Gamification is Everywhere — But What Is It?

As a general rule, humans want to interact and compete with others.  I had a conversation last week about “gamification” and how to incorporate it into user communities.  From my previous experience with communities, I am aware of gamifiation and from my use of many popular social sites, I am an active gamification participant.  But I wanted to learn more about the theory behind gamification and game mechanics — and how best to apply it from a community and marketing perspective.

According to Wikipedia, “gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.”  Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann says that “gamification is the new loyalty”.  And at the 2011 Games for Change Festival, former Vice President Al Gore said that “games are the new normal”.

The term and use of gamification has literally exploded in the last 15 months.  Before August 2010, the term rarely appeared in the Google search timeline.  Starting in January 2011, it’s popularity has remained very high including 2 big spikes in January and August.

Google Search Timeline for "Gamification"

At the Gamification Summit, research data from M2 Research was discussed that pegs the current gamification market at $100 million — and the market is estimated to grow to $2.8 billion by 2016.  That is why gamification is on the front burner for many organizations and money is flowing into gamification initiatives and projects.

Even without actively playing games, many of the more popular websites and destinations today are already gamified.  And most of us are participating in or paying attention to these public displays of loyalty and success.  For example, Twitter publicly displays the number of tweets, followers and following for each Twitter user.  Personally, I tend to disregard any Twitter user who has less than 500 tweets or followers and use that as my ‘minimum’ for determining if someone is worthy of my trust or who does not get what Twitter is all about.

Tom Humbarger Twitter Stats As Of 10/18/2011

Other public displays of loyalty occur in Facebook which shows the number of likes or fans that a company or brand website has received, and also adds an item in a user’s news stream when they like or follow a company.  Many blogs or newsites display the number of views and shares for each piece of content which helps users to see how popular something is and whether it is worth reading.

Social Media Today Post Stats Shows # of Reads and Shares

Other sites are all about competing with your friends and when you join those sites, you explicitly participate in their game.  Foursquare tracks the number of places I have checked into and displays which badges I have earned.  Every time I check into a venue on Foursquare, a notification is sent to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as to all of my Foursquare friends.  Foursquare also has a leaderboard that tracks my weekly progress against my friends’ progress.

Tom Humbarger Stats on Foursquare

So, why do people play games?  Bunchball, one of the new leaders in the gamification space, pulled together the following graphic in their Gamification 101 whitepaper .  This simple table matches up game mechanics (points, levels, challenges, etc.) with human desires for game play.  Each of the mechanics match a primary human desire, but most of the mechanics also impact other areas of human desire.

Building Blocks of Gamification from Bunchball

In the following video (45 minutes in total, but well worth it), Gabe Zichermann of Gamification Co discusses the history of loyalty systems and how game theory needs to be incorporated into websites to motivate customer engagement and loyalty.

Gabe’s key points include:

  • movitation drives engagement
  • 5 measures of engagement – recency, frequency, duration, virality, ratings
  • fun sells
  • loyalty used to be private, but in a virtual economy loyalty decisions are public
  • game designers have figured out what motivates players
  • Richard Bartles studied MUD player types in the late 1990’s and came up with 4 types of players: killers, achievers, socializers and explorers which demonstrates the need to know your audience
  • the flow zone is the state between anxiety and boredom
  • games cannot be ‘too easy’ as they need friction to be fun
  • people want status, access, power and/or free stuff
  • status, access and power should be preferred by marketers as it is difficult to value virtual rewards
  • serendepity is bad, design is good

Stephen Anderson gave the presentation at SxSW this Spring titled “Long after the Thrill: Sustaining Passionate Users”.  Stephen’s presentation discusses how to get users to stay in love with software applications by making them more gamelike.

And in another recent presentation, Margaret Wallace, CEO of Playmatics, talks about how gamification is changing the world.

In any case, gamification is here to stay.  Anyone less than 40 has grown up playing video games and have become accustomed to “gamelike” interactions.  And as the number of marketing messages continue to inundate the typical customer, using gamification to engage customers and build loyalty will separate the winning companies from the also-rans over the next few years.

To learn more about gamification, here are some additional resources on the topic:


2 thoughts on “Gamification is Everywhere — But What Is It?

  1. Pingback: Adding Gamification to Your Community « Social Media Musings by Tom Humbarger

  2. Pingback: The Thrones of Game – A Slideshare on Gamification by Leo Sorge « Social Media Musings by Tom Humbarger

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