A key theme of this year’s conference was ‘play’. Besides the ebullient pre-presentation cheerleaders who had us playing foursquare, high-fiving and rock-paper-scissoring before every breakout session, the theory of gaming was a key element throughout. Presenter and author Gabe Zicherman has made a career of taking gaming to the next corporate level. His book Game-Based Marketing shows how games can positively influence engagement and learning and ultimately, change behaviour.
Before you start thinking this is all for the kids, consider the Nissan Leaf and the new Ford Focus. Both have in-dash displays that change and reward good eco-driving behaviour. This is game theory at work. And, according to Zicherman, it works on everyone.
Gamers fall into four basic categories:

  • Achievers – Prefer auction-style games, and games where not everyone can win
  • Socializers – Enjoy the interaction of gaming with others
  • Explorers – Love to find and discover
  • Killers – Seek the win/lose game. Total domination.

The best games, Zicherman says, break down the A to Z journey into achievable steps, with rewards in stages of increasing complexity so users can achieve mastery. There are four basic rewards you can work with:
Status (Most engaging, least expensive. Example: ‘Mayor’ badge in Foursquare)
Access (To things, people, offers that others do not get – Example: ‘Insider’ deals)
Power (Over others, real or virtual)
Stuff (Most expensive and least engaging or unique)

Other presenters showed how even simple games can lead to better interaction with brands and behaviour change. In one Sacramento Suburban Power Project, participants were given the opportunity to track their energy use in real time and compete with other families. Zamzee is a project where children are given pedometer-like sensors that track their movements, and get points in a virtual world for being more active. This has resulted in a measurable increase in physical activity levels.

In one insidious slide, Michael Kim from Kairos Labs showed how game designers actually design for specific chemicals in the brain.

  • Oxytocin – Bonding
  • Serotonin – Positive Emotions
  • Dopamine – Reward
  • Cortisol/DHEA – Stress/Eustress (the good stress!)

So, as a marketer how might you test ‘gamification’ in a simple, easy-to-implement program? The experts’ answer:

Make it small. Shoot for small actions in a small community of users and build from there. And whatever you do, don’t try to replicate Angry Birds with your logo on it.

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