The explosive growth of Zynga – the makers of Farmville, a popular Facebook game – and of casual games on the iPhone and other platforms – has brought with it more interest in using game-like mechanics to attract customers.
Famously, Zynga asks its players to invite their friends on Facebook in order to enhance their gameplay experience. Their customers are the sales force for the product – and it’s been phenomenally successful.
Other companies have taken notice, and are looking to apply lessons learned in the games industry to other businesses. The interest level has been so significant that there will be a “Gamification Summit” in San Fransisco in 2011.
Game Mechanics – An Old Technique, Re-branded
When a bank pays its customers a small bonus in return for recruiting a friend to open a checking account, it’s a kind of game.
When airlines provide bonus points for behavior that they prefer to frequent fliers, it’s an example of a game.
You can stretch the definition further for other industries.
The Elements of a Game
Games at the most basic level are made up of a few elements: a challenge, the possibility of failure, and the possibility of victory. The framework of a game assists marketers in understanding how to structure incentives and disincentives.
If you want to provide rewards for a kind of behavior for your customers, you need to create a structure for communicating that. Effective games provide compelling challenges, interesting rewards, and communicate the overall structure clearly.
The credit score is a kind of game, but it’s applied in a ham-handed fashion. You need to subscribe to multiple services in order to monitor your report, which isn’t presented in an entertaining or engaging fashion. The method for calculating the score is obscured. Lenders rarely communicate anything directly to borrowers immediately to reinforce or discourage certain kinds of behavior. The reactions are typically delayed. If you miss a bill payment, you’ll get a letter in the mail a week later.
In contrast, in a well-crafted game, the player will receive immediate feedback and a reward of some kind for behaving the way that the designer wants them to.
Game design isn’t just another feature to tack on to your promotion materials. It’s a way of communicating incentives and disincentives. There’s much more to it than merely creating an efficient Skinner Box. Rats can be persuaded easily with pellets. People are much more picky about who they listen to.
[Photo credit: aldrin_muya, Flickr]