Are you Missing the Point of Gamification?

Gamification is not about adding points and badges to your app or website. It’s not even about creating games.

While Gartner Research estimates that more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have gamification in their marketing mix by 2014, it’s still misunderstood.

These were some of the lessons from New Zealand’s first Gamification Lab facilitated by InGame’s Stephen Knightly in conjunction The Gamedojo, Idealog and NZ Marketing mag in June.

Gamification is more akin to a mix of usability and behavioural psychology. It’s the practice of generating deep insights into what makes your customer tick, creating hot buttons that appeal to those needs, and applying that across the entire customer journey. Don’t just write a technical brief, write an experiential brief for your interactive projects too.

Points and badges typically only appeal to one kind of game player. They assume that your customer or employee gives a damn about competing with others or mastering a task.

Some of the most successful video games in recent years are non-competitive. Think Farmville, SimCity or DrawSomething.

The projects workshopped at the Gamification Lab illustrate what’s possible. We looked at highly personalised career planning tools for University student recruitment, and dinner party guides for drink and ice cream brands.

Rather than just an app to book a holiday efficiently, how could you bring to life a story about how adventurous or romantic it will be and a user-generated record of how it was? That’s significantly more likely to be shared via social media.

Instead of giving real products away to your most regular customers, what if they could feel rewarded and part of an exclusive club with virtual goods as well? The release of dopamine in the brain is the same whether the reward is virtual or real. What really matters is what the reward recognises or says about you.

An over-reliance on extrinsic rewards (such as prizes, carrots and sticks) can ultimately be counter-productive. People start doing it for the reward, like a high Klout score, rather than authentic connections.

Instead, much of the Gamification Lab was spent aligning game mechanics with intrinsic rewards. These are the things at the very top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: self-expression, personal achievement, storytelling and creating.

What gamification does best is amplify these inherent emotional benefits. Because it amplifies what is already valued, the result is an increase in conversion and retention rates.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Idealog magazine.