What is… Gamification?

There’s been a lot of talk about the subject of Gamification recently; it’s the buzz topic in marketing and its impact will most likely grow over the next couple of years. But what is it? And what does it mean for marketers?

Gamification – it’s not making games

There’s a misconception that Gamification is all about making games. Let’s be clear: it isn’t. This is an oversimplification. We’re not trying to create the next Angry Birds for our clients, for a number of reasons. One, in a technical sense, it’s very difficult to do well. Two, actually creating a game around a brand isn’t simple. A good game would resonate with the brand’s identity and ethos. It’s much easier for a sports brand to create a game than a computer hardware brand. So, if it isn’t gaming, what is it?

Team Fortress 2 from Valve - achievements and rewards drive gamer loyalty

Gamification is the process of using gaming methodologies to create a connection to the user. When playing games, we are constantly rewarded for our participation. This can be through gaining achievements, opening up new areas or levels, or by achieving some sort of status. Here are some examples:

  1. Team Fortress 2 by Valve – in team-based first person shooting game you are awarded achievements for in-game actions. Reaching milestones for the number of opponents killed, or for capturing places on the map, are rewarded with a cheer and in-game fireworks above your character’s head. Your achievement is not just recorded on your record, but is broadcast to all the other players as well.
  2. Angry Birds by Rovio – this also utilises the achievements reward structure, but at its heart it is the episodes and levels that keep us hooked. The game is split into a number of themed episodes, each containing a number of levels. Completing a level opens up a new level, until we complete the episode and unlock the ending movie. We always feel the pull of ‘Just one more level’.
  3. Farmville by Zynga – this popular Facebook game uses statuses to differentiate players’ progress in the game. As the player moves through the game and gains experience points, their title changes. Starting off  as a simple ‘Field Hand’, they can make their way up to ‘Master of Pasture’ or ‘Lord of the Plough’. Your title is a direct indication of your status within the game, and a something that is aspirational.
Gamification works within games, but how does this translate onto non-gaming platforms, especially those for marketing?

Gamification for the masses

There are some great examples of gamification being used on non-gaming platforms. The most well-known exponent of which is:

Foursquare

Foursquare has made strides lately to widen its offering, but initially its appeal was mostly reliant on it game-based mechanics. The aim of Foursquare is to reward consumer loyalty with location-specific deals and discounts, strengthening the bond between the purchase and the brand. They use gamification to enhance that experience and drive user behaviour. Let’s see how it works.
Users on Foursquare check-in  to their current locations using an application on their mobile phone, leaving an optional comment at the same time. A location can be anything from a coffee shop to a workplace, a shop to a sports stadium. This action has a number of effects:
  1. The user builds up check-ins at the location. The user with the most check-ins becomes ‘Mayor’ of the location
  2. The user gains achievements based upon the location they are checking into and the number of check-ins they have made in total. i.e. they receive the ‘Newbie’ badge for their first check-in, the ‘I’m on a boat’ achievement if they check-in whilst over water, and the ‘Local’ achievement for checking-in at the same place three times within a week.
These rewards create a strong connection with the user, as they strive to gain them. The ‘Local’ check in above is particularly powerful for local businesses, as the need to gain the achievement directly ties the user to their business.
Here’s Katie Colbourne, a friend and ex-work colleague of mine, using Foursquare, thanks to Katie for her permission to use these tweets.

In the first tweet, Katie checks-in at her workplace, and by doing so becomes the Mayor of that location (the second tweet). We can see here that the gaming behaviour – the ability to create ‘feel good’ moments through a rewards-based system –  has translated directly into user action. This, along with the added real-world achievements such as ‘free coffee for the Mayor of Coffee & Co.’ , provide can create motivation and loyalty within consumers in a way that group-buying platforms cannot.

As a marketer, can I use this?

Absolutely. Good marketing brings consumers closer to the brand, generating advocates and ultimately sales. Gamification creates the ‘stickiness’ between the two, and can be used within marketing practice. There are two approaches that can be taken:

1. Apply these ideas to your own product or service

This is the more involved approach, but can be extremely rewarding. Marketing Tech Blog provides some good tips on how to create a gamification strategy for your site or application. In essence, this consists of creating a series of goals (CTAs) for your user and then providing a series of actions to attain that goal, awarding points and achievements along the way, and always tracking their progress.

2. Use existing ‘sticky’ products in your campaigns

Foursquare can drive consumers to purchase using gamification techniques

This is the easiest approach. Going back to Foursquare, we can see that brands are leveraging their userbase and rewards system to their advantage. Brands can now create their own pages on Foursquare and create brand badges which users can earn. Macy’s, CNN, and Toys ‘r’ us have all used this in their marketing campaigns.

As well as the introduction of some sponsored badges, their is also the simple process of linking reward to action, as discussed earlier i.e. if you are the Mayor of my shop, I’ll give you a free coffee every day.

Where can I find out more? What are my next steps?

There’s a full explanation of gamification at Wikipedia, along with a selection of supporting articles. For those interested in using gamification techniques within their products, sites or applications, please feel free to contact me.
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