Key considerations for gamification in modern product design

Marketing
Feb 4, 2022
Sean McTiernan
Editorial Content Writer
8
Min to read

Gamification is a powerful tool for driving engagement. Properly-implemented gamification creates adventurous, engaged customers and works wonders on issues like cart abandonment and customer retention. However, like anything powerful — there are dangers when used incorrectly. 

This blog outlines some of the key elements that need careful consideration when introducing gamification to a product. 

"A delayed game is eventually good, a rushed game is bad forever."

- Shigeru Miyamoto, Creator of Nintendo’s Super Mario

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The Pudding Problem

The end goal of gamification should not simply be “engagement”. Specifics are essential. After all, technically a fire drives engagement with a burning building. Both the desired behavior and potential rewards must be defined with great care. When adding game-like elements, you can learn as much from unexpected player behavior as from game design theory. “Min-maxing” is a great example of how poorly-defined criteria can be left open to abuse.

In role-playing games, players progress by earning points and spending them to improve their character’s skills. When min-maxing, players ignore thematic progression and focus every earned point into the single attribute with the greatest ROI i.e. strength. Designers usually do not account for this kind of behavior so players can progress much more quickly than intended, breaking the carefully-balanced game mechanics. When only designed with the ideal customer/player in mind, gamification can fall victim to the same loopholes. 

In 1999 Healthy Choice ran a promotion that offered participants 1,000 travel miles from the airline of their choice for every 10 product barcodes mailed back to the company. A Californian named David Phillips noticed Healthy Choice’s vague criteria valued all barcodes equally, no matter the product’s original price, and exchanged just $3,140 worth of chocolate pudding for 1.2 million air miles, a lifetime of free travel. The puddings were entirely incidental, eventually donated to the Salvation army for an $815 tax write-off. 

To avoid exploitation like this, Talon.One’s rules engine allows a business to set detailed, strict parameters for how points are accumulated and rewards are accrued. When designing a campaign, the rules engine makes it easy to define precise cause and effect — so min-maxing by one-time customers who have discovered a loophole in the system can be avoided. 

Carrot Vs Stick

While the rules on the backend should be strict, the opposite applies to the frontend customer experience. Gamification thrives when encouraging participation, not punishing non-compliance. 

In 2014 Wuppermann Staal, a Dutch steel company, introduced metrics that measured the success of each department, noting anything that interfered with production. In the abstract this approach makes sense, extending the friendly competitiveness of a motivated workforce while gathering valuable data about common productivity blockers. In practice it had the opposite effect. Employees were haunted by constant reminders of their every mistake.

Target, on the other hand, gamified its cashier system using positive reinforcement and saw a marked improvement in cashier efficiency. Instead of keeping a running tally of mistakes, they created a system that gave employees immediate positive feedback for efficiencies usually too subtle for a shop floor manager to pick up on. 

Similarly, if gamification over-focuses on deals missed and opportunities lost, it can foster resentment instead of urgency. If a customer does not participate in a gamified element of your product, such as not purchasing for a while or losing out on a time-limited offer they’ve earned like free shipping, your re-engagement hook has to err on the side of incentive rather than punishment. 

Task-based apps such as Tody encourage good habits by gamifying consistency. Users get points if they perform a certain task each day and are motivated by not breaking their streak. What initially seems like an attractive way to drive customer retention, losing all their progress is a great motivator for a customer to go elsewhere. Setting milestones that permanently recognize customer loyalty always gives them something to build on, a reason to return. 

Control The Narrative

Milestones help customers track their own history at a glance, a great reminder that games are also a powerful tool for telling stories. This doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional, in-depth story, even the most simple mobile game is driven by some kind of narrative. Theming achievements, levels and rewards to match your branding and your values promote trust and familiarity as well as return business. Like the examples of productivity mentioned above, the gamified elements of the product can seem cold and mechanical if they don’t feel like an organic development of your brand identity. 

This balance can also tip in the other direction. In a more abstract sense, rewarding consistency or adventurousness with discounts and advance notice of sales can recreate the feeling of building up trust and cache that customers normally get from a small local store. This is the most important narrative of all. Gamification can be well-designed and exciting but if it is only compelling in isolation and doesn’t drive the customer journey, it has not fulfilled its purpose. Occasionally, gamification can even completely overshadow the original product.

Focus On The Objective 

Consider the puzzle game Drop7, designed as part of an augmented reality game to promote TV crime procedural Numb3rs. Drop7 was so successful it was eventually named as the 24th best video game of all time by Edge magazine. Though this may seem positive, Numb3rs or the campaign it was part of are rarely ever mentioned in the praise garnered by Drop7. The original purpose was completely eclipsed. 

Issues like this often stem from siloed development. In isolation, fantastic game design doesn’t necessarily drive engagement with the core product itself. If the connection to the brand or buying behavior is too obtuse, the consumer is left with a distraction that actively detracts from sales instead of driving them. The metric for judging the success of gamification is not customer interaction, it is how much of that interaction transfers to engagement with the core product.

With Talon.One’s rules engine, long-term customer data and session data can be leveraged to provide robust gamification that matches your brand while serving the goal of encouraging customer engagement. Talon.One’s Insights dashboard also shows the cause and effect results of a campaign in-depth, allowing you to track how your gamification is affecting customer behavior.

Build your gamification roadmap

After taking these potential outcomes into consideration, it’s time to start brainstorming how gamification can help you reach your growth goals. Here’s a suggested model for your implementation plan.

  1. Define your goals and metrics for success
  2. Research the status quo — what are your current customer segments, demographics and current tech stack capabilities?
  3. Define target behaviors and potential motivators based on the customer profiles of your target segments 
  4. Based on current user behavior, pinpoint the game mechanics that could drive potential growth
  5. Design your ‘story’ — create a prototype that takes the user through each stage of the desired user journey
  6. Launch your MVP — follow through testing and evaluation to roll out
  7. Tweak your plans based on the results you defined at the outset
  8. Iterate on your campaign

The benefit of a system like Talon.One is that it plugs into your existing systems, and is fully interoperable, allowing you to mix ‘n’ match between different rewards and hooks at different stages. What we find with clients is that the original idea is often not where they end up — so you need to have the flexibility to adjust course through the build process. 

Luckily with Talon.One’s Promotion Engine, the possibilities are endless. Businesses have limitless customization and personalization options while building their promotional campaign, potentially combining coupons, discounts, loyalty and referral programs, bundles, gift cards, geofenced campaigns, and much more.

Download your free copy of ‘Promotion Gamification: How and Why It Works’ to gain a deeper understanding of how to implement gamification in your business. 


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Popular gamification techniques explained
How to set up your own gamified promotions
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Engage customers with gamified promotions
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