Data Carnival

Gamifying data-based transactions to explore how people view and value their data as a substitute for money.

After piecing together our individual interests and exploring how they could be mixed and matched, we landed on the topic of "transformation of value". This is a term we invented to describe how a variety of free online services gather value from people's time, attention, and subconsciousness and translate it into revenue through mediums such as advertising.

Compressing our topic into a short phrase like this helped us maintain our focus later down the line, which was important given the incredible depth and breadth of the topic of online presence.

Installation v1.0

Concept

Our first concept revolved around deconstructing how data is gathered during a simple action like scrolling through an Instagram feed. It also touched on the topic-based relationships that are formed based on pictures you interact with, either on the backend or conceptually.

Testing the installation

During the test run at the WdKA open day the deconstructed view was projected on a wall, and was mirroring an Instagram clone running on a phone in front of it.

Content of the test installation.
The installation was accompanied by an A2 poster which was meant to contextualise the installation.

The installation garnered visual interest from quite a few people, but failed to invite them to interact with it. There was also no discernible reaction from visitors after having interacted with it.

The % of people who interacted with the installation increased drastically after we slapped on a CTA next to the phone (essentially a piece of paper with "Interact with me" written on it).

Takeaways based on first test

Overall this first version did not achieve our goal of inciting people to rethink their relationship with data. We broke down several aspects of why it didn't work, and formulated the following insights from them which were geared towards an improved second installation:

  • Make visitor experience the paradigm and reflect on it, not reflect on it without context.
  • Integrate the context into the experience itself rather than attaching it alongside the installation.
  • Invite/motivate observers to interact with the installation even when it's idle.

Installation v2.0

Armed with the power of past failure, we tried out a different approach with the second installation. Instead of immediately explaining the concept of transformation of value to the audience (potentially overwhelming them) and hoping they reflect upon it, we decided to make the entire installation an example of transformation of value. This separation of example and reflection allowed us to make the installation more focussed.

But what was the installation going to be?

Gamifying transformation of value

We created a game that would act as an example of transformation of value. There were 3 primary aspects to the game:

Gameplay

A simple game in which a black ball bounces around the screen. The player has to keep their finger on the ball. The longer they can hold on, the higher their score.

Data Collection

The game invited players to answer some questions, making them completely optional. It was up to the player how many questions they wanted to answer.

The incentive is that the more questions a player answers, the bigger the ball gets. The game gets significantly easier.

Designing the game

I implemented a radial gradient background in the game for a mild hypnotic effect. Aside from that, the game interface was kept fairly simply with just the ball and the score.

We made a list of questions and trimmed them down, categorising them based on how personal they were. The more personal the question, the greater the increase in size of the ball.

There were little messages throughout the experience which pushed the player towards playing more and giving more data.

I conducted some guerrilla user testing to find the right combination of factors which would make the game easy enough so that it's accessible to a large number of people, but hard enough that there can be room for a competitive atmosphere. This was done by adjusting a few things:

  • The minimum size of the ball (before answering any questions): This had to be small enough that the game was unreasonably hard, pushing the player towards submitting more data.
  • The maximum size of the ball (after answering all questions): This had to be large enough that the game is significantly easier, while still keeping it challenging.
  • The acceleration of the ball: The ball speeds up as the game progresses. A lower initial speed helps ease the player into the flow of the game. There's a cap on the maximum speed so that the ball is never inhumanly fast.

Leaderboard

One of the most critical aspects of the installation was the leaderboard, which both nurtures a sense of competitiveness in players, and invites them to play in the first place by means of social proof.

It also doubles as a live view for spectators, which leads to an increased amount of hype as the position of the finger creates a sense of tension amongst viewers.

When no one is playing, the leaderboard also acts as a more direct CTA, inviting visitors to play the game.

Here's your receipt

The final touch which went into the installation was the receipt. It listed all the data that the player provided, and how many pixels each answer contributed towards increasing the size of the ball.

We pinned a copy of the receipts to a board. This not only acted as additional social proof, but was also a factor of consideration for players when submitting their data, knowing it would be displayed publicly.

The amount of data submitted by a player is also visually conveyed at a glance by the length of their receipt.

Poster designed by Alex Villacis. Receipts designed by Isa Defesche.

The receipts also solved a very specific design problem.

We wanted the experience to stand as an example of transformation of value, but how do you convey a meta-message without being obtrusive? Following from this, the receipts not only list the players' data and high score, but also contain a footnote to the experience which describes transformation of value. The aim was to get the player to think about the data they submitted as the "price", as well as relating this gamified analogy to their actual online experiences.

Takeaways

The final installation managed to attract a large number of people, and created a lively atmosphere around itself. There were interesting patterns in how people submitted their data. A lot of people were initially very reserved with their data (perhaps already influenced by the name of the installation). Some of them maintained this reserved nature, but most of them eventually answered all the questions to make the game as easy as possible.

It was surprising to see how many people submitted genuine data. In fact, we only had 3 players who submitted fake/random data, despite the fact that there was no tangible penalty for doing so.

Another interesting point to note is that no one skipped the "what is your name" question, despite the fact that it was (1) optional, (2) a low-value question, and (3) the only direct unique identifier asked of the player. It is possible, however, that these things weren't clear to some of the players.

The winner (with 41 points!) received a €15 bol.com giftcard.

Potential Improvements

1. Nudge players more towards reflection post-game

Since the message regarding transformation of value acts as a footnote, it becomes hard to understand how many players understand this aspect of the installation. Extending the post-game experience to nudge players towards reflecting on it could make this aspect clearer.

2. Teach the mechanics of the game within the game itself

One of the members of our team always had to be on standby to explain the mechanics of the game related to the question, just in case someone was confused. It would be nice to explain these mechanics in the game itself, especially for use in a non-installation setting.