What is Gamification and can it build loyalty and increase sales?

13 January, 2015 by Toby Wilkins | DesignStrategyUser ExperienceWeb

We all love the feeling of winning. By this I don’t necessarily mean the way Charlie Sheen imagines it, but the constant, little, trivial victories like hopping through a closing door on the Jubilee Line or guessing the right number of M&Ms in a jar… These little endorphin-fed highs are a vital driver of the games market, a market that has risen from a weird cult into the booming $78bn industry it is today. This is not only fed by the pale-skinned army in bedrooms with World of Warcraft, but the hundreds of millions across a variety of demographics who play on simple apps every day. At the advent of the smartphone, few anticipated that the top nine most downloaded apps would be games. Successful modern games are smart and simple – often free, generating their revenues through optional ‘upgrades’ that help the gamer to win.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the introduction of game psychology into the front end of business applications. It combines cleverly structured applications with our deep emotional urges to succeed, compete and collect things in order to win. When employed successfully it has the potential to build brand loyalty, increase sales and deeply engage with target audiences.

So how is gamification useful in everyday business?

While some companies are still adjusting to the rapid influx of social media as a vital marketing and communications stream, savvy firms are using gamified applications to stand out from the crowd. Some of my favourite examples are below:

  • Code Academy - A UK website teaching people how to code employs a gamifed strategy to drive engagement. Users complete short coding objectives and compete with other users in the pursuit of badges, rewards and different statuses. This effectively turns the learning into a competition with bite size chunks that simplify a topic that seemed dauntingly hard at the outset, speaking from personal experience!
  • TV engagement – Innovation can take gamification a step further than loyalty and reward schemes. In his recent blog post Paul Heathcote, wrote about how the number of consumers using a second screen (tablet or phone) while watching TV is growing rapidly. A UK TV channel recently created a gamified app designed to be used on second screens to drive engagement with its new TV Zombie series. Users of the app predict how many zombies will be killed in each episode, how they are killed and which character does the honourable dispatching. They can then share the information and compete with their friends on social networks about how close they got to the right answer after the live show. The app uses a technology called ‘audio watermarking,’ which embeds sound bites unnoticeable by humans into the programme. The app on the second screen recognises these sound bites and knows exactly where in the program the user is, regardless of whether the viewer is watching live, on repeat or recorded. This means the app can display at the correct moment who dispatched the latest unfortunate member of the undead. Very clever. As well as hugely increasing engagement and publicity about the series, the app has also won an IBC innovation award.

A clear strategy is essential

Unfortunately, just as there are fantastic success stories, there are as many poorly thought out strategies. The fun and creative application of gamification must have a strong foundation in defined business objectives. Pretty bubbles, badges and leader boards have their place, but they should be applied without losing sight of the deeper psychological strategy of the game. In the end players must actually want to be part of it and get a buzz from being involved. As the number of gamified applications grows, it will be the most creative and innovative applications that are successful. Companies must plan user journeys, assess application strategies and apply just the right amount of incentive to win.

It’s only when we combine solid strategic thinking with talented engineers and designers that we can really unleash the true potential of Gamification. The question is: as business is gamified, are you ready to play along or be played?

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