Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

Turning your commute into a game worth playing

E3 Expo 2012 - GREE booth driving game by Pop Culture Geek

GREE booth driving game by Pop Culture Geek

Companies are trying to change the way you drive, but this time they’re not using shock videos and pages of statistics. They’re making driving a game, and people are happy to play.

The idea here is something often called “gamification“, where you bring game-like elements to normally mundane tasks. A extremely popular example is Foursquare, where checking in at a location can earn you badges, achievements (discounts!), and even a title (Mayor).

People are competitive, and turning things into a game, even a simple one, can cause people to change their behaviors in remarkable ways. I know people who come totally unglued over losing a Foursquare mayorship, while a new badge can make their day.

Navigating traffic with Waze

Gamification on the road is getting some critical mass in a driving app called Waze (pronounces “ways”). On the surface Waze looks like just another mapping application, but it goes deeper. When you run Waze you’re also sharing information on your speed and location back to the application, which helps everyone else plan better routes. If you’re going 20 mph on the freeway, Waze knows traffic is backed up and will change recommendations accordingly.

It turns everyone using Waze into a traffic reporter, and the more people reporting the better Waze gets. But what if people already know how to get from Point A to Point B? Why should they bother to run Waze anyway? Because you get points, of course! Points for just racking up miles with Waze turned on, and also for reporting traffic accidents, road construction, or even (ahem) sneakily hidden police cars.

As you rack up points you can customize the Waze icon that others see on their maps, and other small things. The net result is that the more fun it is to use Waze, the more Waze benefits by becoming a more valuable tool. And if you save more time off your commute, everybody wins.

The video is from an interview I did with the Fox Morning Show in Phoenix on Waze, which shows the app in action. Waze is available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

Prius tricks you into saving gas

I’m currently driving around a Prius as part of a promotional campaign here in Phoenix, and it’s interesting how it encourages you to save as much gas as possible.

There is an obvious ploy where you can enter in the price of gas into the dashboard, and it will just calculate exactly how much each trip just cost you in fuel. A bit heavy handed for my taste, but still a behavior changer.

Prius fuel savings dashboardMore interesting to me was the display that shows real time how your engine is using power, and what mpg you’re getting. If your indicator goes out of “ECO” mode all the way to the right in the “PWR” section, then you’re burning more gas than normal. On the other hand, if you’re being extra good then the bar actually goes to the left into the “CHG” indicator, which means you’re recharging the Prius’ batteries. You can see how far along you are there by the handy battery icon.

Almost immediately after we got our Priuses, one of the other bloggers posted how many mpg he was getting, and how he was changing his driving habits to increase it. A few of us posted our own mpg and a mini competition started. That’s when I realized this was a baby video game trying to change my driving behavior, and it was working!

Why? Because how you drive a Prius contributes directly to your gas mileage. Fast starts and stops do poorly, while smooth acceleration and coasting will drive it up. The more gas I save the more I’m going to talk about it, and the better rep the Prius will have for efficiency, so Toyota has a good reason to encourage drivers to be as efficient as possible. Sneaky.

Is it worth playing?

Overall, I’m not a huge fan of gamification. I’m tired of badges and achievements for every silly thing that happens online. But it can have some interesting applications once all the hype dies down, and encouraging collaborative traffic management and individual gas savings both seem worth playing along.