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Gamification: Why are marketers getting it so wrong?

13th Sep 2012
Share this content examines the typical reasons why gamification strategies fail and outlines best practices marketers can adopt to keep employees engaged and customers loyal.

If there’s one technology generating column inches, marmite resonations and generally massive hype right now it’s gamification – the use of applying game-like elements to non-game environments to influence behaviour.

Making its debut onto the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies just a year ago, gamification continued to reach the peak of inflated expectations this year alongside other technologies such as Big Data, crowdsourcing and HTML5. In 2011, Gartner analyst Brian Burke predicted that by 2014, more than 70% of Global 2,000 organisations will have at least one “gamified” application with gamification potentially becoming “as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon.”

And there’s good reason for that. According to research from the IAB in 2011, nearly 33m people in the UK of all ages, gender and social groups are playing video games. Additionally, the study found that gaming is a high engagement, low distraction activity and at least twice as engaging as other media. Therefore, applying gaming concepts, such as points and badges, is thought to influence behaviour, create incentives and help companies receive feedback about the customer‘s experience.

Tony Wright, social media manager for creative agency Outside Line, believes that gamification can help encourage ongoing engagement and secure repeat visits from customers. He says: “A campaign that rewards participants who visit a certain number of times or complete particular online actions is basically a digital loyalty scheme, helping to keep customers regularly thoughtful of a brand and its products.”

And it’s not just customers that can benefit from gamification. Using a rewards programme internally with employees can encourage healthy competition from staff. Sue Goble, Bluewolf’s EMEA MD, points to research from Gallup that claims over 70% of employees are disengaged at work, causing poor service to their customers.

She says: “Gamification benefits for brands can help engage currently disengaged employees and drive the desired behaviours to increase sales, growth and create a business transformation.”

Marketing failure?

But despite Gartner’s predicted take-up and research illustrating a gaming-mad culture, marketers are being criticised for failing at gamification, in terms of either using it or adopting it altogether. Dr Paul Ralph, lecturer in design science at Lancaster University, recently told The Drum that gamification is likely to flop in the marketing sphere because marketers are focusing too much on points and prizes rather than fun. 

“This process is likely to fail as it replicates game interface elements to manipulate the customer instead of utilizing game design elements to motivate a player. Points and trophies are not the elements that make games fun,” he told the title.

He adds that fun is achieved by ascribing to various play motivations such as exploring, achieving and surprise while motivation depends on attending to mastery, achievement and autonomy. “As long as commercial gamification focuses on manipulating customers using game interfaces, its effectiveness will remain limited,” he said.

Dr Michael Wu, principal scientist of analytics at Lithium Technologies, agrees that whilst there is some adoption, it is only from the 'badgers' and the 'pointers'. 

"User-game attributes could be anything a game designer uses to make a game fun, engaging and entertaining which includes game mechanics, game dynamics, design principles, psychology, even plain old incentives or narrative which makes people want to play the game to see how the story ends," he says.

"Most adoption has been around giving points to people for doing things and giving them badges. In the whole spectrum of gamification tools, points, badges and leader boards are essentially the most basic. They're the ones that are the least effective in the long-term because they have a short reinforcement time scale."

Richard Coggin from AIS London agrees that above all, games need to be fun. He says: “If a game isn’t fun, apart from no one actually playing the game, you run the risk of tingeing your brand with the negative connotations that come with a ‘gamification flop’”.

Misdirected investment is another reason for brand gamification failure. Alex Blaney from Session Digital believes that campaigns flop when marketers go for the quick buck too early.

He says: “Gamification needs to be purist in its approach as users are savvy to the signs of monetisation. They'll avoid any sniff of them being hunted for their wallet.

“The best ways to success is being genuine and committed to 'enjoyment' above anything else. It's the spirit of viral. Users will only interact and share what they find enjoyable, humorous, inventive or creative. Gamification has these essences at its core. Putting 'money' before 'enjoyment' will only lead to failure.”

Brand examples

However, there are a number of brands using gamification to their advantage. Nike’s creation of Nike+ and the Nike Fuelband has gamified running as users of the app receive a score depending on their specified goals, which they can also measure against other runners in the Nike+ community.

Credit card provider Mint is making finance fun by gamifying money management. The financial firm uses visual cues to notify users how they’re doing on their specified goals, such as saving for a new car, and ranks and rewards to change customer behaviour. For instance, if a customer has a goal of paying off a credit card, after selecting the amount wanting to pay each month users view a thermometer-shaped graphic displaying their progress each month before receiving a congratulatory ‘Boom!’ once achieved.

Other brands that often hit the headlines for clever use of gamification include American Airlines, Sainsbury’s,, Buffalo Wild Wings and Gowalla.

Best practices

So what best practices should organisations be aware of when implementing a gamification strategy? Alongside creating games that are relevant and fun, organisations should also remember any risks to employees and consumers associated to the behaviour the organisations wants to change, says Goble.

“If the risks outweigh the rewards, the current state is comfortable, and there is no accountability, no game will drive the behaviour. Think and execute holistically on your gamification strategy,” he says.

Wright adds that if the campaign is on-going, brands must continue to update it with new challenges and content so it remains fresh for repeat visitors. As he explains, “Nobody wants to do the same thing over and over again.”

Finally, Scott Sinclair, consultant at Capgemini Consulting, concludes that organisations must remember that using gamification to drive sustainable behaviour changes is not a short-term goal: “When you commit to behaviour change – you need to be in it for the long run,” he says.

“Furthermore, gamification should not be used for campaigns – it should be used to build an engaged community that brands can leverage in campaigns over time. It’s not something anyone can just pick up – you should always be asking yourself, what is the business outcome we are trying to drive – not how can we use gamification.”


Replies (2)

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By David Evans
28th Sep 2012 14:30

 The concept of gamificaiton is appealing because it provides an more interactive wa of engaging with content rather than the traditional articles and blogs etc. However, it is important that the content in this strategy is still high quaity and provide value to the consumer, whether they are playing or not.


David Evans, commercial director at accessplanit, specialist in learning management software and training registration software

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By Mylady81
30th Sep 2012 16:27

I think gamification can be overdone. Customers might get tired of this consept if it´s overused. But still it may bring some little extra that makes communities grow.

-- park sleep and fly

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