“Gamification is the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems” – Gabe Zicherman
People have an innate desire to play games, whether it’s a hardcore gamer playing Xbox through the night, a family gathering around a board game on a Sunday afternoon, or a stag party off for a weekend of hedonism in Las Vegas. Given the choice, and whether we realise it or not, we would probably choose playing games over most other activities. Gamification is a concept that has many applications in the business world, but particularly across digital media. It’s about applying game mechanics to non-gaming situations. Game mechanics. Big word. You’re probably telling yourself: “I’m no big shot game developer.” Well, you don’t have to be. You simply need to understand how the process works, and its impact on users.
Let’s explain this in context: Your blog. Regular readers are great but you need more than that. You want people to comment or ask questions. You want them to reference your posts or share them with others. You want them engaged. In essence, you want to evoke the same feelings in your readers as what they might feel when hooked on a great game.
On the surface, gamification simply seeks to make things more fun. But what we perceive as being fun might not actually be that simple.
Let’s break down what gamification actually is and does:
- Rewards with points, badges or virtual currency when a task is completed
- Assigns tiered values to rewards, making certain rewards difficult to obtain
- Allows accumulation of points
- Offers tangible giveaways
- Implements a ranking system for users
- Rewards the recommending of friends
- Gives users long-term goals
- Drives people to become more focused and dedicated by positively reinforcing task completion
- Creates a sense of achievement, and induces a feeling of progression, causing a user to return time and again
- Gives users a sense of ownership and increased desire to possess more
- Gives users ‘something for nothing’
- Create a sense of competition and social standing
- Broadens a site’s user-base
- Induces the sunk-cost fallacy, whereby users feel compelled to return, otherwise face the prospect of having wasted their time and effort
The perfect example of how this works is Farmville by Zynga. What drives 8,000 people to plant virtual crops every second? When people sign up to Farmville, they’re given an amount of virtual currency. Each harvest increases the money pot, but expenses (e.g. purchasing flowers or vegetable seeds) are deducted from it. The game itself isn’t all that ‘fun’, but it applies these game mechanics to perfection. This infographic tells the story.
Credit: Zynga Blog
Farmville also employs a technique called ‘gifting’, whereby users who convince others to sign up can receive gifts from their new Farmville friends. These gifts, or virtual farm items, would otherwise cost a player virtual currency, or in some situations, actual currency, but are both free to send and receive should a player successfully convince a friend to sign up.
Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that gamification is not out of reach of any blog or site owner. There are several tools that can help, some with great free packages.
– Rafflecopter are a well-established and renowned giveaway company
– PunchTab offer your users great incentives for interacting with your blog, your social pages and you site in general. Even the free package is well worth some consideration, and the priced/customised plans give great bang for your buck. It can also be easily installed by WordPress plugin.
II. Digging Deeper
So how do you “game up” a standard website?
Implement a loyalty system which rewards repeat visits, interactions on the site and encouraging others to join. Users accumulate points or badges which can then be redeemed for gift certificates or other prizes. It was Foursquare that popularised this, awarding badges to users upon their first check-in or after completing a specific series of tasks. A reward system can be set up for blog interaction too; users can get badges for sharing ten articles for instance, or commenting seven times.
- Leaderboards can be used to rank users and motivate them to excel. Here’s a sample from CityVille, another Zynga creation.
Credit: Zynga Games Secrets
People always like to keep score, and often, the very fact that they can see their position relative to their peers is enough to encourage them to play on. It is, however, important not to discourage anyone. Users should see themselves placed in the middle of a leaderboard, regardless of where they rank. Another way to avoid discouragement is to split leaderboards into categories. For example, you could have leaderboards based on geo-location or for a certain time period like a week or a month. Allowing users to create their own leaderboards and invite their friends would also add a valuable social aspect.
- Encourage your users to divulge more information by implementing a progress bar. Users hate seeing a bar which only fills to a certain percentage. Not only that, but completion is intrinsically rewarding. It’s why gamers play for hundreds of hours to complete a game that offers very little, if any, actual tangible reward. LinkedIn’s progress bar once reigned supreme; showing users who had not completed their profile a glaringly-obvious partially-full progress bar. This has now been replaced with an equally effective Profile Strength indicator.
Don’t you just have an insatiable urge to fill that circle right up to the top?
- Encourage users to level-up. Offering incremental achievements is a great way to satisfy the urge for success and to keep users wanting to go higher.
This concept has been applied for years across many industries. It’s the same system that ‘rewards’ people with a platinum credit card after ‘doing well’ with their gold one.
Moz.com is global-leader in producing of SEO and web analytics applications. They also host an extremely popular blog where a lot of the forefront SEO experts discuss digital issues. Anyone can sign up and contribute, however, the expertise of users is ranked based on interactions on the site, as well as the quality of their contributions, as determined by Moz themselves and other users.
And Moz allow your points to accumulate…
Until you earn enough to raise your rank…
And specifically for your blog…
- Implement social media buttons. For many other reasons too, your blog should have social share buttons, but still, it has to be noted as a gamification technique also.
The more informative, funny, cute or thought-provoking a post is, the more likely it will be to attract Likes, Tweets and +1s. This exploits the fundamental human desire to be recognised, and encourages higher quality interaction. Itself, the act of ‘liking’ or ‘tweeting’ is also very self-gratifying; knowing that your opinion really does count.
- Supercharge commenters by implementing a way of ranking or rating comments on your blog. By giving readers voting power – those who regularly comment on your posts will have a powerful incentive to make their contributions more interesting and engaging.
From the Daily Mail
- Launch competitions. If you sell products, ask for photos/stories of the best applications of your products and offer prizes to the winners. Also, don’t leave out anyone that enters. Offer points for all submissions.
Each offer something different; it’s up to you to know your site and your user base to determine which methods will suit you best.
III. Key Notes
On the surface, gamification appears to be a failsafe tactic, but it does have to implemented correctly. Some important things to note are:
- Provide meaningful interaction and reward. This means coming up with challenges that have specific goals in mind, both for end users and the website itself. It’s no use offering meaningless badges or points. An example of this would be Google News Badges, which failed to take off in a big way. Badges and points work well but only when the task itself has true meaning. Gamification will not make up for poor experience.
- Studies have shown that gamification works best when there is a team element involved. Encourage a society to develop around each the interactive elements of your site.
- Always be clear about the incentives on offer. A specific incentive should be allocated per completed task, and the user should be left in no doubt about what to aim for.
- Your blog’s gamification strategy will be more effective if you mix virtual rewards with tangible prizes. The user’s urge to complete a task increases with an incentive’s appeal and value.
When properly designed, gamification has proven to be very successful in engaging people’s interests. It is an effective tactic for motivating people to develop skills, solve problems or change existing behaviour.
Creating such an environment on your blog encourages readers to linger and participate. In doing so, you not only foster loyalty but achieve increased ROI for your company.
About the Author: Richard Eaves is a Digital Marketing Specialist for Smart Traffic, an SEO company helping businesses across different sectors drive web traffic and increase sales and enquiries. He oversees more than 300 campaigns for the company.