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Gamification goes mainstream

Lamont Wood | Jan. 25, 2012
Increased sales, increased participation, increased engagement. It doesn't sound like a game, but those are some of the goals, and reported achievements, of the new field of "gamification."

For consumers

Gamification on consumer sites is typically intended to heighten user engagement, so customers will be more likely to come back. The Record Searchlight, a daily newspaper in Redding, Calif., turned to gamification in hopes of keeping readers by raising the level of discourse in the comments that readers can attach to a story, says Silas Lyons, the paper's editor. The company did this by using a badge system from Bunchball.

"Like many newspapers, we struggle with the comment area becoming a complete cesspool with some flashes of brilliance, but it is a point of high engagement with the users," Lyons explains. So the paper added an "Insightful" button next to the existing "Suggest Removal" button.

Readers who get at least three 'Insightful' votes on at least one of their comments receive a level-one badge, with higher-level badges for those whose get at least three votes on each of the ascending numbers of comments. These badges appear both on their trophy pages and on other comments they write, amounting to a reputation rating. Users also get badges for posting content and for reading certain sections, among other things.

After three months, "we saw a 10% increase in comment volume, and the time spent on site increased by about 25% per session," says Lyons. The number of comments that had to be removed also fell noticeably, he adds, despite the overall increase in the number of comments.

Another example is World Travel Holdings, a reseller of cruise vacations based in Wilmington, Mass., which turned to Manumatix for a system to reward customer loyalty. Registered users of the site get points for posting content related to vacation cruises, explains Willie Fernandez, vice president at World Travel Holdings. They can use those points for merchandise including hats, wallets and umbrellas, for free shore excursions on a cruise, or to enter drawings for electronic devices.

With the use of leveling, the prizes get better as more points are accumulated.

"The feedback is sensational; they are constantly asking for more prizes," says Fernandez. After six months of use, "our active user participation went up 24%, and we have seen an increase in bookings from its use," says Fernandez. Various tracking mechanisms let him pinpoint which bookings can be credited to gamification, he says, and which to other forms of marketing. However, he would not provide specifics on the amount of the increase in bookings.

Of course, there were lessons. At Redding, Lyons says that the site's "deal-finder" badge was a bust. Users earned it by signing up to receive promotional emails. Instead, they dispensed with the honor, in droves.

"We saw an actual decline in the number of those signing up for our promotional emails," he says. "We were offering them a lousy deal in this case: In return for accepting more junk in their inbox, we would turn this badge from gray to blue. The lesson is that you can't just slap badges on things, check them off a list and call it a day. Gamification is not a no-risk strategy. It has to be done right."

 

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