People love games. From gambling to ancient gladiators to more modern offerings like video games, it’s clear that something about competition, challenge and reward strikes a chord with humans.
In the realm of brands and marketing, a phenomenon dubbed ‘gamification‘ has taken root. It was a huge theme at the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference held in Austin, Texas. Seth Priebatsch, the creator of SCVNGR, delivered a keynote address on the topic.
With so many companies and brands adopting the term and attempting to make it work for them, different interpretations have sprung up. Put simply, gamification encompasses integrating game dynamics like points, badges, leaderboards, rankings, loyalty rewards and other behavioural motivators into your site, service, content or campaign.
These devices are used to affect the motivation of consumers by tapping into that deep-seeded love of games I mentioned earlier. Gamification can turn consumers from disinterested to addicted, and all it takes is a little clever marketing and design.
One of the best examples of successful gamification in Australia is this creation from Commonwealth Bank. Looking for a way to increase the number of people investing in property, CBA have developed an online property simulator called Investorville. Combining real world market data with simulated conditions, Investorville lets users have a go at investing without actually spending any money. It’s a masterful combination of innovative technology and creative marketing, and it’s resulted in over 100,000 visitors to the site and a whopping amount of publicity for the brand.
Investorville turns a dull and stressful undertaking into something lighthearted and fun. It lulls users into a (false?) sense of security and makes them more likely to make a real life investment.
And of course, Foursquare, the location-based social platform, was an early champion of gamification, with badges, mayorships and a leaderboard all part of the experience.
Of course, just as gambling, video games and gladiators fighting to the death have their critics, so too does gamification.
The ABC’s Sam Doust declares gamification a ‘cheap attempt to sell a sense of design that has been successfully instilled in great works of both communication and art, for centuries’. (Read the rest of his post here, and let me know what you think in the comments below). And other commentators (notably Sebastian Deterding in this Slideshare presentation) believe that what marketers think of as gamification really isn’t, and that the gamification phenomenon is missing the fundamental part of what makes games fun: that they are play, not work.
If nothing else, gamification is at least good for one crucial thing. When the bosses at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport became sick and tired of men urinating all over their floors, they painted black flies in the centre of their urinals. With something to aim at (besides the urinal itself) accuracy was dramatically improved. (The bigwigs at Schiphol airport obviously understand behavioural economics and the idea of ‘nudging’ their customers. Read my post on the topic.)
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If gamification can persuade grown men to avoid missing the toilet, surely its potential knows no bounds!
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.