Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gamification USA


I walked out my door Saturday morning to a frenzy of Millennials running around Independence National Historical Park in their best campers’ attire with their smartphones surgically attached to their hands. Immediately I realized I was witnessing the Gamification of USA.

Read On:

What is gamification? In a nutshell it is the combination of engagement science and game mechanics. As a result, it helps simplifies the processes necessary to obtain personal achievement, as well as improve relationships between constituents and their community. Are you confused yet? Am I talking about participating in Little League baseball or getting together with a bunch of friends to play a good game of Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble? No, I am sharing a new marketing strategy devised by Silicon Valley and Alley. The technology companies are looking at leveraging markets, networks and communities by capitalizing on the competitive nature of consumers and rewarding them with prizes – check-ins to become a “mayor”, loyalty awards, discounts, etc. Technology (web and more importantly mobile sites) facilitates gamifaction and engagement in the form of a game for tasks that are otherwise perceived boring like chores, shopping, surveys or reading websites.

Are you still confused? I am confident most of my readership has heard of or uses Foursquare or better yet Facebook Places. Both are primary examples of gamification. A relatively new player is SCVNGR, a social location-based gaming platform for mobile phones complete with challenges and rewards for their players. Back in March, they partnered nationwide with high-end retailer Neiman Marcus. Imagine winning enough challenges and being rewarded with a $2,500 shopping spree.

So what was happening outside my front door Saturday? A scavenger hunt called The Ultimate Old City Adventure. The hunt was organized by CityHunt whose mission is to make the universe a better place one scavenger hunt at a time, thus inspire people to build great relationships and learn how to have fun together. Founded in 2000, the company will organize public or private (e.g., birthday parties, corporate team building, etc.) hunts.

Is gamification a passing fad or an upcoming trend? I predict a trend given that I just read that the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation will be investing $20 million to develop innovative digital and game based learning tools complete with social networking capabilities for US kids. Fun is our future as we master gamification. A topic for another day since I need to head out now to my local Starbucks to check-in and see where I am on the leader board to be the next “mayor” at 8th and Walnut. Oh yes, I also want to start working on my next business concept while I enjoy my Cocoa Cappuccino – My Sandbox, a new social location-based mobile game.


  1. Enjoyed the post - gamification is an excellent platform for brands to get involved even if their targets are NOT checking into their location. So, someone can be checking into a clothing store near a restaurant with a 4Sq promotion. The savvy operator would say as a tip, "Shopping can make you hungry. Stop by, check in and save $5 off your lunch."

    Here's a post I wrote about a similar scavenger hunt last year: http://bit.ly/b0rmcR.

  2. Hey, don't forget Angry Birds. My 9 year old downloaded it to my phone and now wants an I Pad so the screen is bigger.

  3. The emerging generation is game-centric. Even more than the last one. These stunts can play a role for a while, but the next level of competition will need to be developed to enable a longer-lasting impact on products and brands. Someone is (no doubt) working on that right now. Lets watch...

  4. I guess I must not fit into the stereotype of the Millienial as I don't find this idea of Gamification terribly persuasive. Participating in these games is a waste of time. Do these badges on platforms like Foursquare have any external benefit? Not that I can tell. I only see a negative: telling the internet where you are at all times is a security risk. Don't get me wrong, since people find them rewarding I think marketers should do their best to jump on this opportunity.

    Just my two cents.

  5. Jimmy,

    Reading your post, I can't help but think of cycles. Mobile devices provide a vehicle for gamers/advertisers/others to reach a sub-set of the population. But how effective will they be when those who have the time to play or check in are consumed with changing diapers, going to Little League games or mowing the lawn?

    How many people today have the time to play Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly or Scrabble? If being the mayor of the local McDonald's gives you a free serving of fries, that's good, but how many do you need.

    Gamification is a trend, but like all trends it will peak and recede, replaced by the next one that comes along. Smart marketers will capitalize on it while it is "hot" but remain ready to move on when appropriate.


  6. Dang... and here I thought the blog was going to be about how running in the park could lead to great Gams! (ok... see if the Millenials have any idea what that means!) At least that would give you tangible rewards. I'm just sayin'...

  7. I concur with Robert; I think what we're seeing is not so much an adoption of a new marketing approach as the recongition that marketing can no longer be out-of-the-can; that instead, it has to use the platform/approach that most of its target users use.

    For example, looking at the people I know who use location-based platforms to check-in to win badges and such, all of them are either single or double-income/no kids. Comparing them to those friends who have families, not only do most of them have little clue about these services, most don't understand why anyone would bother telling the world they're at Wal-Mart.

    Bottom line is that while there's a lot of press over this, a few steps back would show that adoption of these approaches is very niche-specific and not as broad as the technophiles like to claim.

  8. Wow, I didn't hear about what the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation was doing. Gamification is a *very* interesting concept with a lot of potential. http://www.empireavenue.com/ is like LinkedIn, but with game mechanics. I admit, I haven't given it the time it needs, but it's very interesting and gaining a lot of momentum. It's worth checking out.

  9. Interesting range of answers. Thank you everyone. Let me touch on a few points. The emerging generation is game centric. Therefore, gamification companies understand the concept of regime of competenance where they will continually adjust their product offerings to keep their customers challenged. Therefore, we are just at the starting gate here. Those that subscribe to gamification, will they get married, drop out for diapers and Little League, or settle for pets only? Easier to walk the dog and play games than commit to family. Will Little League even exist in twenty years? Privacy is an issue. The legislation is heating up, but people might get paid to share their collective intelligence in the future so there will be those that subscribe to gamification as a result. In closing, before we pass judgement on whether these platforms are here to stay, we just need to respect that thanks to technology we have a whole generation growing up that processes, thus connects differently and it is only going to geometrically evolve in the direction of gamification if educators are going to start building learning tools that reward.

  10. Jim Interesting ideas and great post. I can picture younger social users participating in multiple "games" in free time as they go through their day. Some may last days or weeks and keeps them connected to friends. Marketers can easily play a sponsor role.

  11. Good observations! This reminds me of my blog post of the value of using "fun" in your marketing strategies: http://www.marketingroiordie.com/2010/06/20/how-having-fun-can-increase-your-marketing-roi/