The Gamification of Energy Conservation: An Interview with Stefan Versluis

When Jan Carl Diehl sent me a list of companies I’d like to visit while in Delft, he wasn’t very sure about what Shifft does but recommended it anyways because of my interest in gaming. However, after our visit to their office in Yes! Delft, I can be sure we are more than glad that they agreed to have us over. Shifft, as I mentioned before, works towards encouraging sustainable energy not from a technological stand point, but by enabling behavioural change through games and competitions. At CKS, we have been watching and enjoying from the outside, the possibilities of gaming for social development. At the Smarter Cities Breakout in Design Public 3 we were glad to have Darshana Gothi Chauhan, from Urban Initiatives, London, demonstrate Urban ISM, one of the many tools they’ve developed for participatory urban design. Below, an interview with Stefan Versluis, founder and managing director of Shifft, who was kind enough to answer my questions over email despite a busy week.

Can you briefly introduce us to Shifft and some of the projects it is currently working on? When and how did the idea of Shifft come about and how has it evolved since it began?
Shifft creates online solutions for extensive and attractive feedback on energy consumption. By doing so, Shifft aims to positively change people’s attitude and experience to energy and therefore encourage sustainable energy consumption. Nowadays, Shifft has developed several web-portals that communicates smart-meter data by means of graphs, geographical (maps) consumption overview, comparisons and competitive rankings, challenges & achievements and even a real platform-game that only can be played when children save energy at home. In the near future, Shifft will launch an online platform for gamified energy feedback for end-users and communities.

Shifft started as a result of my personal graduation project (2008) that gave answer to the research question of how to use game-mechanics in order to encourage energy reduction. This led to the concept of EnergyBattle, which was firstly tested as a pilot amongst 65 students and reached an energy reduction of 25% on average (45% at top).

Can you describe to us what Stadse Heldon is?
StadseHelden is a showcase project in which Shifft planned to show the world that it is possible to turn energy saving into gaming. In other words; we were eager let everybody know that we think it’s possible to turn something boring like energy into something “sexy” that also attracts children.
Within the project, a set of about 75 households is supplied with a smart meter that works according to the dutch standards (no pilot situation is imitated). Based on the smart-meter data, we provide a portal that is able to communicate to these 75 households. This varies from extensive graphs (up to 15 minutes detailed level), to competitive rankings based on a geographical map, to an inspiring tip-module where you can rank each other’s tips and to a game for children. This game is able to react on the energy consumption at home. This means that the game can only be played to its full extend if the player is able to save energy at home.

What are some of the challenges you faced while designing it?
The main challenge that we face in the development of the portal for StadseHelden is the fact that we process a large bunch of data in many different ways. This required an innovative database design as well as a very secure (licensed) communication stream to the grid operators back-end system.

Are there any designed elements that you think have made it particularly successful?
This platform is set-up to prove the possible use of gaming for energy reduction means. The fact that we designed and exploit a real (children focused) game creates a lot of attention. The particular part of the game that made it really successful is the fact that we make a connection to the real data at people’s home. Hereby, we go beyond the functionality of games that just create awareness. We combine a real world of energy consumption with a virtual world of gaming. On top of that the game also has the educational power to ‘learn’ about the need and urgency of sustainable energy.

What do you think are the benefits of using games over other ways of enabling behavioral change? Can you foresee any negative impacts that it might have?
As stated above the advantage of using game technologies is that one can make a connection between a real-life world and a virtual world. In this setting the real-life world can be used to directly measure effectivity, while the virtual world is used to motivated in an extreme manner. This counts as well for games for children (feel motivated to save the island by creating virtual sustainable energy, based on real energy consumption at home) as for more gamified solutions for older ones (feel motivated by making feedback on energy consumption social and combine it with certain specific targets/abilities).
The fall back of this system is that people only feel motivated during the period the game is exploit. Therefore it is needed to do elaborated research on long-term commitment and setting behavioural change.

Can you imagine using similar solutions in different contexts, India perhaps, or for different challenges, such as water for example?
The mechanics of gamification can for sure be used in other contexts. There are a few mayor building blocks (storyline, proposed behaviour, game-mechanics, effect measure)
that fit different subjects as environments. However, especially the component of doing the ‘effect measure’, makes it difficult to apply it to just every situation. For example; long time, we had trouble in measuring the reduction of energy consumption. This makes it hard to really combine the real and virtual world in a logic way.

What are some projects that Shifft is hoping to work on in the near future?
Shifft has now developed an online platform for gamified energy feedback for end-users and communities. We will exploit this platform in the future to more and more projects in which the smart meter is involved. (Btw; it also counts as an excuse to accept the new technology of the smart meter). Furthermore, we are looking for possibilities to combine it to more and more different data streams and use the platform to give input to inhome energy management systems. Besides, we’re slightly looking for ways to exploit one another in a more international context.

Apart from the work you are doing at Shifft, what do you think is needed to lower energy consumption and encourage energy conservation?
Lower energy consumption and energy conservation has everything to with the introduction of a new system (often referred to as the smart-grid). In my opinion it is very, very important to incorporate the consumer in the change that “we” want to make with that system. Besides attractive communication, it is highly important that some new and innovative business models will arise in which the end-user will take advantage of the sustainable attitude or behaviour that is shown. So in short, it is required to create an open and positive consumer, but also a new system in which the consumer is happy with its new role. I predict this will be more and more in smaller energy communities.

What do you think is needed to encourage young companies such as Shifft to work towards solving the larger challenges of the world?
VISION! Activities, just like these of Shifft depends on the vision of the people behind the company. The believe that we can change the energy system is what drives the people at Shifft. As well in terms of sustainability but also in terms of power to the people.

About Namrata Mehta

Namrata Mehta or @littlenemrut, is Director of Innovation at the Center for Knowledge Societies, New Delhi. She has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Delhi University, and a postgraduate diploma in Experimental Media Arts, from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore.
This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *