Like poets, magazine publishers live among us to teach and delight, to inform and entertain. They are joined in this worthy endeavor by games makers, and the very best games are able to generously do both.
Talented teachers, leaders, motivators, and, yes, marketers have always integrated varying levels of play into the serious work they do; but as a marketing concept, gamification has been around since late 2010. Gamification uses technology in engaging ways to encourage desired behaviors.
Gamification is still a pretty hot marketing concept, the more so as manufacturers and retailers continue to dream up new ways to make buying stuff even more fun than it is. Gamification uses game design techniques and game mechanics, such as achievement levels, points, scoring, badges, and rewards to create challenges, a sense of mastery, a potential win. Shopkick
, for example, gives participants points for just walking into a store; the points start adding up to discounts and incentives before a purchase is even made.
Commerce and play came together in a big way recently when WalMart partnered with Angry Birds to create a shopping/games fusion whose entire purpose was to make it fun to buy. The game is based on a treasure hunt; clues are posted on facebook, and additional clues are scattered through branded merchandise in the stores. Barnes and Noble has also partnered with Angry Birds; purchases of Angry Birds merchandise at retail earns the shopper game credits.
Web comic designer (and my daughter) DuCiel Spitzfaden created a contest where gamification techniques—awarding points for participating in conversation threads, for early contest entry, and other interactive behaviors—increased participation 150-200%. To DuCiel, even more important than the increase in participation was the increase in satisfaction among her audience. Participants not only got involved in the contest; they had a great time on a social media level, and to this day they participate more and cohere more than they had in the past.
For those who think that marketing should exist in its own separate silo and not touch on other worlds, gamification might seem like an exploitation of play. But for those who, like magazine publishers, believe that marketing’s goal is not only to make people want stuff but to build audience and develop relationships and trust with that audience, adding an element of play will have the power it always does.