Game Design for Eco Driving

Hybrid cars, and energy-efficient driving in general, require behaviours behind the wheel that we are not all used to. To reinforce those good habits, car makers resort to game design.


Hybrid cars, and energy-efficient driving in general, require behaviours behind the wheel that we are not all used to. To reinforce those good habits, car makers resort to game design.

On October 15, 2015, the world woke up with a feeling of underachievement: the day Marty McFly arrived in our time, flying cars still didn’t exist.

Instead, we have to content ourselves with hybrid cars that are of course energy-efficient but still not very popular. Those machines (on top of not being able to fly) ask us to behave in a way that not all of us are used to.

To drive ecologically, we must not accelerate too brutally, not break too suddenly, anticipate the traffic flow, drive under the speed limit…

I remember, for instance, that I was taught to use the 4th gear only above 70km/h (about 50 mph) during my driving lessons. But in  fact, staying in 3rd gear until you reach that speed will put a strain on your engine and thus overuse gas.


There are so many more things that we could be helping drivers learn. We need to figure out the right ways to get people excited about doing the right things”, says Frankie James, managing director of General Motors Advanced Technology Silicon Valley.

This historical car maker, with 107 years of operation, is a few years behind its competitors on the hybrid market. According to Frankie, the key is to motivate the driver without getting preachy about it. And for that, he bets on gamification “to get users to do certain things. Gamers are good at that. They understand that you provide a certain reward structure. You make the experience really immersive.”


Other automakers are way ahead of GM. Many of them use what we call “gameful design”. It is an interface that looks like what can be found in video games, without being a game per se.

Around the year 2000, the first Toyota Prius displayed a chart of your energy consumption in the past 30 minutes and rewarded with a badge the driver who saved a certain amount of gas.

More recently, we’ve seen, for example, plants growing on your dashboard if your driving is eco-friendly. Leaves for Honda, vines for Ford, little tree for Toyota. Well, that’s not a very original way to represent nature, but it’s great to track your progress.


The Ford SmartGauge interface. According to our sources, no need to water this plant. It’s even strongly inadvisable to do it while driving.


The Toyota Prius, leader of the hybrid market, was also the first to display gas mileage information and an average MPG (miles per gallon of gas) score. A feature that has since been introduced in other cars – even non-hybrids.

Thanks to a gamified interface, you’ll have a long and happy life. Too bad, you could have been the perfect slipper.


The Honda Insight proposes an Eco Assist System that helps you drive more ecologically. Push the big green button and the use of air conditioning, breaking system and acceleration will be optimized. But there again, it’s in this “gameful design” that we find game elements and different levels of feedback.

Immediate feedback: an “eco drive bar” that will move to a shaded area if your driving is too aggressive.

Short term feedback: while driving, you’ll see the light of your dashboard turn from blue to green to indicate if you drive in an energy-efficient way. The feedback is less immediate because it is activated when you pass a consumption threshold.

A posteriori feedback: during your journey, leaves will grow on a virtual stalk. Once you’ve reached your destination, you can compare your score with the average of your three last trips.

Long term feedback: the ecological impact of your trips is displayed by an overall progression bar and the number of leaves in the display reflects your performance as an environmentally responsible driver. If you’re really efficient, you’ll earn a trophy surrounded by a laurel wreath. Conversely, a bad score will display a dead plant.


So it’s a simple – even simplistic – level of gamification that is proposed here. But as Jane McGonigal explains, gamification really works only if the game proposes a goal for which you are intrinsically motivated.

But if you broke your piggy bank to buy a hybrid car, it’s safe to assume you’re concerned about carbon emissions, right?



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