HighScore House is an online startup that offers to ‘gamify’ your children’s chores. They do chores. They get points (‘stars’). They spend those points on rewards (‘eat ice cream for breakfast’, ‘play video games for 30 mins’). I could just leave it at that, but my bloody-mindedness compels me to point out several disturbing things here.
First off, the obvious. Extrinsic motivation (like the clear ‘reward’ structure created here) does not help me to ‘love chores’, as HighScore House suggests. It makes me love rewards, and tells me that chores are obviously horrible detestable things whose only redeemable feature is the reward I will get for doing them. Two problems with this are ‘hedonic acclimation’ that tells us I will need ever greater rewards to motivate me (as Slash wrote, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it, so the little got more and more”) and the fact that this type of extrinsic motivation actually extinguishes behaviour when it is removed – so when I finally move out of home and no one gives me an ice cream for cleaning my room, well, that’s the end of room cleaning!
Secondly, I can’t decide whether I am more concerned with the way it reinforces parental power (instead of imbuing children with a sense of responsibility), or the way it almost releives them of having to take responsibility for their own power by allowing them to defer to ‘the system’. “Sorry, little Johnny, no desert for you – computer says no.”
Thirdly, the team behind HighScore House compare their effort to Zynga games (Farmville and the like). Emulating Zynga is definitely a success strategy, but there seems to be a missing piece in how the brilliantly manipulative mechanics of Zynga games translates to HighScore House. Zynga have never been foolish enough to include ‘real world’ activity in their games, they have succeeded through;
- play based on small tasks that build incremental addiction
- managing the repetition to play to create habitual behaviour
- enabling the creation of ‘owned spaces’ that players then give emotional value
- massively leveraging social networks for propagation and normalisation
Sadly, HighScore House does none of this – their invocation of Zynga appears to be lip service only.
Okay, so the thing is set up by four guys who look like their mum probably still does their washing. And it’s not like they’re an established outfit receiving huge accolades and support. But they have been funded by VCs, which could be taken as a concerning (by utterly unsurprising) sign of the times. On a more positive note, perhaps it speaks to how much opportunity there is in the space for people who actually do it well. We shall see.