As marketers we all inherently understand the basic premise of positioning and naming. Get it right and success will surely (ideally, hopefully) follow. The brand graveyard is certainly littered with folks who didn’t.

So to my mind, gamification is the most torrid descriptor I can think of for a pretty insightful business strategy. Especially a business strategy that is gaining such huge traction, as evidenced by Badgeville’s recent infusion of $25 million or the sheer number of returns on Google – 6.4 million results.

But is there substance behind the hype?

At its core gamification is predicated on a simple premise. There are certain triggers that human beings respond to. This isn’t some Maslow BS but basic stimuli that most Homo Sapiens will tilt towards.

  • Status – goes a little like this; engage in a behaviour, we’ll give you a token of recognition which you can then communicate/highlight/show-off to your friends. FourSquare mayorships, Star reviewer status on Amazon, Klout scores. All of those are examples. In a world where we’re all clamouring for some toe-hold that differentiates us from the other 4 billion folks on the planet, this is hugely powerful. Remember social hierarchies have been around since we grouped ourselves as “hunters” or gatherers”.
  • Access – scarcity is a huge motivator. That’s essentially the trigger when we offer folks access to a level on a game that other gamers don’t get, when we create virtual VIP experiences, when we allow people to get behind the velvet rope sooner based on something they’ve done.
  • Getting stuff – shockingly people like this. Engage in a behaviour and we’ll give you stuff. The cool thing with gamification is the stuff can be real – and it can be virtual too. A badge gives me status, earn enough to get a mayorship that gives me 15% off as well means I get stuff too. Powerful.
  • The last motivator is the classic, Power. Everyone wants that so triggering the desire for Power can certainly profoundly affect people’s behaviour online and offline. Ask Machiavelli.


Of course, the most powerful applications create environments that trigger all these motivators.

My problem isn’t with the theory though. Even the most rudimentary psychology reading will refer to these basic human motivators.

No, my problem is with the application of the theory. That’s when it starts to fall over.

Some examples…

Building real utility or value behind the tactics –  at dinner this week, a friend talked about badging as a vanity not a genuine, novel tactic. He’s wrong but he’s also right. Badging alone is just a vanity. Badging that unlocks access, power and status…well that’s pretty awesome. I’ve begged off FourSquare here in Canada because it just wasn’t delivering me enough real value. Sure I enjoyed holding down 15 mayorships at one time but when it didn’t deliver me anything beyond the little yellow crown, it just became tiresome.

Ignoring current behaviours – Klout utilizes game theory (scores, contests, perks) to get you to pay more attention to how you’re building social influence. The irony is super-sweet. What baffles me is that Klout won’t accept my personally-hosted blog (this one) as a piece of social influence. Why? Because it’s publically-hosted like most personal blogs are. Gamification can influence behaviours but you’d be wise to influence existing behaviours before trying to create new ones.

What we call this – if we’re trying to get broad business adoption of this theory (and ensuing tactics) surely we need a less playful, frivolous title. Gamification doesn’t mean fun and frivolous but can your CEO audience make that distinction? I genuinely believe if we can talk about gamification as a layer on top of real big data analysis, then we’re getting to a powerful application that the C-suite will sit up and notice. That intersection could really spark some spectacular employee and customer applications.

Do you believe gamification deserves all the hype? Where have you seen the artful application of the theory drive real behavioural change? There may just be a guest blog opportunity for the best answer.**

**…see that, power, access and status all in one.    

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