Posted March 18, 2011 2:39 pm by with 5 comments

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The gamification of the digital world was an idea that popped up quite a few times at last week’s SXSW conference. Much of the discussion revolved around a presentation by SCVNGR creator Seth Priebatsch who was quoted as saying, “Game dynamics are too powerful to leave bottled up in games.”

Think about the amount of time the digitally connected adult spends playing games on his phone, online or on a game system. People have been known to spend an entire weekend working their way through the World of Warcraft and have you had enough of those Farmville updates you keep getting from your Facebook friends?

Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian says;

Videogame designers, the logic goes, have become the modern world’s leading experts on how to keep users excited, engaged and committed: the success of the games industry proves that, whatever your personal opinion of Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft. . . . Three billion person-hours a week are spent gaming. Couldn’t some of that energy be productively harnessed?

Couldn’t some of that energy be used to promote your brand? Tony Hoskins of AdAge follows up on this idea.

Imagine: Spending your time in the Starbucks line playing a game that could win you a free latte by the time you reach the counter. Letting your son play for a discounted ski lift ticket on the way to the slopes. Having a favorite game that gets bigger and better every time you use your phone to buy groceries.

Brilliant, simple and yet rarely done. Why? Surely we have the technology. There are several companies that use mobile check-in loyalty programs, so we know how to keep track of visits. Nearly every digital game has levels and bonus rewards based on play, so that’s not an issue. Millions of people have downloaded mobile games so we can’t be worried that there’s no audience.

Could it be that the only thing stopping marketers from gamification is fear of the game itself. Games have had a bad rap in the past. Video games have been deemed responsible for some of the most horrendous acts of violence in the real world. At the very least, they were labeled a waste of time and let’s not even talk about the billions spent on virtual goods each year. Perhaps they fear they won’t be taken seriously?

More likely the reason is that it’s a new concept and that can be a real sticking point, particularly for old school brands who have the money to build a truly nifty branded game.

A few big brands have dipped their toes into the water. McDonalds sponsored farms on Farmville and Entertainment Weekly has joined a variety of networks and studios that offer stickers on GetGlue. Now it’s time to go further. Look at it this way, marketing has always been a competitive game, only now it has bonus levels, score cards and rewards for spending time playing when you should be doing something else.

What do you think about the gamification of mobile marketing?

  • Comic books and rock and roll and had their time as “the scourge of humanity” for all the same reasons as video games. Then we got Jack Chick and Amy Grant, and everything was A-ok. Video games will eventually go the same route.

    Look at how FourSquare is staying triumphant over their competitors. They effectively built a casual MMO out of their service. Badges/Achievements, experience points, a variation on guilds shown as a friends list.

    They went far past the theory and made it a successful reality.

    I like to think that Augmented Reality is, eventually, likely to provide a future “big-name” social platform. However, that may only be my inner nerd/fantasist speaking.

  • I think you’re exactly right – its a new concept. Folks are trying to figure out how best to pull game mechanics into mobile marketing. We have been tinkering with using game mechanics within SMS marketing to increase user engagement. We’re also trying to create a virtual currency purchase mechanism via premium sms engagement.

    The gamification of mobile marketing concept makes sense. Lots to try out and learn from.

  • Kevin

    Using video games as a marketing tool is an interesting concept. While the logic of using games to keep users excited sounds like it would be a great platform for marketing, I believe it would be difficult to apply it in a way that would actually increase the bottom line.

    The possible applications by Tony Hoskins for example:
    “Imagine: Spending your time in the Starbucks line playing a game that could win you a free latte by the time you reach the counter. Letting your son play for a discounted ski lift ticket on the way to the slopes.”

    He’s basically talking about giving discounts to existing customers who are already in the process of making the purchase. How will that improve the business’ bottom line? Not only that, the development cost of such games would be so much more expensive than other platforms like setting up a Twitter or Facebook page. (Also, imagine the logistic nightmare at the lines: “Hold on, let me finish the game in 10 seconds” at the counter, getting sued for accidents on the way to ski etc)

    It could be very profitable if done right though, I’m sure someone will eventually make a lot of money when they come up with a profitable model. Until then, we’ll only see more product placements in video games.

    • There was an article on Yahoo’s front page today: “Things your barista won’t tell you.” One of them was that the guy screwing off on his phone until it’s time to place his order is the reason for long lines.

      There is evidence that your criticism holds some merit.

      Anyway, it has happened before. I remember having Butterfinger and Mountain Dew labels on my jet ski in Jet Moto (1996). Kool-Aid Main (1983) for the Atari 2600 has something of a reputation. My family owned it when I was a kid. It’s not THAT bad. On that note, arcade/pizzerias from thirty or more years back managed to fuse business with games and a strong social angle quite nicely.

      There are two real changes and challenges that I can see.

      1. The game now travels in our pocket and gets interrupted by those pesky phone calls.
      2. The social aspect is now built more deeply into the game, thanks to the availability of the Internet.

      There are decades of history to look back on then improve on with these new tools.

  • This is so interesting because if you are a non-gamer (me) you have to understand this group. I would n’t have a clue as to how many of my friends do Farmville ‘stuff’ because I hide ALL (as in ALL) application updates because they are a complete nuisance to me. Of course, me despising them means nothing because I suppose I am in the minority.

    Will start looking for studies (from gaming companies of course 🙂 about this phenomenon.