Gamification:  Using Game Design to Engage Your Customers Online

Have you ever collected frequent flyer miles or joined a credit card rewards program?  Or perhaps played an online game like Farmville, where your progress is shown to your friends on your facebook news feed?

If you answered yes, then you have experienced gamification in action.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design techniques, such as the awarding of points, rewards or other incentives in non-game contexts, in order to change behaviour.  

There has been incredible growth since the term 'gamification' was coined in late 2010.  We are now seeing businesses integrating game mechanics in their websites in order to influence buying decisions, increase sales and user engagement, build customer loyalty and to share content.  Industry experts at Gartner predicts that “By 2015, 40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations."

In Australia, we can see several businesses using gamification in their websites for marketing purposes, customer engagement or to encourage sales, sign-ups or sharing of content.  Below are some examples:

Fitocracy - an online game and social network that help users improve reach their fitness goals and improve their health.  Users log their exercise activity and get points based on the fitness benefit of the activity.  Users then "level up" if they get the required points and fitness milestones are recognized with achievement badges.  Users can also follow other users to view or comment on their exercises so users can get support from others.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia have put together a game called Investorville wherein users can play property investment in a virtual world while using real world data and parameters.  It is very close to the real thing, but with no risk to your money.  If you are considering property development and investment, the game gives you great way to practise.

V Energy drink  have a game you can play on their website, tied-in with a popular new movie.  They also have promotions wherein users can win some great prizes. have created a quiz game wherein for each correct answer a user gets, they donate 10 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Programme to help feed the hungry around the world.  Through this game, not only are users improving their knowledge, but they also get to help feed millions of hungry people.

These are only some examples of how gamification is being used by businesses and non-profit organisations.  There are thousands of similar examples, each helping users achieve a particular goal such as improving fitness, losing weight, spending within budget, being more eco-friendly, designing a house, improving knowledge and vocabulary and many more.

Using Gamification on your website

Applying gamification techniques and methods to your website is a great way to encourage customers to visit and stay on your site.  It allows users to stay engaged with your customers, particularly if your games are integrated with your social media accounts (e.g. badges won or new levels achieved are shown in facebook new feed).

Gamification can also make existing tasks more interesting for your customers.  Including progress bars, animated logos or banners that play while your customers wait for a process to complete or awarding them with free points in loyalty programs can help you hold the attention of your customers while they wait for any task to finish.

If you've decided to integrate gamification on your website, we provide some key strategies below that can help ensure that it becomes an effective part of your web design and marketing strategy.

1. Identify your website objectives to align your gamification strategy

What are your website objectives?  Would you like to increase online sales or traffic to your website?  Are you looking for more people to sign-up to your website or perhaps more people to like and share your content?  Before you start getting yourself involved in gamification, set your goals and identify your KPIs first.  The design and use of gamification must be aligned to what you want to achieve with your website, otherwise you will not see your desired results.

2.  Design your games or gamified app to be "player-centric"

One of the reasons why gamification is effective is because it uses an individual's natural desire for competition, achievement, self-expression and status.  As such, your games must focus on your players and what they want to achieve.  A good example of this is Nike's gamified app Nike Run.  It motivates users by showing the distance, time and calories burned with each run so that users are able to monitor their progress.  They also give users the option to share the results of their run on their facebook page and get their friends to "cheer" for them.  What can you help your customers with?  What can they achieve when they visit your website?  Keep these in mind when designing your games. 

3.  Provide your players with meaningful incentives

Instead of giving the typical rewards players can get from games such as badges, points or higher levels, why not give them something they can actually use in the “real” world.  An example includes discount coupons if they refer a friend to your website or perhaps a free service if they reach a certain level in your game.  Virtual rewards can be effective, but a better approach  is to provide incentives that can be used in the "real" world.

4.  Make your games social

Integrate social media into your games such as having the function of allowing players to share their badges, points, levels and progress on their accounts such as facebook or twitter.  Not only does this play into an individual's desire for achievement and recognition, but it's also a great way for your website or your content to be shared widely across social media users.

5.  Measure your results

Make sure gamification is helping achieve the objectives you set at the start.  Have you made more sales, has traffic to your website increased or have you gained more followers?  It's possible that many users may be participating in your games but are not actually purchasing from your store or perhaps have not yet referred your website to others.  Collect data on your sales, website traffic or social media followings since you started integrating gamification on your website.  Measure your results to see if gamification has been effective as part of your web design and marketing.   

Some final words

When designed correctly, gamification in websites can prove to be successful in engaging customers and gaining their loyalty and participation.  However, if gamification is done thoughtlessly, it can seem random or even manipulative.  If gamification is something you would like to try, make sure your gaming platform is designed and integrated in your website appropriately, with your website objectives and customer needs in mind. 

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