It’s All Fun and Gamification

The halcyon days of childhood were highlighted by the moments when, homework done, we could swan-dive into games — video games, board games, sports, make-believe. Free of the seriousness of school and family matters, games were designed purely in the name of fun.

When games resonate with people, it’s powerful. They unite people around common objectives and they add dynamism to social events. They’ve become even more necessary in our socially distant world; video games are proven to buoy spirits through seemingly endless periods of social distancing. It’s not surprising, then, that in recent years, developers have come to see the value of infusing their products with game elements — of gamifying their offerings, making them fun.

Peloton gamified personal wellness by tracking fitness milestones. Waze gamified traffic tracking by rewarding active users. Video game platforms like Xbox have even gamified gaming, rewarding players for in-game milestones like time played, levels completed, and hidden content unlocked. The list goes on and on.

When something’s fun, people look forward to it. Looking forward to using a product is the foundational element of brand loyalty. It’s a very short cognitive leap to see why advertisers and marketers have also begun gamifying their work, making people’s first experience with a new product a fun one.

If you’re new to gamification, don’t worry — so is everyone else. In this article, we’re going to give you a primer on what gamification is, how brands have integrated it into their marketing solutions, and how you can, too.

What Makes a Game a Game?

It seems simple, yet it’s often misunderstood. Badges, points, and leaderboards — so ubiquitous as to have earned their own acronym, BPL — are common to gamification approaches, but don’t alone constitute it.

For starters, games need goals — specific milestones to shoot for. In the original Donkey Kong, the goal was for Mario to dispatch the titular ape and save Princess Peach. In Peloton, the goal is for users to ride for many consecutive days, weeks, and/or months in a row, earning badges and surpassing personal records along the way.

Games also need rules — limitations that constrain players. While limitations sound unappealing, they’re actually the best way to inspire creativity and repeated action. For a product like FitBit, the rule is simply to walk — and the goal is 10,000 steps. Making rules simple and easy to follow makes it more likely that people will do so enthusiastically.

To want to keep playing, users need feedback — ways to track their progress. If the goal of a game is to collect 10 tokens, the game should make the player aware at all times of how many tokens short of 10 they are.

Then, upon hitting certain milestones, games should reward their users. This is where BPL comes into play. Rewards can be as simple as in-game accolades, or can be as significant as real-world benefits. Think McDonald’s Monopoly: Rewards range from a free side of fries to a windfall of $1 million.

Suffusing the entire game should be some fundamental motivation. For the products/campaigns thus far mentioned, the motivations are:

• Peloton, FitBit: Become physically fit

• Waze: Help others navigate

• McDonald’s Monopoly: Win $1 million

Consider Peloton vs. McDonald’s, physical fitness vs. $1 million. Physical fitness is an immaterial aim, with inherent, non-quantifiable value. $1 million, on the other hand, is a material aim, valued monetarily. This is the difference between intrinsic (Peloton) and extrinsic (McDonald’s) motivations. Both have their place, but you might be surprised to hear that intrinsic motivation is the far more powerful motivating influence.

Gamified Marketing

We see how game principles originated in, well, games: activities designed to make people have fun. We see, too, how game principles have seeped into product design — a fun user experience will likely be a recurring, revenue-generating user experience. Now, how can marketers and advertisers follow suit?

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

M&Ms Eye-Spy Pretzel. Taking inspiration from Where’s Waldo, M&Ms launched their Pretzel-infused varietal with an online game in which users had to look at an image of hundreds of M&Ms in search of a single pretzel. The candy mavens posted the colorful grid on Facebook, inviting users to scan it and click when they the elusive pretzel. It was extremely simple, and extremely effective, to the tune of 25,000 new Facebook likes and nearly 6,000 shares.

Chipotle: A Love Story. Their sights set on customers’ heartstrings, Chipotle released the film A Love Story to emphasize their “food with integrity” message. In the online spinoff game, players were rewarded for matching up healthy ingredients, and penalized for choosing artificial ingredients. The mechanics of the game hinged on the brand’s values. Players received prizes in the form of coupons and other in-store rewards.

Each, in its own way, correlated with the fundamental brand promise. Eye-Spy Pretzel had a Candy Crush-like layout: bright and colorful, the embodiment of a sugar rush, it looked like the kind of treat that M&Ms aspire to be. A Love Story educated players about Chipotle’s food quality standards, positioning them as a brand concerned with wellness and sustainability. By playing the games, users internalized these characteristics, coming to associate a fun experience with each brand.

Game On

In a study conducted by LUDWIG+’s intuition, friends and families were infinitely more likely to gather for game night than for infographic night. Of course, a salient set of statistics can send a powerful message, but when introducing new users to your brand, consider a gamified approach that delivers your core message in an engaging way. It will demonstrate your capacity for lightheartedness, for investment in the user, and, most importantly, for fun. LUDWIG+ is obsessed with building valuable brands, and firmly believes that, at the end of the day, users just want to have fun.

Ready to get your game on? Contact LUDWIG+ today.

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