Rules of Gamification: A Marketer’s Guide

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Gamification, or the use of game mechanics to influence consumer behavior, is a global hype. But how does it work? And perhaps more importantly, does it actually work?

Gamification gives consumers a goal to work towards; they can “master” something. By following a set path with intermediate goals connected to concrete actions, people can visually progress along the path.

According to gamification guru Gabe Zicherman, whose Google Tech Talks attract a large number of viewers, gamification is not about turning serious businesses into games, but rather utilizing the best concepts from gaming to engage audiences and achieve business goals. Watch Gabe’s 60 second response to what is gamification:

According to Gabe, experience points are key to hooking consumers. While gathering experience points, they stay motivated to work towards the goal. The first steps are vital in this scenario. They should be tempting to the consumer to try. Once they have taken those first few steps and achieved a result, the desire to come back will be greater. It makes no difference that the results are virtual items, profiles, badges, or rankings on a leaderboard.

How Gamification is Supposed to Work

There are a number of psychological principles that explain why people assign value to items that they have won in a game or gamified environment.

The main mechanism that explains the spontaneous creation of value within a gamified system is a human being’s universal desire to justify his or her own actions, in other words self-justification.

If someone has gone to a lot of trouble to do something, the brain will look for arguments that confirm they made a good choice and the effort was worth it. In the case of a performance in a game, the easiest way of justifying participation is to allow yourself to think that points, badges, or positions on the leaderboard really matter.

Does it Really Work?

The main criticism of gamification is that you can’t motivate consumers just by saying that they can earn badges and become “masters”. Most consumers don’t visit websites with the sole purpose of becoming “master” of that website. Gamification will only work if the initial levels that can be reached quickly from the baseline are attractive prospects in their own right.

How to Improve a Gamification Strategy

What makes a game fun is if there are enough challenges and the system accommodates a personal strategy.

In a 2011 interview with CNET, game designer Jane McGonigal explained Gamification as follows:

“to take an ordinary task–running, losing weight, meeting up with friends–and adding a “game layer” to it, like points, levels, badges, leaderboards. Making something gameful, as I call it in the book, means making it more like a game, and we know that games are designed to be challenging. So gamification isn’t about making real life easier. It’s actually about making real life more challenging, in ways that we want. We want to be challenged to run more and faster (Nike +), or to get in shape (the Game Diet), or to see our friends more often and actually get out of the house (Foursquare).”

Suppose that you want your family members to put out the garbage more often. You could try making a game of it, but it is unlikely that suddenly everyone is going to be fighting over who gets to take out the garbage.

The master level is not an attractive proposition in this scenario. But by adding a few rules, you can still motivate your family members to participate in the challenge.

For example, you could make a rule that if no one sees you putting out the garbage, you will get double points. Now they will be thinking of strategies to realize the goal. Perhaps they could sneak out, run really fast, do it at night while everyone is asleep, or hide the garbage in a sports bag.

The person who succeeds will feel really pleased with him- or herself. You could reward extra clever strategies with a special badge. Now the badge is more than an indication of a level reached in a game; it also says something about the person who won it.

Your Gamification Strategy Checklist

If you are interested in trying gamification for yourself, there are four things to keep in mind.

  1. Consider carefully what your goal is going to be and what actions consumers must take to achieve that goal. Use verbs to describe the actions.
  2. Make sure that you pay extra attention to the first few actions consumers must perform. Provide plenty of feedback and new challenges so that people keep feeling like they are moving along the path.
  3. Think about which type of “master status” appeals most to your target audience. What motivates them?
  4. Consider which path of successive actions is the most interesting to your audience. What challenges can you put along the path that will make consumers feel proud when they achieve them?

Case Studies

Here are 4 success stories of organizations using gamification to drive business results:

  • Decoded Jay-Z: For the release of Rapper Jay-Z’s memoir ‘Decoded’, a scavenger hunt style campaign was organized (by Bing). As part of this event, 300 hidden pages of his book were positioned in 600 placements in 15 worldwide and web locations. The challenge was to have players find and assemble the book online before its release date.
  • Adobe: How Adobe used gamification to convert free trial downloads into satisfied customers.
  • Ford: How the Ford Motor Company of Canada utilized gamification to shift sales, parts and service teams into high gear.
  • Samsung: How Badgeville (gamification platform) helped build Samsung Nation – Samsung’s online community designed to encourage its web site visitors to interact with their content. Samsung saw a 500% increase in customers’ product reviews after introducing Samsung Nation.

The above not enough?  Here is a list of 90 more gamification case studies with ROI stats.

Over to you…

Do you use gamification to drive business results?  Can you think of brands that do it well?  Share below…

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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