In a new Gamasutra feature
, video game designer and academic Ian Bogost examines real-life reward systems such as airline loyalty programs and contrasts them with virtual systems like Xbox Live and Foursquare. It turns out they have important traits in common.
"Few people call Xbox Live Achievements and PSN Trophies 'loyalty programs,' but that's indeed what they are," explains Bogost, who is also assistant professor of Literature Communication and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology. "They offer players incentives to continue buying and playing titles for one console over another. Developers are required to include Achievements or Trophies in their games, and players can earn them by completing specific tasks, some central to play (reaching a certain level) and others peripheral (completing a time run)."
Airline loyalty programs also encourage customers to continue to fly with a specific company by offering rewards. Like Achievement hoarders, there are communities of people who take mileage-chasing to the extreme, doing everything they can to "game" the frequent flyer system.
Bogost adds that Achievements aren't only something that give a player a sense of self-worth, but they also act as status symbols. "Achievements offer a compact way for players to communicate with one another about their accomplishments," he says. "They serve an evidentiary function, affirming particular feats and prowess. This service value is similar to social value, but offers more than just status: it gives players a way of verifying their in-game acts during social encounters."
He explains further: "Frequent flyer programs encourage repeat patronage of an airline by offering social status, improved service and benefits, and free trips over time. Achievements encourage purchases of more Xbox games more frequently by offering a record of accomplishments and a way to share and validate them among friends and competitors.
And there are odd cases like Foursquare and Gowalla, social media services that turn ordinary life into a game. "Perhaps Foursquare and Gowalla represent signals for the future of game-based loyalty programs rather than cultural forces of their own," he says.
For more from Bogost on Achievements and loyalty programs, read the full Gamasutra feature
, available today.