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The truth behind all the gamification hype

The truth behind all the gamification hype
Gamification is a term we've all been hearing a lot about lately. The notion is being tossed around by everyone from the most banal of utility app makers to rock bands, and seemingly everything in between, for better or worse.

Published: 13 May, 2013

The truth behind all the gamification hype

So it may rightly be tempting to break into the gamification game for many, but before taking the headlong dive in that direction, let's take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to gamification.

But what is Gamification?

The answer: it's making something fun (a game) out of a task or process that is otherwise boring, or average. This is often cool. Sometimes, it sucks.

Case in point: the crowdsourced protein-folding game that helped reveal a key structure in an AIDS-related enzyme over only 10-days back in 2010 (this was not only a major leap forward in helping understand and treat the disease, it was also a win for the concept of gamification, and perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of what 'the crowd' can do, too). The problem that was solved through the game had been puzzling the scientific community - for more than a decade.

What about gamification for businesses?

Gamification has worked for all sorts of commercial ventures. Last year, when the newest James Bond film, Skyfall, was about to debut, Visit Britain launched a massive online experience dubbed 'Agent UK,' urging participants to play along with a Bond-inspired web game and compete for a British travel package worthy of 007 himself.

The game was brilliant, spoke directly to the Bond franchise's audience, and was perfectly timed alongside both the film and the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr. No. That's not to mention that it was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and that the promotion was shortly preceded by the London Olympics.

Absolutely. Perfect. Timing.

When good ideas go bad

But gamification is not all about science and secret agents.

Unfortunately, a huge percentage of gamification efforts basically fail (cue sad trombone). Who could forget remember Zappos' tragic failure at gamification? The typically great marketing team there blew it by subjecting users to a rewards program complete with meaningless, worthless badges. Say what?

That's where so many brands go wrong. When the gamification relies too heavily on the value of some digital bits (badges, or in-game points) more than a perceivable real-world outcome, the gamification is just a silly facade thinly concealing a menial, boring business activity. For gamification to work, it needs to be not only genuinely fun, but also add value to the customer's life in some way.

Game on!

Gamification can be cool, but it's up to you to make it legitimately fun for your audience. Here are some questions to consider if you are thinking gamification might work well for your business, before you commit any resources to the idea:

  • Check yourself for Shiny Object Syndrome often. Just because you can (or can afford to) gamify, doesn't necessarily mean you should.
  • Can you get the results you seek from other marketing resources? Could you use the same monies to expand your marketing and digital activities and draw more prospects in the long run?

Gamification best practices

  • When planning, routinely ask "What do I want to gain for this?"; "What can my customer get out of this?”; "Will anyone want to follow along with this game?" Implement only the most beneficial ideas based on this line of questioning.
  • Can the underlying idea behind the game be improved in some way? Ideally, the answer is 'no' - because the proposed action should be good to start with for the game to work (Think of the Visit Britain example, wherein the idea was to facilitate discovering more about sightseeing in the UK. This doesn't suck to begin with, so the game was simply icing).
  • The game should not make adults feel silly playing it - sorry Zappos.
  • If prizes are in order, the game should offer something neat - a discount code or 'VIP' exclusive at the least - to everyone who plays, not just the final winner.