Gamification Is(n’t) Bull*hit
The arguments often come from game developers and designers with years of experience in the traditional gaming industry, who grew up as proud gaming geeks, and who also happen to be offended by the concept that game mechanics that work well to addict them to their favorite games just might have an application outside of the â€œseriousâ€ game realm.Â Other occasional naysayers are often anti-consumerists who are opposed on a moral level at anything that would potentially convince people to – by their own free choice – participate with capitalism any more than necessary.
While I’m not a hardcore gamer or extreme leftist, I’m a former business journalist and a skeptic. Like these angry birds, I used to think gamification was bull*hit. (The term alone isnâ€™t exactly doing the industry any favors.) I joined Badgeville in March 2010, almost a year before our launch, just after leading the social media marketing strategy for an Emmy Award-nominated Alternate Reality Game in London created as a partnership between Tim Kring and Nokia. I spent that summer deep in the gaming world among gaming experts and gaming addicts, and admittedly, this increased my skepticism of “gamification” from the start.
Then, I started to pay attention to my – gamified – everydayÂ life. Iâ€™m not every female millennial, but my experiences surely reflect many of my fellow millennials, who have grown up in a world where â€œsocialâ€ (media) status matters, and more and more of our everyday interactions offer status-based rewards. For others, status matters less, and winning matters more. Not everyone is going to be motivated by every single game mechanic, but if you think about your own life, I bet that you can easily find examples of gamification that have motivated you to do something. Employee of the Month? Girl Scout badge? Karate belt? We are inherently motivated by reward systems, itâ€™s part of our nature.
So when I started thinking about my own gamified life, first, I recalled the moment I hit 1,000 followers on Twitter, and beamed. Every time my attempted wit on FacebookÂ received â€œlikesâ€ from my friends, it made my day.Â I was obsessed with becoming Yelp Elite for the longest time, partially to attend the Elite events, but mostly to feel part ofÂ the community on the site.
Outside of social media status-based rewards, when I hit Silver Status on my Continental Elite program I smiled and felt like a legit business traveler. This year, Iâ€™m doing better than last year as itâ€™s just August and Iâ€™ve already hit Silver Status. Itâ€™s game, and itâ€™s on. When booking my travel plans, if flight costs are close in price (but maybe slightly more expensive than other airlines), Iâ€™ll be sure to book a Continental flight to get those miles. Iâ€™m hoping to hit Gold this year, just because, well, Iâ€™ve already accomplished silver, and I want to to hit the next level.
Another example of gamification in my life — recently, I started an exercise program andÂ started to use various gamified fitness tools, such as my Garmin watch, MapMyRun and Active Trainer to motivate me to finishÂ every mile I set out to complete, and unlike when IÂ used to attempt exercise programs withoutÂ the gamifiedÂ tracking systems, it worked.Â Iâ€™ve walked at least four miles everyday (except rest days) for the past few weeks. And, thanks to these various gamified fitness tools, Iâ€™m sticking to it, and pushing myself more each time I go out for a jog.
The short term reward of tracking my behavior, and being rewarded for this, helps keep me on track when any significant reward (such as dropping a dress size or two) takes much longer than a few days. MapMyRun even takes this one step further by letting me enter into various competitions based on my mileage logged.
I also started to think about my past professional experiences and projects. Even back when I was a journalist, we would compete to see whose article or blog post would have the most page views for the month. There was no shiny reward or bonus for hitting that goal, but in this case the numbers spoke for themselves. The recognition from my coworkers was enough to make me work harder to achieve the most page view goal the next month.
Following my time as a journalist, I worked as the community manager of a site run by Ludic Labs called Diddit.com (since acquired by Groupon), long before I had heard of the term â€œgamification.â€ The site, which was basically a massive bucket list for things to do over your lifetime, let users check off their â€œdiddits.â€ While there was no prize for doing this, our users would check off tens of thousands of activities and share their stories. It became clear that both the collection and status mechanics were at play. And they worked. People loved to check off things theyâ€™ve done and see their diddit count increase. Users would spend hours upon hours making new lists so theyâ€™d have new items to check off.
Gamification is not meant to replace or compete with the gaming industry. Sure, there are similarities between the two. Game mechanics can be shared by both industries without making one or the other less valuable. That said, we make sure that our staff is filled with experts in traditional gaming and social gaming, because we want our platform to offer the game mechanics that work well across these two spaces. Our VP of Production, Steve Sims, was the executive producer of Madden NFL Football at Electronic Arts and has spent many years in the gaming industry across traditional and social gaming. Our Senior Game Designer Tony Ventrice has spent half-a-decade studying social gaming, including significant time designing games at Zynga and Playdom, building deep expertise in how game mechanics can not only drive behavior, but also grow an audience and increase both retention rates and conversions.
That is not to say gamification is easy to get right. There are some valid points and concerns about how to best deploy gamification strategies. This industry is young, and while we apply best practices from our teamâ€™s deep experience in gaming and loyalty, we are also learning with our customers along the way. We recognize itâ€™s very easy to implement a bad gamification program, and are dedicated to providing the most flexible platform along with best practices so that creative, marketers, and designers can build unique gamification programs that increase lifetime user value, and support a three-dimensional user experience thatâ€™s authentic, meaningful, and rewarding for all involved. We’ll continue to report on our learnings and findings on gamification based on real customer data on our blog in the coming months.