There’s a right and wrong way to implement gamification beyond just slapping badges and points on your site.
Gamification, or the use of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts, has quickly made its way into the lexicon of the marketing and tech world. Companies in every industry imaginable are trying to tap into this powerful new strategy for influencing and motivating their customers, employees and fans.
Blindly slapping badges and points on your site isn’t going to work. Like any technology or methodology, there’s a right and wrong way to implement gamification.
Here are three key strategies for creating a gaming solution that has lasting value and truly engages consumers and site visitors.
1. What Is Your Core Experience?
What is the core experience that you’re trying to gamify? Understanding this dictates everything else you’re going to do, so it’s crucial to set this foundation correctly and understand both the experience and your users. Here are just a few of the many core experience types:
- A content and community site for fans of a TV show or musical artist: Your users are fans who have a passionate interest in something and want to indulge and share that passion.
- An expense-reporting application: Your users are employees who are dealing with a necessary evil in order to get paid.
- An ecommerce website: Your users are customers who are looking for a trusted vendor, a good deal and quality information that can help them make an informed purchase decision.
- Complex media creation software: Your users are people who are probably using 10% of the available functionality of the software and need a compelling reason to move up the mastery curve.
What’s your core experience is?
2. Know Your Business
Now that you know what your core experience is, you need to have a point of view about what’s good. Typically, this flows naturally from answering the question, “How does my business make money?”
Sometimes this is pretty straightforward. We make money from online advertising, so more pageviews = more money. Therefore, pageviews are good. Other times, it’s less straightforward.
If you were going to gamify an email client, what’s good? Responding quickly? Having an empty inbox? Dealing with high priority items first? It’s not always an easy question to answer, but you need to have a point view, because a) You want your gamification program to generate value, and b) You need to be tracking and rewarding the right behaviors. Here are some examples:
- Passionate interest sites are typically ad and sponsorship driven, so content consumption and content sharing is good.
- Some applications are a pain to use but are necessary for business. Getting employees to use them in a timely manner is good.
- Quality information sites thrive on user-generated content. So, content creation and content moderation is good.
- Mastery curve applications are powerful but also very complex. Users typically would like to learn more about how they work, but don’t have the time or inclination to go through dry tutorials and training. (Think Microsoft Word or Adobe Illustrator.) For a user to get the full value out of the application, and be willing to pay for upgrades once the next version comes around, the application developer needs the end user to understand the capabilities of the software, and develop fluency in using them.
3. Know Your User
At the end of the day, whenever we engage with anything, we’re always asking, either consciously or unconsciously, “What’s in it for me?” Your core experience provides value to the user in some manner:
- Passionate interest sites satisfy my desire to know more about a topic.
- Necessary but complicated applications accomplish business goals.
- Quality information sites help me make informed decisions.
- Mastery curve applications help me work better.
If your core experience doesn’t provide value, then you’re in trouble. The next challenge, however, is trying to influence and motivate behavior around that core value. What is meaningful value? The answer depends on your users, the context, the community of people participating, and the core experience.
Let’s take a stab at our example sites and see what kind of meaningful value we can provide. To make things clearer, I’ve provided fictional illustrative examples below. Note that meaningful value doesn’t need to mean dollars.
- Passionate interest: A Kanye West fan site rewards me with status (“Top 10 Fans”), unlocking exclusive access to content (music, wallpapers, ringtones) and early access to concert tickets for sharing music with friends on Facebook and Twitter.
- Difficult but necessary app: Employees earn points for filling out expense reports, with the number of points earned being proportional to how much time has elapsed since the first expense on the report. If it’s within one to two days, the user gets 100 points, three to four days, 50 points, five to six days, 25 points, etc. Employees are heavily incented to fill out expense reports quickly. They can redeem points for chances to win paid time off, gift certificates and other dollar value goods.
- Quality information: JoesBikes.com rewards me with status and reputation (5-star reviewer) as well as more powerful moderation abilities (edit anyone else’s review) for writing good quality product reviews.
- Mastery curve: Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 rewards me with unlocking an entertaining story and a feeling of mastery for going through the tutorial content embedded within (this one is real).
Following these three key strategies will put you on the road to implementing a compelling gamification solution. You’ll be asking all the right questions, so that when it comes time to start designing and implementing, you’ll have a solid foundation of understanding on which to build a solution that drives meaningful value for your business and for your users.
Photo credit: Simply Zesty