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10 Steps to Gamifying Your Next Project

In this blog I'm going to talk more master game entrepreneur Luis von Ahn about his new game Duolingo, which he's using to help translate the web, and his top 10 lessons in game design.

Luis von Ahn is a master "micro-game" designer, whose last major success reCAPTCHA is now is digitizing 100 million words a day -- about two million books a year. His newest game, called Duolingo, is intended to help translate the World Wide Web. 

"Duolingo really started when I asked the question of how can we translate the Web into every major language," Luis told me. "First of all, more than 50% of the Web is written in English and less than 50% of the world's population speaks English, so we'd like to really translate the Web into every major language," he said. 

Luis knew that computers could do a bit of the translation work, but not all. "Sure, you can use computers for certain brief snippets," he told me, "but really they're not good enough yet to translate the Web. But if you want to translate the whole Web, you can't do it with 50 people or 100 people, so we started wondering how we might get, say, 100 million people, helping us translate the Web into every major language. That's kind of how Duolingo started." 

"One challenge is the lack of bilinguals. I don't even know if there are 100 million people out there who are bilingual enough who use the Web to help me translate," said Luis. Another problem was this: "How are we going to motivate people to do this for free? I can't pay 100 million people."

Then Luis and his colleagues realized they could get work done by transforming translation into something that millions of people already want to do, learn another language. "There are about 1.2 billion people out there trying to learn a foreign language," Luis said. "Stuff needs to be translated, so why can't we get these people who are learning a foreign language to translate this stuff for us? That, in essence, is Duolingo, a language-learning website where, as people are learning, they're helping us to translate the web." 

The gamification part of Duolingo comes from what Luis describes as a skill tree. "It really works out well," he said. "Basically the whole game is laid out as a tree and you unlock parts of the game." As a user completes a tree, he or she becomes more proficient in that language. 

It's been super-successful, Luis said, with some 300,000 active users. "Of course, our goal is 100 million, but we're on it." 

Next, Luis outlined for me his "Gamification 101" lecture, which he offers to entrepreneurs who want to utilize gamification to build their business or solve problems. 
Here are his top 10 pieces of advice:

1. Gamification can solve a lot of problems with data interpretation. If you can figure out how to turn the problem into a game, you can have the crowd solve it, Luis said.

2. Playing a game should be easy, but companies should realize that creating one is extremely difficult. "It's a lot harder than you would imagine," Luis said. "Simply slapping points in there doesn't usually work that well."

3. Games themselves don't keep people engaged very long, unless they have a social component. Games "keep people engaged for the first week or the first month, but not for years," Luis said. "I think it's other people that keep people engaged for years. So, I think if you're thinking about gamifying, think about gamifying with other people."

4. Games must be social. "The experience of the game has to be with other people and there has to be a way for the other people to be creative as well," Luis said. "What keeps people coming back to Facebook is that there are other people there who are being creative, who are expressing their thoughts, who are putting up pictures." (You can sign into Duolingo, for example, through Facebook, and keep your friends informed of your progress.) "That keeps people coming back for years," he said. "Things like Tetris don't keep people coming back for years. You really need to have other people involved to create loyalty to a game."

5. The problem you're solving has to be really well integrated into the game mechanics. "It's deep integration to the game mechanics as opposed to shallow 'let's put some points and a leaderboard,'" Luis said. With Duolingo, learning the language is tied in to recognizing the digital version of a book in that language: you learn and contribute at the same time. 

6. Playing has to mean something to the player: A player can't win all the time, a player has to be able to fail to keep it interesting. "Basically, in all the most fun games in the world you can actually fail," Luis said. "It's a tricky thing, though, of how often you let people fail: How hard do you make the game? I think it has to be hard so that it's not super easy to win, but if you fail too much you get frustrated."

7. Leaderboards are good, but only for the best players in your game. Be careful not to alienate entry-level players. "Leaderboards are awesome for the people near the top of the leaderboard and not for anybody else," Luis said. "Leaderboards tend to motivate the top players. The other 95% are not. If a leaderboard only helps motivate the top 5%, you've got to do something else," he said. One solution is to have regional leaderboards, so people don't feel overwhelmed. 

8. Be cautious when using monetary rewards or awards. "I've never seen the use of prizes," Luis said. "We tried prizes for a little while. It didn't do anything. I've never been able to make monetary awards work for me. Usually, it just makes people cheat at the game to get the monetary award. But I don't know if it makes it that much more fun. Gambling works for a reason so I assume it can be made to work. But we just never really made it work."

9. Add random rewards, however. "Randomness is quite powerful," said Luis. "The fact that there is some chance that you will win gives you hope," he said. "That's why card games are so fun in some sense. You don't have to be the best poker player on earth, but you still have a chance of winning. In different games we have added things like a random bonus. It's completely random and now you get a bonus round or something and it really motivates people."

10. Play the game yourself offline. It avoids mistakes later. "If you're going to make a computer game, the first thing you should do is play it without the computer. Somehow figure out a way to play the game just with pencil and paper," Luis said. "That really tells you a lot. About 90% of the things that I come up with are just not super but you can catch the majority of them early. So, if you're coming up with a game, you should try it on pencil and paper beforehand. You will spend two hours on that and this will save you eight weeks of coding later."

In my next blog, I'm going to look at the work of Crowdcast, which uses the power of the crowd, and gamification, to make predictions for businesses. 

NOTE: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a "contributing author" for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
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Seems to me Luis is defining 'game' as a progressive interactive structured activity, that he recommends involving a social component. I know for me that I'm as motivated by his point 6- where that activity has some meaning for me- but with a twist. In this case, being social is irrelevant as long as I gain development in whatever I'm interacting with or seeking to learn. As a creative I also love the random-factor within a 'game system'- that's what keeps my interest!
If Luis adds the insight of Daniel Pink and his book called DRiVE there may be more ways to deeply and positively motivate millions to interact with this process and engage in a whole-hearted manner. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the 3 big drivers of our current motivational scheme according to Pink and as those AMP's are enhanced, more motivation and excitement are a by product.
Excellent Luis! 

The methodology suggested by Luis is excellent to be applied in R&D Companies, if we can raise the problem as a game and as a challenge at the same time, all we're going to move as quickly as possible to win the game!  

 XPrize is that!!!

Life is what we have been taught by Luis and Peter:
The best player wins!
Just signed up to Duolingo, and tried the first two lessons, fun and engaging even though I did not know that I wanted to learn a language:-)
I was born a bilingual, but I still yearn for more tounges. One problem I confronted with Duolingo is that they only have 5 languages. I would be greaful if they could find a way to AI-nize the curriculum so that people could learn any language(Latin is what I want to learn. and ancient greek...) shows one example. mr. Philip Parker is on his way to AI-nize writing books, and has already started on 3D-gaming language learning, all by a computer. I think it'll be great if those two could work together.
One idea I really liked is solving problems first offline. Although the computer has many abilities you can't have offline, it is also limited on a keyboard and mouse(at least until the LEAP starts shipping). So go storm your brain with more freedom first, then come back with that in your head.
Despite my critism, I really like duolingo and may start on it someday. But first, I have to finish my Javascript courses at  Happy learning :-D
My preferred question to a billionaire would be "what one thing, other than your own initiative, do you credit for your success?"
Luis makes an interesting point about leaderboards within a gaming system. According to Luis, leaderboards only motivate the top 5% of gamers. I believe this may be a bit shy. Based on a Bell Curve, about 15% of players should be within one standard deviation of whatever score marks the beginning of the leader board. Although this is theoretical, I believe the motivation stirred up by the leaderboard is a good way to drive people to get better at the game, and inevitably better society as a whole. 
I have an intersting idea for social game. But its only game. Maybe we can understand something about us with it. I don't know is it useful for other reasons. I realy want to see it done. Not becouse of money. I want to see is it works like I predict. I am writing here becouse I am searching somebody whoom to explain it deeper who will show me the path to make it,or somebody who will do it.
Incredibly simple but complicated at the same time....crazy! So, how do I motivate my 22 and 18 yr old boys to jump into the gamification pool?
What a pleasure it is to read this interview Peter. Thanks for writing it. I'm on a 65-day streak with Duolingo. What a blessing Luis is to the world.
Thanks Diamandis. This week end I came across another interesting Gaming Platform "EyeWire"  Enabling Citizen Scientists to solve very complex problems.

EyeWire is a game to map the brain from Seung Lab at MIT. Anyone can play and you need no scientific background. Over 130,000 people from 145 countries already do. Together we are mapping the 3D structure of neurons; advancing our quest to understand ourselves.
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