Gamification, when Games meet Brands

Author: Luc Malcorps

Translated from the article by Théo Saunier, Emakina.FR

Gamification was one of the “buzzwords” of last year and it is becoming a new important reality in communication. The concept refers to the integration of mechanics from the gaming environment – especially video games – in other areas. Brands can use it to engage with their consumers in an attractive and accessible way. So it seems useful to evaluate the value of this technique and put it to work.

The aim of gamification is to facilitate online actions of individuals, by reducing barriers. The approach makes the process less painful, more playful. It can also establish positive reinforcements, of a physical or a psychological nature (“rewards”).



Good examples are the use of countdown timers, to create a feeling of urgency, the introduction of progress bars, “levels” or “experience points”, to build customer loyalty. Other tools are the possibility to win badges and the creation of a classification. This is a smart way to reward, to create social value and to foster a spirit of competition.

It is obvious that in a smart marketing approach, it is better to provoke an active contribution from the consumer, instead of keeping the contact passive, because it implies a real experience, a mental and/or physical commitment with the brand.

So it’s not surprising this phenomenon emerges everywhere and especially in the context of relationship programs. Since 2009, Starbucks has “funned” its Starbucks loyalty card. The client first creates an avatar. Then his purchases allow access to “levels”, while being rewarded with reductions or small benefits.

The best example of a gamification loyalty program still is is Monopoly McDonald’s, with both short and long term benefits for the players. They  used a form of gamification before the term was even invented.

What is the emotional benefit for the consumer?

Video games tell a story and provide a challenge to the player; they are generators of emotions. A good game – and by extension a great gamification – must have the right balance between competition and rewards and at the same time  use the logic of storytelling. There is no challenge in the act of buying the same product several times in one place and that experience does not tell a story either.

This means we must ask the question what action we want to “gamify”. And the answer has to make good sense. For a sports brand, it’s simple: the action is to play in a sports context (and not just to buy a pair of sneakers). Nike has fully understood the idea. With its Nike Grid operation it turned London into a playground. And with the Nike+ mobile app. is also created a rich and fun running experience. For a household appliances brand, the process is more complicated. You could imagine a badge or a reward “+15 points for Best Father/Mother”, for having done the laundry for the whole family, but a parent will expect the recognition to come from from the other family members, not from a brand.



in any case, we must not forget that playing is essentially a form of socialization. The Nike+ application allows you to add a relational dimension to a mostly rather solitary activity (running), by offering the opportunity to share performances on Facebook and Twitter.

Gamification makes sense when it offers  a “quest” and when it is social

Richard Bartle is one of the first researchers to have examined how online “massively multiplayer” games affect the behavior of individuals. During his work, he observed four types of players. He believes that “Socializers“, who play primarily with a relational and social perspective, are the overwhelming majority (80%) of the population of gamers. They are followed by the “Achievers” who above all want to win, “Explorers” who like to discover the game elements in every detail and in every corner, and lastly “Killers“, well… that name speaks for itself.

Many video games depict an epic “quest”, an ultimate goal for the hero. These quests are often collective. World of Warcraft players follow a very specific group logic and tend towards a common goal.

In a process of gamification, the ideal is that the brand can serve a cause that is greater and beyond the scope of its products. This goal is unreachable by a single individual, it involves a community of players. This is what we call “Barn Raising“. We could imagine for example a surf brand wanting to commit to clean beaches and contributors are converted to the “heroes” of a game.

We have recently seen an exciting example. Fold.it is an online game “to solve puzzles for science”. It has allowed a team of 15 amateur players to solve a puzzle about Aids research on which scientists had been working for years. Another example is the Guardian, who successfully transformed the expense note scandal of British MPs into a treasure hunt. Over 400 000 expense notes, scanned by the Government, were handed over to one of their journalists. The investigation was executed by the public, crowd sourcing made ​​it possible to analyze 224 000 expense notes.

In one case the quest was to solve the AIDS virus, in the other it was action for social justice.


Gamification can find its way in many other domains, particularly in the field of management. To be continued…



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