The Gamification Dilemma

August 03

Zombies everywhere! Angry birds flying above. The world has been taken over by...GAMES! With 72% of American households playing games, it's no surprise that gaming has become a $25 billion industry. But games aren't just for kids.

The average age of a gamer is 37, and since I'm (ahem…clearing throat) just over 37, I fit right into this sweet spot. Which is why the term "gamification" is so tough for me. I grew up playing games. Lots of games. In fact, below is what 30 decades of gaming looks like. As you can see, it all started with the Atari 2600, and from there my passion for gaming spawned into 11+ consoles and thousands of dollars, not to mention a slew of handheld gaming devices.

So what is gamification? Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer. But here's my take: gamification is the application of game theory, design, and mechanics to create a higher level of user engagement and participation with ordinary activities. So the basic idea is that you can make something that's usually kinda boring into something more fun and interesting by turning it into a game. Sounds logical enough – we've been doing this since Kindergarten. But that's where I feel some gamification experts take it too far. Gaming to me has to be fun. It has to excite me, and get my heart pounding. I need to feel the highs and lows of winning and losing. And so gamifying something that's inherently boring isn't going to make me use it. Sorry, but that Journey to Benefits Enrollment Island game isn't going to get me excited. PPO or HMO...arghhh!!!

However, if you apply gaming techniques to the right audience and the right behavior, you can build some fun and engaging tools to get your brand recognized. Companies like Salesforce are starting to use gamification techniques to motivate sales people via an interactive Sales CRM that tracks their progress via a leaderboard and awards badges for completing tasks in addition to real rewards. And companies like L'Oreal have been using online games for over a decade to challenge university students to come up with the next big marketing idea.

So before you jump on the gamification bandwagon, here's a few rules you should remember:

  1. Avoid glamification – or the forcing of gamification techniques to cover up the bigger problem at hand
  2. Follow a user-centered approach – focus on the user experience and objectives at all times and you won't go wrong
  3. Give rewards that warrant the effort – real rewards that go beyond badges
  4. Make it JUICY - web designers want to build sites that are "sticky"; game designers want to build games that are JUICY. Keep it juicy everyone.

And because I know you are a gaming fanatic at heart, here's a little test that I'm curious to know if you will pass. Listen to the following four sounds and email me the names of these very popular mobile games. The first one to do it wins a $25 gift card.

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