Gamification in Marketing

Gamification: Oxford English Dictionary description (shortlisted for word of the year in 2011):

“The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service: gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun.”


Here’s some notes I ripped learned from Jason Bice’s article Game On! in Hub Magazine, Oct 2012:


The use of game-design techniques to solve problems, motivate and engage people is not new. What is new is the technology that allows gaming elements to be applied to virtually any experience; and this technology is at the intersection of gaming and branding worlds.

Gamification somewhat of a novelty. Most ‘gamified’ applications or services employ systems of badges, achievements, levels etc, but lacks any degree of behavioural complexity. This complexity is key to creating the gamer’s state of intense engagement / ‘blissful productivity’ Jane McGonigal in her TED talk ‘Gaming can make a better world’.

But, why not stick to traditional, tried and tested methods of engagement? Advertising, direct marketing, social media? It begs the question of why companies should spend time and money on marketing that is too young to have a proven track record for ROI.

But in today’s attention economy, can you afford not to?

The high engagement level of gamers is a most coveted elements a brand could seek to capture. Everyone is gaming – since Angry Birds was released in 2009, collective time spent playing has come to over 200,000 years. Today, over half a billion people in the world spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games.

This success partly due to mobile/on-demand entertainment, partly due to gaming becoming more accepted as mainstream leisure. Many reasons games are receiving our attention and projected to receive more in the future. Passive media like television and film are starting to share equal time – or taking a back seat to – gaming as the public’s entertainment of choice. Companies therefore doing their best to convert this shift in attention into customer engagement and brand loyalty.


Problem? …The act of simply putting messages/ads/sponsorships interrupts and injects our leisure pursuits with reality, which is what we escape from when we play games. But if we gamify the ads – it’s fun, it’s absorbing, and, most importantly, it’s voluntary. Gamification provides an opt-in choice to receive such messages and be rewarded for doing so… so, it’s a win-win, if done well.


But it’s not being done well.


Gamification’s poster child = Foursquare. Introduced basic game mechanics and created simple yet absorbing experience for users. In return for points, rewards and climbing up leaderboards, consumers didn’t mind if the app took them to sponsored/partnered content (and still don’t). But this successful formula is deceptive – badges and points do not a game maketh. They don’t guarantee the audience will engage with your product.

Since Foursquare, flurry of badge-having, points-awarding, achievement-unlocking apps (GetGlue), blogs (DevHub) and websites (Huffington Post) but… “without the context of any goal or meaningful rewards.”

Badges, achievements, and points were awarded for doing things like clicking a link, “liking” a site on Facebook, or watching a specific TV program. The absorbing parts of a game—the element of discovery and play, mastery of challenge, and the immensely satisfying epic win—were replaced with empty or repetitive tasks that the user was either likely to do without additional encouragement or not motivated enough to do by the pseudo-reward offered. As a result, these subpar gamified experiences have begun to outnumber the truly superb ones, casting them all in a light that makes them look faddish and superfluous for business purposes.”

“Companies must realize that a gamified offering is a project in and of itself. Time and money must be invested in having people with experience execute it. That means getting game designers, user experience designers, professional coders, and web and mobile platform strategists on board. Game designers have a 40+-year head start on marketers for what makes a game fun and what doesn’t. Prototyping, iterating, playtesting, and balancing are not just nice to have. They are required for success.”

Jury is out on whether gamification will be a central trend or a faddish afterthought. But traditional forms of media are changing more rapidly than ever before. With that simple truth, advertising and marketing firms have an opportunity to reinvent what they offer and define the real-world benefits they provide for clients and customers.

He asks whether companies can explore this trend fully, to get what lies behind a successful game and campaign, and harness this power to create more productive workplaces, more efficient global and local communities, and happier and healthier people?

Here’s a TED talk by an actual expert out there:



  1. Hi there. Thanks for quoting my article. Totally agree with what you’ve said in here (you should have seen the original draft!), and would have loved for us to rap about this — it would have been very engaging. I’m actually on a different beat right now, but I have a smaller question: where the hell did my article go?? If you have it anywhere, let me know, because I can’t seem to access the Hub or their publishers anymore, and it bugs me. Just looking for a link or a copy.

    1. Silly internet links disappearing. Writing online is tough like that. I hope you have your drafts, and if you need it for a portfolio reason you can write the publication and date on the top (and how many views, comments, as well) and publishers almost always accept it. Sometimes they prefer it – it shows your writing, not how much it was edited!

      I’m afraid I can’t find an original copy online either. Sorry – maybe I should copy and paste articles I write about ;)
      Is this useful at all?

      Nice to meet the author!

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