Energy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about gaming but in fact "gamification" represents a powerful new tool for addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing energy providers today. Many energy providers are searching for new and innovative approaches to engage consumers and change the way they use and think about energy. Whether the motive is to create a more engaging customer experience, reduce energy consumption or to help customers save money-gamification offers providers a way to bring entertainment to an industry that most consumers wouldn't associate with having fun.
Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems. In the utilities industry, this can mean using tasks, rewards, or competition to engage energy consumers and influence their behavior. The mass adoption of social media and smartphones has moved games into the mainstream. Each day, users spend more than three million hours playing the mobile game Angry Birds, while popular social games such as the Facebook game Farmville, have attracted more than 83 million users. Quite simply, games are no longer just child's play.
Gamifying the Energy Experience
For energy providers who today only interact with a consumer on average nine minutes per year and traditionally only have a relationship with the bill payer, the engagement possibilities offered by gaming are enticing. A number of trends are also making energy a great candidate for gamification. The continuing roll-out of smart metering technology offers detailed energy usage data that can be shared with consumers and used to develop personalized insights on how they conserve energy and reduce their bills.
This might not sound like fun yet, but what if you could get a free pizza if you used less energy? Danish energy firm Vestforbr?ing and advertising agency Anew did just that when it created a pizzeria for which its output depended on the amount of energy being saved by local residents. The campaign first sent consumers information on steps they could take to reduce energy usage. Energy consumption was then measured over a period of time and the less energy consumers used, the more free pizzas were available at the pizzeria. More pizzas were also provided depending on the number of 'Likes' the organization's Facebook page received, as well as the number of hits on its energy saving tips webpage. The energy awareness and branding campaign engaged an entire community, raised brand awareness, and made saving energy fun and rewarding.
Free pizza can certainly be a motivator but so can social prestige and friendly competition. Simple Energy, a U.S.-based company, has designed an online platform that allows users score their energy usage against friends and receive rewards for conservation behavior. San Diego Gas and Electric, a leading U.S. utility, worked with Simple Energy last summer to launch the San Diego Energy Challenge.
In summer months, devices like air conditioners and pool pumps can put a significant strain on the energy system. To help manage consumer demand, the program leveraged Simple Energy's platform to give customers a chance to compete against one another to reduce their energy consumption.
Simple Energy is not the only gamified energy platform out there. Opower, a smart grid software-as-a-service provider, has also partnered with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to jointly develop a new social energy application allowing Facebook users to compete to conserve energy.
Winning at Gamification
To successfully gain value from gamification, energy providers need to keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Emphasize the right results - Energy providers should design gaming characteristics with care. It is critical that games incent the right desired behaviors and balance intrinsic motivation with friendly competition.
- Shorten the feedback loop - Gamification relies on short feedback loops to drive momentum and engagement by drawing clear connections between actions and resulting outcomes and rewards.
- Create social connections - Playing a game alone can be effective, but playing a social game is even better. By tapping into competition, fostering social connections and providing social recognition, energy providers can create a cycle of positive reinforcement that keeps consumers engaged and motivated.
- Provide incentives - Gamification relies on incentives to encourage specific actions or behaviors. Incentives may include recognition, access to exclusive offers, or monetary rewards. Some games even have users put their own money on the line.
Gamification gives energy providers a new opportunity to engage consumers and influence energy usage behavior. Accenture's global energy consumer research shows that nearly 90 percent of consumers think it's important for an electricity management program to be fun for the whole family to use. As gaming continues to grow, so will the opportunities for energy providers to use its popularity to create a new and innovative customer experience.