Gamification: More to marketing than just a buzzword?
Raf Keustermans looks at case studies and gauges expert opinion on the latest hot topic.
NBC Universal's USA network has successfully used gamification to spread word about its Psych TV programme. On the Psych area of its website - dubbed Club Psych - visitors are encouraged to become loyal fans with achievements and rewards, getting 200 reward points for sharing something on the site such as a game or video, 50 points for taking a poll, and so on. The gaming reward programs have generated a 130% increase in page views for the show and a 40% increase in return visits according to its results.
- Rewards: rewarding players/users/consumers for certain behaviour. This can be done with badges (or trophies, points, coins, medals, …) that can be collected an can either increase status within the user community, or can ‘unlock’ functional items or features. This is probably the most used mechanic in gamification, used primarily to drive and reward certain behaviour (visit this page on the website, fill in form X).
- Collaboration: very often used in social games; certain features are items can be ‘friend-gated’: a user needs assistance from his friends/other users to complete a task or get an item, e.g. in a Facebook game: collect gold from your friends to complete the castle that will protect your army. Outside games: get three friends to sign-up to get access to the Platinum Club with extra discounts.
- Progression: levels can be used to give users a feeling of progression, and can also be part of a broader layer to increase the ‘fun’ and reward element of a game. Good games will have a mix of easy and difficult levels, e.g. Angry Birds will let you progress fast for three or four easy levels, add a difficult ‘frustrating’ level and reward players again with again some easy levels; once players understand the structure, they know that their grinding and frustration in a difficult level will be rewarded with fast progress afterwards. Levels can also be used as part of an educational/tutorial process, to get users through a complex process, where the complexity increases with each level. It could be imagined that adding a level structure could simplify, e.g. online tax forms.
- Appointments: Another pillar of social games, made famous by FarmVille and other resource management games: users are encouraged to return to the game within a certain timeframe. Missing an appointment can be punished. A typical example is the harvesting mechanic in farm games; harvest after four hours or your crops will wither. Interesting is that shorter timeframes are rewarded more substantially than longer ones (higher yield for shorter harvest cycles), and that this feature is usually also combined with a social/viral aspect, where friends or neighbours can prevent or undo damage to the player’s virtual crops. This is a core mechanic to drive engagement and loyalty, and could be used by content creators to create a daily/weekly habit.
- Quests/challenges: Sometimes similar to a level structure, but in most cases quests or challenges are used parallel with a level structure. They can be used to broaden the gameplay; e.g. a city-building game can have a strategic angle (build an efficient city that yields the highest taxes), but can also have an aesthetic angle (build a beautiful city, your dream city). If the level structure rewards progress on the strategic axis, adding specific quests (‘add a park and trees to keep your population happy’) can avoid that the games becomes one-dimension and alienates a part of its user base. Quests are usually rewarded with badges or currency. Quests can add a different (secondary) layer to for instance a loyalty programme; the main goal can be to use your credit card as often as possible, but a quest can be to vote for the winner of a Visa-sponsored music talent show.
- Status: One of the more abstract (and therefore difficult to influence) areas of gameplay. Status is the reason why Zynga Poker is the largest online poker room in the world (35 million monthly active players) despite the fact that it’s not possible to win or cash out any real money – the main currency of Zynga Poker is not virtual chips, it’s the ‘bragging currency’ that increases your status in your community of friends and other players. Online forums and message boards have used similar status-based systems to moderate and supervise content; power-users or users that are respected by other users are nominated to be ‘moderators’ and given control to edit and even ban other users. This system has even been used by some start-ups to create user-powered customer support, where users/customers are rewarded with ‘status’ by the company in return for helping other users with (minor) problems and questions.
Gamification: Hype or helpful?
More perspectives on this emerging trend...
- Is well targeted - what do you want people to do?
- Supports users natural behaviour -what do your users want to do?
- Encourages social interaction between players