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Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Adam Bosworth, co-founder of Keas, a startup that turns staying healthy into a game. Previously, he spearheaded Google Health, was chief architect at BEA Systems, and one of the fathers of XML.

In the tech industry, it is usually bad to be over 30. I’m 55. But there is one advantage to age, and that’s perspective. I witnessed the deep change that PCs brought, enabling technically skilled people to access computing power, call it tens of millions of people. Next was the Graphical User Interface (GUI) which brought productivity applications to most knowledge workers, call it hundreds of millions of people. Then the Web and mobile phones brought access to anyone and any information anywhere at any time, call it billions of people.

I predict that the next inflection point won’t be about numbers of users. It will be about engagement.

The tech industry has a neologism: “Gamification.” Inside this awkward term are three profound truths:

  1. Social games change engagement in deep and dramatic ways. If you want to get people to do something that they might not otherwise do—such as plan for retirement, study for exams, learn something new, get healthier or pick a school for their kids—make it a social game. You will see engagement rates change from a mere 5% to 70% or more, and people will sustain those rates week after week after week. Why? Because games are fun and appeal to the primitive brain in all of us that wants constant rewards, social recognition and adventure.
  2. Gamification will accelerate the movement from physical to online solutions.  Already, we read about vanishing shopping malls being replaced by online shopping, but as websites that sell goods and services become games rather than content sites (and this is already happening), the trend away from buying at bricks-and-mortar stores will accelerate dramatically unless we can make shopping more fun—because as Groupon has already demonstrated, people like this juxtaposition of shopping and games.
  3. Mobile will finally take its place as king, a position to which it has rapidly been ascending the last several years. Japan provided early evidence of this (watch any group of people there riding the train), but social games lend themselves to this form factor and this form factor is location-aware and constantly with you. We will see the end of PCs within a decade. They will be replaced by mobile devices, including tablet devices.

We used to teach information design. Then we taught UI design and UI interaction. But now it will be game mechanics. Within two years (if not already), lack of understanding appointment mechanics, game mechanics and leveling will be as crippling to someone who aspires to design online solutions as it is today for someone who doesn’t understand HTML and CSS and AJAX and JQuery.

For the old world, it’s game over.

Photo credit: Daniela Hartmann