Games used to be about consoles and phones and farm-related status updates on Facebook. But games have already moved into other areas that impact our purchases of everything from airline tickets to 1950s era office chairs on eBay.
The idea of a game layer for the world, seems very plausible. In fact if the game layer involves using mechanisms to cause new behavior, the game layer is most definitely already here – its just that most marketers aren’t thinking of themselves as game designers, yet.
Loyalty versus Deals deathmatch
Groupon has fast become the king of deals. It uses a simple combination of game mechanics to create irresistible offers:
+ the qualified “free lunch”: get 50% off! (but only if 100 people agree to the deal)
+ communal gameplay: only 53/100 have agreed so far, get your friends!
+ countdown: hurry, only 2 days and 1 hour left!
It’s JUST these game mechanics and an e-mail list (and a massive sales team) that keep Groupon running. SCVNGR believes they have a counter-measure to discounts to induce loyalty using a different set of mechanics around leveling up, fittingly called, “Level Up”.
Marketers are game designers
Groupon and SCVNGR are just the latest to take advantage of game mechanics. At the core, game mechanics are nothing new: they’re about understanding individual and group behavior and creating systems to get specific outcomes as a result of these insights.
Marketers should feel right at home, right?
Actually, marketers already design much more complex games. They get to draw on libraries of game mechanics from how people might respond to a story, to A/B tested copywriting in e-mail. Loyalty systems keep me from switching to a cheaper ticker because now I get special treatment in security lines. Social media added a host of new mechanics to cause behavior in people that causes other behavior in other people, so complexity has gone up again.
No wonder marketers get the feeling they may be missing opportunities – how could one possibly choose the right mix of approaches to changing behavior to get an optimal result?
How do I know it will work?
At the end of Seth’s session, 3,000 people frantically gestured to one another and began trading pieces of colored paper. It looked a little like the trading floor behind a TV announcer explaining a sharp equities sell-off.
The objective – work together to win a game, by organizing ourselves to create patterns using different colored cardboard sheets. There were a few rules, a clock, and a clear objective.
At the outset, if you had polled the room, my guess is most people would have voted against a successful outcome. Yes, after 60 seconds, were were done. #epicwin
More experiments, fewer attempts to plan
Too often I encounter the following.
“We want to do something innovative”
[insert untested idea that might cause desired behavior here]
“How well will this work?”
“I’m not sure, but we have a way to test it”
“Oh, what else do you have?”
Seth could have tried to model and analyze what might have happened when 3,000 played a new game. But it was cheaper and more conclusive to simply run the game on a small scale as an experiment. Real-world evidence trumps survey data every time.
Developers have been using this strategy for years, working and playing in sandboxes: places designed to test ideas and understand what works.
Maybe its time for a marketing sandbox?
[If you want to learn more about the SCVNGR panel at SXSW, we liked the thoughts from The Guardian and Made by Many.
Top Image: SCVNGR founder Seth Priebatsch doing behavior hacks on 3,000 of us at his SXSW keynote. ]