SXSW 2011: Seth Priebatsch, Keynote: The Game Layer on Top of the World

Seth Priebatsch
Chief Ninja

The Last Decade: Social Layer -> Connections

  • Last decade
  • All about connections
  • Facebook’s Open Graph
  • Construction is over

The Next Decade: Game Layer -> Influence

  • Next decade
  • All about influence
  • No set foundations
  • Construction has just begun
  • Seeks to act on individual motivation: why, how, when we do things
  • Has the opportunity to be 10x larger than the Social Layer

The Game Layer: real behavior in the real world, emulated in the digital world.

What can the game layer do for me?


School is a game, it’s just a poorly designed one. With a school you have: motivated players, challenges, rewards, rules, allies, enimies, levels, appointment dynamics, countdowns, initiatives, penalties, etc. The problems with schools is they’re not Engaged since grading is broken, and there’s cheating. Engagement is an incredibly critical concept which all game developers are aware of. Because the grading system in schools is broken, it has created the “Moral Hazard of Game Play.” It’s replaced the real reward for a letter, and these become chores.

Grades are failing as rewards. They are simple game levels Valedictorians, percentiles, and honor student status. The problem is these titles are boring. As well, these are game mechanics where people can loose, and this is not what we want in education. So why not create a grading dynamic where you start at 0 points, and then you gain points to focus on the positive. This way you cannot fail, or go negative point. It’s all about focusing on the end result.

So what about cheating? Princeton removed professors from the class room when tests were being taken and just required everyone to write down the code of ethics, and the realization

Customer Acquisition


  • Free Lunch: show the customer that although they’re skeptical, it’s still ok.
  • Communal Gameplay: the community needs to hit 50 people before “the deal is on.”
  • Countdown: Time left to buy. Everyone understands it, but it creates this huge exponential spike of activity right before it’s up.
  • Email List


Status: the idea of being a regular at a place. American Express uses status very well because they have levels, and they make you feel better based on the color of your card.

The “Level Up”: Jumping from one level to another.

Inclusive Ownership: everyone owns it, and so everyone benefits from it.

LBS -> Mainstream

How do you move location based services from something that isn’t mainstream, to something that is?

Big Partners + Big Money = Big Results. The problem is just a wee-little bit of the world uses these location based services. So how do we get everyone in on it?

Quantitative Easing: what the federal government does to flood the economy with new dollar bills, without actually having the value. They’re doing this because the “game” is too hard, and sometimes it makes sense to look at the rules and refactor them.

Tightly vs. Loosely Location-Based: basically, to play tightly based location you MUST be at a location. You cannot just be somewhere else. Because of this, it limits the number of people who can be engaging at that place at any one time. If you loosen this rule, then the number of people increases substantially.

Reward Schedules: everyone in the space naturally gets the question, “What do I get in exchange for doing this?” Everyone who’s doing LBS has some form of reward, badge, specials, etc. Rewards work really well. The problem is as once you’ve checked in and gotten the reward, you wont get it next time. As well, this reward will not be offered everywhere, just at certain places.

Global Warming

Not any one thing can solve these problems. While one thing cannot solve these massive problems, it can still give us the tools to move from something impossible, to something that’s just really hard to solve (but still possible!).

Posted in SXSW 2011.

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