Examples of Gamified Crowdsourcing

Image showing the power of crowdsourcing when combined with manipulation

Crowdsourcing is a method of effective community participation that harnesses the collective wisdom, contributions, and capabilities of large numbers of people (i.e. “crowd” in crowdsourcing). Crowdsourcing has been used to order, improve, and address complex real-world and virtual challenges. Some of these applications are in the areas of:

  • innovation and creativity
  • Building accurate and broad knowledge
  • Solve complex multi-layered problems
  • Achieve complex feats within a short period of time

Crowdsourcing uses several basic behavioral drivers that force users to work collectively to solve problems (sometimes by breaking them down into boring and manageable tasks). Wikipedia is one example of a crowdsourcing information platform that uses incentivization principles to entice users to sponsor and publish regular content while holding the community (and its content) accountable for accuracy and quality.

While different crowdsourcing implementations use a wide range of gamification principles to varying degrees (and with different success), the decision to implement the mechanics of gamification depends on the quality of the experience the project seeks to provide based on an understanding of users’ motivations and motivations.

In some cases, people may be naturally inspired to contribute their time and efforts towards a particular cause (eg Wikipedia). In other cases, it may be useful to enhance the experience of a crowdsourcing endeavor by making it more comprehensive and compelling by integrating key game mechanics.

Below are several examples (in no particular order) that highlight large-scale or complex feats through a combination of gamification and crowdsourcing.


Tomnod is a digital initiative that uses high-resolution images captured by the Digital Globe satellites to identify objects and places in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. Their latest search (launched in March) focused on finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, MH370, in the Indian Ocean.

Participants are asked to mark different areas of the map to identify potential clues such as rafts, spots and debris. A collectively ranked algorithm then filters out the most promising leads based on map locations marked by multiple players. This indicates a high concentration of debris that could lead to finding the likely location of the aircraft.

This initiative was very crowded: the map generated more than 257 million views, more than 2.9 million areas were marked on the map by players, and more than 3 million people actively participated in the search.

Tomnod is heavily driven by Core Drive #1, epic meaning and connection because as a participant, you are engaged in an actual, real-world mission of critical importance. Therefore, the simple (and sometimes tedious) act of labeling and identifying objects becomes naturally intriguing and attractive given the task of searching. Also running is Core Drive #5, Social Impact and Engagement, where you want to identify positively identifying tags which, along with other positive identifiers, are captured by the algorithm. The satisfaction of securing a large number of completed tasks is driven by Core Drive #2, development and achievement, as well as Core Drive #3, enabling creativity and feedback.

Play for Cure: Genes in Space

As you all know by now, DNA contains coding instructions for building protein structures in our bodies. Certain deviations in these sequences lead to distorted units that can ultimately contribute to cancer.

Therefore, the identification of these anomalies is very important. However, scientists do not have the resources to map all of these. However, it is possible to help in this endeavor by playing “Genes in Space”.

The story is set in space (in case that wasn’t clear yet). Players need to collect genetic data relevant to cancer formation. Inside the game, this is a substance called “alpha”. When this is collected, players are empowered to shoot asteroids and reach the next level by upgrading their spaceship to become more powerful and thus succeed in dismantling the asteroids..

Collecting ‘alpha’ along the striatum is the granular envelope of the actual task of identifying errors in real gene data. The genetic information of countless tumors has been integrated into the game, and as you progress, you are actually co-sourced in important cancer research!

Besides playing for a greater cause (epic meaning and calling), the game is also driven by development and achievement because as more “alpha” are collected, players are empowered to hit more asteroids and rise in the ranking (social impact and engagement)

Great Brain Experience


In traditional brain and psychology research, participants are subjected to controlled scenarios and research data is collected from their various responses. However, in order for scientists to come to reliable conclusions, they need to gather information from large and sometimes very unique and/or diverse populations, which is a difficult feat to say the least. Fortunately, this challenge can be met by crowdsourcing task management with a digital application game.

The Great Brain Experiment was developed at the Trust Center for Neuroimaging in London. Players hardly realize that they are contributing to scientific research while participating in fun games. The objectives of their current studies include:

  • risk
  • memory
  • Rush

Newer games will focus on:

  • Make predictions given a certain amount of information
  • decision making
  • Hearing Abilities
  • Performance under pressure conditions

What sets this game somewhat apart is that it does not aim to force players to achieve higher levels of performance (development and achievement). After all, researchers are primarily interested in how people react and behave under normal conditions.

Although they play to contribute to scientific understanding (epic meaning and recall), the actual experience is driven by other factors. The key element in the game is the relative scoring. Players are given scores as the percentages of the larger group. For example, they may be told that they have better impulse control than 90% of the population. High scores evoke feelings of empowerment (enabling creativity and reflexes) as players are given immediate feedback that they have greater skills or abilities than the average person, a clear example of Core Drive #5, social impact and connectedness.

Google Image Labeler

The Google Image Labeler was a fairly early example of a multi-source game. It was launched in 2006 when Google was seeking to improve the accuracy of its image database. They wanted to make sure that the images that appeared during Google Image searches were the most relevant to the user’s queries.

To achieve this massive task, the company decided to integrate this task into a game whose structure was based on the original ESP game (an idea in computer science to tackle the problem of creating challenging metadata – the original concept behind crowdsourcing).

Each participant was paired with an online partner. Each of them was shown a picture and asked to create as many posters as possible. Partners are awarded points when their designations match.

This game is largely driven by social influence (Core Drive #5), although players were only associated with one person (ie a partner).

wrap it

Scientists understand how proteins are made of different sequences of amino acids. However, in order to create treatments and other types of solutions, they must have a clear visual understanding of how proteins look to become 3D structures.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Game Science Center have turned their protein folding study into a game called foldite.

Each player is given a base structure that they can then manipulate. One participant likened the experiment to a 3D version of Tetris, where the goal is to get certain components to fill an empty space.

So far, Foldit has enabled two main forms of scientific achievement

(1) Deciphering the structure of the Mason-Pfizer Monkey virus that causes AIDS. This happened within three weeks. But it was an issue that confounded researchers for fifteen years.

(ii) Redesign of the protein that catalyzes the Diels-Alder reaction used in synthetic chemistry. Players came up with a version in which 13 amino acids were added. This addition increased the enzyme’s efficiency by eighteen times.

The motivation behind this game is driven by White Hat’s core engines:

1) Epic meaning and recall as sharing can lead to critical scientific advances

2) Development and achievement from the ability to disassemble protein structures and even improve existing structures

3) Enabling creativity and reflexes, where the overall experience is like solving a puzzle by coming up with different possibilities. Scores are awarded for how well the folded protein is.

4) Ownership and possession. Players can feel proud of the structures they have created. They are even able to share their experiences in groups

5) Social influence and connectivity. Participants are rewarded for the ability to fold proteins. This generates competition among the players which provides an additional impetus to come up with innovative solutions.

From these examples, it is clear that crowdsourcing has enormous potential to achieve the seemingly impossible. The application of game mechanics increases engagement which leads to the ultimate achievement of large-scale and far-reaching goals. As brilliant new breakthroughs are made possible through crowdsourcing initiatives, the power of communication and collaboration is increasingly being recognized as an essential tool rather than just an idealistic philosophy.

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