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?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that conferences were jammed with sessions on how techniques and ideas from the world of electronic gaming were revolutionising marketing.

Games are highly engaging, and brands are always seeking greater engagement, so the idea of the ‘gamification’ of campaigns seemed like a logical development. Hence leader boards, points systems and completion bars started appearing in all manner of digital campaigns, as marketers sought to entice audiences to stay engaged with them for as long as possible.

Fast forward to today however, and pretty much no one is talking about gamification. So was it just an overhyped fad?

“I think that, thankfully, the early days of 'gamification' are officially behind us,” says director of strategy at Melbourne-based agency Hardhat Digital, Dan Monheit. “The era I'm referring to was the one in which every client wanted every campaign, website, app, newsletter and internal office poster 'gamified', whether it made sense to do so or not – because it usually didn't.”

The learning for the industry was that taking a boring, inherently unmotivating task and adding a leader board and some badges still left the audience with a boring, inherently unmotivating task.

“It's kind of like a terrible person paying others to hang out with them,” Monheit says. “It seems kind of palatable at first, but it doesn't take long for people to either decide that it's just not worth it, or work out how to game the system and extract the most amount of cash for the least amount of interaction possible. Either way, it's not going to be the result that the terrible person was looking for.

“The inherently motivating factors need to be baked in from the very start - after all, games have no purpose other than to create enjoyment by being played, and that's what companies with their raft of other objectives are likely competing with.”

Lessons learnt

Monheit says the realisation for many of the early adopters was that it was incredibly difficult to make a product or service that was as addictive as a game. This is reflected through many successful games effectively only being ‘one off’s’ from a developer that got exceedingly lucky, with few small developers able to repeat their success consistently.

“This all seems pretty obvious, but it seems that as an industry we had to learn the hard way,” Monheit says. “The same could be said for brands realising what it takes to produce truly entertaining content.”

Partner at Deloitte Digital, Jason Hutchinson, believes gamification has very much been a victim of the hype cycle. But while it failed to meet the expectations many placed on it, this may have been the result of poor implementations, rather than an inherent fault in the idea.

“People were rewarding the wrong things,” Hutchinson says. “We were rewarding people for a specific task, but not necessarily for the quality of that task. We would reward someone for creating a piece of content, but what we should be rewarding people for is the value of that content.

“Where gamification works really well is when we put higher rewards based on the value of that content and whether people like it, share it or reuse it – or remove points based on how people use it. So it should be powered by the data around it, not simply creating a piece of content.”

While gamification might be many years past being flavour of the month, Hutchinson says clients still seek to have gamified elements included in projects. Deloitte itself long ago incorporated elements of gamification into internal systems and processes, including a corporate version of Foursquare that encourages consultants to ‘check in’ after they have met with clients and include information on what they have discussed, and earn rewards for doing so.

Up next: Examples of successful gamification today, plus learning the impact and effectiveness

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