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Gamification: It’s About Fun (and Status)

February 8, 2011

Today’s Gamification panel at Social Media Week was all about convincing the marketers in attendance that using game theory is an effective way to increase audience engagement, sharing, and mindshare.  

And gamification doesn’t have to be about Farmville.

“Many of the experience that best represent gaming, the user doesn’t say ‘oh I’m playing a game,’” said Gabe Zicherman, head of the Gamification Summit. According to Gabe, gamification is about making everyday experiences more fun. And for marketers, it’s about making brand experiences and content more fun, which we tend not to do, according to him. “I’m constantly surprised by the boring shit that’s out there.”

And gamification doesn’t have to be about FourSquare either.

“Pointsification is not gamification, badgeification is not gamification,” said Demetri Detsaridis, of Zynga NY (formerly Area Code). “What it all adds up to as an experience. If what you’re looking to create is fun, then you’re creating a game.” 

But there does need to be an incentive or an objective for people to engage with game-like objects, and in order to choose a good incentive, we need to know what our audiences are interested in—how they prioritize rewards. Gabe says marketers have thus far been pretty bad at that.

He uses an acronym to set up the reward priorities that drive human behavior: SAPS (status, access, power, stuff). He describes the system in detail on his blog, but the underlying premise is that giving “stuff” away, unless it’s a big bag of money, is not the most effective motivator. Instead, we should be focusing on intangibles like community status or privileges.

He also said that gamified systems, if effective, can rewire the way we think about things. Gabe used the Amex card system as an example.

“The Amex Green/Gold/Platinum/Black system is an amazing story,” he said. “It forces us to ask questions. Amex had a good enough system to make Black the top…but black could have been any color.”

The Olympics have taught us a standard metallic hierarchy of achievement: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Amex’s system of Green, Gold, Platinum, and Black cards turns that metallic ordering on its head, but it was effective enough that card holders now accept that there are levels beyond gold, including the super-premium Black card.

Those are some of the quotes from the panel that jumped out at me. If you’ve got more, feel free to share them in the comments (or post a link).

BTW, Meghan wrote a good primer on gamification last week…worth checking out.

Panelists: Rajat Paharia, Gabe Zicherman, Samantha Skey, Demetri Detsaridis

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