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December 27 2011

How 9 Retailers Successfully Leveraged Game Mechanics

Macala Wright is the publisher of FashionablyMarketing.Me, one of the leading fashion and retail industry business websites. She is a retail consultant and business strategist who specializes in marketing consulting for fashion, luxury and lifestyle brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @InsideFMM or @Macala.

Social games have begun to influence consumer behavior and purchases. According to Saatchi & Saatchi, 66% of tablet owners play social games daily, and 46% of tablet gamers are women. In fact, the largest group of social gamers is women between the ages of 35 and 44, the second largest is women between 18 and 34. Men make up the third largest group.

Marketing to these demographics in today’s economy is a top priority for retailers. And ramification offers companies a chance to engage young audiences and start to build consumer-purchasing habits that aren’t entirely based on continual discounts and free stuff.

In 2008, DKNY was one of the first retailers to experiment with social games by partnering with digital paper doll game Stardoll. In 2010, PopSugar created a more grown up version of Stardoll with their release of Retail Therapy. The online game made a strong debut, featuring popular brands such as Banana Republic, Barney’s New York, Diane von Furstenberg, Gap, Juicy Couture, Topshop and Tory Burch. Retail Therapy’s release showed that social games weren’t just for tweens and teens anymore.

Now, three year later, games are growing up. Brands and retailers alike have begun to experiment with different forms of online games. Here are nine examples of companies that successfully leveraged game mechanics in consumer marketing.

1. Nike’s “Winter’s Angry” Perseverance Campaign

Ending 2011 with a bang, Nike launched an interactive campaign to promote its winter wear. Players assist the athlete in “beating the cold” through a series of actions. For example, players can test their reflexes to win prizes for completing certain actions. The games feature world champion wideout Greg Jennings, U.S. women’s soccer player Alex Morgan and Olympic gold medalist sprinter Allyson Felix. The highest scores achieved between Dec. 9-15 were eligible to win a trip for two to meet a world-class Nike athlete.

2. Norma Kamali’s 3D Movie

Earlier this year, fashion designer turned futurist Norma Kamali launched Norma Kamali 3D, a site that features her first 3D movie and ecommerce shopping experience. But you may not have noticed that there was actually a game within the movie. Kamali asked viewers to find six objects within the experience.

The first week of the site’s launch, over 20,000 Facebook fans requested a free pair of custom 3D viewing glasses with the designer’s signature cat-eye frames. “I am hoping that people see 3D not just as a source of entertainment, but as a shopping utility,” Kamali told FMM in an interview earlier this year. “In the future, we will be able to view, shop and play with fashion in 3D.”

3. ALDO’s Instagram Mood boards

To promote the launch of its fragrance collection, ALDO worked with Dynamo and ALLDAYEVERYDAY to create a Facebook game. Players chose from a series of Instagram photos that, once selected, were compiled into a mood board that they could post to their Facebook Timelines.

What makes this such a truly amazing campaign is that no retailer or brand had yet combined Instagram and Facebook in this manner. In an interview, marketing director Vyara Ndejuru shared that the brand wanted to create a “visual experience for their customers” that would entice them to visit the new A is for ALDO microsite. “ALDO customers are accustomed to immersive experiences; Instagram and Flickr are huge drivers for them,” she added.

In order to launch this campaign and build awareness amongst their fans and customers, ALDO promoted on its homepage with calls to action built into the microsite once the customers clicked through. They the company followed up by emailing its customer base in French and English and by engaging via Facebook.

4. Bonobos Incorporates Gamification in Ecommerce

This year the online closet solution for men, Bonobos, incorporated gamification into three of its social media campaigns. In its Easter Egg / NotCot collaboration and Twitter #secretcode campaign, the retailer hid images of models dressed in Bonobos signature pants around NOTCOT.org and NotCouture. Site visitors had to search the site to find and click the images. The first 50 people to find the pants everyday received a $25 Bonobos credit plus free shipping. As a bonus, social audience members who clicked the little guy in paisley pants received a special code for $100 off their purchase.

Bonobos is applying social engagement and gamification to engage a male customer base. “There is a new breed of male shopper online,” says David Fudge, head of Bonobos social media, “While they may want to look great, they don’t necessarily want to talk about fashion. They want to know how it’s going to look in real life.”  Fudge says that when it comes to marketing to male consumers through games, marketers must “speak to their customers and audience like their one of your personal Facebook friends.”

Richard Mumby, vice president of marketing, added, “The key to making gaming work within our ecommerce experience is focusing on making it social, not making it commercial (in terms of focusing solely focusing on sales). Your fans and follows are looking to interact with you, not to passively take in your content,” he advises. “Provide engaging posts and tweets that solicit a response. Allowing them to take action and become involved in something is the key to a very loyal and evangelical customer base.”

5. Gilt Groupe Built VIP Program On Social Rewards

In his book, Gamification By Design, author Gabe Zichermanm references Gilt Groupe, specifically how the flash sale retailer awards its top consumers with exclusive access to the site. Gilt launched Gilt Noir, a loyalty program for the top 1% of its online shoppers. The members received a scented candle and a member’s card as well as the ability to shop 15 minutes before any sale begins.

Instead of offering discounts, Gilt offered access. And in retail, we know that access and exclusivity go a long way with our consumers. Once they get it, they want to maintain it.

6. BlueFly and Badgeville

Earlier this year, BlueFly partnered with Badgeville to enhance Bluefly customers’ online shopping experiences and to encourage customer interaction via badges and leaderboards. Shoppers were rewarded based on the actions they took on the site, such as watching videos, creating wish lists, writing reviews and reading blog posts. As players earned higher badges, they earned early access to products and special deals and discounts, among other rewards.

7. Valentino’s 3D Museum

In Decermber luxury fashion house Valentino launched a virtual 3D museum, a downloadable desktop application for Macs and PCs. Viewers navigated through various galleries, clicking over 300 virtual dresses and pulling up original sketches, advertising campaigns, 5,000 archival images and nearly 95 fashion show videos. The virtual museum had over 10,000 downloads its first day. While the digital event lacked a fluid experience for viewers, it accomplished Valentino’s goal of continuing his legacy.

8. Best Buy and CityVille

Zynga says more than 230 million active users plays its games. And more than 71 million Facebook users play CityVille.

This year, Best Buy became the first virtual branded retail store in CityVille. In the game, players build houses and roads to create a city, seeking to collect points they can use to unlock new game features. Players can place other businesses in their games, but they have generic names, like “bakery” or “toy store.” Players who chose to add a Best Buy to their virtual worlds signified they wanted the brand present in their lives.

9. HSN Arcade Entices Fans To Stay Onsite Longer

Similar to BlueFly’s goals, online and television retailer HSN launched the HSN Arcade to encourage customers to spend more time on HSN.com. When it launched, the HSN Arcade featured 25 video games that consumers could play for free while watching a live stream of HSN’s television channel. The games enabled consumers to post their scores to Facebook streams as well. HSN’s integration of shopping, social networking and gaming are largely driven by the retailer’s focus on engaging female consumers online.

Making the Case for Gamification and Retail

As technologically savvy, social consumers, we solicit fashion advice via mobile apps like Pose and Fashism. We post images of things we want to buy to our Facebook page and let friends say yeah or nay. So when it comes to gaming, the next logical step is to add some retail fun.

Basil Farano, co-creator of Stylmee, the first 3D fashion app for iPad, believes that retailers must try to make the experience as “real” as possible for players. “In Stylmee, the gaming experience is built around challenging our member’s knowledge and taste in fashion as they try to build a fashion boutique and empire,” Farano says. “We use the same problems that real boutique owners would face to challenge our member’s ‘fashion-ability.’ It is a very realistic experience, which is what we believe the social gaming community is hungry for.”

When brands and retailers reward players based on the success of the their actions within a game, “retailers can increase their perceived value to the player, aka shopper, through rewards that don’t tarnish their brand image,” adds Farano.

By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods, marketing and retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, says a recent Gartner report. It seems that social gaming, like social media, will become critical for nurturing customer relationships through play. Do you agree?

More About: contributor, features, game mechanics, gamification, Marketing, Social Media

July 15 2011

5 Best Practices for Applying Game Mechanics to Your Website

Craig Ferrara is a senior gaming & UI expert at Gigya, where he designs the integrations of Gigya’s technology into clients’ websites. Gigya makes sites social by integrating a suite of plugins like Social Login, Comments, Activity Feeds, Social Analytics and now Game Mechanics into websites.

Conversations about game mechanics — the rules that govern how enjoyable a game is — are changing. Formerly a topic mostly discussed by game designers and gamer geeks like myself, gamification is now part of the business discussion as marketers look to apply it to websites.

One concept that has remained constant, regardless of who is having the conversation, is to identify ways to keep players engaged and games fun. This applies to your site as you encourage social user participation via gamification tactics. Let’s break websites down by their common social tools, and target ways to effectively gamify them.

1. User Generated Content

Increase content generated by users on your site. By incentivizing content creation, the user becomes more engaged, thereby making your site richer and more dynamic, as well as improving its SEO. Content is mostly submitted through simple vehicles like comments, ratings or reviews. These are basic ways to get feedback from users based on the content you produce and present.

For example, reward top commenters, but also look for alternative ways to reward commenting on pages. Perhaps allow “weighted commentary” — that is, permit users to sort comments based on each commenter’s respective “rank,” with the most highly ranked users’ comments appearing at the top of the feed. While this kind of reward falls outside the scope of badges and points, it gives the most active users something just as desirable: clout.

2. Sharing

Aside from being both repetitive and easy, sharing can prove incredibly useful in syndicating your content. With gamification elements, users feel even more compelled to syndicate your content. While sharing naturally lends itself to gamification, content publishers should be aware of one potential pitfall: rewarding the user simply for sharing is in violation of many of the major social networks’ terms of services. Social networks prohibit immediate incentives for clicking the share button in order to prevent users from spamming their feeds with random content to earn points.

One way to work within this system is to have users work toward a larger overall goal or ranking as a result of sharing. Instead of prodding your visitors to “click to share and earn ten points,” sharing can be a means to bring users toward an achievement. Doing so gives visitors the idea that sharing has value, but does not drive toward mindless clicking. Instead, they’ll share what actually matters to them instead of just spamming their networks.

3. Feedback

The Facebook “Like,” Google’s new “+1” and other reaction buttons serve as both content contribution and sharing tools. They allow users to express an opinion with just one click. Furthermore, you can incorporate gamification by rewarding users for “liking” content on your site — prioritize the opinions and feed activity of highly ranked users. For example, when a website’s activity feed displays popular articles and top user reactions, a visitor will likely feel more compelled to click. Think in terms of Roger Ebert giving “a thumbs up” to a movie versus relying on someone less influential.

The benefits of showing ranked reactions in the activity feed are two-fold here — not only will the user expose content to others on the site, but they will also showcase their rank, thus encouraging others to achieve the same status.

4. Social Login

Social login brings an invaluable layer into the game: a user’s social graph. A basic principal in game mechanics states that users are more inclined to participate if they have some real world benefit behind the rewards. This can be as simple as increased reputation within a community. Once a user logs in via social APIs such as Facebook Connect or Twitter, she can then compare herself with gaming friends as well as social network friends, all in one space.

Now your visitor knows some people in the site community — but they’re still new to the game. How can we encourage participation? Maybe award them small amounts of points just for clicking around, or more points for remaining on a page and consuming content. Therefore, a user who may have no initial interest in earning badges will still be able to advance in the rankings given their increase in participation points. As soon as they recognize the value in earning points (perhaps their comment appears higher in the activity feed), they’ll get hooked and consciously participate. Keeping users involved in the game without any effort on their behalf is a great strategy for converting them into active gamers.

5. Keeping Score

Any good game mechanics implementation goes out of its way to educate users on achieving and advancing within a system. For instance, offer instructions alongside every badge, and show an indicator of their progress within that achievement. At the same time, you don’t want to bombard site visitors with constant, blazing reminders. Instead, consider using simple JavaScript notifications that don’t monopolize valuable site real estate.

Of course what good are all these badges and points if you can’t show them off? By integrating game mechanics into activity feeds and leaderboards, you allow your users to do just that — all while putting a human face to the game. Activity feeds not only allow users to find their friends within their social graph, but also to view their friends’ badges. In turn, those participating in the game learn how to unlock badges for themselves. Any good game mechanics implementation should go out of its way to inform the user about how to level-up.

Follow these pointers to connect your site’s social elements with game mechanics that allow you to reach both your passive and enthusiastic “gamers.” Keep in mind that tying rewards to your existing social elements is just as important as the rewards themselves. Just as with social games like FarmVille or World of Warcraft, participants should feel as if they’re part of a community through which they can proudly syndicate their achievements.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, yurok

More About: business, game mechanics, gamification, incentives, social media, web

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July 06 2011

7 Winning Examples of Game Mechanics in Action

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the books Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, now available) and Funware in Action (Manning, Q3/2010). He is also the CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME and frequently muses about games and the world at funwareblog.com.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification’s impact can already be felt.

While some have criticized the concept of gamification as shallow or demeaning, the initial findings from gamification specialists are nothing short of astonishing. Regardless of your business model, the following seven gamified innovations should inspire you to strategize via game analysis.

1. Make a Market: Foursquare

The first incarnation of the location-based networking field was littered with carnage, leading many to write off the entire concept. But Foursquare’s founders, veterans of the now defunct Dodgeball, succeeded with an ace in the hole: game mechanics. Exposed to the concept while working at Area/Code (Zynga’s recently acquired New York City-based game design shop), Dennis and Naveen concluded that mobile social networking would work if you were to change the dynamic from multiplayer to single player.

Instead of depending on the action of the crowd to provide intrinsic reinforcement (e.g. “Hey, you’re around the corner. Let’s grab a beer!”), Foursquare overcame the empty bar problem by becoming a single-player game. The user competes for badges and mayorships whether or not anyone is there to meet him. In the process, Foursquare proved that location-based networking wasn’t doomed to fail, that simple game mechanics can affect behavior, and that you can engage 10 million customers — all while raising $50 million.

2. Get Fit: NextJump

When you listen to NextJump CEO Charlie Kim describe his zeal for physical fitness, you immediately understand the energy that has propelled this interactive marketing platform into one of the nation’s fastest growing businesses. But keeping fit isn’t just Kim’s personal goal — he told me it’s also a practice he believes his employees should value as a tool for improving their lives, reducing company insurance costs and preventing employee absenteeism. To achieve those goals, NextJump installed gyms in its offices, and built a custom application that enabled employees to check in to each workout. Ultimately, they rewarded the top performers with a cash prize. After implementation, around 12% of the company’s staff began a regular workout regimen.

But Kim wasn’t satisfied. By leveraging the power of gamification, he retooled the fitness “game” to become a team sport. Now NextJump employees could form regionally based teams, check in to workouts and see their team performance on a leaderboard. Leveraging the game themes of tribalism and competition had an astonishing effect on behavior. Today, 70% of NextJump employees exercise regularly — enough to save the company millions in work attendance and insurance costs over the medium term — all the while making the workplace healthier and happier.

3. Slow Down and Smell the Money: Kevin Richardson

In many countries, speed cameras snare thousands of drivers each year — a quick shutter flash earns a miserable ticket in the mailbox. In some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, ticket amounts correspond with the driver’s salary, rather than his speed. But Kevin Richardson, game designer at MTV’s San Francisco office, re-imagined the experience using game thinking.

His innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.

When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

4. Generate Ad Revenues: Psych & NBC/Universal.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but these days, creating value for TV advertisers means connecting to the web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified.

The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by over 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

Other content publishers, like Playboy, have seen similar results. Their Miss Social Facebook app has achieved an 85% re-engagement rate and 60% monthly revenue growth with gamification.

5. Make Research & Evangelism Count: Crowdtap

Getting product feedback is a costly and challenging effort. Therefore, most marketers have come to loathe ineffective surveys and expensive focus groups. Enter Crowdtap, the hot New York City startup launched earlier this year that reached $1 million in revenue and 100,000 users in just over 90 days. The company offers consumers gamified rewards to complete research tasks and to share brand advocacy with others — something mere market research simply cannot do.

Through the use of gamified, virtual rewards, the company has been able to raise average user participation by 2.5 times, thus reducing research costs by 80% or more for key clients. By targeting consumer rewards along a motivational (not demographic) axis, CEO Brandon Evans reports that competition-oriented users are four times more likely to create quality comments and 12 times more likely to refer others to the platform. Instead of competing against the system, they challenge themselves and peers to excel — an extraordinary achievement by any measure.

6. Save the Planet: RecycleBank

Modern life is wasteful, and easy fixes are rare. By tapping into people’s desire for reward and competition through gamified experiences, governments, utilities and entrepreneurial powerhouses are rewriting the rules of sustainability — and making the world a better place.

In a Medford, MA pilot program, households competed in an energy smackdown in which the winning family managed to lower its carbon footprint by 63%. In a program called Putnam RISE, Indiana families are making thousands of pledges to reduce power usage through a competition. The schools whose families conserve the most energy receive a cash prize. And across the country, incentives experts at Recyclebank are using the power of gamification to radically improve home environmental compliance. So far, they’ve utilized game mechanics such as points, challenges and rewards to drive breakthroughs. For example, the project has seen a 16% increase in recycling in Philadelphia, where the recycling rate has broken 20% for the first time in history.

7. Make Teaching Fun: Ananth Pai

As former globetrotting business executive turned elementary school teacher, Ananth Pai has seen it all. But when he inherited his class in White Bear Lake, MN, Pai realized there had to be a better, more engaging way to teach. So he grouped students by learning style, and retooled the curriculum to make use of off-the-shelf games (both edutainment and entertainment) to teach reading, math and other subjects. Students play on Nintendo DS and PCs, both single and multiplayer, for example. Their overall point scores are tabulated and shared using leaderboards.

In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went from below third grade average reading and math levels to mid-fourth grade. The classroom success is supported by video interviews with his kids, who say “Learning with Mr. Pai is fun and social.”

In addition to these seven great tips, dozens more success stories pour in each week, underscoring the tremendous investment of time and money into gamification. Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.

Gamification spans the gamut — from the hundreds of startups that launch with game mechanics incorporated into their products, to the big brands that make gamification a hallmark strategy. Regardless, the message is the same: the future will be more connected, more social and more fun than ever before.

More About: competition, foursquare, game mechanics, games, gamification, incentives, social media

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June 15 2011

Could Game Mechanics Turn Work Into Play? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Somewhere between FarmVille and Office Space, there’s a key to improving how we think about work and how we perform on the job.

Think about it: Game mechanics have made some really mundane tasks (farming virtual crops, killing virtual pigs, etc.) absolutely addictive to a huge population.

So why not apply some of the same incentives and psychological triggers to tasks that are actually productive in the real world?

This is a question posed by enterprise social software company Socialcast, which created this 8-bit inspired infographic of facts and figures about the gaming industry and the enterprise.

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business

What do you think: Would simple, game-like incentives around teamwork, innovation and performance inspire you to level up at work?

Click image to see full-size version.

Image courtesy of Socialcast

More About: enterprise, game, game mechanics, infographic, work

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March 10 2011

Online Fashion Retailer Bluefly Tries On Social Gaming

Online designer fashion retailer Bluefly has partnered with social rewards startup Badgeville to add social gaming into its website experience.

Bluefly will be rewarding customers for onsite shopping behaviors including watching videos, reading blog posts, writing reviews or creating wishlists. The idea is to turn shoppers into Bluefly-engaged fashion gamers.

“Players” will earn badges, based on their behaviors, that highlight their various fashion credentials. The more badges earned, and the higher quality, the better chance the Bluefly shopper will have at unlocking tangible rewards that come in the form of early access to products, badge-holder specials and discounts.

“At Bluefly, our customers are highly engaged in the world of fashion. They are voting on celebrity styles; they are talking with each other on our site to discuss outfits. Our goal is to look for innovative ways to foster that passion and to create opportunities for interaction,” says Bluefly CEO Melissa Payner. “The partnership with Badgeville is a great addition to our site because social games incentivize our customers for their interactions — interactions which we see as a key component of growing and strengthening the Bluefly community.”

While its unknown how shoppers will react to the new system, Bluefly, if successful in converting its customers into more engaged shoppers, has an opportunity to be a trendsetter among its fashion retail competitors.

The deal is also a win for Badgeville; the young startup already has competitors such as Bunchball in the white label social gaming space. This particular partnership should help Badgeville stand out and attract more top-tier clientele.

Both Bluefly and Badgeville are mum on whether money exchanged hands as the partnership was formed.

More About: badgeville, bluefly, game mechanics, gamification, MARKETING, social gaming

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December 17 2010

5 Predictions for Game Mechanics in 2011

joystick image

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the critically acclaimed book Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, 2010), the upcoming Gamification by Design (O’Reilly, 2011) and blogs at Gamification.co. He’s also the chair of the January Gamification Summit in San Francisco. Mashable Readers are invited to attend with a special discount by using the code GSMASH11 at GSummit.com.

This year was the first time most people heard the term “Gamification,” the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. Although this strategy has always been around us, a combination of factors have made the topic explode onto the scene. These include the rise of Zynga and social games into the largest sector (by reach) of gaming, the demonstrable power of Foursquare’s badges and mayor mechanics to engage consumers in simple tasks, and 30+ years of video games everywhere.

But if 2010 was the year we make contact, 2011 promises to truly be the year when game mechanics take over: a potential roller coaster of exciting product, company and organizational launches. And so, here are my predictions for the breakthroughs we’ll see in game-powered enterprises.

1. Health Gets More Fun

wii fit image

Getting fit and staying healthy are some of the hardest things to do. Games like Brain Age and Wii Fit have emerged in the past few years, making headlines for their ability to turn exercise –- mental or physical –- into something fun. But while these games haven’t yet had much of an impact on our health, hundreds of startups and established companies are leveraging the lessons of those games to create real change.

In 2011, we’ll start to see the first successful examples of game mechanics used for health — largely around big data streams and mobile, building off Fitbit, Nike+ GPS and other monitoring and measurement ecosystems. “Gamified” health will look less like games, however, and more like apps that make fitness fun — for example, tying Xbox achievements to gym-based treadmills instead of creating virtual treadmills to run on.

2. Education Hears the Bell

mindsnacks image

Almost everyone agrees that education needs reform. But most efforts to use games to educate children have been failures, largely as a result of designers having to please parents and teachers before kids’ needs are served. With the advent of devices like the iPod touch and tablets however, a new generation of education companies can reach kids with less friction and more feedback.

I believe we’ll see the first “trans-institution” apps that connect students across different schools. We’ll see the first “gamified” textbooks from publishers while federal and state governments will continue to innovate and support initiatives in education. For adults, applications like MindSnacks, an iPhone app that makes learning languages more fun, will transform how we engage with continuing education. Expect an explosion in apps and services for language, food, finance and geo-location that manipulate game mechanics.

3. Blue Skies Ahead

recyclebank image

Although a number of games have been made to help people change their environmental behavior, few have had much long-term success. More subtle experiences, however, like the “health meters” in the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf are proving to be a hit with drivers through ambient feedback, like a plant that grows when the car is driven in more environmentally friendly ways.

Companies like RecycleBank have had early success convincing customers to recycle by giving them rewards, and a whole host of electricity and carbon-offset startups are emerging to help consumers reduce their consumption. Big and small companies alike will continue to innovate here, with the support of energy companies and progressive governments; the stakes couldn’t be higher.

4. Loyalty Programs Get More Virtual

Airline frequent flyer programs are among the best examples of successful game systems. United Mileage Plus and American AAdvantage together count more than 100 million active “players.” Recently, these programs have become more game-like, adding progress bars and competition to their mix to improve user engagement.

At the same time, major online gamification players like Zynga and TopGuest have been striking deals to break down the walls between virtual activities (like checkins) and “real” rewards. From hotel chains to credit cards, reward programs will continue connecting with game-like experiences online. Plan to start earning points and miles in unexpected places and redeeming those points for virtual goods.

5. Big Brands Get Involved

Startups drive innovation, and game mechanics are ripe for exploration with exciting technology and service companies emerging almost weekly in the space. Big brands also understand the need for game-like connections. Traditional advertising continues to lose effectiveness with younger consumers, and customer acquisition costs remain stubbornly high.

Some of the world’s biggest brands have taken notice of how game mechanics can help their strategies. In 2011, we’ll be likely to see a handful of major media companies and consumer goods brands launch gamified experiences, with even more to follow in 2012. Expect to see the most innovation in finance, travel and TV.

Next year will be a very exciting year for gamification and customer engagement overall. From small startups working on energy consumption to the world’s biggest media properties, tools like points, badges, leaderboards and challenges will be increasingly deployed to create emotional and brand loyalty. That’s a fun future we can all look forward to!

More Gaming Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business
- 6 Reasons Why Social Games Are the Next Advertising Frontier
- 5 Fantastic Web Games We Can’t Stop Playing
- 6 Emerging Social Games Taking the Web by Storm
- How Social Gaming is Improving Education

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DSGpro

More About: game mechanics, games, gamification, predictions, predictions-2011, rewards, social gaming, social media, video games

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October 14 2010

Badgeville Gives Publishers Trendy, Plug-and-Play Game Mechanics

This post is part of Mashable’s Spark of Genius series, which highlights a unique feature of startups. The series is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Badgeville

Quick Pitch: Badgeville is a social rewards and analytics platform designed to increase, maintain and influence loyalty for online publishers.

Genius Idea: Applications and web services that reward users through activity-based bonuses like badges and reputation tokens are very trendy right now. These game mechanics encourage repeat behavior, inspire user engagement and reward loyalty.

Badgeville was built to be a plug-and-play solution for publishers wishing to add these social rewards to their services without the heavy lifting.

Badgeville is a just-add-water way to reward your app users or site visitors for their actions. Publishers can define the user behaviors they want to reward and attach points, badges, trophies, levels, status and other forms of reputation to these behaviors.

Should a user “unlock” an achievement, those tokens can be shared to Facebook and Twitter, and users can earn more points in the process. Publishers can also highlight user behaviors through real-time activity streams, leaderboards or friends graphs that rank users against their friends. There’s also a Badgeville API for deeper site or app integration.

Obviously, the idea is to use Badgeville’s platform to motivate users to take additional actions and spread the word about your product or service as they level up or earn elevated status. As an user, these additional elements may turn an otherwise stale experience into a competitive sport. So users can prove their ultimate fan status for a blog, website or application they love and get digital rewards in the process. Who doesn’t appreciate a little recognition from time to time?

Badgeville is fresh on the scene but has $250,000 in seed funding and a client list that includes SlideShare, Comcast Sports and Philly.com. We find the idea to be promising, but we also see the potential for badges, reputation and rewards to lose their luster once they become commonplace.

Sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark

BizSpark is a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: badges, badgeville, game mechanics, loyalty, loyalty program, rewards

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July 13 2010

HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business

Game Pad Image

Shane Snow is a regular contributor to Mashable and tweets at @shanesnow. This post was co-authored by Phin Barnes, a principal at First Round Capital, SneakerheadVC and creator of the Xbox game, Yourself!Fitness. He has also served as a consultant to MTV games.

Before Foursquare managed to storm social media, GPS friend finders and city guides did in fact exist. But, Foursquare quickly became a star, engaging hundreds of thousands of users in just a few months and turning them into evangelists for its product. It did this by taking the existing geo-social concept and turning it into a game. Video game-esque elements like “badges” and “mayorships” hook you long enough so that you discover the true utility of the app, and stick with it long-term.

Common game elements like points, badges, leaderboards, and levels are proven (and increasingly popular) ways to engage customers and encourage profit-driving consumer behavior. Foursquare is a great example of why these work. However, many proponents of this type of “funware” in product development and marketing miss the larger point: “How” you incorporate game mechanics is just as important as “Why” you should. A leaderboard alone does not make for a worthwhile or engaging game.

Trip Hawkins, founder of game companies Electronic Arts and Digital Chocolate, says that compelling games need to be “simple, hot, and deep.” They should be easy to pick up, instantly engaging, and offer you somewhere to go once you are engaged. Creating these kinds of games takes work.

Legions of online businesses are following this trend right now as they attempt to integrate game mechanics into their products. Investors used to hear customer acquisition plans that included, “and we’re going to make it social” or “and we’re going to make it viral.” But lately, these pitches have changed to include, “and we’re going to use game mechanics” to address customer acquisition and engagement.

Many of the “games” being built in this flurry, however, are certainly not going to be fun. Many will distract the user from the core value proposition of the application or service. At worst, copycat “game mechanics” will quickly become annoying and trite — destroying value for users and creators alike.

“One of the greatest risks is being unoriginal,” says Gabe Zichermann, author of the 2010 book Game-Based Marketing. In the short term, he says, adding soon-to-be-cliche elements like badges is OK, because any amount of additional enjoyment is good for a product. “But a good design takes into consideration the long-term scalability. If you think you can end with badges, that’s where you’re [expletive].”

Poor or late planning gives rise to boring (too easy) or frustrating (too hard) games. Since the goal of game mechanics is to keep customers coming back and doing what you want them to do, you want to stay far away from those two zones.

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So how can you use game mechanics the right way and supercharge your business? We’ve distilled the process down to four steps.

1. Start With Your Vision and Work Backwards

Effective games cannot be bolted onto a service after the fact. They must be integrated into the product from the start. To work, they need to be designed with your vision in mind, or they’ll be largely meaningless.

The first thing you need to do is define your end goal. What is it you want to accomplish? What’s the big vision?

Here’s a cheesy example:

Business Vision Image

2. Make a List of Required User Actions

Now that you have defined the vision, you need to figure out what specific user actions will be required to realize it. What behavior patterns would they need to adopt in order to sustain your business model?

Think in verbs, not nouns. What do you need people to do?

Behaviors Image

Once you have this list, rank the items from most critical to least and also score them from most plausible/natural to least. Now you know where to focus your game-based psychology experiment.

3. Motivate the Most Important Behaviors

Games can be used to drive almost any user behavior. As Marc Metis, President of Digital Chocolate puts it, “Games have the potential to tap into the full range of human emotions and motivate a wide range of behaviors.” That’s the beauty and value proposition of game mechanics. Take the specific behaviors you’ve defined and plan some games that will make people do what you want. No matter what type of game you are designing, a few key principles will help:

  • Sid Meier, developer of the Civilization game franchise, defines a game as “a series of meaningful choices.” Consumers will naturally explore the choices you give them (if they believe it is worth it). Motivate them with rewards and then teach them to do what you want.

    A great example of this is Foursquare’s Newbie badge, which gives users a taste for rewards the moment they start using the service.
  • Foursquare Newbie Badge

    Mechanisms should be layered. Users should constantly be starting one task as a beginner and enjoying a sense of discovery, be in the middle and deeply engaged by another task, and mastering (i.e. getting bored with) a third. The online multiplayer game World of Warcraft is an excellent example of this. Players are constantly working on short-term quests and heat of the moment battles while long-term upgrades keep them logging back in day after day.

    These layers can exist in both tasks and in time. If you can create a sense of shared past, present, and future, your user experience will be more “sticky,” with customers/players investing time and coming back for more to deepen their history with your product.
  • Pull the consumer toward the most critical behaviors with rewards. Additionally, adjust the rewards so that the most enticing prizes are offered in exchange for the behaviors that are hardest to motivate. Zichermann says, “There’s no question that today’s tweens are going to have to be rewarded to do anything.” Make sure you’re offering rewards for the essentials.
  • Mechanisms should be designed for flexibility and growth.

Game Mechanics Image

4. Evaluate and Adapt

As with any lean startup process, you’ll only succeed if you’re willing to evaluate and adapt both the game mechanic layer and the behaviors that are critical to motivate. Both will change as you learn about your consumer, and as they learn how to play your game.

“Running a social game is a bit like being a head of a country’s Central Bank, so you are always adjusting,” says Metis. “You really have to pay attention to the finest details of user experience and merchandising.”

Re-rank and reevaluate often. Take honest looks at what users do and why. Remember, make it fun for them, not for you. Zichermann reminds us most entrepreneurs think their users’ primary motivation is to achieve. But, he says, most people — especially on the web — just want to socialize. “They’re not in it to win it, they just want to make friends.”

Make sure you understand your audience, and design your mechanics accordingly.

The Promise of Game Mechanics

Ultimately, game mechanics are not about simply having fun. They’re about helping users discover the utility in your product. Like Wile E. Coyote from the old cartoons, you want to get your users to run through the air without noticing the ground’s not there, until they reach the other side. Games can help get them to cross that ugly gap of “Why should I learn about and adopt this product?” And once they’ve crossed, you’ll have them, because they’ll feel the utility of your service and understand why your product is great.

To finish with our initial example, Foursquare’s game mechanics alone aren’t that fun. But they’re fun enough to get you to stick with the service while you figure out how useful it can really be. That’s how Foursquare nailed it.

Right now, too many companies are building a bridge to nowhere with their games simply because games are trendy. Design an experience that will delight your users and use game mechanics to show them something useful that will add value and make their lives better.

More Social Business Resources from Mashable:

- Top 5 Ways to Make Your Site More Fun
- 5 Social Media Trends to Watch Right Now
- Beyond the Checkin: Where Location-Based Social Networks Should Go Next
- What the Future Holds for the Checkin
- Are Location-Based Services All Hype?

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Lobsterclaws

More About: business, foursquare, game mechanics, games, gaming, location, small business, social media

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June 05 2010

Yelp for iPhone Adds Foursquare-Like Badges and Royalty Status

The new iteration of Yelp’s iPhone app isn’t live just yet, but a company blog post gives a window into what’s coming very soon: badges, and a hierarchy of “royalty” that lets you “rule” venues, neighborhoods, and even cities.

The royalty feature is much akin to Foursquare’s mayorship feature, and lets Yelp users with the most checkins become the “Duke” or “Duchess” of a particular venue. Yelp goes a step further with the hierarchy, however, offering users with most Dukedoms in a particular neighborhood to be named the “Baron” and even a “King” to be crowned for most Dukedoms in an entire city.

The company itself acknowledges in the blog post that “we’re not the first ones to offer checkins,” but that adding these features “furthers Yelp’s mission of connecting people with and supporting great local businesses.” Yelp also provides some statistics behind why they’re investing in new mobile features: a full 27% of all searches on the review site come from their iPhone app.

Yelp has submitted this 5th major iteration of its app for Apple’s smartphone, which should become available in the App Store soon. The company also notes that Android owners won’t have long to wait either until the new functionality hits the Yelp client on that platform; we got a sneak peek of what Android users have to look forward to at Google I/O.

It may be derivative at this point, but it nevertheless stands to add a fun element to the process of checking in to locations. The addition of higher order titles in the royalty hierarchy for being the most active in your neighborhood or city are an interesting new spin on the concept as well. What do you think of Yelp’s move into the game mechanics territory of location services that Foursquare earlier blazed?

For more mobile coverage, follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Reviews: Android, App Store, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Twitter, Yelp

Tags: -local, badges, foursquare, game mechanics, iphone, iphone apps, lbs, location, yelp

May 21 2010

Chatroulette + FarmVille + Facebook = ChatVille

There’s a new Chatroulette spinoff in town: meet ChatVille. It’s a Facebook app that combines the basic video chat elements of Chatroulette with the game mechanics, badges and leveling up of casual games like FarmVille.

Just like in Chatroulette, you have the opportunity to get paired up with a total stranger — but since the app can also take advantage of your Facebook social graph, you can also invite specific friends to chat with you as well. Plus, in chatting with either strangers or friends, you have the opportunity to earn badges for specific actions, like taking your first screenshot or getting a “compliment” from another user.

The app also features some other extra features like a built-in screenshot function; the screengrabs you take can then be optionally posted on your Facebook wall. Another extra feature quickly turns your webcam into an ad hoc photobooth, with the results also postable to your Facebook wall.

Built by the same team that made the popular instant messaging desktop client Digsby, many are already calling ChatVille “Chatroulette done right.” It’s certainly not the first Chatroulette clone we’ve seen, but it is unique for tapping into Facebook as an underlying social platform. Considering it stands to benefit greatly from the built-in virality of encouraging everyone to share their badges and accomplishments within the app, it will be interesting to see if or how fast this spreads as a much less “awkwardly adult oriented” version of Chatroulette.

Have you had a chance to check out ChatVille yet? If so, what do you think of the app — how does it compare to experiences you may have had on Chatroulette?

[via VentureBeat]

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Reviews: Digsby, Facebook, Twitter

Tags: badges, chatville, digsby, facebook, facebook apps, farmville, game mechanics, games, video chat

April 07 2010

Top 5 Ways to Make Your Site More Fun

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the books “Game-Based Marketing” (Wiley, now available) and “Funware in Action” (Manning, Q3/2010). He is also the CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME and frequently muses about games and the world at http://funwareblog.com.

Just like sex, fun sells. The early proof of that can be seen in the amazing success of location-based networks such as Gowalla, MyTown and Foursquare, and in the breakthrough marketing efforts of major brands like Nike, Coke and Chase. Even finance made fun can be a winner — Mint.com’s meteoric rise was in no small part due to the fun, social engagement of its approach. Ever feel elated while using Quicken? I didn’t think so.

The trend continues, with an ever-increasing number of startups looking to get an edge with consumers through fun. Their weapons of choice: Game Mechanics.

When taken together, game mechanics such as points, leaderboards, badges, challenges and levels form part of what we call a Funware Loop. In my latest book I argue that the best and most compelling loyalty programs are built extensively around Funware and when applied creatively, can make any consumer web or mobile app experience more engaging.

Whether you sell organic foods online, develop mobile application or run the world’s largest social network, you can benefit from applying the 5 simple strategies listed below to increase engagement.

After all, who doesn’t like a little fun every once in a while?

1. Points

Points are an essential part of any Funware Loop, and a great starting point for “gameifying” your site or app. Points allow you to keep track of user activities and make it easy to shape user behavior. Start by listing all the actions that you’d want users to perform and assign relative values to each, taking care to get the balance right.

In most cases, you’ll want to emphasize user growth and engagement, so be sure to offer healthy point slugs for referrals and activities that generate user interaction (adding friends/followers, for example). Keep your point denominations reasonable: if you begin by giving away millions of points for every activity, you’ll reduce your future room to grow. Also don’t over design to deal with cheaters on day one; you’ll have plenty of time to work on that later.

Once you’ve begun to assign points for various activities, you’ll need to ensure that you’re giving users an easy way to see their score and how they compare against others. The easiest way to accomplish both is with a leaderboard.

Points help your users keep track of how they are doing in your app. Here, popular mobile social network MyTown uses dollars in lieu of points (something you should generally avoid unless it’s thematically relevant to your site/app).

2. Leaderboards

Like the scoreboard at a sporting event, leaderboards are a universal way to convey to your fans and customers that a “game” is being played. The key to being successful with a leaderboard mechanic is to ensure that users are motivated by friendly competition while simultaneously not de-motivated by users who are better, faster and have been playing longer than them. There is no better solution to this problem than Facebook Connect.

The easiest option: show the points accumulated by your customers relative to their social graph, giving them a contextual ranking. Through callouts, illustrate how easily they can rise to the level of their next-highest performing friend (e.g. “invite two more people to beat Debbie’s score”). Of course, you should also show a global Top 10 and geo-located leaderboards if you can, but these should actually be somewhat buried in your design.

Though points and leaderboards are quite powerful (and sufficient for most game-like experiences that target the achiever in us), they lack the ability to create social rewards for parallel or tangential activities. For that, there are badges.

Social leaderboards, like this one from the wildly successful Facebook game Who Has the Biggest Brain (Playfish/EA), show your score relative to your friends on Facebook, making it easy to both feel successful and competitive at the same time.

3. Badges

The best way to think about badges is as a demonstrable, fun reward for a specific activity that is easily socialized with others. Much as Boy and Girl Scouts receive merit badges for particular activities, you too can create an almost limitless set of attractive, visual objects that can be “sewn” onto a users’ social graph – typically their Facebook wall or Twitter stream. By giving your customers an easy thing to crow about, you maximize the likelihood that they will evangelize your site/product to others while also creating a positive association for them.

Think of badges as rewards for ongoing contests that users are constantly engaged in – whether or not they are directly connected to point balances. In many applications, badges are issued without warning (see Foursquare), leveraging the power of operant conditioning – like slot machines – to keep users playing. Where possible, offer an auto-tweet/post option for your badges – braggarts are a great way to get the word out about your app.

Where badges are frequently (though not always) given as a reward for a set of non-obvious activities, challenges are a direct way to engage users around a specific task – and are an essential part of the Funware Loop.

A badge by any other name is… a ribbon? Farmville, the uber-popular Facebook game uses ribbons to offer periodic rewards to users. Where possible, make your badges attractive and relevant to your users.

4. Challenges

Most walkathons and sales campaigns start with a challenge: “sign up ten walkers/new customers/friends and receive a reward.” Everyone has, at one time or another, taken up a challenge like this, and they are an essential part of an end-to-end system for customer loyalty. Once you have a sufficient group of users collecting and comparing their points, you can start offering them the option to compete for more points and virtual rewards.

For example, you could offer users 10,000 bonus points for signing up 4 friends for your service. Automate the notifications, issue a congratulatory message, and immediately offer another pre-built challenge (e.g., 100,000 points for 20 signups). Consider offering a wide range of challenges tied to your evergreen and time-sensitive business objectives and allow users to access a list so that they can pick their own.

With all the activity around points, badges and challenges, it seems obvious that users might need some easy way to track and reflect on their achievements within your app/site. Levels, a game mechanic from the earliest of video games, are the perfect solution for creating a constant sense of forward motion and the opportunity for reflection.

Gowalla, a mobile social network, has a sophisticated and well-conceived challenge mode, known as trips. Like many winning Funware designs, Gowalla allows users to also see the complete list of challenges to choose the ones they like best.

5. Levels

If there is a single mantra we could extract from the multi-billion-dollar casual games industry that has spawned Bejeweled, Diner Dash and Farmville, it’s “Reward Early, Reward Often (and don’t go negative).” While this is relatively easy to do, users in a more complex loyalty program or on Funware-based sites, frequently need levels to create a discrete sense of achievement. Levels allow users to feel like they’ve accomplished something by showing structured progression through the overall experience.

Levels can be complex to design properly, so start with simple breakpoints and leave yourself room to expand. Use numbers or letters to denote your levels and set their breakpoints with increasing degrees of difficulty. A good rule of thumb is that it should be at least twice as hard to complete the fourth level as it is the first, and so on.

Diner Dash uses a clearly defined level system. Every time you clear the restaurant of patrons, you clear a board; multiple cleared boards gives you a finished level. Imagine doing the same thing with a fitness app: as users perform tasks and improve their health, they ascend the ranks.


With the breathtaking growth of game mechanics and Funware in the current crop of popular apps and sites, it’s easy to see why so many startups are interested in incorporating points, leaderboards, badges, challenges and levels in their designs.

Whether you are building a healthcare app, forum discussion site or the next Mint.com, these simple game mechanics can make your consumer-facing mobile or web experience substantially more fun and engaging — all for far less than the cost of a traditional loyalty program, and with far greater satisfaction.

For more business coverage, follow Mashable Business on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More business resources from Mashable:

- Growing Your Business: 5 Tips From the Founder of Foursquare
- 5 Essential Apps for Your Business’s Facebook Fan Page
- Web Entrepreneurship: Does the City You Live in Matter?
- HOW TO: Integrate Paid Search and Social Media for Better Marketing Results
- How Small Businesses Are Using Social Media for Real Results

Tags: casual games, farmville, foursquare, funware, funware loop, game mechanics, games, gowalla, List, Lists, mytown, social gaming

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