There’s no denying it. Gamification is hot. We talked recently
with Gabe Zichermann, entrepreneur and author of “Game-Based Marketing,” about
how fun and gaming techniques are permeating every aspect of marketing, and
what it means for measurement.

How do you define

Gamification is the process of using game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems. Many gamified systems are designed like updated loyalty programs.

How is gamification changing marketing?


is rewriting economics for marketing, both in terms of customer acquisition and
in terms of loyalty programming. Gamification at its core is a process, and
it’s different for everybody.

But it’s not like some magic guy behind a curtain
who waves this wand and makes everything more fun. It’s incremental. It’s

How do you identify
the right carrot?

It’s no longer enough to know just your customer’s purchase
motivation. You need to know what drives them to invest, engage, and succeed.
Then reward early. Reward often. Try not to be negative.

I think the main metric consumers are looking for is fun and
engagement.  If we believe
consumers care about having fun as a natural metric, consider this: 

What was once an advantage — clarity, simplicity, purpose
— could be a disadvantage. It means we need a new metric for engagement that
gets at how much people care.

What do you recommend?

A number of us involved in gamification have come up with
what we call the E-Score.  These
are the metrics that go into the score:  

  • Recency – How long ago did they visit?
  • Frequency – How often did they come back?
  • Duration – How long did they stay?
  • Virality – How many people have they told about you?
  • Rating – What did they explicitly say when asked about you?

In an ideal world, this is all tied into CRM. This is the
future. Ad platforms will monetize engagement, not just click-throughs. Lifecycle tracking of the user along
the engagement meter involves better revenues for everyone.

Getting someone to like a product is different from getting
someone to click on an ad or to like a Facebook fan page or to register. Buying
a product is at the very end of the funnel. Long-term engagement is monetizing
by the brand and the property.

You’ve repeatedly said fun
is the future. What do you mean by that?

People are now making buying decisions based on how
resounding the fun and pleasure is rather than any features and benefits. An iPhone
is the glaring example. It’s not selling on features or benefits. None of that.
It’s a pleasure and status-driven sale. As gamification becomes more prevalent,
it will drive sales.

We can merge fun and work by using game-thinking. Status is
the most important motivator. So game mechanics should be on the outside.
Badges and the like.

How do you make it

Increasingly the concept of compulsory and optional choices
replaces work and fun. Once we get into optional time, disposable time, users
are naturally going to gravitate to the experience that is most rewarding. By
definition, games have a big advantage over just about anything else you’re

Games are the only force in the universe that can get people
to take actions that are against their self-interest, but in a predictable way.

Will there be
gamification fatigue?

Yes. Do we need to worry about that in the next three or
four years? No. If you’re inside the bubble, you may say everything is already
gamified. But we have four or five years to go before that. It depends on the

Give me an unusual example
of gamification in action

Target has had some success using a social game for its
cashiers. The way it works is that for everyone who comes to the register, it can
calculate an idea of how long it should take to complete the transaction.

The computer
is keeping score and sharing with the cashier a little bit of feedback, a subtle way of giving cues on whether you’re doing things right or not.

Meanwhile, the managers see a complete dashboard of their
cashier’s performance. What Target
has learned is that the game feedback is partially changing their employees’ behavior and getting them in the optimal timing zone without hitting them over the head with

Just how do you figure out
the right reward?

That’s the most insightful question. Marketing has always
been about a certain degree of persuasion and motivation, and a degree of manipulation.
Games do that most effectively.

Game designs are all about:

  •  Creating Pleasure.
  •  Giving Rewards.
  •  Design over Time. 

There is a certain hierarchy of rewards, “SAPS”: (Status, access, power, stuff). Status is what users want the most and stuff is what they
want the least. It’s not just about the lazy marketers who give discounts.

People only like that for as long as it takes to get it and redeem it, then
move on with their lives. It does nothing for your brand long-term.

I wonder what Groupon is doing to marketing. It conditions
you to expect a discount. By contrast, think about a Neiman-Marcus and its
point system. They’ve known all along it’s about status and access.

Just for fun, what’s
your favorite video game?

Civilization. I’ve spent a year’s worth of my life on it. I
also like Angry Birds and Zombie.

Why Civilization? It’s a fun strategy game
through simulation. Based on the real history of humanity. It made the whole
experience more engaging. The game doesn’t have anything to do with history.
But it uses real history.

Where will Zynga be
in five years?

It is a fait accompli that Zynga will be the biggest gaming
company in the world. Social games return us to the place games were before the
video game industry. The video game industry was an anomaly.

We’ve been playing
games forever, but the whole model
of buying a $50 game to play on a machine you put in your house is dead.

What’s around the

HR is the next big frontier of gamification. Sales teams
have been using leaderboards forever. For HR, games can be used for performance

Expose the XP system. Expose the actual process for getting a raise,
and make an XP bar that everyone can see. Here’s your XP, here’s the distance
to your next raise. At least demarcate the next level.

Is it time to
introduce the role of Chief Gamification Officer?

there’s a role for a CEO, a Chief Engagement Officer. It’s a sort of marketing
function and it represents the motivation and emotional state of the consumer.
Part game design. Part psychology. Part marketing.

I think every corporation
will have a chief engagement officer whose job is to focus on nothing but
customer engagement as their full-time gig. It’s a very specialized position.