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  • I love video games.

  • I'm also slightly in awe of them.

  • I'm in awe of their power

  • in terms of imagination, in terms of technology,

  • in terms of concept.

  • But I think, above all,

  • I'm in awe at their power

  • to motivate, to compel us,

  • to transfix us,

  • like really nothing else we've ever invented

  • has quite done before.

  • And I think that we can learn some pretty amazing things

  • by looking at how we do this.

  • And in particular, I think we can learn things

  • about learning.

  • Now the video games industry

  • is far and away the fastest growing

  • of all modern media.

  • From about 10 billion in 1990,

  • it's worth 50 billion dollars globally today,

  • and it shows no sign of slowing down.

  • In four years' time,

  • it's estimated it'll be worth over 80 billion dollars.

  • That's about three times the recorded music industry.

  • This is pretty stunning,

  • but I don't think it's the most telling statistic of all.

  • The thing that really amazes me

  • is that, today,

  • people spend about

  • eight billion real dollars a year

  • buying virtual items

  • that only exist

  • inside video games.

  • This is a screenshot from the virtual game world, Entropia Universe.

  • Earlier this year,

  • a virtual asteroid in it

  • sold for 330,000 real dollars.

  • And this

  • is a Titan class ship

  • in the space game, EVE Online.

  • And this virtual object

  • takes 200 real people

  • about 56 days of real time to build,

  • plus countless thousands of hours

  • of effort before that.

  • And yet, many of these get built.

  • At the other end of the scale,

  • the game Farmville that you may well have heard of,

  • has 70 million players

  • around the world

  • and most of these players

  • are playing it almost every day.

  • This may all sound

  • really quite alarming to some people,

  • an index of something worrying

  • or wrong in society.

  • But we're here for the good news,

  • and the good news is

  • that I think we can explore

  • why this very real human effort,

  • this very intense generation of value, is occurring.

  • And by answering that question,

  • I think we can take something

  • extremely powerful away.

  • And I think the most interesting way

  • to think about how all this is going on

  • is in terms of rewards.

  • And specifically, it's in terms

  • of the very intense emotional rewards

  • that playing games offers to people

  • both individually

  • and collectively.

  • Now if we look at what's going on in someone's head

  • when they are being engaged,

  • two quite different processes are occurring.

  • On the one hand, there's the wanting processes.

  • This is a bit like ambition and drive -- I'm going to do that. I'm going to work hard.

  • On the other hand, there's the liking processes,

  • fun and affection

  • and delight

  • and an enormous flying beast with an orc on the back.

  • It's a really great image. It's pretty cool.

  • It's from the game World of Warcraft with more than 10 million players globally,

  • one of whom is me, another of whom is my wife.

  • And this kind of a world,

  • this vast flying beast you can ride around,

  • shows why games are so very good

  • at doing both the wanting and the liking.

  • Because it's very powerful. It's pretty awesome.

  • It gives you great powers.

  • Your ambition is satisfied, but it's very beautiful.

  • It's a very great pleasure to fly around.

  • And so these combine to form

  • a very intense emotional engagement.

  • But this isn't the really interesting stuff.

  • The really interesting stuff about virtuality

  • is what you can measure with it.

  • Because what you can measure in virtuality

  • is everything.

  • Every single thing that every single person

  • who's ever played in a game has ever done can be measured.

  • The biggest games in the world today

  • are measuring more than one billion points of data

  • about their players, about what everybody does --

  • far more detail than you'd ever get from any website.

  • And this allows something very special

  • to happen in games.

  • It's something called the reward schedule.

  • And by this, I mean looking

  • at what millions upon millions of people have done

  • and carefully calibrating the rate,

  • the nature, the type, the intensity of rewards in games

  • to keep them engaged

  • over staggering amounts of time and effort.

  • Now, to try and explain this

  • in sort of real terms,

  • I want to talk about a kind of task

  • that might fall to you in so many games.

  • Go and get a certain amount of a certain little game-y item.

  • Let's say, for the sake of argument,

  • my mission is to get 15 pies

  • and I can get 15 pies

  • by killing these cute, little monsters.

  • Simple game quest.

  • Now you can think about this, if you like,

  • as a problem about boxes.

  • I've got to keep opening boxes.

  • I don't know what's inside them until I open them.

  • And I go around opening box after box until I've got 15 pies.

  • Now, if you take a game like Warcraft,

  • you can think about it, if you like,

  • as a great box-opening effort.

  • The game's just trying to get people to open about a million boxes,

  • getting better and better stuff in them.

  • This sounds immensely boring

  • but games are able

  • to make this process

  • incredibly compelling.

  • And the way they do this

  • is through a combination of probability and data.

  • Let's think about probability.

  • If we want to engage someone

  • in the process of opening boxes to try and find pies,

  • we want to make sure it's neither too easy,

  • nor too difficult, to find a pie.

  • So what do you do? Well, you look at a million people --

  • no, 100 million people, 100 million box openers --

  • and you work out, if you make the pie rate

  • about 25 percent --

  • that's neither too frustrating, nor too easy.

  • It keeps people engaged.

  • But of course, that's not all you do -- there's 15 pies.

  • Now, I could make a game called Piecraft,

  • where all you had to do was get a million pies

  • or a thousand pies.

  • That would be very boring.

  • Fifteen is a pretty optimal number.

  • You find that -- you know, between five and 20

  • is about the right number for keeping people going.

  • But we don't just have pies in the boxes.

  • There's 100 percent up here.

  • And what we do is make sure that every time a box is opened,

  • there's something in it, some little reward

  • that keeps people progressing and engaged.

  • In most adventure games,

  • it's a little bit in-game currency, a little bit experience.

  • But we don't just do that either.

  • We also say there's going to be loads of other items

  • of varying qualities and levels of excitement.

  • There's going to be a 10 percent chance you get a pretty good item.

  • There's going to be a 0.1 percent chance

  • you get an absolutely awesome item.

  • And each of these rewards is carefully calibrated to the item.

  • And also, we say,

  • "Well, how many monsters? Should I have the entire world full of a billion monsters?"

  • No, we want one or two monsters on the screen at any one time.

  • So I'm drawn on. It's not too easy, not too difficult.

  • So all this is very powerful.

  • But we're in virtuality. These aren't real boxes.

  • So we can do

  • some rather amazing things.

  • We notice, looking at all these people opening boxes,

  • that when people get to about 13 out of 15 pies,

  • their perception shifts, they start to get a bit bored, a bit testy.

  • They're not rational about probability.

  • They think this game is unfair.

  • It's not giving me my last two pies. I'm going to give up.

  • If they're real boxes, there's not much we can do,

  • but in a game we can just say, "Right, well.

  • When you get to 13 pies, you've got 75 percent chance of getting a pie now."

  • Keep you engaged. Look at what people do --

  • adjust the world to match their expectation.

  • Our games don't always do this.

  • And one thing they certainly do at the moment

  • is if you got a 0.1 percent awesome item,

  • they make very sure another one doesn't appear for a certain length of time

  • to keep the value, to keep it special.

  • And the point is really

  • that we evolved to be satisfied by the world

  • in particular ways.

  • Over tens and hundreds of thousands of years,

  • we evolved to find certain things stimulating,

  • and as very intelligent, civilized beings,

  • we're enormously stimulated by problem solving and learning.

  • But now, we can reverse engineer that

  • and build worlds

  • that expressly tick our evolutionary boxes.

  • So what does all this mean in practice?

  • Well, I've come up

  • with seven things

  • that, I think, show

  • how you can take these lessons from games

  • and use them outside of games.

  • The first one is very simple:

  • experience bars measuring progress --

  • something that's been talked about brilliantly

  • by people like Jesse Schell earlier this year.

  • It's already been done at the University of Indiana in the States, among other places.

  • It's the simple idea that instead of grading people incrementally

  • in little bits and pieces,

  • you give them one profile character avatar

  • which is constantly progressing

  • in tiny, tiny, tiny little increments which they feel are their own.

  • And everything comes towards that,

  • and they watch it creeping up, and they own that as it goes along.

  • Second, multiple long and short-term aims --

  • 5,000 pies, boring,

  • 15 pies, interesting.

  • So, you give people

  • lots and lots of different tasks.

  • You say, it's about

  • doing 10 of these questions,

  • but another task

  • is turning up to 20 classes on time,

  • but another task is collaborating with other people,

  • another task is showing you're working five times,

  • another task is hitting this particular target.

  • You break things down into these calibrated slices

  • that people can choose and do in parallel

  • to keep them engaged

  • and that you can use to point them

  • towards individually beneficial activities.

  • Third, you reward effort.

  • It's your 100 percent factor. Games are brilliant at this.

  • Every time you do something, you get credit; you get a credit for trying.

  • You don't punish failure. You reward every little bit of effort --

  • a little bit of gold, a little bit of credit. You've done 20 questions -- tick.

  • It all feeds in as minute reinforcement.

  • Fourth, feedback.

  • This is absolutely crucial,

  • and virtuality is dazzling at delivering this.

  • If you look at some of the most intractable problems in the world today

  • that we've been hearing amazing things about,

  • it's very, very hard for people to learn

  • if they cannot link consequences to actions.

  • Pollution, global warming, these things --

  • the consequences are distant in time and space.

  • It's very hard to learn, to feel a lesson.

  • But if you can model things for people,

  • if you can give things to people that they can manipulate