Where Is Gamification Going? Some ‘New Rules’; Or, Stated Another Way….


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…just how jaded and seeking for social interaction have customers become, in their relationships with vendors and their loyalty and engagement programs, that experiences need to always be fun and inclusive? Several years ago, one executive of a game design firm defined gamification as “a loyalty program on steroids, functional software that looks and plays like a game and a real world activity with feedback and challenges.” This gave gaming something of a Philosopher’s Stone, or magic wand, aura. However, like the hype around big data, enthusiasm for gamification has somewhat plateaued, and has needed to be rethought, especially regarding how it can drive more brand bonding and positive financial results.

It’s true that in some sectors, such as online retail, convenience and speed has seemed to overtake more social elements of loyalty and loyalty programs – games, comments, reviews, and product sharing. Consumers seem to be increasingly aware of the benefits, in both purchases and information, that they are providing to vendors, and they are putting more and more pressure on these companies, in both loyalty programs and the act of shopping and the purchase transaction itself, to provide more personal value. In studies of loyalty program participation, high percentages of customers have said they would spend more with vendors that offer points for activities other than making purchases. They are looking for better experiences across channels, as well as reasons to spend; and gamification, though it doesn’t always involve actual games, does reach out with methods to socially involve consumers.

Some retailers have turned to devices such as curation, where groupings of products or services can be offered, thus saving consumers both time and money. Consumers, as well, can participate in gaming as curators, by developing sets or bundles of goods, sharing their ideas and tastes with friends, such as is done on social sites like Pinterest.

For example, a lifestyle and weight management service company might work curation into their engagement program by having members compete by creating perfect combinations of healthy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or special events like parties. In addition to the competitive aspect, this has the added benefit of self-improvement, helping the consumer achieve his or her personal goals. And, as is often done in traditional loyalty programs, points can be awarded for the most original, interesting, trendy combination of foods.

This example is consistent with some overall gamification trends. While there is still evidence of competition among consumer peer groups in programs and games, it is giving way to the desire for personal improvement, such as healtier lifestyles and related activities. This trend works well for building more strategic, bonded relationships with customers. It enables companies to more effectively communicate with customers, socially engage with them, and generate additional insight on their evolving needs and wants. Studies have shown that gamification can lead to a 100% to 150% increase in engagement, as measured by such as involvements as online community activities.

Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann, recently offered several tips, or ‘new rules’, for more effective application:

– Help people learn new skills or develop capabilities
– Overcome short attention spans by enabling consumers to quickly move from stage to stage in games
– Offer opportunities for sharing, such as informal communication about a preferred product or service
– Combine both offline and online experiences, where virtual and in-person activities can be worked into gaming
– Make progress and proficiency, rather than winning, the goal
– Longer-form games, though they may require more practice and skill, may generate greater loyalty for some brands

His full descriptions can be seen in this blog: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6151-gamifying-best-practices.html

The intent, as in most of gamification, is to stimulate and involve the customer. And, at the same time, the vendor develops valuable data and insights about customer interests, setting the stage for future product development, targeted communication, and service decisions. Leveraged well, gamification in engagement and loyalty programs can dramatically enhance the level of customer-vendor bonding behavior.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. I am a fan of gamification but this article does not resonate with me on several fronts. Seems more ivory tower thinking:

    * Consumers do not want contrived marketing promotions they want value
    * Points suck, they a contrived way to set up churn barriers and control spending, such disingenuous efforts undermine brand integrity
    * Customers do not want to ‘Get social” with a brand, they do want to interact with people that share their interests and value

    Let’s stop lying to ourselves and get some integrity here

  2. Most of these programs are not awarding points, per se. Nor are the effective ones just offering another avenue for social interaction. They are providing participants with an opportunity to build personal engagement, and thus perceived brand value. And, where it is in the program’s and the customer’s best interest, they are offering a parallel opportunity to connect with customers who have similar lifestyle interests. Seems pretty practical, as well as pragmatic.


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