4 Tips for Encouraging Energy Efficiency with Games

04/01/2015 |

Gamification can motivate powerful changes in occupant behavior

Leafully game

Leafully, an energy efficiency game, emphasizes the environmental impacts of reducing energy use by linking players’ energy consumption to the health of carbon-sequestering trees.

Playing online games at the office may not be the enemy of productivity that many think it is – at least, not if players pick the right game. Gamifying tasks – using game features to accomplish objectives in the real world – may actually boost occupant performance.

Instead of tending a virtual farm or firing the titular flock of Angry Birds from a slingshot, one subset of games aims to help steer energy behavior – and some could complement your energy efficiency program. An analysis of 53 energy-themed games offers tips for FMs looking to improve occupants’ green behavior, according to the study's author, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

1) Know Your Objective
Before implementing a gamified energy efficiency solution at your organization, ensure you understand exactly why gamification makes sense for you. Simply increasing energy savings is a good start, but many games emphasize additional objectives, explains ACEEE. Beat the Peak, for example, is intended specifically to reduce peak consumption.

“Businesses that are considering adopting a gamified solution like Cool Choices or WeSpire need to ask the same probing question: why?” the report asks. “The answers might range from employee engagement to environmental impact to lower energy bills.”

2) Understand Your Audience
“The point of a gamified solution is to motivate someone to do something,” ACEEE explains. “If your game is to be successful, spend as much time as possible getting to know your intended audience: what motivates them, what their goals are, and what might make them want to save energy in the first place.”

As an example, ACEEE points to Leafully, a game that highlights the environmental benefits of saving energy by tracking daily energy consumption from players’ utility data and linking the carbon emissions of that energy use to the health of trees, which sequester carbon. Tree calculations are based on the EPA’s measurement of the amount of carbon a tree can sequester in its first 10 years. For example, an alert might read “You used 3.4 trees last Monday. You typically use 2.0 trees on a Monday.” Understand what your occupants care most about to choose the most compelling game for them.

3) Determine Your Goal
What behaviors are you trying to encourage your occupants to adopt? What does success look like? ACEEE recommends quantifying target behaviors before adopting an efficiency game.

“Game developers should specify these behaviors before developing, commissioning, or adopting their solution and quantify them if possible – not just reduce energy use, but reduce it by 15%,” the study explains.

For example, Energy Chickens coaches players to reduce plug loads by tracking the consumption of each plugged-in device and linking each one to a chicken that lives on a desktop-based virtual farm. In the pilot test of the game at Pennsylvania State University, researchers attached wireless sensors to participants’ office appliances and measured plug loads for five weeks to establish a baseline. Meanwhile, posters demonstrated ways to save energy.

When the game began, players who reduced their energy use below the baseline by unplugging, turning off, and generally reducing the use of appliances were rewarded with healthy chickens who laid eggs (which could then be used in a virtual general store to buy decorative items for the farms). If energy use increased, the chickens became sick and turned green. During the game period, the office achieved a 13% reduction in plug load energy consumption.

Prioritizing the most important behaviors is also key to success, ACEEE says. The organization touts the game Cool Choices as an example because it pays out points based on the efficiency impact of each activity – watching less TV is worth five points, but figuring out a new way to share items with others is worth 50 points. “These distinctions reflect the game’s commitment to innovation and community-level collaboration to reduce emissions,” the study authors note.

ACEEE also recommends determining at the outset whether to focus on short-term or persistent behavior change. “Games that encourage extreme behavior (e.g. stop showering to win a dorm competition) may not lead to the adoption of long-term habits,” the organization explains. “One strategy that may facilitate long-term change is social networking. When a game showcases our behavior in front of peers, we may be less likely to abandon that behavior once the game is over, lest we be seen as a flip-flopper.”

4) Monitor Key Performance Indicators
Ensuring you reap a good return on your investment means you need to be able to track the success of your game.

“Of course one of these indicators will be the amount of energy saved, but others might include the number of players, their demographics, their performance in the game, the number and type of actions they take, and their understanding of and attitude toward energy efficiency,” says ACEEE. “Developers must determine a baseline for all of these variables and devise systems and processes for collecting before-and-after data.” Some third-party providers offer these analytics as an optional add-on for customers, ACEEE adds, while in other cases you may have to track your own metrics.

“Consider gamified solutions in conjunction with other behavioral approaches that have a longer and more intensive history of evaluation, measurement, and validation,” ACEEE recommends.

Looking for more strategies to help encourage occupants to save energy? Take a look at Battle of the Kilowatts to learn more gamification strategies that cut consumption. 


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