No, it’s really not about gaming. It’s about good old behavioral economics using game mechanics. PFSK recently ran a series profiling how different organizations were using points, leaderboards and social proof to drive behavior change. They have sunk a fair amount of energy into reviewing the use of game mechanics in groups like RecycleBank, LetGive, Stickk and SuMo . They have also produced a report that is worth previewing and grabbing called The Future of Gaming.
The world of ‘gamification’ is certainly buzzy if not frothy. Loads of marketers are talking about it. Many startups are employing it as if it were the magic sauce that could overcome anything even a bad business plan. Still, there is wisdom underneath it all and gamification as a sometime appropriate feature to stimulate behavior change is here to stay.
The background of this recent surge of game mechanics applied to everything from brand advocacy (our own Insider Circle platform or Crowdtap) to environmental or health behaviors to fundraising is all over the Web in sites like Gabe Zichermann’s Gamification Blog and even the Wharton School of Business. My own quick summary of gamification’s role in behavioral economics is here.
Too Much Hype?
The hype feels too much. Ian Bogost, a professor at Georgia Tech, calls it in his blog:
“More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is video games and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway….Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid.
The rhetorical power of the word "gamification" is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business…Gamification is reassuring.
It gives Vice Presidents and Brand Managers comfort: they're doing everything right, and they can do even better by adding "a games strategy" to their existing products, slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch.”
Using game mechanics has been over-hyped even before many mainstream brands have tried of applied it. That doesn’t mean there is no there-there. As a tactic to strengthen and support behaviors for which there is already a strong engagement value (a reason to care enough to pay attention and consider action), game mechanics can help reinforce actual habit. Like a lot of good ideas, it has its place in moderation. As the new social wonder drug, it will likely disappoint.
Do:The application of relevant behavioral economics research in marketing is overdue. We have built our own planning model in social media marcom on some of the most rigorous and proven models to drive behavior change. So, the ‘do” here is to make sure at least your social media strategy team if not your overall planning team are incorporating relevant behavioral economics concepts to make programs more predictably successful. As for the subset of tactics known commonly as game mechanics of gamification, find a program – either to enable employees or some type of advocates – and build a pilot program to gain experience in this valuable tool set. Choose a behavior a bit more complex than simply buying another box of product.
- The Gamification Blog – a steady stream of examples of game mechanics applied
- The Gamification Summit Spring 2012 in SF – also put on by Gabe and his crew and last year’s looked great
- PFSK – a generally great source for trending topics and most recently gamification
Timeline: Make a behavioral model a priority in 1st Q. Run a specific game mechanics- based pilot by 2ndQ.