Gamification: a new name for an old (but effective) trick

As guest contributor this month, I’ll be exploring 4 topics that have been significant this year.  This first one has seen much publicity and equal…

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As guest contributor this month, I’ll be exploring 4 topics that have been significant this year.  This first one has seen much publicity and equal amount of scrutiny and skepticism – Gamification.  Strange name, sounds gimmicky.  I was lucky enough to attend theSxSW conference in Austin this year and one of the key areas of discussion was Gaming, of which Gamification was very hotly debated and even covered as one of the keynote speeches.  Seth Priebatsch, the immensely charismatic 22 year old keynote speaker and founder of SCVNGR, a location based services company you WILL hear about if you haven’t already, believes that Gamification is not only good for marketing but it can change the world.

Gamification is simply the concept of applying elements of the gaming world and applying them to the real world.  Why gaming?  Well, this $11 Billion+ dollar industry seems to be doing something right.  And we humans, have loved to play games since we were able to think and we spend 3 Billion hours a week online doing just that.  Even animals have been known to play games.  We’d rather do a fun thing than a chore thing. And game designers and marketers seem to have a very similar objective: How do I keep my users / customers excited, engaged and committed? A game is set of challenges with proportional rewards and meaningful purpose.  Gamification adds game mechanics & rewards to non-gaming environments to boost engagement, commitment, advocacy & community (pretty much what marketing seeks to do).  And social & mobile technology today has hugely accelerated this.

Priebatsch feels that Gamification can be used for business and to help solve some of the world’s biggest issues like healthcare & global warming.  He even had a cheeky demonstration by getting the 4000 people in the room to play a game to solve a problem together.  Watch his keynote speech if you get a chance.  He says that if the last 10 years was all about establishing the social layer on the world, ie Facebook (it’s won the social war, hands down), then the next 10 years is about adding the gaming layer on top of it.  We’re all connected now, we just need bigger incentives to do more things with each other, with brands and with some of the biggest issues.  And he’s ready to play.

amex cards

But is it a new concept?  Hardly.  It’s just a new name that seems to have caught on, but the elements involved can be familiar….and it’s a concept finding its way into the heart of marketing.  Amex has been doing it for years with their rewards programme where you can progress through their tiers of cards.  Frequent flier miles the same… more flights, more miles…more rewards.  But is it simply a loyalty mechanic?  It goes beyond that. Whereas loyalty mechanics focus much on actions & rewards, gamification adds more with points, challenges, levels, progression mechanics, learnings, social elements…and importantly some meaningful purpose to it all.  Wow… it’s fun to do, I see how I progress, I get rewarded, I see how I do against others, I’m headed somewhere.  Makes sense.

Companies like FourSquare & Gowalla work this way.  Levels, competition, badges.  But Priebatsch believes it’s more than just checkins and badges.  SVNGR actually gets you to ‘do’ things to achieve the levels.  eBay is a great example of a modern-day gamified concept. It works because it’s social and has the accompanying stats to push more interaction & engagement.  Nike+ is a brilliant way to take a boring activity like running and make it fun & competitive.  Even Google images…their whole cataloguing system works (at a basic level) through a ‘matching’ game you can play with random players around the world.  In the auto industry, Nissan & Ford have included tamagotchi like components in their eco-cars to encourage better driving.  You can see where this can all go.

Ford Fusion

So Gamification is probably here to stay, despite the sketchy name and popularity as a new concept.  But is it a new concept?  Probably not.  Just a steroid induced version of loyalty as a result of the socially & technologically enhanced world we’re living in now.  It can be definitely be useful for brands.  And it may even change the world.

Raj Samuel / Innovations Director at AMV BBDO / @Samsoaone

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