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Gamification – the next digital marketing trend

Dave Quintana

Dave Quintana

One of the biggest buzzwords of 2010-in the digital marketing world-was “gamification.” If you’re a digital marketer, webmaster, or a business owner, then you need to pay close attention to this emerging trend.

Gamification, according to Gabe Zichermann author of “Game-Based Marketing,” is the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. Gamification, or the process of gamifying a non-game system, is to develop goals for your players, create gameplay rules that limit players and force creativity and interaction, provide a dynamic feedback system for the progress of the players in the game, and make the game voluntary. Those four basic building blocks create the game system.

Why Gamification and where does it come from? Gamification is based upon game design theory for massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). The gaming industry is sizable, with nearly 183 million Americans and 500 million gamers worldwide. These MMOGs and/or Social Games take many forms and you have probably received more than one invitation to play one of these games. Notable games include FarmVille (51 million players), Mafia Wars (15 million players), and World-Of-Warcraft (12 million players paying $15 a month to play).

In these games, players are rewarded with points based upon certain quests or tasks. These tasks are simple to do and points are easily acquired at first, and then progressively become harder. Players “level up” in the game and their character or avatar unlocks new parts of the world and new abilities. These levels form a status system for the social structure of the game, thus giving the players a higher social standing in the community as they level up in the game. Players finish task after task in order to unlock more abilities, gain more points, and level up.

In these worlds, players form social groups and interact with each other to complete quests. They are, as Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken,” states, “blissfully productive.” Users are not only encouraged, but required to include and invite friends to play with them – the more friends that play with them the more power they hold in that virtual world. This blissfully productive and highly engaged group helped FarmVille generate $600 million in revenue in 2010. Isn’t that what we want, blissfully productive and happy players of our game/business called customers?

Most importantly, how does Gamification apply to your business? It’s simple: turn your business into a game. A game, by definition, is “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” Players opt-in to play the game because it has a compelling and defined goal, has established gameplay, and provides a dynamic feedback system (points, levels, badges, achievements, and leader boards).

One tremendous example of a gamified system is Mint.com, where the game is your financial health. In Mint.com, players walk through their financial lives on a digital quest. They enter their personal and financial information. They receive a completed task checkmark and progress on their financial profile.

The players are onboarded into the game in a financial planning interview. When their profile is complete they can unlock their financial player dashboard to see how they are doing. The players can instantly see their balance sheet, view billing alerts, get money-saving tips from experts, and track their monthly budget progress. The players have the ability to create goals such as getting out of debt, going on a vacation, and buying a new car.

In the budgeting section, players can view how much they spent on entertainment or education and see how they compare to the national average (leader board). Mint.com is an excellent example of how to take a non-game like your finances and create a game system to reward ideal behavior.

There are many examples of companies that are currently using game thinking and mechanics to influence and drive behavior. Opower is a gamified system to reduce home energy consumption. Nike+ gamifies the sport of running, tracks your stats, allows you to compete in running challenges with your friends, and keeps you motivated. BunchBall, BadgeVille, and BigDoor provide software that applies game mechanics to websites that increases engagement and converts players into customers (“like” now, buy later).

Before you leap right into gamifying your business or website, I highly recommend the following suggestions: 1) Identify the particular behaviors you are trying to reward, 2) Understand your reward point system, and 3) Know what will make the game compelling. Just because it is a game does not mean it will be fun. There are thousands of poorly designed games in the market. Stick to the four principles of what makes a game and figure out how those four areas can drive the behaviors you are looking for.

This column was written by Dave Quintana, a client-side engineer at Bodybuilding.com, a Web and technology consultant and a founding member of the Boise Young Professionals. He served as its original Web, brand and social media director and continues to help the organization innovate with Web and social technologies.

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