If you read something about gamification it is very likely that you have come across this definition:
Gamification is the use of elements and mechanics that belog to gameplay applied to contexts and situations that are not based on the game.
The good thing about that definition is that it is technically correct. The problem is that it is so basic that it is practically useless, because it does not describe the real differentiator of gamification, that is, the ability to change behaviors.
The different strategies aimed at adding points and obtaining badges have many years, in some cases they were effective, in others, a failure. The question is: why do some work and others don’t? What companies need from a gamification strategy is help to change people’s behavior in the sense of their business objectives.
Step one: understand your customer
To achieve changes in the behavior, the first thing is to understand that the dynamics of gamification is not for you or your company but for your employees and your customers. And to achieve an attitudinal change in them you must consider how and why they interact:
Where do they interact with your company in the digital world?
Why do they participate?
What are they looking for?
Broadly speaking, with a gamification strategy you can do two things:
A) Adapt to the way your customers already interact and offer additional value
B) Make it easy and rewarding to interact with your company in a new way
Let’s look at the different possible approaches with a graphic example. Imagine that you work for a fast-food place and that your customers use the web to get recipe ideas. Your company decides to include a new game on the site that uses gamification to motivate customers to buy one of the lunch menus instead of eating at a restaurant or even cooking at home. They decide to give customer points every time they buy a menu. The idea is that by adding points, people get different badges that can be shared on social networks, as long as they meet certain goals.
The game is launched, but despite your best efforts, nobody uses it. Why did it go wrong?
1) You did not offer your customers additional value to participate in the campaign.
Why would people worry about earning points that have no real-world value?
2) The campaign does not really change the behavior of your customers.
Nothing about collecting points and earning badges makes consumers want to bring their lunch instead of eating out.
Now imagine that instead of earning points, customers have to keep a cute digital character alive by “feeding him”. If they don’t carry their menu, the character gets sick of «unhealthy foods» and eventually dies. Something like a Tamagotchi.
This game sends push notifications to remind customers to feed their pet. And if the character stays healthy for five days, levels up and sign up for a big raffle. Sounds more fun right?
Why does the Tamagotchi work?
Because this second campaign appeals both to an external motivation (the grand prize raffle) and an internal motivation (to keep the character alive).
As human beings, we feel more influenced by the idea of losing something we already have, than by winning something new and unknown. That is why the potential loss of the character is a better motivator than earning points or a badge.
One thing is to send a reminder that says «Hey, don’t forget to bring your lunch so you don’t lose points.» That is easy to ignore, there are no great reasons to respond.
On the other hand, a message like «hey, your character is hungry, if you don’t feed him soon he will get sick» is harder to ignore, because it appeals to people’s instinct towards loss aversion. It certainly makes them more likely to respond.