Over the last two decades gaming has become integral to popular culture in the online world. It provides a good, light challenge that creates a strong feeling of accomplishment at the same time. And besides, games are fun! (Could be why Google decided to name their official app store ‘Google Play’, right?)
But there are still many entrepreneurs who aren’t taking full advantage of gamification just yet. The idea of merging practical features with gaming elements may sound a bit risky to some people, but there’s an extremely strong precedent for fusing commercial application with gaming sensation.
What is gamification?
Gamifying means incorporating the mechanics of gameplay (points, competition, reward) into an online platform like an app or an ecommerce site. Good game design is centred around bringing one or more of these elements into your interaction paths:
- Personalisation through decision-making
- Positive feedback or acknowledgement of completion
- Competition or tier progression
- Incentive and reward
Of course all of this sounds a lot easier to do on an activity/goal-oriented app like Spotify, Monday.com or Uber. But how do you gamify a store? You obviously can’t just dish out discounts simply because a user visited your site – much like a fitness app shouldn’t pat you on the back for logging on but never actually logging anything. That would be artificial and engagement won’t last long.
Incorporating game mechanics
There are certain aspects of games that are good for ecommerce gamification, and others which are not. Features like replayability or in-depth, long-term mechanics aren’t much use for catching the attention of browsers and buyers. But rewarding, bite-sized elements of smartphone games and indie games are just the ticket.
We’ve talked about how Duolingo creates compelling content in a previous article, but now we’re going to dive into gamification as one of its strategies. Duolingo has some great stand-out features that we can use as a guiding thread to explain gamification and how simple its implementation can be.
Goals and progression
One of the core ideas that drive gaming is goals, because goals are the key to accomplishments. More importantly, they help us get things done. Goals give us something to aim at, allowing us to see what needs to be done and why.
There are two common ways to integrate goals into games:
- Having pre-set goals that the app informs the user about
- Having the user set the goals themselves
Sometimes a healthy dose of both is the best solution! The bottom line remains that you have to have targets that are interesting and stimulating to pursue, and that the rules for attaining every little goal must be clear.
Goals go hand-in-hand with progression – a sense of building up to something and improving. If the user experience is the same all the way through and the long-term and short-term become indistinguishable, then there is little incentive to get your users to keep returning.
Progression as a mechanic involves steadily changing the possible interactions that the user can engage in as a reward for their invested time.
For example, Duolingo has a level system where you can progress through each lesson to earn your way to higher-tier content.
The easiest way to quantify goals and progression is with a good old point system. Having points and modifiers or multipliers that score you based on interactions and action provide a tangible way to keep track of time and money invested into the app.
Duolingo has ‘Lingots’ that you can earn by completing lessons, rewarding you with more if you perform well. These can be spent on bonus lessons of the user’s choice. This both enhances and customises their experience.
Another example of a good scoring system goes to TopHatter – an auction website that sells products across all categories. Each person’s profile has a rewards section where you can win badges and credit for good interaction, bidding and purchase history. They’ve also included a ‘Share and Earn’ section where users are prompted to invite friends and earn credit.
Even though competition is its own reward, everyone likes the idea of being the best at something. Or at the very least, being a part of the excitement of it all.
As humans we like to engage in friendly competition. Seeing what other people are doing and comparing ourselves to them can be a positive source of motivation. Bring this together with a concrete scoring system and you have a game on your hands!
Duolingo keeps track of your scores and places you in range of leader boards, arranged like the leagues of competitive sports. So now a sense of improvement and progression accompanies competition which motivates users to try even harder and essentially spend more time on your app.
Bringing a sense of competition into ecommerce can be as simple as showing users any of the following things while they browse:
- What other people have been buying
- How recently an item has been purchased
- How often an item gets sold
- Where in the world people are buying from
- Which items are low in stock or limited edition
Gamification allows for a unique kind of social interaction because challenges and friendly competition provides a shared social space. With goals and competition as their frame of reference, users can chat about and compare their experiences, swap out success stories or talk about winnings. And like we always say, word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful tactics for marketing and brand-building!
But you don’t have to wait for these communities to form outside of your applications. Integrating social media or basic chat functions can easily help create a space for discussions on your platform. Even something as simple as an online review or star-rating section has a gamified element to it that allows your audience to socialise and interact with each other.
So, what can gamification be used for?
Two extremely important things: education and marketing.
Educating people in a way that is engaging is notoriously difficult. But with gamification, our focus is sharpened and our enthusiasm heightened. So if you incorporate elements of gamification – even if only lightly – you have an opportunity to learn more about your audience and educate them about your products, all while keeping them engaged and entertained.
Let’s take Dollar Shave Club as an example:
A quiz is a highly effective form of gamification because it provides both input and action that leads to result. Psychologist Robert Simmermon explains to The Huffington Post that people love taking quizzes because they provide an “illusion of authenticity” that helps us feel more confident or justified in our characteristics, and give us the freedom to express ourselves and make our own choices.
Dollar Shave Club has incorporated a quiz high up on their home page to encourage people to explore their products in a personalised manner. Not only will this entice users to interact, but it will also teach the brand a great deal about their audience.
Marketing with gamification isn’t as straight-forward as dabbling with in-app ads. While that tactic is still useful, it’s not the sort of creative incorporation we’re talking about right now.
Gamification can be used in a flash-instant and still have a powerful impact. Woohoo, a gamified ecommerce plugin, allows you to do exactly that. Use it to add gamified popups onto your store when a user wants to leave and you stand a much bigger chance of growing your email list. The instructions are clear to understand, the process simple and the prize instant.
But remember, if you decide on a strategy like this, it’s crucial that you track your performance and analyse how well users are actually interacting. Even though it’s a great feature, it doesn’t include goals-setting, competition or social interaction so its success still runs the risk of being short-lived. Also, it’s not exactly a subtle element of gamification and therefore has the potential to frustrate a user – like any pop-up that’s in your way would.
So it’s a great tool to test and try, but your analysis and input is still the winning factor in making any gamification tactic successful.
A side note on gamification
What is also extremely fascinating is when gamification is used to merge media formats to spread the awareness and power of a brand or product.
No Man’s Sky is an exploration survival game developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games. It features a procedurally generated universe for players to explore.
The game had a shaky launch, but subsequent updates have turned it into the product that was initially promised. Before its release, No Man’s Sky was featured on the Stephen Colbert show, and it was hyped up to high heaven.
Part of the marketing strategy for the game was an Alternate Reality Game called ‘Waking Titan’, which involved real life meetups, puzzles, and streams which served to raise the tension and awareness before the game was released.
Yes, an Alternate Reality Game was used to market a game. The sheer novelty and community it created served to launch No Man’s Sky’s initial sales skywards. Gamification rewards creativity.
Your future with gamification
Gamification is a paradigm-shift. By fusing the human need for community and play with the challenges and goals we face on a regular basis, we can be even more creative in accomplishing excellent user experience. By quantifying tasks, recognising progress and making every small step worthwhile to take, you can create a whole new relationship with your audience and actually make them feel good about themselves while they interact with you.
If you’re ready to get creative with gamification, give us a shout. Our team is always on the lookout for creative, powerful and in this case fun ways to enhance your online store’s success.