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Playing your digital cards right

Corporate strategists are using gamification techniques to create stronger ties to customers and employees.


While corporate leaders who came of age before the digital revolution may consider online gaming as frivolous, companies like Volkswagen and Nike have realized significant results by applying gaming principles and tactics to business initiatives.

A new and increasing share of the population that grew up with the Internet and social media regards gaming as integral to their lives. To capture the attention and loyalty of this emerging generation—not to mention expanding cohorts of trend-aware Generation X and Baby Boomers—it will be all the more important for corporate strategists to include “gamification” as an element in their business arsenals.

Far-sighted companies are now starting to learn how to identify and implement gamification techniques to create stronger ties to customers, employees and other vital communities of interest.


The popularity of digital games is vast and growing. By 2015, according to Gartner Inc., spending in the gaming and gaming-related markets is projected to reach $112 billion.

The size and breadth of these markets suggests the great appeal that gaming, in its broadest sense, has across all social strata—and in arenas seemingly antithetical to something once considered only “recreational.” For instance, companies that are far removed from the mainstream gaming sector are beginning to use the power of game mechanics in such diverse areas as recruitment, learning and career development, marketing and health and wellness.

A key reason driving the huge potential of applying game mechanics to demand generation and branding comes from the convergence of two important ongoing trends: the emergence of Generation Y (Gen Y) and the decline in effectiveness of traditional media marketing. Gamification affords a way to exploit these two trends by powering marketing initiatives with sufficiently alluring content and compelling interactivity to distinguish them from the “digital noise” for a tech-savvy audience.


There are seven key characteristics that make gaming so addictive, hence gamification so compelling in today’s business environment.

  1. Status
    The significance of acclaim and accomplishment, denoted by symbols of success (badges, tokens, coins) that are acknowledged and respected within the social community, constitute powerful motivators.

  2. Metrics of success
    As any gamer knows, levels are everything. Enabling the player to perceive progress toward an ultimate goal through incremental accomplishments is vital to sustaining interest and participation. In the gaming universe, big rewards are at the end of the trail, but milestones of self-fulfilling achievement mark the journey there.

  3. Competition
    Pitting an individual against others, or groups against groups, in a competitive context (a race to a goal or finish line) is a major motivational factor in maintaining engagement.

  4. Statistics, rankings, leaderboards
    Visual displays let players track performance both against their goals and relative to others. Leaderboards can be broken down into various categories (by “global,” “friends” or “industry,” for example).

  1. Social connectedness
    Gaming establishes a link that facilitates and encourages engagement with others. Users are typically introduced to a game through a friend’s easily shared recommendation or notice in a social network. Under ideal circumstances, enough “Likes” accumulate to unleash a tidal wave of interest. A prime requirement in the structural anatomy of games is that they be easily adaptable to different media (Internet, smartphones, tablets, etc.).

  2. Immersion reality
    There is huge appeal in games’ visual stimulation, their highly detailed graphics, their smooth, paced animation and their ability to make players feel completely immersed in their virtual reality.

  3. Personalization and self-expression
    Choices give players a sense of power and make them feel engaged. Customization of self-representation (for example, personal avatars) promotes a sense of ownership in the game and is an alluring element.


Gamification involves many moving parts and should be reserved for only significant initiatives, such as to address tough problems that are not easily solved with traditional approaches. It works best where the ultimate payoff is commensurate with the effort (and resources) directed to creating the “experience” involving a significant audience.

There are several steps to take toward successful gamification efforts:

  • Start with the tough problems. When one is urgently trying to “think outside the box,” gamification is a fruitful place to turn. Be particularly alert to situations requiring regular reappraisals of supposedly tried-and-true approaches.

  • Seek out the friendly faces. Apply gamification where there is demand and where it will be the most effective. For example, look at markets or employee groups where Gen Y is most prominent, and use gamification in channels where it is most expected, such as smartphones, tablets and social networking.

  • Think “user experience.” Design gamification products and services with the end customer in mind. The right approach is to work with modular, replicable and scalable designs—keep it simple.

  • Walk before running. Gamification does not require companies and brands to come up with a new product or to revamp their business model. Companies can start small—implementing reward points per purchase, for instance—and then expanding game mechanics such as reward tiers.

  • Tap Gen Y talents. It is nearly invaluable to tap into the organization’s Gen Y personnel at formative stages in the conception, development and testing of a gamification initiative. These people instinctively “get” the power that gamification can exert in shaping behavior and attitudes.

  • Collaborate and outsource. Gamification as a business application is cutting-edge, so there are limited sources of reliable knowledge. Forge closer ties with a broader pool of knowledge such as digital marketing agencies and specialty providers that offer turnkey gamification platforms.