How to develop a long-lasting gamification strategy

Javier Flaim

Gamification, which applies elements of games to other settings, has emerged as the latest silver quill in every marketer’s cap as a way to engage users, incentivize them to carry out offline actions or behaviors, and increase loyalty. The approach has proven effective in motivating people to do “good,” where brands are looking to encourage their customers to change their lifestyle for the better. Companies have used games to help people do everything from lose weight, make healthier or greener purchasing decisions, and increase recycling. Gamification has even gone corporate; most recently, management consultants have begun prescribing the strategy to get busy executives to complete online training programs.

But what happens when the game ends? For some brands, games are employed to engage a user over the short term — and the mission is accomplished once the sale is made or content is consumed. For other companies, whose missions are addressing more longitudinal issues, the implications of user fatigue can be more profound.

Let’s examine the lifecycle of a game. How can marketers secure the most ROI from their gaming strategies and extend audience engagement long after the game ends so it’s not just a “one and done” experience? There are a few key mechanics and approaches that can help ensure your game is not a one-off experience. These include:

Tie it to offline behavior

Harvesting crops in FarmVille has no impact on the users’ offline lives, which is why many “farmers” get bored and quickly move on to the next game. For instance, at its peak, FarmVille had about 100 million users; today, they are down to around 30 million active daily users. By using gamification and rewards to motivate a measurable offline shift in behavior, the actions are more meaningful and satisfying to the user and the chances increase that new habits will be formed.

Tie it to something larger, but make it personal

People inherently want to do good, but also need to find something in it for themselves, so design your game so users are personally motivated to play. Simply offering the chance to earn social currency that can be redeemed in the online world for virtual goods and services ultimately proves to be a less powerful motivator. Engagement will increase when the currency offered impacts them personally, such as a financial reward on top of the validation felt from contributing to a social or environmental cause.

Incorporate education

The act of learning via games has long been embraced by academic institutions to increase memory of the content outside of games. Incorporating educational content into your game keeps it interesting, extends engagement, and increases the chances that the gaming behavior becomes a habit.

Make it social

Creating a community around a game and allowing people to share their accomplishments with others motivates people to continue to seek rewards and reduces risk of fast fatigue. Status is an emotional reward and can be a powerful motivator for continued engagement. To make status coveted, tie in offline achievements to online ones that provide meaning and value to the gamer’s community. Many brands fall into the trap of offering badges that hold little meaning after they are won, reducing the likelihood of a lasting connection with your brand after the game ends. The king of your local 24-hour deli isn’t going to get you far. As gamification guru Gabe Zichermann noted, there are four steps to badge nirvana, the last one being tight integration with a larger system and not making them the entire gaming experience. When used in this way, badges have true, personal meaning to communities and can be a powerful tool for behavioral change.

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