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The Future of Energy is in Gaming

Gaming and technology have been at the forefront of making life more fun and productive for all of us. With over 3 billion hours spent gaming per week globally, the question arises as to whether we can capture the fun of gaming and gain insight into user behavior to potentially drive change in other non-traditional disciplines like sustainability.

Gamification, the inclusion of gaming elements into other disciplines to stimulate learning and engagement, is one method companies are using to convince residents to save energy. Using less electricity is key to managing our carbon emissions, and if we can drive competition and make the process fun, residents are sure to engage more often.

At present, residents are inundated with information about saving energy, which can result in desensitization. By changing the way that information is channeled to them and gathered from them by traditional means to a more gamified, real time, process; users will become more informed, more able to enact change, more able to see the immediate impact, and more likely to repeat.

Utilities and third-parties have jumped on the bandwagon to create a business out of gamification. A reward system for users to save more energy than their peers also incentivizes accomplishment. However, if not careful, associating an energy-forward accomplishment with a reward can undermine intrinsic motivation. Whether peer-to-peer competition and virtual rewarding is enough to electrify the push towards spending less energy is still to be confirmed, there are many reasons on the user's side to use gamified products to control energy usage.

Using gamification to save money and energy is especially true with younger generations that grew up gaming in an increasingly environmentally conscious society. The trend of young professionals vying towards a path of living smaller and cheaper has created a market opportunity for companies looking to change their energy habits.

Aside from the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs and mandates for higher fuel economy in automobiles, traditional programs to reduce energy use tend to be wide-swath and unsophisticated in nature. Beyond the tip of the iceberg, the well runs deep with access to real-time data that is presented in a fun, game-like way. If framed right, gamification is one step that will drive awareness of our natural resources and their precious nature.

With an average net energy savings between 3-6%, gamifying tangibly alters energy usage. But at the end of the day, society should be able to do the same without the games; is gamification a temporary engagement or a permanent solution? With utility companies estimated to spend $65 million on gamification products worldwide by 2016 for a growing market of $2.8 billion, company investment seems to be just beginning.

Gamification is not without its opponents. The concept has been called a "marketing gimmick" and an attempt to domesticate the "wild beast" that is modern video gaming. It is estimated that 80% of gamification products fall short of market goals due to design inadequacy. Nevertheless, there have been a good number of successful attempts at creating order out of chaos. Gaming elements have to be integrated and the topic that is gamified must be framed in an interesting manner or the "fun" will be taken out of "fun and games".

Opower, a leader in the energy gamification market for utilities, engages communities by comparing residents with their neighbors in order to catalyze behavioral change. The company combats the dismissive temperament that used to surround gaming, creating a multi-billion dollar industry that targets both users and utilities.

Maximizing disposable income by minimizing the cost of energy creates an opportunity in the energy market. As people become more conscious of where their money is going, gamification can be applied to other areas aside from energy. For example, the health industry is making strides in informing and engaging patients. Many cars have integrated an interactive dashboard to gauge gasoline efficiency. By driving engagement, a myriad of options become available for companies and users alike to apply. Gamification is only one method of catalyzing behavioral change, but it might be the game-changer the world needs.

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