Three Gamification Lessons From Engage Digital

At the Engage Digital conference this week, we heard about everything from game design at Zynga to social media usage at McDonald's. Here are three lessons I picked up.

  1. Allow customization, but not too much customization.

    Forget using a photo as your profile pic. In our online world, we create our own reality, pixel by pixel. Don't believe me? Look no further than the 40 million avatars we've collectively generated at WeeWorld, where they've struck a compelling balance between standardization and personalization. The avatars are all the same height, the same width, and the same body shape -- but they're all completely different, thanks to about a dozen user-controlled variables.

    In "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell addresses the paradox of choice: how people love to choose from three options but become paralyzed at 23 options. In the case of the WeeWorld avatars, as with most online games, there are literally millions of choices, but broken down as they are into the manageable chunks of eye color, hairstyle, and clothing choices, we find it easy to get our heads around it.

    Remember, it only takes cyan, magenta, yellow and black to produce nearly infinite color combinations; you don't have to customize thousands of features to provide true personal expression.

  2. Emulate reality, but not too much reality.

    Somewhere, even if only in the mind of the Infinite Is, there lies a continuum. On one end sits reality. On the other is imagination, storytelling, games. And perched along its length, like birds on a telephone line, are people: billions of people, some sitting a bit closer to this end and others closer to that one.

    Technology is bringing those ends closer together, merging what we understand of reality with what we know to be fiction. One of the games I saw at the show was the Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary augmented reality iPhone app. It shows you where the hellholes are in your neighborhood and how to create sanctuaries. One of the trippiest things about it, though, is the feature that lets you see ghosts in camera view. We had a look around the room and spotted a headless wanderer and someone hanging from the ceiling.

    If you're worried about demonic activity in your area, you need to download this thing, but if you freaked out when Orson Welles read "War of the Worlds" on the radio, avoid it at all costs.V

  3. Remember to keep it fun.

    "Being early is the same as being wrong." That's what Rajat Paharia, the founder of Bunchball, told me, relieved that businesses are finally accepting the power of gamification. His relief is understandable given that his company supplies a set of APIs to allow a gamification layer --- high scores, leaderboards, points, badges, the works -- to just about any website or loyalty program.

    Gamification, says Rajat, can move people from an artificial loyalty to something more reliable. Artificial loyalty, also known as "spurious" loyalty, is the "Buy 10 get one free" kind, the kind that only brings people back for the freebie or the deal rather than out of any particular affection for your organization. When interaction with your brand becomes a game, however, the continuous endorphins trigger happier connections, causing customers to want to connect more and more.

    Got any good lessons to add to these? Leave a comment, or send it to me on Twitter. Looking forward to learning from you.

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