A New Way To Be a Player

“A benefit of games is that the playing of the game itself creates content.”

Gamification: integrating game mechanics into non-game material to increase engagement. Early in 2011, Douglas MacMillan, in Bloomberg Businessweek, called it a growing business to invigorate stale websites. And Gartner Group recently reported that by 2015, 70 percent of the Global 2000 corporations will actively be using Gamification in business. If you want to increase affinity with your brand, grow traffic (up to 20x for some sites) and retention, create new online advertising inventory and lead generation, read on.

An interview with Rick Bolton, Vice President-North America, Tycoon Systems, Inc.

Q. You are encouraging publishers to use games to generate online advertising revenue and lead generation. Can you explain?

The idea behind Gamification is to bring game design principles to engage publication audiences in a non-traditional way. These principles, broadly speaking, are engagement and interactivity with content. This can work well for publishers who obviously have reams of content and are constantly looking for new ways to increase engagement with their content and promote interactivity among their audience, and preferably, monetize the activity as well.

Games are attractive because they engage visitors/readers with your content for long periods of time. Adults that regularly play MMORPGs (massively multiple online role playing games) like World of Warcraft or Tale in the Desert 5 are typically playing for more than 25 hours a week. And these are professionals with an average age of 35 (over 26 percent are over 50 years of age), have far above average income, and are highly educated. This is not teenagers or out of work young men. Data indicates that women engage even longer than men do. Considering that an average publication website visit might be from two to seven minutes, I would say this presents an opportunity.

Q. For generating revenue online?

Yes, by offering yet another mechanism for advertisers and/or sponsors to speak to your online audience. In addition to banner, contextual and directory advertising, this type of advertising affords advertisers the ability to have visitors/readers enter into competition. Products and/or services can be promoted within the competition or with advertising or sponsorship that rides along with it.

Q. Can you cite some examples?

You are publishing a women’s fashion trade magazine. A simulation can be created to enter a competition to build a company that would dominate the newest trends in fashion. Participants will make decisions about product line, marketing, sales, production, staffing…all the key elements of building a profitable enterprise. What is really exciting about it when you do it in a simulation format with lots of other people is that you can make many good decisions, but the outcome is also predicated on the decisions of the other players. For instance, you may think that leather boots present an attractive market in the near future and you invest heavily in that market, and if you are correct, you should do well. But if too many of the other players choose to invest likewise, a good trend spotted could result in diluted returns. Simulation can mirror real world business experience very effectively and be entertaining.

Another example in consumer publishing is any financial magazine. Visitors/readers can compete to build the best stock portfolio, build the best retirement plan, or be the top venture capitalist.

The content of most publications can be used as a framework for simulation. Games generally have an objective which is to win and it is easier to build simulations when you can establish a goal for the game. Example: Popular Mechanics most likely would not create a simulation to build the best car. They could, however, create a simulation to build the best car on a specific budget within a specific time frame, etc.

Q. You state “a simulation can be created.” That sounds expensive.

The cost of producing a tailored business simulation can be less than the production of a single Web seminar. As with any product, the more you customize, the higher the investment. But remember that new or incremental revenue can be generated from this investment, and rather quickly. It’s not long term payback. And unlike a Web seminar, where the second and third will cost almost as much as the first, when you build a game simulation template for your publication, you can easily make variations or completely new games at a fraction of the original cost. You can go so far as to have it match your publishing frequency.

Q. I heard a quote yesterday at a business lunch that comes to mind. “There is no prize for beating your audience to the future.” Is Gamification outpacing the audience for most publishers?

If you acknowledge what has evolved in the past few years, whether it is the time people spend playing games on their phone or the value of companies like Zynga who created Farmville, there is little doubt that games can be used to engage audiences. And as you referenced in your last blog about analytics, engagement is a primary metric to measure online.

Transitioning subscribers into a community or building a new community is not often a problem. Getting that community to engage and interact is the problem. To keep the community vibrant, new content must be constantly created. A benefit of games is that the playing of the game itself creates content. And the content is altered in two ways: as you bring in new content from the publication and user generated content from the players.

Q. To your knowledge, are there publishers who have deployed this thinking?

There are a few that I am aware of such as Esquire, Seventeen and Billboard. There are associations using elements of games within training programs for members, but are not yet connecting it to their publication or reader base. Even some of the game magazines have not leveraged this concept as much as they could. But the topic is being discussed more by publishers in the past few months.

Q. And I imagine that the functionality and portability that tablets offer make this even more attractive?

The ubiquity of tablets brings this to a whole new dimension. While there are some great experiences you can have on a smart phone, until recently, to play sophisticated games, you needed a personal computer. With the advances in tablets, you can carry the experience with you all the time. Mobile enables Gamification to move toward real life concepts and away from actions you take only online.

Q. What process can a publisher follow to move forward exploring games and the revenue associated with implanting it?

Define your goals, identify and segment users, and reward engagement. Ask a sample of your subscribers what type of content they would like to see be offered in more depth. This will often lead to ideas for a game where building deep content is often easier. You can also try to generate ideas with a brainstorming session with your management team. Then bring those ideas to a professional experienced in game design.

Q. What keeps you up at night?

How to make virtual experience as engaging as print or in person. The world is becoming increasingly digital. In most circumstances, I don’t believe we have made virtual experiences better. They can be convenient and less expensive, but they are not often better once those advantages are taken away.


Motivation is at the heart of gaming. Multiple layers of personal motivation can trigger game mechanics (personal, peers and group). The output of that motivation is engagement. Ponder how you can use social gaming to build and engage your community and make money doing it. But handle with care and use tactically. Good game design is not child’s play. If you fail, your customers will let you and the world know.

Rick Bolton has been working exclusively in the education and training field since 1999. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Education and Training for SourceMedia, a publishing company with over one million subscribers in the financial services and information technology professions. Prior to SourceMedia, he was the Director of Continuing Professional Education & Training for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Rick worked for several years at the National Association of Securities Dealers (now part of FINRA) and developed their eLearning business called the Elearning Exchange, which has been used by more than 75 percent of the stockbrokers in the U.S. for continuing education training. Rick also served as President and CEO of Test University, an Internet start-up in the standardized test prep business.

In the 1990s, Rick was an executive with Andersen Consulting, the CIO of the liquor division of Diageo, the Director of Sales and Marketing Services at the E.&J. Gallo Winery, and Manager of Forecasting at Ocean Spray Cranberries.

Rick is working to complete his doctoral dissertation in Educational Leadership and holds a MBA from Babson College and a B.A. in Economics from Michigan State University.

Lou Ann Sabatier, principal at Sabatier Consulting, is regarded as one of the leading experts in publishing, and among the first to envision the Web as a major publishing venue. For over 30 years she and her consortium of industry leaders have been helping publishers increase profitability through advice on strategic planning, audience development, financial management, fulfillment, production, advertising sales and operations management. Sabatier is an acknowledged expert in the monetization of digital assets and has earned an unparalleled reputation as a business strategist.
Sabatier has spoken and taught at more than 100 industry meetings and events. For more information visit sabatierconsulting.com
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  • Linda Ruth

    I love the concept of Gamification–it’s a natural fit for publishers! thanks for posting, Lou.