Gamification allows us to drive greater usage and retain a larger audience by targeting specific interactions. This blog series explores the fundamentals of gamification techniques at use in some of the most successful digital products.
Gamification is something of a buzzword at the moment; Occasionally I hear the phrase being dropped into a conversation but rarely is the meaning behind it fully understood or appreciated. It’s one of those things that most people operating in the digital space can’t quite put their finger on, and as such, it can be perceived as a “nice-to-have”.
However, as we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks, it is very rare to see a highly successful digital product or service which does not, in some way, rely on the principles and benefits delivered by well-founded gamification strategy. In fact, by the time you have reached the end of this blog series, I challenge you to take a look at some of the digital products you use most frequently and consider “does this product make use of gamification elements?” – I think that for the majority of cases the answer will be “Yes”.
What is gamification?
In essence, gamification is about making products or services more ‘sticky’ through a variety of techniques which encourage increased frequency and duration of engagement, as traditionally used in the video games industry. In practice, this translates to designing features which consist of fun, challenging, sometimes competitive elements which add game-like qualities to portions of the product, often with some form of reward for the user.
In recent years, gamification has been a fundamental element in the most successful digital products on the market by using the same techniques used to maintain engagement in video games.
Let’s look at an example:
A non-gamified app or digital service will typically rely on external stimuli to trigger usage. A great example would be a train timetable app. If you’re planning a journey, you may consider using the app, but you’re almost certainly not going to check the timetable app when you have no interest in catching a train.
In contrast, an app or digital service which takes advantage of gamification techniques does not need to rely so heavily on such external stimuli alone for people to open the app and use it. Instead the gamification itself serves to build a positive habit of repeated usage among its users; they will be more inclined to habitually open and use the app in any given scenario, whether or not they are prompted to do so. In addition gamification further serves to make the experience of using the product more enjoyable.
The result is that the app receives considerably more frequent engagement, for a greater duration per engagement. This in turn helps to build up greater value in the app as perceived by the user, and as such makes the app harder to uninstall. This concept is explained very well by Nir Eyal in “Hooked – How to build habit-building products”, a book which I would highly recommend on the subject.
Gamification allows us to transform an app or digital product from something which is only used when there is a need, like sourcing useful information, into a product that becomes part of the users everyday activity. It enables a positive exchange of value between the user and the app publisher, driving more usage. The desire for information might be one of the main reasons to initially engage with the app (an ‘entry point’), but thereafter we can give the product more than just the ability to deliver information and nothing else.
Let’s go back to our example; in the case of the train timetable app, once the user has found out the information they need they are typically likely to shut the app down and not open it again until they are next hopping on public transport. Naturally, this would be our standard user journey and usage pattern – perhaps once per week or a couple of times per month.
Gamification seeks to expand on the functionality of the app and the perceived benefit(s) to the user, to give them greater reason to open the app up outside of their typical usage pattern, and elevated satisfaction in doing so.
So how does this principle translate to other industries? The good news is that this concept can be applied to almost any product or service. Take Google Maps for example. ‘On paper’ it seems like a relatively ordinary informational product, but did you know that Google utilises a slew of gamification techniques to ensure that their maps are kept up to date and accurate? We’ll cover this in more detail later in the series…
How about Audible, one of the leading platforms for digital audiobooks. Did you know that they keep listeners engaged by rewarding them with digital badges for finishing books, listening for multiple days straight or listening when you probably should be asleep?
Or perhaps you have used Strava, the digital fitness app which keeps track of your personal exercise statistics and allows you to share and compare them with friends and professional athletes?
Ensuring Ethical Implementation
The topic of gamification is broad, supported by a plethora of techniques for use in specific applications. When used correctly, it has proven to be a highly effective tool. However, we should also keep in mind the ethics of using such a powerful means of driving usage and avoid targeting them towards driving unethical outcomes such as unhealthy usage of products.
An example of this can be seen in the use of gamification and similar strategies in “loot crates” – a recent phenomenon which has been likened to gambling seen in some video games. This practice has been quite rightly restricted recently. Remember, ethical gamification is a value exchange – it gives our users something of value every time they engage. Again, I suggest you check out Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked” as he goes into some detail about the ethics of similar techniques. When implementing gamification, we have to ensure that the balance of the value exchange remains positive for both parties and does not tip into obsessive usage and negative responses and experiences.
Gamification should always help to make digital products more enjoyable and more rewarding to use, reinforcing a positive sentiment towards products and the brand, giving the user a greater digital experience.
Applying Gamification To Your Digital Sports Product
Gamification can take many different forms and is determined heavily by the outcomes you want to achieve. It ultimately informs the features which one might look to include in a digital product.
Gamification in a sports context builds upon the passion and emotion of fans – give them something to be proud of or a goal to work towards. Perhaps a reward to be proud of and a way to share their achievement and enjoyment. It can also take the form of a unique experience that will trigger a “wow” moment.
Of course, whether you’re a sports team, league, federation, broadcaster or another entity, your business objectives will likely be at the top of your list of considerations when looking at digital product features. Introducing gamification allows us to take a simple business objective such as “Collect XX customer email addresses per month”, and turn it into a great feature which achieves it’s data capture objective more effectively than traditional means by making the process more engaging, and more enjoyable for the fan. Don’t just collect their details through a basic registration – make more of it, and reward the fan.
Gamification outside the digital space
Gamification is a way of thinking which can be adapted and applied to pretty much any context inside AND outside the digital space. Maybe you are a club looking to drive more ticket sales, or perhaps you’re a rights holder or broadcaster aiming to increase market share by targeting viewership of your articles and video content.
You will often see many secondary benefits of using gamification techniques too, such as increased traffic and engagement with other sections of your product through increasing usage generally. A user might be there to engage with the gamification features you’ve introduced, but whilst there might just engage with a video, news article or head through to the online ticket booth or merchandise store.
In turn, increased digital usage leads to the increased value of your digital assets, creating more attractive sponsorship opportunity and increased ROI whilst helping fans feel closer to the club with more regular, more rewarding engagements.
The Blog Series
So there’s your introduction to gamification! Throughout this series, I aim to show you the benefits that a good gamification strategy can have on meeting your business objectives, whilst giving fans a better experience.
We will be posting a new blog article every week; we’ll be looking in detail at some of the gamification techniques used across different industries with case studies across a range of different genres. We’ll also be taking a closer look at how the principles discussed can be applied to other digital products, particularly in the context of a digital sports product.
We’ll look at some specific case studies of apps and digital products which you may have interacted with, ranging from fitness and self-improvement apps such as Strava and Duolingo to eSports and video games like Call of Duty and Rocket League. You’ll see how gamification has been applied to these products and the behaviours they drive in their users.
By the end of this series, we hope that you’ll have much more of an understanding about what gamification is in practice, and realise that gamification is not just a buzzword, but an integral component in delivering great the fan experiences through successful digital products.
Next week we’ll be kicking off the series with an exploration into one of the biggest video game series around – Call of Duty. I’ll be explaining how the game retains users on the platform and encourages them to engage with specific features by setting personal objectives for the user to achieve.