Games are identified as one of the biggest trends for social media and mobile devices.  Gamification is called the next big thing for marketing.  Both have exciting implications for behavior change in the health care sector.  So will social games and gamification play a significant role in changing consumption behaviors for electricity, gas, and water?  Yes.  Gamification incorporates various game mechanisms like achievements, points, status, and behavioral momentum into existing communication channels to engage and educate target audiences.  It’s a great tool for utilities and Smart Grid vendors to use with residential consumers to communicate complex concepts around energy efficiency, demand response, integration of distributed generation and new pricing programs.

Social gaming differs in several key aspects.  First, it is based in social network infrastructures like Facebook.  Second, it requires interaction with other players in a competition built around an application specifically designed for play.  There are additional distinctions, but this explanation sets the stage for why utilities should infuse gamification into their existing websites to build knowledge and support for Smart Grid initiatives such as smart meter deployments, introduction of Time of Use (TOU) pricing, or enrollment in demand response (DR) programs.  Smart Grid vendors should build games into their solutions that allow for communication of achievements (such as “hey look at the score I received on my energy behavior knowledge) to interactive programs that deliver status or rewards to players and winners.

Here’s one example of how games could expedite enrollment in a DR program.  A utility is building a communications outreach plan to the residential consumer base to build enrollment in a new DR program.  As the project team reviews the multiple channels available for outreach (such as contact centers, printed billing inserts, websites, Facebook pages, and community interaction tactics) they acknowledge that the program is difficult to explain and therefore negatively impact their ultimate enrollment success.  Some team members read that games have often been used to educate and motivate desired actions.  They note that the utility website would be a natural location to add game mechanics to teach consumers about the individual, community, and societal benefits of DR participation.  Rewarding “players” through a series of simple games for achievement can motivate them to actively seek information and recruit more players when rewarded for that.  Players earn points for participation based on the game objectives. End result – consumers become promoters of the DR program, and peer-based recommendations for participation in the DR program causes enrollment to surge.

The gamification project doesn’t stop there. Consider how its influences can be extended to positively impact local businesses in the utility footprint.  The utility project team realizes that any point rewards need to be redeemed somewhere, and sees that they can dramatically expand the scope of the educational outreach (and deliver some additional community benefits) by working out agreements with local businesses that are willing to redeem game points towards the purchase of approved merchandise or services.  Services could include energy efficiency upgrades, HVAC maintenance and other actions that deliver long-term benefits to utilities in reduced energy use.  Merchandise can include energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, EV charging stations, or solar panels.  These “redemption centers” are listed on the utility website, and those commercial establishments that are participating in any other utility energy efficiency or curtailment programs are highlighted to recognize their good energy behaviors, and extend the teachable moments to consumers and other businesses.  Local merchants enjoy the increased sales activity, local governments applaud the boosts to local business, and the utility has achieved many more benefits than mere load reductions.

Gamification presents very intriguing possibilities for utilities and Smart Grid vendors, and should be incorporated into ongoing Smart Grid projects that are visible and disruptive to consumers.  I’ll talk about innovative outreach that includes gamification in a webinar on June 21.  Join us to learn more about leveraging all channels of communication to educate, engage, and enlighten consumers.