Monday, September 12, 2011

Developing a Gamification Strategy

How can marketers take their approach to "Gamification" to the next level by being less tactical and more strategic?

Getting to the Point of the Game

Gamification seems to be all the rage. Ever since Seth Priebatsch took the stage for his South By Southwest keynote presentation, marketers have been obsessed with including and enhancing the game mechanics in the world of their own products, brands, campaigns, and programs. Lectures and articles have since urged the industry to take the lead in integrating game dynamics into real world activities.

While the excitement for this new way of thinking is most-definitely there, the process of how to do it effectively isn't. Like Priebatsch's talk at TEDxBoston, "Building the Game Layer on Top of the World", most of the talk about "Gamification" focuses on teaching marketers about the elements within games - from levels to leaderboards. But these are just tactics. The real question marketers should be asking themselves before committing to Gamification is "Why?" Why am I developing a "game" - how will it benefit my business and my consumer? That's the point of the game.

Answering this question will help to answer another: "How?" How can I make the best use of specific gaming elements to achieve the objective - the answer to the question "Why?" Asking these kinds of questions first will get marketers to the kind of thinking that will lead to a "Gamification Strategy": an approach that will help direct how you will gamify your product, brand, customer experience, loyalty program, and just about everything else...

Make Like a Game Designer

Think, for a moment, how a game designer might approach the development of a new game (particularly, in the videogame industry). In most cases, they probably wouldn't start out by building a list of game mechanics - or tactics - that they'll be including in the new game. They don't start by saying to themselves, "My game will have badges, and many levels to pass, and it will also have multiplayer!" Rather, they start with two things - a basic idea and an understanding of their intended audience - both of which help to inform what is, in the long-run, the strategy for their game. Marketers should approach the idea of Gamification in the same way.

(1) What's the Idea?
In the case of marketers, there should already be the essence of an idea, which is dependent on the product or service, brand, customer experience, or program that they offer - the thing that they'll be building the game layer on top of. What's the core essence of the idea? What does it offer people? Think of what the best way to enhance that idea or experience is - that will have an infuence on your Gamification Strategy.

(2) Know Your Audience
Second, the audience - the consumers of the product or service, brand, customer experience, or program, etc. How do people think or feel about the offering? Be honest. Is it boring, mundane? Is it already well-liked and engaging? Tap into existing research, or do some new research, and find out. The audience's perspective will have a major influence on your Gamification Strategy as well.

Three Possible Gamification Strategies

Now that you are well-versed in the essence of the idea and have a thorough understanding of your audience and how they feel about it, you're ready to develop your Gamification Strategy. Below are three possible strategic options, each of which would be better suited for specific situations. Remember, that the strategies below won't dictate all of the game mechanics that you'll use, but they will direct which of those mechanics are the most important in helping you achieve the objective of the game.

(1) The Rewards-based Approach
Eg. Slot machines, carnival games

These types of games have little to do with the actual gaming experience in and of itself. The games themselves are often simple, mundane, or random. Rather, this approach focuses on the rewards - giving people something of value for "playing" or "winning". Only the reward truly makes them feel good and only the rewards keep them engaged and coming back for more. This approach is good for:
  • Situations where the idea or offering itself is already fun and the audience enjoys the experience. The game then serves as a bonus, helping to build loyalty to an already engaging experience.
  • Situations where the audience is not really invested in the idea or offering at all and wouldn't realistically want to spend any more time with it. The game and its rewards help to spark just enough interest to lead to a transaction.

(2) The Achievement-based Approach
Eg. Loyalty programs, role-playing games

With these types of games, the experience, and the reward, is directly connected to the idea of achievement - moving up in the system based on the amount of time, effort, and money that you put into it. Once again, the game itself may be mind-numbingly simple (or, in the case of some games, not a fun experience at all). This approach is good for:
  • Situations where the audience is highly-invested and interested in the idea or offering. The game and the idea of achievement simply adds to this experience and taps into the inner-competitive spirit that is part of this particular audience's nature - resulting in even more engagement. 
  • (Note: this is the reason why most people are only active in a few loyalty programs at a time - they only truly care about their achievements when they are personally invested in the idea or offering)

(3) The Experience-based Approach
Eg. Call of Duty series, Wii Sports

Although these games may include elements of the Rewards-based and Achievement-based approaches, like prizes and leaderboards, ultimately they are all about the experience of playing the game itself. The act of playing - and the fun and excitement that people feel when they're "in the zone" - that's what keeps them coming back for more. This approach is good for:
  • Situations where the audience is not highly-invested, or has a low-level of interest in the idea or offering. In this case, the game playing experience acts as the lure - a way to buy interest in the idea or product that the marketer is ultimately trying to sell.
  • Situations where the audience does have a high-interest in the offering (ie. bacon) but where there isn't a way for them to experience it other than its basic offer (ie. eating the bacon). The game adds to their initial level of interest and keeps them engaged with the idea or offering for longer periods of time.

And so, Gamification isn't just about game dynamics, mechanics, and elements - it's about developing a strategy that achieves the objective set out by the marketer - the specific reason you're designing a game in the first place. To do that, you'll have to define the basic idea or offering that you'll be building the game around, and then gain an understanding of how your audience interacts with it. Finally, you'll have to determine the approach that works best for your particular situation, whether it's Rewards-based, Achievement-based, or Experienced-based in its nature. Only then will you truly be ready to game...

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