Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

Gamification gets popular, but it’s still finding its feet

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By | Dean Takahashi

Gamification, or using game mechanics in non-game applications, is the new black.

It has become fashionable as game designers turn their talents from creating fun games to creating fun web sites and other cool experiences for major brands.

But it’s definitely not a new idea, said Gabe Zichermann (right), organizer of the first-ever Gamification Summit, which took place yesterday in San Francisco. He said that many of the ideas about loyalty and reward programs have been repackaged in a better form with the latest craze around the topic. But many of those ideas have met with varying success over the past decades.

Certainly, gamification has buzz. The summit sold out and drew more than 400 people. The Game Developers Conference in late-February and early March will also have a “serious games summit” that will be devoted in part to gamification. Experts are trying to figure out how to use game techniques to deal with problems such as obesity.

Zichermann said that some loyalty programs go back as far as the 19th century. They got more modern in the 1930s with the creation of Green Stamps. Frequent flyer award programs became the rage at airlines in the 1980s, and the new achievement and virtual reward programs have been generating a lot of buzz in the past couple of years thanks to Foursquare, which gives badges to people who check in at locations on their mobile devices.

One difference is that older loyalty programs were blunt instruments. They started with “buy this now” and then you can get rewards. Now brands offer users various ways to get familiar with their content. At some point, users will make a purchase. But they may do it well after they engage, share, or discover the brand.

Engagement is the new way to measure the benefits of gamification, rather than outdated metrics such as page views. Zichermann says that the metrics that matter with engagement are timeliness, frequency of return, duration of visits, virality, and user ratings. For some brands, some of those metrics are more important than others.

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