Social Games, Marketing and Gamification

07/08/2010

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since I gave a talk about the idea that games   mean serious business. Fun (games) can be FUNctional. People are naturally playful, so motivating and incenting people to do things through gameplay, to us anyway, seems like a no brainer. I’m not surprised then to see the topic of using games as a marketing tool re-emerging and at the forefront of many recent marketing and branding articles.

Courtesy of Flickr's bobjudge

Courtesy of Flickr’s bobjudge

From psychologists (Skinner) to behavioral economist (Dan Ariely) to digital marketers to game developers (us), we’ve all been studying what motivates people to perform specific actions for years. Now, with the explosive popularity of social games, where millions of players are completing millions of small actions daily for seemingly small (even valueless) rewards, understanding social games has become even more relevant to marketers working in businesses and organizations of all types.

Reuben Steiger’s article in Advertising Age points out that the motivational forces at work in the brain while one seeks and obtains in-game rewards mimic those that accompany purchase impulse and buying behaviour in real life. Steiger proposes that we reframe the way we think about how those game mechanics are utilized in social games, and he lays out suggestions for how businesses can use them to refine their digital marketing campaigns, something David Helgason, CEO of Unity calls gamification (readers of this blog will recall my previous posts about rewards and achievements).

Just like loyalty programs have done in the past, (use a certain card and collect extra points), he recommends adding the the highly addictive compulsion loops presently used in social games to real-world marketing campaigns. Compulsion loops (examples like completing patterns or reciprocative social obligation) make games more engaging, and ultimately drive players onwards to acquire further achievements, compete for higher status, and climb to higher “levels” on the leader boards (etc). Games like Healthseeker (for example) use these game mechanics to combine collection loops with viral social play. Players end up triggering, reinforcing skills that were once necessary for human survival, so it’s a very effective way to motivate behaviour. Another example, the game DiabeteSisters. It uses the same mechanics to connect women living with diabetes so they can support each other. Storytelling and shared experiences through the games trigger healthier behaviours among the players, better adherence to treatment and better disease management.

What do you think about gamification? Email me at michael [at] ayogo [dot] com or leave a comment.