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What Is Gamification And Why Should I Care?

What is gamification and why should I care?

The advertising and digital industries love their buzzwords. Phrases like “big data”, “responsive design” and “engagement” are used ad nauseam (pun intended). It can be rather overwhelming hearing all these buzzwords, but not knowing what they really mean. The point of this article is to demystify another buzzword that is gaining traction in the advertising industry – gamification. So what is gamification? Let’s find out more.

What is gamification and why should I care?

So you’re probably asking, “What is gamification and why should I care?” Without further ado, let me introduce you to gamification – one of the newer additions to the buzzword family. I asked Wikipedia, “What is gamification?” and they say it is “the application of game design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” Video games have become incredibly popular in the last few decades and with the rise of mobile phones, everyone and their parents play games. However, digital games are just one type of game. Games have been played since the beginning of mankind. Games are immersive and addictive by nature and when these elements are applied to a marketing campaign or product through gamification, this can help drive user engagement and adoption rates. In other words, more people will want to use your product for longer periods of time. However, gamification is not just applied in marketing and development. It can be used in the health industry, the automobile industry, the business world and in pretty much anything else. There are some things that shouldn’t be gamified, like funeral plans (it’s important to know where to draw the line), but other than that it can be used anywhere and everywhere.

To fully understand how game elements work in non-game contexts, we need to break down the core building blocks of games. At its very core, a game is made up of actions and outcomes. For example, with a rewards programme, the action is spending money and the outcome is getting reward points. Now this can get really boring if taken too literally. Imagine a rewards programme where any rewards you earned just sat there and couldn’t be used for anything. That is rather pointless. This is where the third building block comes in. Users need to be motivated to perform the action. In other words, the outcome needs to be worth putting in the effort required to perform the action. This motivation can be achieved in different ways, like the ability to publicly show off your achievement on social media, getting tangible rewards (product discounts, vouchers, etc.), digital rewards (content downloads, cosmetic effects for your avatar) and more. The specific means of motivation used will be based on the target market your product is aimed at.

I cannot tell you how exactly to implement gamification. There’s no hard and fast rule to find success with gamification. How you do it is reliant on the product or context. However, when creating a product or marketing campaign with the purpose of gamifying something, you can use the following points to keep you on the right track:

  1. Clearly define your goals. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve will help you define the game elements you’ll need to use. For example, the primary goal of ChoreMonster is to incentivise kids to do their chores around the house. To encourage kids to do chores, they get points for every chore they complete. When they have a certain amount of points, they can unlock new monsters, stickers, videos and more. Knowing that the goal is to get kids to do their chores, the game elements have been designed around that goal.
  2. Identify the game elements you want to use. Each of these elements should have a clearly defined purpose and should not just be added for the sake of it. For example, Discovery’s Vitality Rewards programme uses the following game elements:
    • Points are earned for certain actions, like going for your yearly checkups, going to gym, meeting your daily step goals or buying healthy food.
    • There are different levels you can reach that will determine the amount of rewards you receive. These levels are determined by the amount of points you’ve earned. So when you get to a certain amount of points, you “level up” and go to the next level/rewards tier.
  3. Identify the goals that the user needs to reach in order to get rewarded. In other words, identify the action that the user must perform in order to get rewarded (achieve an outcome). For example, with Starbucks’ rewards programme, the action is making a purchase. A user is awarded with 2 stars per every $1 spent. A user can redeem rewards depending on how many stars they have. Another goal is to reach a higher level in the loyalty programme. You reach the Gold Level when you have over 300 stars. This gold level then provides the user with extra benefits.
  4. Identify the metrics you want to use to measure a user’s progress. You can’t reward a user if there’s nothing you can use to measure against. For example, mobile apps like Fitbit and Nike+ measure a user’s heart rate, steps taken and calories burnt (taken from a fitness tracking device) to measure whether or not a user has met their personal goals in a day. These apps also prevent users from tampering with their results and recording false data. At the end of a week, the app shows whether or not you have achieved more points than your friends. The score used to measure this is usually the total active time or steps taken in a week.
  5. Identify the method/s of motivation you want to use and what rewards you want to award the users for reaching goals. These two steps go hand in hand. More often than not, the motivation is in the value (or perceived value) of the reward. For example, the Masterpass Race campaign, launched by Mastercard and Digitata Insights, awarded airtime to users for answering questions correctly. The campaign used a USSD code to show a quiz that could be completed on the user’s phone. For every question answered correctly and every task performed (like downloading an app), the user would earn points. Accumulating points got users to the next level of the quiz and these points could be converted into airtime. Answering quiz questions may be fun to some people, but without any reward, there would be little engagement. However, airtime in South Africa is not exactly affordable, especially for people with a lower LSM (living standard measure), so people are interested in getting free airtime.
  6. Look at successful (and unsuccessful) gamification apps, websites and marketing campaigns for inspiration. Gamification, just like games in general, can be hit or miss. A company may think their idea is brilliant and will take the market by storm, but then in practice, it barely makes a splash. Look at examples to see what works and what doesn’t. A campaign is never 100% guaranteed to work, but using examples as a guide will definitely give you an advantage.

What is gamification? It’s a very powerful marketing and user engagement tool when done right. If you have something that you want to gamify, but are not sure where to start, give us a call and we’ll help you through the process.

If you’re still asking, “What is gamification?’ then look at the following links for more information and inspiration:

  1. The Octalysis Gamification Framework devised by Yu-Kai Chou, an expert on gamification
  2. A list of the top 10 cases of gamification marketing that won’t easily be forgotten compiled by Yu-Kai Chou
  3. A list of the best examples of gamification in business compiled by MyCustomer
  4. Another list of the best examples of gamification in business compiled by ClickSoftware
  5. How gamification can drive workplace performance written by Adi Gaskell on Forbes


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Matthew Dalton

Matthew is Flicker Leap's Development Ninjaneer in the Innovation team.

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