Throughout the history of marketing, various maxims have rung true: sex sells, ‘magic’ sells and giving away free stuff sells. The incredible success of gaming, particularly online gaming, proves a new maxim: fun sells.
Last Friday over 90 marketers and agency types tackled ‘gamification’ with Gabe Zichermann, one of the world’s leading proponents of “using game concepts to engage users and customers,” courtesy of CAANZ’s Digital Leadership Group.
Rather than page views, unique users and measures of reach, games are all about engagement, which is more specifically measured by looking at users’ recency, frequency, virality, duration and ratings.
So, how do we become more engaging? Here are some of the strategies game designers use that can equally be used to gamify a website, competition, loyalty scheme, campaign, product or service, according to Gabe Zichermann.
Emotional Experience Engineering
Gabe suggested we live in “post-Maslow” days where security and food are largely guaranteed and people’s needs are less tangible. So what do modern customers want and how could we deliver it?
- Status. Let customers “level up”, like the red carpet treatment for priority travellers with Continental Airlines.
- Access. Exclusive access for beta-testers, or early access to a daily deals site.
- Power. Being an editor at Wikipedia gives you power and influence over a large number of other people, but you’re also free labour.
- Stuff. Product sampling, 2-for-1 deals.
A key opportunity in these digital times is that the benefits at the top of this list are both the most engaging and the most desirable, and also the cheapest to create.
Design for every player
Different people play games for different reasons. In 1996 virtual worlds professor Richard Bartle classified players’ motivations into four camps:
- Achievers, who want to win almost regardless of what the game is
- Killers, who not only want to win but want to be seen to beat others in the process
- Explorers, who delight in seeking and finding new things and experiences
- Socialisers, who use games as the excuse to socialise with others
I’m sure you’d recognise many of these types of people even from a social soccer league. A good game provides opportunities to express all of these roles, or purposefully focuses on only one segment.
Gabe’s “if you do only one thing after this seminar” takeaway is: watch the US cable show Storage Wars to see the Killer instinct in action.
Tightly script the most positive aspects of your player/customer experience to appeal to these groups. Designing for “flow” also means not making things too easy, which ultimately makes things dull. Humans respond to the “progression to mastery”, where we spend our lives striving to master complex systems and experience fun and self-discovery in the process.
Learn from Social Games
The most successful social games (such as Farmville and the like) are a mix of clever business strategy, fun but accessible games and clever shepherding of user behaviour. They do many things differently to traditional offline marketers. Lessons we can learn from social games include:
- Don’t give free stuff away to your best customers. Traditional marketers would give an extra coffee to a coffee card holder who first buys ten coffees. Instead, social games sell virtual goods or special access to their most dedicated players who want a deeper experience.
- Don’t limit the amount your best customer can pay. Traditional marketers have a set price for everyone (with discounts as the exception). In a social game, a flat rate subscription caps your potential revenue. Instead they allow the top 3-5% of customers who want everything to pay more to get it. They also let many introductory players experience the basics for free before upselling.
- Never give up an opportunity to acquire new customers. Many marketers never actually directly ask for a referral. Social games ask for friend requests, reward both you and your friend when they join the game, and ask multiple times in multiple ways.
The Art of Game Design
Gabe reminded us that games don’t have to be complex. The best games historically (think Chess or Go) are elegant systems with hidden depths.
Although applying gamification well can seem daunting, there are experienced hands locally to make gamification strategies a reality. Gabe identified one group of people who go to bed and wake up in the morning thinking solely about how to motivate users: game designers.
While our venue, the Media Design School, is well known for the AdSchool and design courses, fewer people realise it has run very successful Game Development Diplomas since 2005. There are several game designers locally who regularly make games that are played online by several million people per game each year. They’re largely unseen as it is 100 percent an export market, although the industry has nearly doubled in the last year. In the hands of an experienced game designer a five-minute Flash timewaster becomes a compulsive five hours of lost productivity. When was the last time you could claim your customers had engaged that deeply or frequently with your campaign or product?
- Stephen Knightly is director of gamification consultancy InGame, coordinator of the Auckland Game Developers Meetup, Board member of Playmaker and a director of Pursuit PR.