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The Gamification of Experience

How many meetings have you sat in recently where the term “gamification” has come up? It’s often waved in front of an executive as either a magic elixir or a battle cry. Gamification, it is stated, is the answer to engaging customers.

I like the idea of gamification…in theory. In its simplest definition, it is creating an action and reward system for members of your community. Humans like games because we get some immediate gratification. The gamification of experience, however, leads to some odd “rewards” for those who play.Gamification

Some brands have succeeded because of the way they’ve leveraged this gaming trend. Dropbox, for example, has gamified the product adoption process of their users. Share with a friend, get a reward. Use Dropbox to share a file, get a reward. The reward is always the same, but it is valuable to their users. Dropbox is a cloud-based file system where users can share and find files from anywhere. It’s great, but the biggest challenge is running out of the space available. To reward customers, Dropbox provides more space. Users happily share their love of Dropbox with their networks, because doing so provides them something they really desire – more space to use.

Dropbox enjoys additional reach thanks to this game system. Users are rewarded for their usage, Dropbox gains new users who turn into customers, and everyone is happy. But it all comes back to this: Dropbox is providing something of value. Their experience and product are valuable enough to users to enjoy playing the game.

But what happens when brands start with their own goals in mind, instead of considering rewards which are actually meaningful to their community members?

“Rewarding” customers with a white paper or ebook they never requested is not a gift, it’s a nuisance. Offering a download they control is one way to actually see what is valuable to them. If they are not opting to download what you are offering, it is not a reward. Don’t treat it as such.

LinkedIn offers two examples of gamification of the experience. In one case, it’s great. In another, it’s just a game.

A while back, LinkedIn started highlighting how complete your profile was by using percentages. Humans like to get 100%, so showing a user his or her profile only at 80% was an impetus to complete the steps. It seemed to work and profiles all over LinkedIn became more robust.

But what about the game of LinkedIn endorsements? Endorsing others to earn a spot in your network’s feed is not enriching the experience. If the experience of being a member of LinkedIn degrades, as many are claiming, then no amount of gaming can help.

Gamification could be a fun way to engage users and help feel rewarded. It’s especially useful for those experiences that take time or require several steps towards adoption. But gamifying for gaming’s sake is just silly if the experience isn’t worth it. Consider what you’re delivering to customers first, then how to engage them from there.

Games and rewards don’t mean anything if your customers experience stinks. Customers won’t feel rewarded or engaged just by gamifying something that doesn’t matter.

Photo credit: Tama Leaver via Creative Commons

Join The Conversation

  • JeannieWalters's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago JeannieWalters

    I agree with you, Steve, and I'm never against ways to inject a little fun into the experience! Your comparison to social media strategy is apt, and I'd also bet some companies are assigning the gamification projects to the intern. ;-)

  • JeannieWalters's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago JeannieWalters

    Jesse, I love when humans and human nature are considered as part of the equation. Unfortunately, you're right to point out that rewards sometimes trump the discussion. Some frustration on my part comes from the "we should do this since everyone else is" discussions I'm hearing. Instead of looking at the customer experience as a whole, flaws and all, they believe gamification will be a magic elixir. I'll check out that article. Thanks!

  • JeannieWalters's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago JeannieWalters

    Khalid, it's a great point to stay focused on what you're actually trying to motivate. It's just like raising children - if you give rewards for every positive behavior you expect, they will quickly be motivated JUST for the rewards and not internalize the actual behavior. Great comment. Thanks!

  • Steve Lunceford's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago Steve Lunceford

    Jeannie, our research at Deloitte (The Engagement Economy) has shown that finding the right, meaningful, incentives for your stakeholders is of utmost importance when looking at how to implement game theory successfuly.  Otherwise, Gartner's prediction that 80% of gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives will come true.

    Just like social media strategy shouldn't just be "let's stand up a Twitter feed and a Facebook page," you are absolutely right that gamifying for gaming's sake is silly. But if approached thoughtfully, I do believe there's a lot of promise for organizations to engage their customers and employees more effectively.

  • May 7 Posted 4 years ago jesselahey

    Jeannie, I like your critical view of some of these tactics, but I think part of the problem is when business leaders focus on "creating an action and reward system for members of your community." I think a more helpful definition of gamification is "game-inspired tactics to engage people."

    Organizations who have done it well do start with their own business objectives, but then they design it with a human focus -- making sure the people who participate will find instrinsic value in the experience, as opposed to merely attempting to attract them with extrinsic rewards like those you mention.

    Here is a link to an article I recently read with examples of 10 organizations who have used gamification with significant results. It appears that their approach was game-inspired, not rewards-inspired.

  • khalidraza9's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago khalidraza9

    In addition to the brilliant examples you mentioned out of which I really love the 100% chase on LinkedIn, these days Gamification is being used internally by organizations to motivate employees as a tool for employee engagement. In IBM we use love to JAM and there we utilized many facets of Gamification.

    But we must be vary of overdoing it to eventually divert the attention from the 'real' motive. Sometimes I get to see this concept especially when organizations push their employees to be social. They attach incentives on social tools usage and then comes the big bad ClonedSocial ( )

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