If you’ve been following my blog for the last couple of years you know I’ve written a lot about crowdsourcing (Ed. Note – You can find all my crowdsourcing-related posts here). Even wrote a little ebook on the topic with the help of many friends. The same sorts of conversations and buzz I heard with crowdsourcing I’m now hearing with game mechanics, or ‘gamification’ as it is often called. A term greatly disliked by many people who take this stuff seriously. And that in part is the crux of this post. Terms quickly get thrown about (like ‘viral’) by people who aren’t really sure what they are speaking about. I’ve already started writing on this a bit, and hope to continue to do so. I’ll be looking to tap into a wide variety of practitioners and skeptics with the goal of providing an objective and balanced perspective on the subject. Here are two people that I recently had the chance to exchange correspondence with and I thought they both had worthwhile views on the issue. First, a brief note from Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group. Brian’s also a driving force behind the Pivot Conference taking place in New York this October (sign up here to attend). I asked Brian about the future of game mechanics and questioned if 2011 was the year this practice went from insider knowledge to over-exposed and misused (jumping the shark as it were):
Brian Solis: Before I can answer, I can’t believe that Happy Days culture is still alive. When will jumping the shark finally jump the shark? I believe that in social media as anything jumps the shark it means it’s starting to take a strong foothold within the mainstream. This is good because that means we, as everyday people, have a say in the direction of new media and how we discover, share and learn. Game theory and gamification hold promise in engagement, personalization, and rewards. It will make for better website experiences, for more enriching exchanges in social and mobile networks, and I believe it will also help reinvent our education system.
So, a very positive spin on things from Brian and I agree with him for the most part. I think there are some lessons from crowdsourcing that we can take though. Not every website or brand is ideal for game mechanics, and it’s important to understand the science as well as the art to getting it right. On that note, I spoke with Laurent Courtines who has worked with online communities for over ten years, first managing and establishing the Sportingnews.com fantasy sports community and for the last five years leading community and social initiatives at AOL’s Games.com. He is the founder of the Games.com The Blog at http://blog.games.com and can be found musing on the Internet at http://laurent-courtines.com. He was kind enough to answer several of my questions and I thought his responses were worth sharing in full:
Rick Liebling: Two years ago Crowdsourcing was the buzz word every marketer was spouting, now it’s ‘gamification.’ What should marketers know before jumping into this area, whether it’s branded social games or social rewards in a community?
1. It’s not easy.
Think it through. Always think to yourself, will this be fun? If it’s not fun to you, it won’t be fun for your audience.
2. You can’t just slap badges on your content and expect people to become more engaged.
Affinity items and badges systems are ongoing. Once your audience gets a taste for the rewards, they will want more. Be prepared to support your campaign for a long time.
Play games, think about what makes a game fun. Go back to your childhood and think about games you played. What made Monopoly, Shoots and Ladders or Q-Bert fun? Make a list and find the fun.
4. Don’t over-complicate things.
You don’t have to have ALL the game mechanics all at once. It could just be a leader board for your site calling out the most active participants, or a simple progression bar to show you how far you have to go to complete an order. (LinkedIn is a good example of how great a little progress bar can be. You always want to fill in your profile)
It’s little features that can help a lot!
5. Trust the experts.
As a marketer, trust the game designers and producers. Usually, they are the real game lovers and understand the game audience much more than you do. If you have an idea for a branded game, trust the game makers when they say no one wants to play a game with Clorox all over it. Do simple things like sponsor the game to be ad free for a while (most online games have a pre-roll ad). Give something to the player that they can appreciate.
Overall, I think the game mechanics being added to non-game events are good. We just have to realize that there is work involved. It’s not a magic bullet and has to have focus.
I think you’re going to hear and see a lot on this topic in the second half of this year. I’m looking forward to following the developments.