Mountain View Voice

News - March 16, 2012

Games are a way of life

by Angela Hey

Are you ready for some serious fun? Gamification is affecting every area of life, turning personal life and work into games.

IMVU (pronounced "imm-view"), a Mountain View company, has created a three-dimensional world where you can meet people online, share interests and play games if you are over 13 years old. Represent yourself with an avatar, typically looking like a Japanese anime character.

On IMVU's website, CEO Cary Rosenzweig shows his avatar CaryJay as a dreamy, wide-eyed youth. Quite different in person, Cary is a mature, seasoned Silicon Valley executive. He is passionate about tapping into people's emotions to make online encounters exciting.

I signed up for a free IMVU account and received credits, virtual money. I didn't like the free clothes offered to my avatar. To get better fashions I had to pay with credits. You can buy credits with real money. "That's our business model," said Cary.

If you watch adverts, answer surveys and subscribe to services like Netflix, you get more credits. Get more by making and selling clothes, stickers, rooms, furniture, games and other items. IMVU lets budding designers experiment with ideas.

With vibrant ads and intuitive navigation, I found IMVU more engaging than Second Life, a virtual world competitor. Unlike Facebook, where you use your real name, IMVU lets you play anonymously. Vice president of marketing, Jenny Rutherford (aka luludazzle), explained this encourages people with illnesses to share their feelings honestly. She related how a weak, bald chemotherapy patient felt more valued in IMVU's world than in real life because her avatar looked healthy. She also said hearing impaired people like the system.

Half a million people use IMVU daily, there are 6 million 3D items on sale and 50 million registered members, of which two-thirds are female and 50 percent live in the US. IMVU is hiring and has $50 million in revenues, with 80 percent of revenues coming from consumers' credits. It is funded by Best Buy Capital, Menlo Ventures, Allegis Capital and Bridgescale Partners.

Another Mountain View company, Innovation Games, is hiring. It provides group gaming experiences. It helps organizations unleash creativity and discover customer needs. The City of San Jose used Innovation Games to set budget priorities. Intuit held a gaming session for over 500 people. I attended a training class for facilitators conducted by CEO and founder, Luke Hohmann. To get our creative juices flowing, we constructed name badges from card, glitter, stickers and pipe cleaners. The idea was to warm up our brain by telling stories about our badge and ourselves.

The game Start Your Day helps you think about product use. Customers describe how they would use a product daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. They then think beyond recent experiences that might bias their thinking. A game for setting priorities is 20-20 Vision. Luke pointed out that asking someone "What will be..." as in "What will this product be for?" is radically different from "What will I have done?" as in "What steps will I have done when the product is ready?" The initial concept is more creative and avoids dependent steps that can impede progress.

In 20-20 Vision you list each priority on a sticky note or card. Then you get customers or decision-makers to place them on a wall in order of priority and argue their ranking. The discussion helps discover the most important priorities. Anyone over 13 can play innovation and instant-play games online at www.innovationgames.com.

Games are radically changing behavior. Think how you can use games to improve communication and have fun in your company, nonprofit, school, team or family.

Angela Hey advises technology companies on marketing and business development. She can be reached at amhey@techviser.com.

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