Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Much Game Is There In Gamification?

Gamification can be a distracting term. Game itself is a very loose term, some will define it as something that requires challenge and a specific win/lose state, others will apply it to pretty much any activity that doesn’t really produce something. I’ve explained whole virtual worlds, like Second Life, to folk and asked them if they’d regard that as a game. The results of my small poll can be typified with the statement, “well it sounds like a game to me”. I’ve heard jigsaw puzzles described as a game. They’re puzzles, not games!

Christmas trees and light shows - read on...

Anecdotally I’ve found that women have a broader definition of what a game is than men, but there’s nothing at all scientific about my study, and far too many of the men I know make games for a living.

My old economics teacher (he wasn’t old at all, but missing out “old” made the phrase seem wrong, what can I say, I choose beauty over truth ever once in a while) once posed the question about an expensive footballer, “is he worth it?” Naturally, there was some debate in the class before he asserted, “Somebody thought he was worth it, so he is worth it.” Economists have a tendency to oversimplifying systems, but it’s hard to argue with the pure logic of this approach to price.

I’m a pragmatist at heart so I’ve chosen to apply this logic to defining games – if someone thinks it’s a game, then it is. I can debate with someone why they’re wrong, but where’s the point in that, it’s a waste of time because they won’t change their mind. And besides, why on earth would anyone want to restrict the bounds of their occupation?

When viewing the word game through the lense of gamification you’re instantly in a world of vague to the power of vague. One way to approach the problem is to think of gamification as a self-reinforcing and (hopefully) self-propagating way for consumers to interact with your brand. Interact being the operative word.

The simplest, most obvious way of doing this is to create a game that features your brand heavily, and taps into a core aspect of its reality. PikPok and Oreo did this very effectively with their OREO: Twist,Lick, Dunk game for iPhone. It’s a simple game but it breaks down into a fast moving version of what a lot of folk do with their Oreos – twist them apart, lick the cream and dunk them in milk. An interaction from real life is mimicked in the game.

I’m really, really, really, hoping someone makes a Rich Tea biscuit game. For those not in the know, the Rich Tea biscuit is popular in the British Isles and is known for dunking in tea. Yet the dunk must be perfectly timed to get some soaking of tea into biscuit but not too much. For to linger just one millisecond too long is to see the biscuit cascade into an over-soaked state and gasp with horror as the tea stricken section shears off into the depths of the cup. Then a spoon is engaged for a spot of biscuit fishing. Surely there’s a game in there.

But not all brands or events lend themselves so well to a game though, in which case you can focus on the interaction instead. Give people the opportunity to interact with your brand in any positive way you can.

Telecom, New Zealand’s former state telco, puts up the coolest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen. Each is a cone of strings of lights that flow from the star at the top to the circular base. A total of 375,000 lights, and they can all be programmed and controlled, allowing for extraordinary flowing multicolour patterns. This alone would make these trees excellent attractions in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, the cities that are lucky enough to have their presence, but they’re also interactive.

Firstly, the trees have telephone booths attached to them. Children can go in the booths and call Santa, whereupon their communication visibly travels up a length of fairy lights to the star at the top of the tree. It’s not a game, but it’s certainly interactive and nicely reminds people that this is a Telecom tree, and Telecom is all about things involving telephones. The ask of asking also helps remind adults that there’s also a collection campaign going on, where members of the public are encouraged to donate presents that can be passed on to underprivileged kids.

Secondly, all those light displays on the trees are designed by people. These trees are up for a long time, yet they display hours and hours of different patterns. The reason they can do this is because not all of the patterns are designed by someone working for Telecom. Instead, the public can go to the website and design their own light shows for the trees. Light shows have little to do with Telecommunications, apart from going online to design them, but that’s enough, because the whole interaction is so staggeringly neat and the trees look so good.

Is there a game anywhere in the whole process? Not that I can see. You’d have a hard time even saying gamification, there are no points or badges. But there is interaction, and that is the critical element if you ask me. And, like I say, gamification can be a broad term.

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