Games Without Frontiers

After seeing Gabe Zicherman at Meshmarketing 2010 and after watching several talks from TEDster Jesse Schell, I’m starting to drink the gameified kool-aid. I’m fully convinced that the “game” is the best metaphor for marketing.

This is a good thing. The old metaphor for marketers was military and the jargon in many a brand planning meeting would be riddled with military terms like “targeting”, “positioning”, and “mindshare”. The social media era had marketers turning to a new metaphor, two-way conversations and the jargon shifted to participatory language such as “engagement”, “shareable content”, “crowdsourcing”. The problem with the former was that it treated consumers as trophies of conquest. The latter metaphor often got so engrossed in solipsistic banter that it forgets about the business goals. Perhaps a new metaphor might be more approrpiate for the current times. The Game.

Gamification refers to a broader system of challenge and reward, it’s not all badges and points. It’s the process of using game thinking and dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems, The best games tap into key drives and motivations that govern human behaviour. Marketers as well can tap into these drives in order to influence consumer sentiment and behaviour.

Take the Costco shopping experience. A quarter of its products change regularly. One day it’s a designer sweater is for a really good price; another day it’s an LCD TV. It’s not just a big box store…it’s a “treasure hunt”.

Now look at Groupon. It’s not just coupons. You can’t just buy a coupon. Other people have to buy a coupon as well. You have to gather allies to get the prize and there’s a new prize every day.

FourSquare. It’s game potential is just starting to be tapped. Right now it’s points, badges, and mayorships with a few retail promotions thrown in. In other words, status, bragging rights, and prizing. But the company is just starting to really tap into the competitive and co-operative spirit involved in game play.
That’s right, competitive and co-operative. A study performed by Richard Bartle, a professor and game designer, identified four kinds of game players: Achievers, who seek success and prestige; Explorers, who look for new and unknown things; Socializers, who want interaction; and Killers, who thrive on competing against, and defeating, other players. A skillfully designed game directs the energies of different players towards the same, or mutually supportive, outcomes.

The applications of game dynamics are at their infancy and I’m excited to see where they lead down the road. I leave you with a thought from Gabe Zicherman: Were he born today, William Shakespeare might remark that all the world’s a game, and all the men and women merely players.
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