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Gamification – more than a bit of fun?

Over the past year, marketers have made the shift from learning about the meaning of gamification – using the psychology of gaming in non-gaming situations – to incorporating it into their strategies. But research by Forrester indicates that the results have been mixed, as in many cases, the application of game mechanics has inappropriately surpassed the importance of a user-centric interaction strategy in the approach.

All brands need to consider how to set their customers challenges and reward them, as is done in gaming. But gamification techniques are mostly being targeted to young audiences, based on game player demographics. What needs to be done to make this trend become more engrained in the marketing psyche? Should gamification be based more on results in order to become more popular amongst clients and potentially applied outside of the traditional FMCG environment that is currently make the most use of it?

Cyril Charzat, global Heineken brand director, believes there is wider potential than just added brand equity. “What you get with gamification is an added element of fun to your brand, a way of making your brand appeal stretch beyond the usual experiences. For us, it’s not just catching youth demographics, but an array of new drinkers who like to play on-the-move. Through select prizes, its appeal stretches beyond the device and back into the trade which is ideal for brands across sectors.”

Heineken did this in 2011 when it launched Star Player – at the time, the world’s first live, multi-platform and dual-screen football game. It tapped into the competitive banter of football fans by creating an instantaneous and social TV experience: testing their instincts, players anticipate the outcome of events in a live match in real time.

When the match moments played out, scores are awarded, and fans could compare their results instantly with friends and the world. Friends could create leagues together, and be rewarded with achievement badges that they could post to their Facebook walls as marks of pride. Prizes on offer helped to boost sales of Heineken and raise awareness of the brand’s Uefa Champions League sponsorship. The game is still active today.

Charzat adds: “We really learn a lot about our football fan community through this game. In our debut year, we saw mentions of Heineken online increased 78% over other UEFA Champions League sponsors. Facebook and Twitter were responsible for 70% of all visits to the Star Player download pages. Fans were hooked with 63% of Star Players coming back at least once after their first play. Gamification has really served us well in this way.”

However, despite these positives, concerns do exist over a lack of standards in this field. One way of getting around this has been to use gamification in initial market research exercises instead.

Belfast-based start-up Sensum uses it to enable television producers and event organisers to measure audience members’ sweat levels using galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors, worn on the fingers, paired with smartphones or tablets which have the Sensum app installed. Viewer’s physiological responses to pieces of entertainment are rewarded by unlocking tailored, bonus content for them.

The technology was recenly tested on fans, cast and crew of Game of Thrones to test their reactions to key footage from the show and Grammy-award winning musician Imogen Heap also tried out the platform on reactions to her latest music video during Belfast Music Week. Both trials helped producers understand emotional attachment to key characters, scenes and so on, according to Sensum. Channel 4 have also described Sensum as “the most futuristic demo”.

Gawain Morrison, co-creator of the Sensum platform, says: “We are entering a new age of natural human computer interfacing and this kind of technology can give entertainment industries a better understanding of audience habits at a time when we are all seeking deeper levels of engagement. Sensors for capturing a range of physiology responses are becoming more widespread; we’ve opted for GSR due to its portability and anonymity for users.”

Experiments such as this will go some way to help broaden interest in gamification. Yet more can be done to help raise the technique’s profile. Forrester’s report says that marketers must dispel their misconceptions about what gamification is and approach it strategically.

Google may play a huge role in this. Its Glass product has the potential to fundamentally change the way we track and gamify health by automatically reading stats and using augmented reality experiences to create videogame-style scenarios for life.

It is evident that gamification can motivate attitude and behaviour change that is able to be carried through to real-world actions. But, effective gamification will only work if game designers identify the relevant needs of the user and implement game mechanics in the website, application, or community in question to create an experience that drives behaviour. The clear warning here is that where the gamified process is no longer fun for the user, it will fail. Brands must beware such pitfalls. If they fail to do so, they’d be better off avoiding the system altogether.


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