lot in common because they involve more than one person working toward a common goal. In the realm of gamification, well-known crowdsourcing examples like Foldit involved a huge population in a game to further a study or provide data for their project. The gamification aspects include advancing through difficulty levels and earning different kinds of digital validation. These rewards for the gamer, though, are still just for the individual gamer. True cooperative game play has to reward the group of gamers as a whole.

Is a Better Product Enough Incentive?

Trapster is an app that alerts drivers to speed traps, road hazards, school zones, car accidents, icy roads, and much more. The app depends on user participation to deliver quality information in real time to other drivers on the road, so the question in cases like this is whether or not there is enough incentive to drive the necessary participation.
Trapster learns the credibility of speed traps and hazards based on how many users agree that it exists, and it can also learn the credibility of each user over time. Put this information together and you get a sort of radar detector crossed with up-to-the-minute traffic reports. However, it’s important to remember that the information you receive is only as good as the lever of participation by its users.

Trapster does not, for example, offer any badges for reporting the location of 15 red light cameras in a day. They don’t unlock the ability to report construction zones only after you reliably report a flooded road. You won’t even get a special acknowledgement for reporting a speed trap that is immediately marked as having a high level of confidence in its accuracy.

So without these rewards so often seen as part of gamification, does an app like Trapster fit in to the normal definition? The only reward for participation and loyalty is a noticeably better product and experience. Is that enough to move crowdsourcing into the realm of cooperative game mechanics?

The Difference between Co-op and Crowdsourcing

The cooperative game mechanic is built around the idea of more than one person succeeding at the same time. While it could be argued that the standard crowdsourcing model involves winners on both sides of the equation, it is not quite the same. Crowdsourcing may involve a large number of people using some form of a game system to solve a problem, but at its heart it is still a matter of asking a single person (well, a lot of single persons) to do something for an individual reward. A cooperative mechanic, on the other hand, is about being rewarded together, and that reward getting better as the level of participation increases.

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