The term “gamification” has been thrown around in conjunction with social media and there seems to be uncertainty about what that means, or rather, what it should mean for brands. The knee-jerk reaction to the trend is to add what is labeled as “casual games” or “social games” into a brand’s Web or social presence.
In some cases this makes sense, but more often, it doesn’t. Most brands will discover increased value from a subtler implementation of game mechanics. This can be as part of the core experience or as an ancillary experience, but it must always add value, never detract.
Why Implement Game Mechanics?
Good question. Game mechanics are sticky. Or more simply, they are addictive, offering very small—however instantaneous—gratification. The stickiness brings customers to an existing product or experience again and again, or may be utilized as a platform to get potential customers of a new product or experience.
More importantly they get people talking, either by word-of-mouth or via social channels. And they get people talking everywhere. Games are global. Videogames visual nature coupled with intuitive design means language is rarely a barrier of entry.
Game mechanics can be implemented for a number of reasons, but the two most popular and effective implementations are, keeping customers coming back and generating buzz.
Keep them Coming Back
Game mechanics are great for loyalty programs. Rewarding loyal customer with incentives both virtual and tangible is a fantastic way to not only keep returning customers, but also gain new customers and convert the casual or one-time buyer.
Ever frequent a store more often because of a loyalty punch card? Unbeknownst to you, you were a participant in one of the oldest and most basic forms of gamification. Starbucks takes the punch card game mechanic a step further.
The Starbucks mobile app lets customers pay with their phone and, with each purchase, receive a star. Once the user reaches five stars they are awarded “Green” level benefits (free flavor syrups and soymilk, free refills while in-store and a free tall beverage when you buy a one pound bag of coffee beans).
Customers are awarded a free beverage and a personalized Gold Card after collecting 30 stars. After their first 30 stars, they then get a free beverage for every 15 stars they collect. By expanding upon a simple concept, Starbucks has created a hugely successful loyalty program reaching millions of users while driving one out of every four purchases.
Games are social by nature. They facilitate competition, cooperation and like most things in life, best enjoyed with friends and family. Creating a compelling, value-adding experience for consumers will entice them to share.
When Valve Corporation, a game development studio with their own digital distribution platform called Steam, needed to build excitement for “Portal 2,” they created an augmented reality game (ARG). The ARG tied closely with the game’s release, allowing users to play “Portal 2” earlier if specific objectives were met.
The objective? Play more games. Portal fans and Steam community members poured hours into 13 little-known independent games. Eventually, fans reached objectives and were rewarded with the early release of “Portal 2.”
David Ewalt of Forbes praised the approach as a huge benefit for the indie developers, whose games led Steam sales charts in the weeks leading to “Portal 2’s” release and John Gibson of Tripwire Interactive, expressed his optimism for future ARGs as an interactive experience.
Implementing Game Mechanics
Game mechanics can be subtle, such as Starbucks iPhone application or more prominent in the case of Valve Corporation’s ARG and Green Giants integration with Zynga’s Farmville.
Regardless of the implementation, if done well—with the right consumer incentive—game mechanics can deliver large returns on investment and conversions through brand loyalty, brand or product awareness, and consumer engagement.