Increase User Engagement With Gaming Techniques


These are my notes from the Increase User Engagement With Gaming Techniques panel at FailCon 2010.

The panel consists of:

  • Greg Mand; GSM Consulting (moderator)
  • Rebecca Watson VP of Business Development at gWallet
  • Farb Nivi Founder and CEO of Grockit
  • Mihir Shah President and CEO of Tapjoy, previously VP of Ad Networks at RockYou

Why are Gaming Elements Taking Hold in the Marketplace?

Rebecca: It gets the users addicted. Especially on a social network, there's competition between friends and there are egos involves; this increases the time spent on the site and the overall number of page views which means you're making more money.

Farb: I think game mechanics are synonymous with increased engagement. So if you talk about some explicit function to reward users who participate in their product, that's really what they're talking about: engagement. People are looking at the reward feedback of games as a way to promote engagement. Game mechanics are human mechanics, just a little simpler and more beautiful than what we have in the real world. Also, games can be engineered to largely focus on the positive feedback, and make it more explicit and more interesting than even the real world.

Mahir: The first area is virality, where the social gaming firms did really well. The second is engagement, how you get folks "into" the game, aka leaderboards, and the third is monetization. I think it's important to think of game mechanics in those three buckets, and the buckets have to be appropriate to the site or application that you're trying to "game-ify". Because folks like Zynga did all three so well, it seems to some like they could be applied in all verticals. I think that was more of a perfect storm, and all three may not be applicable outside that vertical.

How can Gaming Fail?

Farb: Your feedback over the first few minutes has to be positive, and after that, still keep the negative feedback to a minimum.

Rebecca: Targeting your audience too specifically. Adult women enjoy playing these games as well, just to pass the time. That area has been overlooked, I think.

Mihir: It's an issue of execution against a specific application. Let me make it specific. We have something called GamePoint, which is conceptually a way for a gamer to go to a destination site, interact with videos or surveys, and earn credits that they could use with their Zynga games. I thought this was a great idea, because I thought of it. A couple million bucks into it, it basically crashed. We had the right mix of short-term satisfaction, which is key to engagement. But we had absolutely no user acquisition strategy, so we didn't use any viral channels to actually populate it. We had about 100 people playing it, which was pretty much a failure. If you don't have users coming into the site constantly, it's not going to work. It's a pretty high churn. You could have the greatest engagement and the greatest mechanics, and nothing is going to happen. We're not really investing in GamePoint anymore.

Farb: People are visual beings, and they like seeing their actions represented in a visual way, such as a badge. As soon as you have a visual feedback mechanism, even though it may not be called a game, people may play it as such. A lot of kids look at getting grades in school as a game, although the school doesn't present it as a game. It's a situation where you can understand the feedback mechanism and "game" it so to speak. It's a cheap thrill for some people, casual gaming is essentially filling in that free time you have in the day with something enjoyable.

Should Everything be Game-ifyed?

Rebecca: One area that I've been studying for years, online dating, I've seen a lot of misfires. Companies like where you're counting on people who aren't looking for a date to make matches... there was no reward for them, they just wanted to do it for a friend. I think the reward is really important, to be enough of an incentive to drive volume. Some companies send out tweets about which food cart is going to be where in San Francisco and give out goodies to the first 50 users. Other users get a consolation prize, they get to eat from that food cart. It's almost like a two-level hierarchy or prizes.

What Pitfalls Should We Avoid?

Mihir: I think Yelp has done a really effective implementation. They've created a first user badge, a most-frequently-visited user badge, and they've done a good job with that. The times I've seen it not work, there's a game called Star Wars Galaxies by Sony. They implemented a number of gameification elements into the game. There was no communication with their userbase or even a user round table. It was a very successful title, and within about six months after they released their gameificiation to drive engagement, they have basically killed the game. We would counsel to take a prudent approach when rolling things out.

I think there's an element of "too much", and we need to focus on what that content site wants, what game mechanics will actually help that specific goal. Part of the problem at FailCon is that we're about a year too early. There will be some epic failures this year. Next year, there's going to be a pretty impressive list of folks who went too far or not far enough, or just chose the wrong site.

What Industry is the Hottest for Game Integration?

Mihir: Local is definitely leveraging it. You get your friends involved, group buying power, and overall they've done it very well. I'm going to be watching healthcare. A number of healthcare verticals have implemented gameification such that if I run 5 miles, it tells you how many calories you've burned and how far you are along your path. They're starting to implement very tight feedback loops on something that is generally a long time before you see results. Also, I think you'll see a lot more gameificiation on mobile, especially text messaging. Many of these really smart app developers are trying to inject the Facebook-style gameification into a mobile app.

Rebecca: Also education, from LeapFrog to app developers who are creating app functionality that allows users to learn a language and interact with other people.

Farb: I think Education, Healthcare and Local are the top three areas. If you're split testing, A/B testing, that's a really conservative and intelligent way of proving out statistically what is successful. Throw out a leaderboard one day to a certain percentage of folks and see if that engages them. If it's not doing anything, it's not doing anything.

Do Points Ever Translate to Real Items?

Mihir: Lots of programs give you points based on your engagement, and almost everyone is doing something where you can redeem that currency back into some value with the merchants.

Rebecca: Some developers are even donating money to charity based on points, and the user can determine which charity the money is given to.

What About Gameification in the Enterprise?

Mihir: Some companies play games in terms of turning in forms or other taks, and giving rewards based on who turns it in first, for example. I believe that was a Bunchball solution.

Rebecca: In my last company, we had an employee incentive program to drive traffic to our site, and the employee with the most amount of traffic made some money. In the end everybody won, because the company benefited from it.

Is Gaming Deep or Shallow?

Mihir: You can't just put a veneer on the existing site. It's not about fun. It's about leveraging what makes games so engaging, and applying it to other industries. We have one client which is a telecommunications company, who implemented the concept of leveling up and pay as you go micro-transaction strategy, and they've hit it out of the park. If they just put a new skin on it and said "let your friends know!" it probably wouldn't have worked. And this is a firm that has tripled revenue in three months, simply by doing these things.


There will be plenty of failure next year, we look forward to having this panel at FailCon 2011!

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