Rethinking gamification in marketing

Gamification was once a buzzword in marketing, popping up in campaign activations and strategies whether it fit or not. So does gamification still have a place or was it just a fad?


Next-gen gamification

Aspects of gamification are very clearly apparent in many common concepts today, says Monheit, even if they are not immediately recognised as such.

“Elements from gamification have found their way into lots of nice places where they add plenty of value,” he says. “Most online forms and digital onboarding experiences today use 'game' elements, even if it's just a visual progress indicator, or natural language to guide you along.

“We also see game elements in lots of health and fitness apps, where 'hot streaks', teams, locked content and achievements are all completely intertwined in the experience. Headspace and Strava are a couple of excellent examples that spring to mind.

According to Morris Bryant, a partner at digital agency Sparro, gamification concepts are also found in the ‘freemiun’ app model and in loyalty programs.

"Google Places and TripAdvisor have nailed the most basic model, where the user is gamified for no reward other than the game itself - creating levels and 'badges' for reviewers,” Bryant says. “But it hasn't become the game changer it was claimed to be.

“As with every trend, it was widely-applied, and only the most practical uses have survived. The largest content creation websites - Facebook, Instagram, YouTube - don't use the model, which says a lot.”

That gamification was once able to generate such a high level of interest was due to its perceived potential to solve one of the oldest issues in marketing: Building audience engagement.

Zac Fitz-Walker actually studied gamification as part of a PhD he commenced back in 2010, and subsequently developed a Masters unit for QUT on gamification and persuasive computing. He believes the focus on points, badges and leader boards represented the wrong approach.

“As we know, these are not the things that make a video game fun, which is about the challenge, or fulfilling certain needs,” Fitz-Walker says. “And that wasn’t being captured in a lot of early gamification systems.

“Often you see a misalignment of goals, where the goal of gamification doesn’t actually align to the business goal. And if you don’t nail that alignment, then you are going to get some engagement, but then they may not follow through with the desired behaviour you are looking for.”

Fitz-Walker continues to use gamification techniques in the projects of the app studio he co-founded, Eat More Pixels. He says the critical concept when considering gamification techniques is to understand why games are engaging in the first place

“And I think it is because they align really well with theories around intrinsic motivation,” he says. “They set a goal or a challenge, there is good feedback, there is a good sense of progress, and they do all those things.

“Everyone plays games, it just depends on the type of game system or gamification you are building. For example, my grandmother used to love Words with Friends. So you can build gamified systems which are very casual, aimed towards a particular demographics.”

While it may not command the same headlines, gamification is still used to great effect in many campaigns today. Publicis Media for example worked with its client Heineken to create a gamified experience for its sponsorship of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne this year, using a Facebook-based chatbot to set challenges for fans, such as talking their way past a virtual doorman. Prizes included free Heineken, discounts at G-Star RAW, GQ magazine subscriptions, and VIP passes.

Public Media’s head of content, Patrick Whitnall, says the gamified chatbot provided an innovative and cost-effective way of engaging with this audience.

“That enabled us to build around the infrastructure of a chatbot, so we didn’t have to build an app or something separate to it,” he says.

Ultimately, the implementation outperformed Heineken’s expectations for user interaction. “That is going to drive customer loyalty, customer engagement and repeat purchasing.” Whitnall says.

From the CMO archive: Why gamification and big data go hand-in-hand

How PAG Digital's new gamification drives customer engagement
Dumb Ways to Die creators launch second game

Impact and effect

Exactly how effective games can be in influencing people to behave in a desired manner will be the focus of a study currently being conducted by QUT and the research and development agency Rubin8. Together they are investigating how participants respond to a game-based approach to surveys, and whether the use of games can improve survey results.

“For us it is an exciting opportunity to learn how people interact with modern technology,” says head of the Behavioural Economics Department at QUT, Professor Uwe Dulleck.  “The question of reliability of information is not only important from a business perspective, but also from a research perspective, and retention rates of surveys is a very big issue for researchers in social and economics as it is for market research.”

For Rubin8’s founder and creative director, Rob Holden, the project is an opportunity to put some science behind its work and test a theory that when a person engages in a game they will provide more truth.

“We gather a lot of data that helps marketers make better decisions, and helps them drive behaviour of their consumers,” Holden says. “We are using games and the high-level engagement they provide to encourage and push people down certain paths. When you are engaged, you use a limbic part of the brain rather than the rational part of your brain.

“And anecdotally it is easier to tell the truth, rather than think about the question asked.”

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