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sonicAs multichannel commerce becomes commonplace, it’s more important than ever to focus on long-term engagement and coherence, creating a uniform, satisfying customer experience across every platform.

Recently, Gamification has become an increasingly important part of this mix, using game mechanics to enhance UX and guide user behaviour.

When it’s done well, the rewards can be impressive; boosting engagement and brand awareness as well as vastly increasing direct conversion, shareability and repeat business.

But what exactly do we mean when we use the term? It’s important to remember that gamification is a blanket phrase which can relate to multiple levels of deployment.

Here’s a quick roundup of some points you should be aware of if you are considering gaming as a marketing tool. 

Gamification vs pointsification

First of all, let’s define our terms.

Unless you happen to be Blizzard, you probably won’t have millions in resources and a crack team of designers, artists and coders to hand. In fact it’s pretty unlikely that you’re making a game at all.

It’s far more likely that you are adding points, prizes or rewards as an incentive, much as you’ve previously done using coupons or vouchers.

You are adding a layer that contains certain mechanical systems.

Instead of worrying about three button fight combos and weapons upgrades, concentrate on your business model and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Can game mechanics help customers to engage with your product or service?
  • Will they help to increase revenue and improve the overall customer experience?

Leave the next edition of Bio-Shock to the professionals and instead concentrate on simple tweaks that can help your business.

What’s the score?

Think about exactly what you are trying to achieve here.

  • Is it measurable, or is it just a yellow blob chasing ghosts around your homepage?
  • What qualitative metrics can you take from this, and what will they prove?

At some point, you’re going to need to sink some revenue into this, and your execs will want to see ROI (your hi-score doesn’t count). As with anything that relies on a social dynamic, it’s important that you have clear goals and know when you’ve reached them.

New players have entered the game

If you’re looking to get your hands on legions of new customers this probably isn’t the way to do it.

Customers don’t come to your site to battle the evil lord Zarg, they come to do business with you. Remember:

  • The best games aren’t always about direct competition.
  • There’s a lot more to engagement than simply adding points.

As an example, let’s look at Foursquare. While points and ‘Mayorships’ are an important part of the interface but they aren’t the primary business or usage driver.


Foursquare’s success lies in its ability to connect people, to locate your friends and to share information and opinion. When it comes to business it’s similarly social. The game is only a very small part of things, a layer that enables increased activity and engagement.

While everyone likes to be number one, it isn’t all about that killer instinct. Users have wildly different motivations. Some want to win, others want to beat their own score. Many aren't even really aware that there IS a point, they just enjoy getting involved and having a fun time sharing cool stuff with their friends. 

Fight for the users

Lots of companies are now harnessing the power of their internal communities to power functions such as CRM. Your community knows your product extremely well, and is often willing to share that knowledge in exchange for a little recognition.

Those battling it out for points and prizes may not be the most socially-minded of your customers, and by targeting the ruthless element you’ll could be ignoring the most useful visitors to your site; your brand ambassadors.

  • Make clear choices about which customers you want to reward and why.
  • Segment them accordingly.

If you want to make rewards compelling, make them personal. Think about setting up user profiles and incorporating shareability across various social networks. Let your customers spread the word.

The overall gaming market is absolutely massive, and while it’s true that the social and mobile game market has exploded recently, successful companies still invest extremely heavily in advertising.

You’ll need more than just the game to attract customers. Again, it’s doubtful that you’ll be competing with the top-flight gaming companies, and gamers aren’t your audience, and even if they are, remember the huge amounts of capitol that companies like EA or Sony invest in marketing.

  • Can you compete at that level and is it in your interests to do so?

It’s always dangerous to shift focus from your core product or devalue it by being overly generous with discounts and offers.

Instead, look closely at mechanics that focus attention on what it is you do best, and then think about how you can get your customers to share and drive new business for you.

“The market for social games was worth an estimated $835m in 2010, compared to a value of $490m in 2009.” - Econsultancy Social Gaming Smart Pack.

Whatever else you aim to accomplish by introducing a gaming element to your site, increasing repeat business should be high on your list of priorities.

Whether you need to increase direct conversions or increase your visibility on the web, returning customers will remember you and really drive this. They’ll remember your message, and they’ll share your content with friends, especially if your game is socially driven.

Make your customers feel special. Add social functionality to your game, get them to share it by playing their friends and reward high scorers with deals, or even just shout-outs online. 

It’s certainly possible to drive a first-time visitor to conversion by optimizing UX, but you’ll massively increase your chances if you have customers returning every day.

Potential problems

At this point stop for a moment. Put down the joystick and read through that list of goals carefully.

  • Can you realize these goals without game mechanics?
  • Would you be just as likely to succeed by finally getting round to optimizing those landing pages and working to streamline your checkout procedure?

Gaming can make previously laborious processes fun and encourage customers to spend more time with you, but if you have poor UX, you’ll be more likely to draw attention to your flaws than fix things.

If more obvious and basic needs aren’t addressed, then no amount of points and badges will help.

You should also think about people… well… gaming you. 

At the end of 2010 Econsultancy ran Red Friday, a member-get-member promotion complete with leaderboard.  It was open to gaming and we actively encouraged it. It was a ruthlessly commercial promotion but it did result in some big savings for those who took part (hey, we’re just generous people).

The trouble is you can’t base a long-term business model on massively discounting your products. If you want long lasting engagement then try to avoid direct cash-or-product rewards.

Its fine to run voucher campaigns from time to time and tie them in as a traffic booster, but it isn’t a sustainable model. Likewise, it’s important to concentrate on relevance rather than base metrics.

Those 2,000 new customers, what are they worth? Are they of equal value, or did some just show up to get a free sample of soup and then vanish again?

It’s also tempting to have a set target. It makes things simple, it makes it easy to judge success and report on it. But stop and consider whether that’s really the kind of success you need here. 

It’s often perfectly reasonable in a campaign to say:

  •  “We want a $50 value for each visitor”
  •  “We want 2,000 new customers”

In gaming however, this approach can leave you with some serious problems.

What happens when you complete a game?

pac-man-cut-screenGenerally, you abandon it and move on to the next thing. This isn’t a massive problem if this is a short-term promotion, but if it’s an entire site overhaul then you need people to stick around.

If there’s a set target, then people will hit that target and lose interest. Make sure things are scalable without becoming overly expensive.

Finally, remember that this is a long-term project.

Budget for this.

Be prepared to consistently develop and expand your game mechanics over time so that players have the opportunity to progress continuously. 

This isn’t a game with a start, middle and a big boss at the end; it’s a consistent, socially driven strategy that needs to be integrated into your overall business model, rather than a replacement marketing strategy.

If you can think of a way to make your sales funnels fun then there's great value to be had here.

Matt Owen

Published 15 March, 2011 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (1)



Nice article, Danielle.

over 5 years ago

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