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Gamification: Toeing the fine line between Flirting with your Hot Cousin and Kissing your Sister!

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Apologies for the sensationalist headline but as demonstrated previously, I am all about the cheap tricks!

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, it’s hard not to have come across the latest buzzword in the Customer Engagement and Experience world – Gamification.

The subject of multiple presentations on Slideshare (itself some would cite as an example of Gamification), Gamification has just had its first summit, and venerable vulture venture capitalists such as Bing Gordon of KPCB have been waxing eloquent about it.

So you still need a definition, don’t you?

But first let me say how this whole Gamification buzz thrills me as yet another milestone in the Gamers as Borg worldview that I have – You will be assimilated.  Yesterday Hollywood, tomorrow the world!

Gamification is defined as the application of game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.

To me, simplified, it means making an activity or process that is non-engaging, fun!

Let’s take some popular and recent examples of Gamification at work:

Google’s much touted Experimental Search which allows users to (+1) a search link that they found particularly useful. Also called Social Search, this is an attempt by Google to add a crowdsourcing layer to its “Made by MIT-genius” algorithms which haven’t been too shit hot lately.

This is straight from Gaming 101 where characters get (+1) power ups on completion of a level or meeting some secondary gameplay goal.

I see Google being able to add multiple more layers to this e.g being able to tag search results as Good, Bad, and downright Ugly with different type badges (See Kongregate the game aggregator for how it uses badges and Foursquare’s Gamification of it) which would be even more powerful visual indicators of the search results.

Tripit uses leaderboards to show not just the trips and distances you have made and covered but also what other users, especially friends have “achieved” in comparison.

The whole comparison, competition, and collaboration mantra that I discussed in a previous post becomes very relevant when we introduce such simple but powerful game mechanics in the user experience.

I see Tripit Gamifying this further by offering travel rewards based not just on absolutes but on where one stands on the leader board, further increasing  consumption of travel services.

Have you seen this? Lowe Bindfors groundbreaking viral campaign for Unilever’s Magnum Ice Cream has Gamified a whole digital advertising campaign!

You have a girl in search of bon bons (the objective), who must go through different sites (levels) ranging from a YouTube video to a Hotel website, catching and grabbing bon bons in a game mechanic similar to a platformer.

To top it off you have a timer and a score. At completion, you get ranked on a leader board.

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I see Lowe Bindfors creating different episodes of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Bon Bons and Unilever Gamifying the campaign further by creating rewards like discount coupons generated online when players reach different scoring achievements. These coupons can then be redeemed against actual purchases.

A Gamification Framework

There are countless applications of Gamification that are possible – human creativity being a boundless thing.

And while no how to guides can credibly exist, there can be certain frameworks in which to evaluate and apply Gamification. Here is mine:

Gamification Caveats – Flirting with the Hot Cousin and Kissing your Sister

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Where there be hype, there be dragons.

Under flirting with the hot cousin come all those thoughts that might seem tempting but you really shouldn’t coz no long term good can come from them!

For example, my bank’s Online Banking offering, I’d love it if they could Gamify the boring self-service demos on transferring money or opening a new deposit.

But I’d like no Gamification to my account management interface please and don’t festoon new icons on my account statements, so I can’t separate my debits from my credits.

The opposite may also prove troubling. You may have done a good job of Gamifying a product or service but some PR/ MarCom genius thinks these features are enough to start positioning the experience as a Game.

In fact, the Magnum Pleasure Hunt campaign is a good example of what might happen if it was positioned as a game.

Once the initial charm and innovativeness of the user experience wears off the shallow gameplay and the lack of a backstory that establishes an emotional connect with the girl and her quest, might leave you underwhelmed. I know I was.

It’d be just like kissing your sister – no fun and you wouldn’t do it again! If you want to deliver a full-fledged game experience then do something on these lines.

So what do you think? What are your favorite Gamification examples? Or do you think it’s all hooey? Comments are open!

Next week I’ll talk about ARGs – Augmented Reality Gaming and how smartphones and related technologies may herald a new revolution in it, especially on the advergaming side.

  1. Mayur Jain says

    Hey Rajit :) Heading was absolutely what brought me in. And being sort of big follower of Gamification and especially enterprise gamification I could see what you meant by those thin lines. I have seen it too often in the enterprises where implementation is left out at points and badges and poor leaderboards which are all the more discouraging, instead of generating desire.

  2. Ankit Agarwal says

    Agree on the usability front Rajit and that’s a tough cookie to crack especially when building gamification into an existing system. End-users are by definition averse to change irrespective of whether it is good or bad (i am referring to end-users at large and not you and me who might want to experiment with new features) and the additional learning curve can often result in low adoption for gamification features

    That being said i am all for the use of gamification and may be it will evolve with time.

  3. Rajit Ojha says

    Ankit – great to have your comments: +1 for reading through it in such detail:-)

    A simple rule of thumb for gamification should be that it cannot be at the expense of usability or functionality. Does gamification make a simple thing complex, then -1. In the fantastic example that you gave, gamification is actually giving me additional information that was never given before to me as a customer, or needed some quick mental math. So +1.

    User testing of any feature – after all games themselves are tested intensively in close beta – should be a way to validate a gamification intervention and avoid a hit and trial approach.

  4. Ankit Agarwal says

    +1 for the sensalization of the headline and actually putting a context around it.

    I am not a gamification expert but have been following your posts keenly. here is my basic doubt
    1. Would you say gamification is a personalized/customized experience. The features that you mention as preferable/unpreferable may be opposite for me. For eg.

    I would want gamification at the account management level such that it encourages me to save more and reduce the debt. Lets say a month-on-month increase in cash-debt ratio gives me a badge etc.

    The basic point i am trying to come to is how does one ensure that a gamification of a particular layer makes sense for a larger mass or is it a hit-and-trial approach

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