For someone who is an avid gamer and loves to have some 1on1 time with her PS3, I had never really put that much thought into bringing aspects of gaming into my projects. Or better yet, I hadn’t really thought about some of the features in general that could fall into that category. So, when I attended Mindtrek where Margaret Wallace was talking about gamification1, I became interested on the subject: how it’s been applied, what others think about it and what is it anyway?
Remember those stickers teachers gave us in the elementary school for accomplishing tasks? Or was it your parent who awarded you with one for cleaning out your room? Or have you been the one to reward kids with stickers? All in all, stickers represent gamification in its most simplest form quite well. Child has a goal: to collect ten stickers to get a reward. A child has tasks that they must accomplish to get to that goal. Every task is worth a sticker and the stickers itself act as an indicator on how they are progressing.
So the practice of making activities and goals more joyable with rewards isn’t a new innovation at all. Actually it’s not even something that was created by games in the first place. What is known about human behavior, what makes people motivated and committed is just been applied to gaming2.
Gamification Isn’t a Game
Gamification although might seem like a straightforward term, it has been given several different meanings by several different people. What qualifies as gamification to people like Margaret Wallace might be something totally different to others like Ian Bogost3. Some trumpet it as the end-all-be-all solution to everything, some view it as an evil ploy by marketers to take over the world and people like Wallace view it as a way to motivate users to keep using the service or product and enhance their experience while at it.
Gamifying is a way of giving feedback and letting users to view their progress while they are trying to get to their goals. Wallace introduced three layers of gamification in her presentation where the first layer deals with visual cues and abstraction, the second is enhancing user experience while motivating the user to get to their goals, the words to emphasize here: their goals. The third layer consisted of a fullblown gaming theme around the service or product.
Farmville is a game, whether you like it or not. It is marketed towards casual gamers and while being free, it sells items for players and some of the users actually pay for them. That’s Zyngas way to get revenue and that’s where the gamifying aspect comes into a play; Hooking the player into the game by creating tasks, giving rewards and making it beneficial to visit the game daily by having surprises1. But still, gamifying doesn’t mean making a game.
Gamification isn’t all about stickers, either
You can use the ideas of gamification to market your service but you can also improve the user experience with them. Subway has a great example of more of a practical approach to use gamification in marketing: they give out cards to customers and after every purchase you get a sticker (see, stickers really should be the epitomes of gamification). After ten or so, after lot of money spent, you get a free one if you buy a big drink. And old gimmick to commit the customer to the brand.
Perrier which we wrote about previously in here, on the other hand, has applied the tactics of gamification onto their Youtube channel by involving the visitors on the process of publizicing their marketing videos. While Subway and many other stores use gamification to directly commit the user to the product, Perrier has used it to create a buzz around their Youtube campaign. Their channel had six videos on it. The catch was that only the first video was viewable and the visitor was to “Share the heat to unlock the next video !” So the more views the videos got the more videos were unlocked. In all its simplicity, the user had a task and they got a reward for completing the task.
Gamification isn’t just about marketing, though. By making use of it you can greatly enhance the users experience by giving them feedback about their activity, showing them meters, indicators and whatnot about the progress of the given task. With them you can for example liven up tasks that are generally thought boring, like paying bills or making a budget.
Other practical uses: forums, rewarding active users by giving reputation points, promoting them to moderators and that way encouraging the discussion; motivational apps, helping users to follow their progress, every other jogging app; trip meters, gamification isn’t only a software related thing.
SEO of the decade
At the moment, gamification has gotten the buzzword status. It is being used as something wholly new and innovative technique to attract users. It’s a selling point just like what SEO was last decade. (In all honesty, it still is). But just like with SEO, gamification isn’t a magic trick to save one’s business. They both are part of a bigger picture. SEO is more than just tinkering with keywords (Hello! The 90’s called and they want their metatags back!) just like gamification is much more than just making something, perhaps a mundane task, pleasant. When it comes to involving the user and making them commit, just gamifying the product or service because it’s cool and the consultant said so does nothing to it. There are so many other factors involved that makes the user interested and committed. If the end product or service is terrible, no amount of gamification will help the cause. The user or a customer will eventually notice the state of affairs.
Being the buzzword it is among startups and innovators alike doesn’t diminish its value, though. The concept behind it, the several different ways to motivate people, isn’t anything new yet just only now has it been given some context. The ideas behind it are same old same old for probably most of us tech people, but for others it’s something new, something that they haven’t thought of so naturally it is where it is at the moment.
All in all, gamification can be as subtle as showing how near a user is on reaching their goal or it can be a full blown theme wrapped around an activity the user is interested on. The thing is to use these tacticts to make your service more compelling rather than creating something that’s not there.