SMWNYC 2011 – Gamify Me: How Game Mechanics Have Infiltrated Marketing – What’s the Next Play?

Description from the Social Media Week New York schedule event listing:

Winning points or badges, sitting atop a leader board and getting to the next level are all actiosn that we have grown accustomed to.  Now marketers are incorporating these activities to encourage desirable behavior.  We will talk about who is winning using game mechanics and how marketers can avoid getting blasted.


  • Moderator: David Rosenberg, Director of Emerging Media, JWT New York
  • Gabe Zicherman, author, Game-Based Marketing
  • Rajat Paharia Bunchball
  • Samantha Skey, Chief Rewards Officer from Recycle Bank
  • Demetri Detsaridis, General Manager, Zynga New York

Event Recap:

(Check out the hashtag #swmgamify for more comments on the event.)

David Rosenberg, the Director of Emerging Media at JWT New York and moderator for the panel, opened the panel by asking the audience who had played a game or used a gamified system today.  To clarify what he meant, he asked who had a Linkedin profile that was at least 90% complete and suggested that Foursquare users check in to try and earn an Epic Swarm badge.

Rajat Paharia of Bunchball shared how easy it was to transform his company from a gaming platform company to a gamification platform company.  Gamification is used to motivate and incentivized consumers.  Gabe Zicherman, the author of the book Game-Based Marketing, noted that gamification is a process, not a destination.  Samantha Skey, Chief Rewards Officer at Recycle Bank, provides an example of using game mechanics to drive a cause.  In Recycle Bank’s case, consumers are rewarded for taking green actions such as recycling or buying green products.  Social utility has allowed consumers to cooperate and compete with others in their graph and their neighborhood, driving deeper engagement.  Demetri Detsaridis, General Manager of Zygna New York, feels that the line between so-called “advergaming” and social mechanics has shifted.  Creating a project with game mechanics is not very different from creating a pure-play Facebook game.

Often the most compelling games are the ones where users don’t see them as a game.  Game mechanics are at its core just a collection of activities that add up to define a user experience.  A game is not necessarily a program with badges and leaderboards; a game is something designed to be fun and engaging.  Defining what a game such that it includes or excludes certain activities is no an important business goal, but creating an experience that will delight and surprise your customers (whether studios call them games or not) is critical.  The key is to find and leverage the core identity of the users so that they will support and propagate the game themselves.

Community matters in gaming most of the time, according to Paharia.  Even single-player “games” like Microsoft Office’s Ribbon Hero are driven by a user’s competitive nature.  Zicherman notes that brands have lost the ability to tell consumers what their preference is; consumers are now relying on the opinions and calls to actions of their peers.  Brands can use game mechanics however, as a system through which they can inspire a call to action.  Of course, strategy must be developed using these mechanics early in the process.  After all, there’s no paintbrush with which you can “gamify” something, Detsaridis notes.

There are problems with loyalty programs.  One, according to Skey, is that they are anticipated rewards.  Two, according to Zicherman, is that people can easily value the “free” stuff that they are receiving.  If they are receiving a free cup of coffee after ten cups, they know how much they value that cup (as much as the price they would have had to pay.)  On the other hand, how much do you value not having to wait in line for your coffee?  How much do you value being genuinely known and recognized at the coffee shop?

Designers of programs with game mechanics don’t need to put all the pieces in place (i.e., they don’t have to recreate Second Life.)  If you provide an opportunity for the user to experience their core emotional engagement with the brand, they themselves will bring what’s needed to make a game successful.  Games are about “bringing joy out in everyday life and fun in everyday places.”

If one wants to get involved in gamifying a system, there are processes to follow.  (Zicherman is producing a video to walk a marketer through this.)  The first two things to consider are to determine what your business objectives are and to define the journey that the user is on.  The brand becomes the Sherpa for the user journey.  If you can’t answer “what does the player get out of” the game, then you need to keep working.

Analysis and Commentary:

Perhaps the trickiest concern about gamification arises from how new it is.  The panelist, four leading evangelists for gamification, continued to trip over definitions.  Like broader social media, gaming is ubiquitous and has played a part in society and communication for years.  Yet only now are we defining the science of gaming as it relates to customer engagement.

As more parts of our daily experience (both tasks that were traditionally online and those that are now just being tied into social networks) are tied to the community around us, gaming mechanics will play a more important role in the customer experience.  Even if you are not seeking to implement a gaming system around your campaign, it behooves every marketer to have an understand of what it can do.

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