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Google tests game-mechanics strategies with Recyclebank

Its Google Analytics product will be testing a new beta in partnership with eco-rewards company Recyclebank, as a means of testing the limits and promises of "gamification."

It looks like Google has taken an interest in a start-up called Recyclebank, which offers points and rewards for "green" actions like joining curbside recycling programs and installing eco-friendly appliances--it's using it as a test bed for a new beta version of its Google Analytics tracking tool.

More specifically, along with a consumer research company called ROI Research, Google Analytics will be parsing the progress and results of Recyclebank's impending "Green Your Home Challenge," and then releasing a research paper about the whole process. The contest in question is taking place over the course of April for "Earth Month."

It's the first time that the Google Analytics team has done a partnership like this, product marketing manager Sophie Chesters told CNET. Google's real interest is something broader--that trendy digital buzz term, "game mechanics" or "gamification." In the Recyclebank contest, entrants go through a virtual "house," room by room, to make real-world adjustments that will help them live more sustainably and eco-consciously, and can unlock new challenges in the process as well as get ranked alongside other contest entrants on a "leaderboard" of top users.

"Gamification is quite an interesting strategy we're seeing people talk about more and more, so if gamification can be used for good, it's a great thing for Google Analytics to help with," Chesters told CNET. "The fact that we're going to produce a paper on this means that the whole digital community can benefit."

Google's role is to use the new beta version of Analytics to tabulate user engagement and metrics like the "leaderboard," as well as "providing consultancy on how to best use Google Analytics on how to reach the goals," Chesters said. They'll be able to help Recyclebank find out how people learned about the contest, how long they stuck around, and whether they've "converted" to Recyclebank regulars.

"We're really looking to determine not only what are the most effective media sources that drive engagement in the game, but we also really want to understand how gamification--specifically how the Green Your Home Challenge--is actually changing people's behaviors and getting them to broaden their reach or broaden their engagement with Recyclebank as a brand," Scott Haiges, president of ROI Research (which has been a Recyclebank partner for some time now), told CNET.

The bigger story here is that gamification, or game mechanics, or whatever you want to call the insurgence in interest in applying the tactics of games to digital- and physical-world business models (a lot of it was kick-started by the hype over Foursquare) has piqued the interest of Google. Though it's a totally different division of the sprawling company, Google has been widely rumored to be launching a games portal of some sort--word of this leaked last year along with the report that Google had invested more than $100 million in social-gaming giant Zynga. But there's been little further detail for almost a year now.