Video games are one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment. They’re interactive, competitive, social, and have the power to keep a person glued to a screen for inordinate lengths of time. A player’s success or failure is straightforward, mirrored back with a new level, a score, or the dreaded “game over.”
At Citizenside, a four-year-old platform for citizen journalism, this concept is applied to news production. A small army of members, almost 70,000, upload photos and video to Citizenside’s site as events unfold around the world. The content is sold to news outlets, so quality is key. Rather than give personalized feedback on every single submission—a nearly impossible task—Citizenside uses game mechanics as a quality control process.
Contributors earn points for supplying content. Upload a photo, points; image gets approved for the homepage of Citizenside, more points. Every time the photo is viewed, the point tally continues to rise. The homepage even has a scoreboard listing all of the current month’s top users. Using game design gives a steady stream of recognition to those that participate in the most productive way, and tries to motivate them to continue. “The points insure members have some idea of how they’re doing in following our editorial values,” says editor-in-chief Philip Trippenbach. “We’re focused on true, interesting content.”
But there is another side to the points system: the information gathered helps Citizenside evaluate the trustworthiness and reliability of individual members. “When we have five or six contributors sending content from one event, we can streamline that process. The person with a higher level is more likely to have sent in quality content,” says Garrett Goodman, the international coordinator for Citizenside.
At Digital Journal, over 30,000 contributors from some 200 countries contribute not only photos and video, but also report and write stories. Chris Hogg, the CEO of Digital Journal, says they introduced a point system one month ago, and people are responding. “It’s led to a big upsurge in how active people are and how engaged they are,” says Hogg.
Users are ranked on a general leaderboard as well in separate category rankings, such as top photographer and top commenter. “Exposing what people are doing in their reporting and rewarding them for that has shown the staff which individuals are attracting the most engagement,” says Hogg. “They may have always contributed a lot, but this system has showcased them.”
After an application process, approved contributors, dubbed “Digital Journalists,” or “DJs” are paid monthly from part of the site’s ad sales, and the larger the proportion of comments and likes the article has garnered, the more money that person makes. Digital Journal makes no claims to pay a lot—Hoggs says the average active user makes a few hundred dollars a month—but being featured as a top contributor only ups that persons chances of getting noticed. At a user-generated site, motivation is key. “We’re using game theory to incentivize people to participate more,” says Hogg.
The Bay Area News Group is using this same principle to stimulate participation on its map-based news app, TapIn Bay Area. While the actual news stories come from professional journalists, points are awarded to readers who upload photos, comment on articles, or submit reviews or blog posts. “It’s sweat equity. They’re putting in effort, just like we are, to make the app better,” says Jeff Herr, vice president of Interactive at California Newspapers Partnership. The app came out in July, but is still in beta. (Read a Q & A with one of TapIn Bay Area’s founders here.) It has been downloaded by some 1500 people so far, and is supposed to be formally released this week. For now, Herr says, these points will be redeemable for concert tickets or t-shirts, but readers may soon be able to exchange them for pre-arranged deals with local businesses. Herr and his staffers are brainstorming how
game gaming theory can be applied to the Bay Area News Group websites, as well, working with some of the people behind Guitar Hero and other video games. “It’s about stimulating behaviors and getting rewards,” says Herr.
For Citizenside contributors, the ultimate reward is getting your content purchased and published, which is reflected in the site’s incentive system. A minority of members have climbed to the level of Certified Member, which gives them clearance to post their content directly to the site. Later, the content is verified as thoroughly as all the rest, but in breaking news events, the faster post can translate into dollars. This is particularly true in right-place-right-time scenarios, like a natural disaster, a protest, or a celebrity sighting.