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If a trend gets big enough, it usually gets its own conference. That’s the case with “gamification,” or the use of game mechanics to make non-game material more engaging. That’s why organizers have created their first annual Gamification Summit 2011.

The conference will feature experts in the art of making things that are normally boring — such as filling out surveys, shopping, or visiting web sites — more interesting by adding game-like features. That includes features such as leaderboards, achievements, and mini-games that add some competitive juice and fun to an application. Gamification usually results in higher user engagement with an app or site. The ultimate example is getting a reward for brushing your teeth, which Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell mentioned in a popular speech on gamification earlier this year.

“Everywhere we go, we hear people talking about adding game-like features to improve engagement,” said Margaret Wallace (pictured right), director of the Gamification Summit. “We’ve also had some very vocal thought leaders.”

Examples of gamification include Foursquare, the popular location-based game that gives users badges if they accomplish location-related goals. Facebook, frequent flyer programs, and even Groupon have also been described as game-like in their core usage. The Huffington Post has created Huff Post badges for its loyal readers. Subaru has added a badge system for car owners to post as stickers on the backs of their cars. Hundreds of similar examples are now available. Game analyst firm M2 Research is working on a report to measure the size of the market.

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If you haven’t heard about gamification before, you may want to laugh it off. But others are laughing their way to the bank. Speakers will include game industry luminaries such as Jane McGonigal, Gabe Zichermann (pictured above, left, and a co-organizer of the summit), and others. McGonigal is launching a new book, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” (The Penguin Press). The book is about how games can be used to bring about social change on a global scale. McGonigal is director of game research and development at the Institute for the future.

Zichermann is the author of “Game-Based Marketing” and blogger at Gamification Co. Zichermann believes that page views are a dead metric for measuring the effectiveness of a web page and will be replaced by an “engagement score” that measures things like how much time a user spends on a site.

The event will be Jan. 20 to Jan. 21 at the Mission Bay conference center in San Francisco. Other speakers include Neal Freeland, Director for Bing Rewards at Microsoft, Keith Smith, CEO of BigDoor, Rajat Paharia, co-founder of BunchBall, KoAnn Skrzyniarz, CEO of Sustainable Life Media, and Geoff Lewis, CEO of Udorse. The one-day summit is followed by a full-day, hands on workshop with leading gamification practitioner Amy Jo Kim. I’ll be moderating one of the talks as well.

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