So What Are The Rules For Gamification?

There are a slew of things to take into account when adding or creating a game-like environment for your site or its content. I'm going to assume that I don't need to tell you that, before any of  you determine your goals, you should do a deep competitive analysis and determine the mindset of your demographic prior to spending any real money in this direction. This topic is a bit more than 101 when it comes to the new-world marketer, as it's making rapid changes and not a lot of it has been truly tested. Therefore, there's not a lot of stock being placed in it but as it gets more traction, tactics and understanding the real question will be' do you jump in before or after your competition? PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT right for everyone. If Tiffany and Co. start giving out rewards and 'digital charm' pendants badges I will quit my job and start building a bunker to protect myself from the insanity.

Let's begin with my perception on the primary rules for proper gamification:

Create an entertainment storyline or website concept

It's fair to say that any game that's worth its salt has some amount of story that backs it. It's not that the GAME has to have a story but the site, app, campaign or directive need to have a platform. And to marketers I say that a BOGO or contest is not enough to decide to gamify your program. If you intend to keep and nurture the audience over a long period of time – such as a branding campaign, then it might make sense to consider. But this is NOT a flash in the pan solution to 'spice things up' with your current site. 

Foursquare's story comes from its submitted audience participation. It's a source of content and therefore seen as a tool and a game. A powerful combination in today's gamification directives. CityVille/Mafia Wars of course has its gameplay steeped in a story that drives users to interact within its components. While GetGlue has no real story, its stories are directive from the content that the users are watching "OMG, I think Star Trek II was the best in the series too!"

Allow users to establish a profiled (sign-up) connection to the concept 

In almost all cases of websites, social channels and online gaming, it's a priority to establish a baseline profile by which you will reward your user for their loyalty, gameplay, activity or whatever criteria you see fit. Now you have ample directions by which you can go at this point. Most popular of which recently is establishing your connection using your Facebook or Twitter profile. This allows for the gamification system to import basic information on the user and pre-populate their profile information.

"Learn As You Go" (LAYG) - today's user will not RTFB

Much will be talked about gameplay, game mechanics and the rules that are necessary to play the game established. While yes you need structure to how, why and so on, the most important thing to remember is that the easier you make it to fall into the more likely it will be a hit. Most computer video games and many social games seem duanty to newbies. Their so much you need to know and  it becomes so complex. Well if you create a Learn As You Go model, that will not burden you nor the user. No one does this better than simple app-based games like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope. You begin to play and as you become better in further levels the game not only rewards you with more complexity, but it gives you easily digestible tips, tricks and how-to's to make the game more compelling. 

While we're not creating a video-game per se within the confines of this discussion, this LAYG process should be applied as much as possible. Especially with understanding that gamification will grow progressively with your marketing and communication directives.

Construct reason to return

With all websites you need to think 'why would I come back?' Well with gamifing your website you inherently have an edge. People want to win at games, they don't want to fall behind others. And given their superiority within the context of the game, they like to be noted for their position. GetGlue gives you a "superfan" badge after successive checkins within the same topic. Additionally, GetGlue allows for people to become "Gurus" within a topic. Passionate about True Blood? Establish your prominence and go for the guru. 

This is the heart of all game mechanics. Instilling within your user that they should return to become advanced with the threat of decline given lack of participation. A classic double-edge sword in play. There are other ways to attract 'dwell time' within your game such a creating community, asking for participation, surveys, upgrades, limited edition rewards and content. Most of all is giving the user a sense of ownership. The more they tie themselves into the fabric of gameplay the less likely they are to leave.

Listen, learn & communicate passionately as a user

I find that the best usages of gamification is when the owners are in the mix as well. You should be participating within the context of your game as much as the users. If you're not passionate about playing then why would they want to be? Being "in-game" is as important as social media community managers monitoring their groups. If you don't have a grasp as to what's going on, what's being said or how to make it better, how can you expect success?

Be Aggressive. B. E. Aggressive!

Make updates. Start conversation. Acknowledge leaders. Version Control. Listen to comments and answer questions in a timely fashion. Most of all show that you're here to support your directions aggressively. Simply connecting a tool to your website that spits out badges is NOT gamification! Empire Avenue's creator CEO Dups Wijayawardhana not only plays the game, writes the blog, but reports on new features and looks actively at his user base for the future of his product. This open-mindedness will allow for fresh perspective (often a bit more humbly than you may want) on your directives and allow for focused future development.

Incentivize & empower: many ways to win

Let's face it, we all play games to win. But winning does not have to come as a top-score or the highest level of achievement. Empire Avenue does a wonderful job of creating varying points progressively throughout the game that allow for you to win. Top daily achievements can differ from a weekly summary can differ from someone that has maintained long-term seniority. This gives newbies just as much incentive to start to interact as it does for a long-term loyalist to participate. And while Empire Avenue has no real winner, it does have a CEO of the game, creating this sliding "King For A Day" slot that's almost a moving target, and therefore vary palatable for a gamer to achieve.

Then look at Foursquare. Varying ways to win. I could collect badges. I could see weekly ranking against others within my friend set. I could be compelled to leave tips or photos or the locations I check-in at. This approach creates different actions that will entice different types of users.

What sites have scores that you participate in? Do you like playing? Do you covet your ranking? What makes you want to return? I'd love you feedback!

Posted on October 5, 2011 and filed under Business, Content, Gamification, Gaming, Social Media, Strategy.