Gamifying Your Business in 6 Steps

My life is surrounded by games.  My daughter loves “The Hunger Games” and my son is addicted to “Game of Thrones,” so I guess it only seems natural that gamification is a big part of my business life right now. Gamification is currently a popular, and somewhat controversial, topic as companies look for new and better ways to improve customer loyalty and engagement.

Unlike more complex technical trends, gamification is pretty easy for anyone to understand.  The other night I told my wife that I was helping a client to gamify its web experience and though she had never heard the term, she instantly understood what I was talking about. This is because although the name gamification is relatively new, the concept has been around for almost as long as there have been people.  For example, martial arts instructors have been giving out colored belts to signify achievement, rank and status for decades, and I’m sure most of us are members of an airline frequent flyer program that gives us points and levels and bestows us with rewards.  But recently, with the rise in social media, the level of study and sophistication around gamifying has intensified.

To be clear, gamifying does not mean turning your business or website into a game.  As defines it, gamifying is “the presence or addition of game-like characteristics (my emphasis) in anything that has not been traditionally considered a game.” So the purpose of gamifying is not necessarily to turn something into a game, but to apply the basic human desires we all have that make us like games to a non-gaming environment, and hopefully to improve our businesses.   These basic desires are well known and consist of things like achievement, status, reward, competition, altruism and self-expression.

Some companies, in their zeal to gamify, slap a points system onto a website or process, declare victory and then move on.  This strategy can lead to a superficial “pointsification” of your website and may help your marketing department check a box, but its unlikely to have a significant positive impact on your business.    True gamification requires a more detailed and thoughtful process in order to be successful.   So before you gamify, be sure you are first following these six basic steps:

  1. Determine your goals –What are you hoping to accomplish by gamifying your business?  There can be any number of goals  you are hoping to accomplish, but it is best to keep it to one or two key goals so that you can focus your efforts. Maybe you want to increase the number of members on your website, generate new leads or reduce customer churn.  You must be as specific as possible about the outcomes you need in order to establish an appropriate gamification.  And make sure you are also specific about the quantitatives for each goal.   In other words, a goal shouldn’t be to simply reduce churn, but reduce churn by X percentage points per month.
  2. Know your players – What are the main demographic, psychographic, and lifestyle characteristics of your players?  You may already have some of this information based on segmenting your customer base, which is great, but you need to view these groups in different ways than you would for traditional marketing purposes.  You need to develop profiles and understand what their motivations for participating in the gaming elements you plan to put in place would be.   So create a Persona (player story) for key players and then create a description for each Persona.  The descriptions can include gender, age, socio-economic status, gaming experience, aspirations, fears, daily technology or shopping habits – whatever is most relevant for your product.
  3. Use mechanics to motivate the right behaviors – Once you know your goals and players, you can move into the game mechanics.  Game mechanics are tools and techniques that are used as building blocks for gamifying a website or application.  They are the external elements that allow players to keep track of how they are doing, compare themselves to others and accumulate stuff.  Common mechanics include points, levels, badges, virtual goods, leaderboards and competition.   If you’d like some starter ideas on what mechanics might work for you, I suggest using resources such as and Bunchball.  Both are great sources for gamification knowledge and ideas.
  4. Satisfy desires with game dynamics – The difference between game mechanics and dynamics is subtle but important. According to Michael Wu, Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies, game dynamics determine how and precisely when the badges are unlocked over time and the precise reward schedule. In other words, the mechanics provide the mechanism, but the dynamics provide the motivation.  Clever game designers can create new gaming dynamics by combining various game mechanics over time to make game play more interesting and engaging.  A well-designed gaming dynamic brings players to the next stage at the right time so the players feel accomplished. On the other hand, poor gaming dynamics tend to lose players along the way, either due to boredom or creating overly complex challenges, and therefore make the game less engaging.
  5. Integrate the aesthetics – Aesthetics are the factors that yield emotional engagement and quality of the experience.  They are the sounds, visuals, good loading times, etc.  Every game or gamification must be compelling, and this can be done through game mechanics or dynamics, but it’s also important to put in elements that yield emotions like curiosity, delight, pride and satisfaction. A good game takes the player on some emotional journey over time and knowing what emotions you want to elicit will help you decide what or how you want to design.
  6. Determine how you will be discovered and shared – A social referral program is critical to a gamification’s success. Many companies set up a system with the right mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics but then what? If users are proud of what they’ve accomplished, give them the opportunity to tell the world about it. Achievements mean more if they’re made public and people are more likely to share right after they’ve won something.

Best of luck as you work towards gamifying your business, and as they say in “The Hunger Games”:  May the odds be ever in your favor!


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