What Is Gamification and How Does It Support Marketing?

by Jason Keath on Jan 19, 2012

The Gamification wiki gives us a pretty good starter definition, “Gamification is the use of game design thinking for non-gaming applications” or for our purposes, using game design thinking for marketing your business.

The Oxford English Dictionary even added the term gamification to its short list for word of the year in 2011.

If we take a quick look at the search traffic for gamification we see a steady growth trend since the middle of 2010.

Gamification has been around as a term since 2007. However, we can easily identify these techniques throughout the history of business and marketing. The search graph below shows us that interest in gamification is clearly on the rise.

Game Mechanic Examples

When we look at games we see certain techniques for getting users engaged into the story or strategies of the game. Here are a few basic examples:

  1. Achievement: A badge, a level, a reward, or points given to a person for accomplishing something.
  2. Levels: Breaking a storyline or activity into levels or chapters, creating smaller goals. Leveling up can also be an experience level, showing how long you have worked. Often certain tools or story lines only become available at a certain level.
  3. Appointments: come here at this time and get something good. You see this is World of Warcraft and Farmville, “your crops will be ready to harvest in 12 hours.”
  4. Progress: Showing a person what percentage of a task they have completed or what portion of a map they have explored.
  5. Countdown: Having a time limit to complete a task.
  6. Tools: Needing to gain a specific item in order to complete a task.
  7. Free Lunch: The feeling of lucking into something free because other people did the work. See Groupon.
  8. Loyalty: Returning to a task or location repeatedly and gaining status for it: Airline levels, Foursquare mayors, etc.
  9. Leader Boards: Displaying a list of people to recognize publicly who has earned the most achievements.
  10. Loss Aversion: Do this or you lose this benefit.
TechCrunch published a list of 47 game mechanics that SCVNGR uses for inspiration.

All of these game mechanics are put into place to get the game player to keep spending time with the game. The same elements are used in business all the time. Only now we recognize that what works in games can usually work in the real world when applied with thought and attention to detail.

Game Mechanics In Action

How can we use gamification to build better businesses? The opportunities are endless really. Let’s outline a few of the main integrations where you will likely see game mechanics in action today. But keep in mind, these mechanics work online as well as offline and only your creativity will limit what you can test for your business.

Loyalty Programs:

Hilton honors, Jetblue Trueblue points, Subway sandwich cards. These are all loyalty systems that use game mechanics to keep customers coming back more often.

Mobile App Integration:

Many of the hottest social media apps out there are using gamification in big ways. Foursquare has mayors and check-in behaviors that win users free items and discounts. GetGlue rewards active entertainment consumption with stickers and prizes. Fitness apps use levels and achievements to encourage fitness. And many of these apps have leader boards encouraging people to be a top performer.

Website Integration:

The Huffington Post, SEOmoz, Mashable, and others have all integrated some type of gamification for logged in users of their sites. Read a certain number of articles, comment X number of times, share with your friends, and you gain artificial levels, achievements and maybe even added benefits.

And there are several vendors that have created software solutions to help businesses implement these features through their websites. Look to BunchBall, Big Door, and Badgeville.

Ok, so now let’s look at a few quick examples to show you what these techniques can look like in action.

Example 1: Dropbox

Dropbox is a shared online storage service. You can keep files on Dropbox through your computer and smartphone, use it to share files with coworkers, or even bring your music and photos with you everywhere you travel, on any computer.

They start you with a free 2Gb of space which is enough for small file sharing but not enough for sharing a lot of music. If you want more space you can opt-in to their paid service or you can earn more space through a few tasks:

  1. Getting started: 250Mb. Take the site tour, install their software, share a file. A few simple steps get you some extra space.
  2. Get social: 768 Mb. Connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and follow Dropbox.
  3. Refer a friend: up to 16Gb. For every friend you refer that signs up to Dropbox, you get 500Mb of storage added and each friend gets an extra 250Gb.

Example 2: LinkedIn

When you first signup for LinkedIn, their goal is to get you to give them as much information as possible. They use a simple progress bar when filling out your profile to show you what percentage you have completed. We have a natural inclination to want to make the progress bar fill up and show 100%.

Example 3: Starbucks

Starbucks has taken the Subway sandwich card and aded a little complexity and more game design to the equation. Benefits increase the more often you use your Starbucks Reward Card. Starbucks is using level similar to airline and hotel loyalty programs, offering many free beverages, refills, and even turning the card into a status simple with their personalized Gold Level Card.

Lead Image Source: Shutterstock.com 2 guys playing video games

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Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...

  • http://shinytoyrobots.com Robin Cannon

    This is a really fascinating piece. To some extent it’s a circular thing; theories like leveling and progress meters exist in games in the first place because it’s human nature to work better when things are split into smaller tasks. Where game theory really helps with marketing and web interaction in general is the provision of a sense of achievement (whether a specific “Achievement” or a more generalized sense of “having taken a step”).

    In terms of using progress bars to encourage people to complete steps, I’ve seen the benefits. At the company I currently work for, TerraCycle, when I started the website signup process was a single, very extensive form. 80% of people who *started* the signup form (and therefore were presumably interested) gave up before they’d finished it. By making the initial signup as simple as possible, and then prompting a step by step progressive approach to completing various aspects of personal information, we reversed that ratio so that the signup process has 80% conversion instead of 20%.

  • Angeline D’Bal

    The LinkedIn example is a good one. I do remember feeling that need to get it to 100% when I first created mine. Thanks for the great article.

  • Jason Mathes

    It’s the whole “Dangle a Carrot on a Stick” trick… works every time. Well… at least for me it does lol!

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