On the 22nd November 2005 Microsoft released the Xbox 360 in the United States, and with this release they unleashed a beast into the gaming world… Achievements.
Achievements are digital accolades given to players in the form of points which reward players for completing specific tasks within a video game.
During the mid-to-late noughties it’s fair to say that reputations amongst hardened gamers balanced on the number of points they had accumulated from collecting achievements which made up their overall ‘Gamerscore’.
This unique permanent record of accomplishment undoubtedly helped drive sales of xbox titles during the console’s heyday… Not only this, achievements also considerably helped Xbox’s online subscription model appear more attractive than that of the Playstation 3.
Rewarding players in point form for completing tasks in video games certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking, or new for that matter. In 1978 Space Invaders burst its way into arcades across Japan, and two-years later the popular sci-fi shooter arrived in the US to much fanfare.
It wasn’t necessarily the gameplay that had players digging deep into their pockets for more money to feed into the cabinet, it was the opportunity to see their initials proudly sitting on-screen amongst the top ten players on the leaderboard. It was the desire to achieve a high score that motivated players to spend more and more.
Motivating players to reach a certain goal or earn a reward is essential gaming 101, Space Invaders started the trend, Xbox perfected it and practically everyone within the industry has followed suit since.
What’s most interesting about this method of encouraging engagement and spend is that it has crept into other aspects of our day-to-day lives, and we’ve barely even noticed it. This process is called gamification.
What exactly is gamification?
Organisations around the world are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to actively engage their users by incentivising the use of their product or service.
It’s quite likely that you’ve never actually heard of the phrase ‘gamification’ before, however, there’s absolutely no doubt that you’ll have been sucked in by this popular method of marketing, even if it’s just by buying a drink at your favourite coffee shop.
When you purchased your Roasted Hazelnut Macchiato did you get your loyalty card stamped? Take a moment and think… Did you purchase the coffee because you actually wanted a coffee, or did you get one because you’re only TWO stamps away from that elusive free coffee that you’ve been working towards for the last month?
By encouraging you to return each day and get your loyalty card stamped the store is nurturing a somewhat ambiguous emotional connection, regardless of whether you realised it or not. You absolutely need to go back again to ensure you can enjoy that wonderful free coffee you’ve been working towards.
That right there is a textbook example of gamification on the smallest scale, once you know it’s there, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. People just love to feel like they’re winning, even if they never truly intended in taking part in the first place.
The most common examples of gamification
Some people would argue that gamification works most effectively when implemented into our physical day-to-day routine… Supermarket reward cards being a prime example. Every shopping trip sees you amass points which in turn rewards perks further down the line such as discounts and freebies.
This doesn’t quite sync with the Xbox philosophy of gaining points for notoriety, however in this specific case consumers are known to be fiercely loyal to their chosen brand as they know they’re going to benefit long term as they continue to work towards attaining points.
Reward cards aren’t the only common examples of brands using gamification to drive specific behaviours and spending patterns, banks and credit reference agencies track and display data in a way that gently pushes consumers towards responsible spending/saving habits with graphs and totalisers rather than unfriendly cold, hard data.
Gamification can also be subtly used to drive engagement on tasks that are usually met with negativity or resistance, online training sessions within the workplace for example. Leading tech company Salesforce awards users with trophies and badges upon completing training modules which can be shared on LinkedIn and other social platforms.
This allows users to enjoy a slither of social gratification, whilst Salesforce benefit from the increased visibility amongst the users network.
How gamification dramatically increases screen time and engagement
Some of the biggest winners when it comes to successfully milking this method of marketing are companies that ply their trade either online or via mobile applications.
There are countless mobile apps that incentivise users to fire up their app up and take part in a daily activity, whether that be Duolingo encouraging people to learn a new phrase in French, Waze asking people to rate their route to work, adding important notes regarding traffic or Amazon’s Audible rewarding users for listening to a certain number of audiobooks.
All of these mobile applications share the same concept in that users are given badges and rankings based on their day-to-day engagement with the application, making them a power-user and a force to be reckoned with amongst their peers.
Two prominent examples of websites that have utilised gamification to their benefit are Stack Overflow and Reddit. Both are universally known online forums filled with communities that serve as a hub for discussion, debate and answers.
Users can give those who make meaningful and informative contributions to conversations upvotes which moves their response to the top of the thread, they can also gift users awards if they feel that a contribution is truly deserving. Both sites see users earn ‘reputation’ and ‘karma’ respectively which allow them to stand out as reputable contributors.
How casinos have mastered the art of gamification
One industry that seems to have truly mastered the art of gamification in a sophisticated manner over the last decade has been the iGaming world.
Reputable casinos have always looked at innovative new ways to improve player retention, one way they’ve achieved this is via the inclusion of casino loyalty schemes and rewards.
Leaderboards are often implemented in daily, weekly and monthly tournaments that encourage continued play over a prolonged period of time. Finishing amongst the top players on these leaderboards not only gives players a sense of accomplishment and status, but more often than not nets them high value prizes which makes their overall spend worth it.
Many casinos also implement level systems, this means that every single bet placed by a player awards them with a set amount of experience, this experience then goes towards levelling up, just as players would in a role playing video game. As players reach new levels they unlock new perks and benefits that enhance their overall casino experience.
It’s common knowledge amongst online casino-regulars that those who reach the upper-echelons of the levelling system will be rewarded with VIP status which sees them receive their own personal account manager, exclusive offers and expensive freebies.
The evolution of gamification
While not immediately obvious, slot game developers use psychology and game mechanics focusing on typical gamification personality types to increase screen-time and engagement of their players. Games typically exhibit behavioural momentum, bonus rounds, free spins and other privileges to keep the player engaged, excited, and rewarded. Online slots are no different, and the emergence of live casino game shows take the focus on player engagement even further.
This new genre of game sees players thrown directly into the action, engaging with a live real-time host, other players and taking part in unique bonus mini-games. While still in its infancy this truly seems like the natural evolution of gamification growing from simple leaderboards, badges and trophies into something that genuinely mimics and rivals the entertainment of a video game or live television game show.
Whether or not we see other industries take a step forward in the way they ‘gamify’ their products and services is yet to be seen, however what is certain is that most successful businesses are beginning to rely upon gamification in order to stand out from their competitors and offer their customers something different from the next.