GDC 2011: Game makers vs. gamification - it's on!

The gloves are off! Game makers and gamification will go head-to-head at this week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The 2011 Game Developers Conference (GDC) kicks off  in San Francisco today, and one of the new additions to the conference this year will be a slate of talks on -- you guessed it -- gamification.

Leaders from this brave new world of gamification will be on hand to debate whether using game mechanics to inspire real-life actions is legit and talk about specific examples where gamification has actually succeeded, beyond the already cliche notion of slapping badges anywhere and everywhere to inspire consumers to, say, buy more stuff.

Simon Carless, EVP of the UBM TechWeb Game Network and GDC bigwig, says they worked hard this year to find people who have found success using real-world application of gamification techniques.

“What we really want to do is present something about gamification in ‘The GDC Way.’ Carless says. “There’s a little bit of a hype curve on gamification right now... and we were really trying to find practical examples of things that have already worked in the space.”

Some examples of this include NYC-based Area/Code’s (aka Zynga New York) Macon Money project, where residents of Macon, Georgia are encouraged to do good deeds to earn virtual currency, when can then be used to buy items in real-life stores. Reps from Nike+ will talk also be on hand about how they’ve used stat tracking and social networking to inspire more people to get off the couch and get moving.

I asked Carless if he, personally, was a gamification skeptic and, even though he carefully towed the GDC company line, his answer still came off sounding like a healthy “yes.”

“I think my personal take is the same as our conference take -- the reason we’ve chosen to spend an entire day on gamification is that its pretty important. As any important thing there’s a lot of hype wandering out the outside of it. There are different tactical examples of success from, well, putting a bunch of dials on your website so people will stay there twice as long...”

Carless adds that “the game industry and gamification industry are not speaking the same language,” and that the “game industry has a tremendous amount to learn from web industry on games,” and notes that some are starting to warm up to social gaming, especially as companies like Zynga have been showing a larger understanding about how to add tried-and-true game mechanics into their gamified social interactions.

Of course, there will be plenty of opportunities at GDC this week to see if that’s really the case, including a rant called ‘No Freaking Respect’ where social game creators will most touch on the game industry’s hesitation to embrace new definitions of ‘gaming,’ along with what’s sure to be a lively debate on gamification (where each panelist will flip a coin to determine which side they’ll take).