To sell, you must compel, say gamification experts

Gamification – the use of game concepts to engage users – may be the new buzzword in digital marketing, but if you're hoping to ride the merry wave to the top, it pays to do your homework.

InGame director and NZ Game Developers Association chair Stephen Knightly says "shallow" gamification has become popular, with points, badges and leaderboards being added aimlessly onto all kinds of campaigns.

There's plenty of "detailed, intelligent" IP behind game designers, but he says too many marketers are simplistically copying elements of gamification and doing a poor job of it.

"One of the traps that I see gamification people falling into is that they forget the audience," he says.

"Different people play games for different reasons and in lots of different ways.

"If you put lots of points on something that's going to be great for hyper-competitive people. If you put on sharing and gift giving that's going to be great for social people but it's not going to be great for someone who want to beat someone else and kill someone else."

According to Hidden Variable Studios cofounder Charley Price, there's a major debate on the merits of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards.

Some believe the quality of a gaming experience is dependent upon the promise of 'goods' (real, virtual, or otherwise) provided to the player as a reward  while others argue the focus should be on making high quality games first, with tangible rewards secondary.
"To properly 'gamify' something, the process should ideally have something inherently compelling about it to begin with, and then your gamification layer should amplify and celebrate that facet of the experience. Too often, I think gamification is executed by slapping points onto a process and expecting people to engage," he says.

"Making a compelling, large-scale, asynchronous multiplayer game is hard, but if you don't approach it with that challenge in mind, you run the risk of making an experience so shallow, unfocused, or – even worse – commonplace, that no one will really invest."

Mitch Olson, cofounder of social game SmallWorlds, says there is an inherent element of psychology at work.

Gamification is ultimately about using game concepts to build engagement with an audience and reward them for certain behaviours, he says.

And while UX designers might be more inclined to remove elements from a screen, Knightly says game developers are just as likely to add more buttons and gizmos.

These give users more reason to engage and to spend more time on a game, he says.

"Complexity can be your friend."

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