Gamification, using game-like mechanics in non-game parts of life like learning, exercizing, or doing chores, is all the rage. And while there are detractors out there who think it isn’t really a thing, it’s pretty clear that we’re entering an era full of it. But you can’t just slap some badges on your product experience and call it a day. It’s a science based in psychology. Which is why a modern marketer would do well to become familiar with the work of Pavlov.
As a marketer with experience in the actual gaming industry, I recognize and accept gamification in other aspects of life. The detractors are correct to a point, it’s nothing new. Frequent flier miles, rewards cards, and McDonalds Monopoly scratch cards are all gamified marketing campaigns to some degree. Game platforms like Xbox Live and Steam have gamified gaming itself for ages with leaderboards and badges. But just like gravity existed before Isaac Newton put a name to the face, we’re getting better at understanding gamification, and using it properly. Or at least, some are; it’s a lot harder than it sounds to pull off good gamification.
A while back I started using the UP band by Jawbone. It’s one of several monitoring wristbands on the market that attempt to gamify fitness. And it is fun. It wasn’t long before I had several family members on my “team”, providing me incentive to log activity, and also to DO more activity. The game dynamic of competition (paired with my favorite motivator, an audience) was working like a charm. Until one day when I forgot the band at home. I started to fall out of the habit, and there weren’t sufficiently compelling game dynamics in play to motivate me to continue (or a nag email to say, “Hey, we’ve noticed you’re not logging activity the last few days… get back into it!”). I got back to using it eventually, the catalyst being adding a new team member, but I don’t know how long it will last.
The main reward with the UP band isn’t badges, it’s data. There’s a leaderboard element to it, too, but that doesn’t come up very often. Primarily, the incentive to keep using it is one of ego; to know your own data. To see what your sleep patterns look like, and how many steps you’ve taken in a day. But sustainability is going to be a problem, because it doesn’t go anywhere from there. When you get tired of looking at the data, there’s no real incentive to keep using it.
That’s fine, actually, for Jawbone. They are operating on a single purchase point model. If you’re model is subscription-based, like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, you need to keep your monthly subscribers coming back for as long as you efficiently can. Both models benefit from word of mouth and incentivizing people to recruit friends (Jawbone with the “team” model, Blizzard with various bounty recruitment rewards, as well as the obvious in-game teaming up and guild recruitment benefits). The UP band was sufficiently cool for long enough that I’ve done my part on the recruitment front. But after being around for 10 years, Blizzard has to be inventive with their recruitment incentives. They have to get people EXCITED. Blizzard’s gamification has to be leaps and bounds more sustainable than Jawbone’s. And you better believe… it IS. Of course, gaming is what they do, so they have the advantage, and the nature of their content is all about expansion packs and renewed marketing pushes. And even in the gaming industry, we can’t all be Blizzard.
The challenge with gamification is the age-old challenge facing all multiplayer online games; the dreaded elder game, or, simply, sustainability. It’s not enough to earn some badges, or levels. You have to keep throwing new things at you customers. You have to keep them coming back. Constantly. You can never let them catch that dangling carrot, but at the same time, you have to have milestones, and incentives, and wins to keep them engaged. Game developers have a leg up here, because they already understand a lot of this. If your user earns 10 achievement badges, you can’t just throw in a few more. Take a tip from Las Vegas (perhaps the OGs of carrot-dangling) and throw in a rare suit of armor whose pieces drop randomly and only rarely. This is why having an avatar to represent the user is useful, even for non-game products. People like customizing their virtual selves. But in the end, if you don’t have varied mechanics and a plan for sustainability, even if your user’s avatar is decked out in the finest duds, with the coolest pet at their side, if you can’t keep them coming back… it all falls apart.