The dirty secret of gamification - which chairperson of our Game Developers Association Stephen Knightly defines as using game thinking and mechanics to engage customers and users - is that the psychology is nothing new. The good news is it still works.
Gamification, tipped to be a US$5.5 billion industry by 2018, has proven in recent years it can offer good return on investment, Knightly says. But why would marketers want to take a leaf from gaming's playbook?
Take the example of the recently-released Grand Theft Auto 5, the biggest digital product launch ever, earning US$800 million in less than a day. And the fact gamers aren't just sweaty young geeks, says Knightly - the average gamer is 33, 72 percent are aged over 18 and 47 percent are female. He adds anyone aged under 40 has the digital literacy to play gamified apps.
The return on investment extends beyond sales, says Knightly. It extends to growth in lead generation and better sales incentives by using customer relationship management systems like Salesforce.
And the principles of gamification work because they're not new. Knightly cited Richard Bartle's Test of Gamer Pscyhology, developed in 1996, that identified four types of game players - killers, achievers, socialisers and explorers.
"When we design a video game one of the lenses is what kind of person will play a game? You can design a game, campaign or gamified app to appeal to the psychological drivers underneath some of these segments."
Gamification helps brands set clear goals and get instant feedback from users, Knightly says. He adds the time spent on games stretches out engagement in comparison with liking something on Facebook.
He says gamification also offers a chance to make loyalty programs more effective.
"The traditional loyalty industry is good at giving away stuff, but what is more motivating to humans is status, like being the number one sales person, earning enough to get VIP access, or helping shape and design our next product.
Why give away your product? This uses intangible motivations and values."
A Gigya survey showed gamification also increases participation in online communities, with an average of 13 percent more comments, 22 percent more sharing on Twitter and Facebook and 68 percent more content discovery, he says.
Frucor Beverages senior brand manager Cormac Van Den Hoofdakker said his company had deepened its engagement with consumers by developing four games for the V brand in the last five years.
It began with the 2007 game Cash Drop for Bebo, where it gave away $100,000 and in 2011 drew 20,000 players to the eVolution puzzle game. This year it released V Robbers - an online world where people could register to virtually steal cash from other players.
"We wanted to really bring in the sense of competition and status," says Van Den Hoofdakker.
He says Frucor's most important lesson for brands is to be clear about their reason for offering gamified experiences.
"Keep in mind the why. So many games get created so make sure you know why a consumer would bother. What's the value to them and what's it going to do for you?"
Brands should also use data to learn from and modify games on the fly rather than waiting until the end of the game to review data, he says.
Knightly is running a gamification workshop with Design Assembly on 17 October.