Game Thinking for Drivers


A dirty secret of hybrid cars is that how they are driven matters as much as the massively complex systems under the hood – all your frugality can be undone by stomping on the gas pedal. But a slightly dirtier secret is that many people buy hybrids not to reduce fuel consumption, but to increase social status. Toyota has chosen to recognize and leverage these unspoken secrets in its favour.

In recent years a new class of telemetry-based games have mixed reality with the game itself. The player is you, and the game is what you do, where you are, and even how you get there.

Toyota paid close attention to this and came up with a method of making the vehicle itself part of a social game. Simply put, they took the ‘game’ that many hypermilers play against their fuel consumption gauges, and made it social, with a careful eye on the affluent demographic that uses their product. The more efficient you drive, the more money Toyota donates to a charity.

Rewarding a Driver’s good behavior in a closed-loop feedback system is as important as managing any mechanical component of the vehicle. Since the system in question happens to be a human being, the vehicle effectively has to plug into the Driver’s behaviors in order to provide some measure of influence.

People are motivated by games with shallow learning curves, challenging scenarios, and incremental rewards focused on social status; we think in terms of games anyways, so Toyota chose to focus on the reward side of the game equation by bringing social status into the picture.

Buying the luxury Hybrid is already part of the game that is conspicuous consumption, so why the need to expand on this? Because those with more disposable income tend to define who they are within their community by the events and charities they support with their time, business expertise, or donations. An implicit reward of this is not just the satisfaction of contributing, but being seen to contribute.

Toyota chose to tap into this behavior loop by making not just the purchase of the Hybrid a social statement, but the way in which it is driven – the more efficient the driving, the more money is donated to a UNESCO charity by Toyota on the Driver’s behalf. This makes the social statement ongoing and at the same time addresses some of the perception issues raised in using a vehicle that cost an enormous amount to build in terms of energy and resources.

So how does it work? From a Driver’s perspective, the game goes like this:

Controls: Driving
Objective: Keep the analogue gauge Eco Meter within then “Eco Zone”. Feedback is nearly instantaneous, and is as simple as looking at the needle’s position
Feedback: Within the vehicle the LCD UI shows more detailed historical information, but more importantly the driving data is uploaded to Toyota servers and stored per-vehicle
Points System: Simple numerical points are rewarded for EcoDriving behavior. The points system is of course massively inflated and has no correlation with real-world mileage, fuel consumption or anything identifiable. This is a requirement of any good points system. A leader-board is also included in the interface.
Badge System: The social reward system is the donation mechanism where a Driver uses the web site to convert points into donations to a UNESCO charity. Toyota alllows the Driver to choose the specific charity, allowing customization of the Driver’s social identity within the game.
Replay Value / Mastery Curve: The game is simple, but the methods of mastering it can be challenging since the games is essentially a physics-based 3D driving game with full simulation of all conditions! Replay is mandatory, as the Driver is implicitly playing the game when driving, and involvement/opt-in is as simple as glancing at a gauge.

So, does this make a full game system?
Let’s check:

  • Easy accessibility
  • A like-minded community
  • Simply learning curve
  • Intuitive interface
  • Instant feedback
  • Instant, large-value points system
  • Leader-board
  • A social badge mechanism
  • Long mastery/ High replay value
  • An alteration of Player behavior

Looks like a big yes!

(image source: Lexus Japan)
(Link Source: Autoblog Green)
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