What are the implications for those of us outside of the games business of Gabe Newell‘s claim that his customers are better innovators than his best creatives

What game developer Valve have discovered, is that it’s possible for users to be an order of magnitude more productive at creating value in virtual worlds that Valve’s very own best and extremely expensively procured creative talent.

The challenge for those who are keen to match Valve’s considerable achievements, but who are not in the business of operating predominantly in the virtual worlds of video games, is to determine whether whatever Valve did regarding ‘empowerment of users’ can also be translated into something similar that they can do to their value creation process even when the value being created is not in the form of ‘virtual content’.

Incentives don’t drive creativity : it’s not paying the customers money that will make this work, but it’ll definitely get things started and if you get everything else right it’ll stop grateful users going elsewhere: the money definitely won’t positively influence levels of creativity, it’ll just improve levels of participation

Research shows that creativity actually goes down when the focus is on incentives, so don’t treat the incentives as anything other than a means of attracting initial attention and maintaining participant retention: never use incentivisation to increase ‘productivity’ in creative work, it will be counter-productive.

Implementing incentivisation as a gamified point-scoring competitive process directly related to levels of ‘output’ risks undermining the participant’s focus upon creativity.

Experimenting with gamification outside the creative work of the arrangement is worth considering: it can strengthen many other aspects of the arrangement, it just needs to be handled very sensitively.

You have to restrict yourself to only gamifying the context of creative effort, because the creative activity itself is already a game.

In other words, what can an organisation which doesn’t make video games do to take advantage of Valve’s ‘discovery’?

  1. can you get your customers to ‘create resources’ (products and services) that you or your other customers can use, or buy?
  2. what resources can you give your customers that can make this happen?
  3. how can you incentivise your customers to use the tools that you give them to create things that are needed by your other customers or prospects?
  4. how can you ensure that the kinds of things your customers create are things people want?
  5. how can you make sure that this doesn’t lose you money by undermining your existing ‘bread and butter’ sources of earnings?
  6. how can you make sure that doing this isn’t such a big distraction to your operational and managerial staff that it overwhelms your existing infrastructure?

For instance, if you sell mass produced items, what about giving a customer (who has successfully been encouraged to participate in a scheme that you are promoting) six things:

  1. the product they ordered
  2. a second unit of that same product (or maybe a customisable 3D model of it)
  3. a cheap 3D printer (or maybe a very user friendly 3D design package)
  4. a customisation wish-list drawn from user customers
  5. a prepaid third-party shipping arrangement with a local parcel-collecting delivery network
  6. a voucher the customer can redeem (maybe even for cash) each time they make a customised product that another customer buys

Where and how do you, the original vendor, stay in the loop, between your customer and ‘their customer’?

  • Do customer-created products appear in your online catalog?
  • Does the product-creating customer get to know the identity of the customer they’re shipping to, if that customer’s details came from your internal CRM system (or do you set things such that only you know who)?
  • How much involvement does the product creating customer get in terms of helping to promote the created item?
  • Will you get a more effective deployment of this approach if you actively put product creating customers into direct contact with their/your other customers or prospects?

One thing’s for sure: Amazon isn’t doing this – yet.