In the 40’s and 50’s, companies discovered that if they put convincing messaging in front of people while they are listening to the radio or watching TV, they could influence behavior. But as those mediums and techniques begin to fade in their natural cycle of age and decline, what if instead of getting interrupted, people get wrapped in contexts filled with game mechanics that DIRECTLY induce them to take action. After all, there is no more consistent way to predictably induce desired behavior in humans than engaging them in a a context that uses game mechanics such as leader boards, leveling, currencies, stored value, privileges, super-powers, status indicators, random reward schedules, etc. It’s like life, and we were designed to respond to these stimuli.
A good example of this is Tencent in China, a social network where many members have virtual pets. If Tencent wants to increase revenues at the end of a quarter, they simply write a script that make a large portion of those pets sick, which causes the owners to need to buy virtual medicine for the pet to heal it. Voila, a strong finish to the quarter.
MyCokeRewards is another good example. It’s a loyalty program involving many standard game mechanics, which last year accounted for an enormous portion of Coke’s ad spend. Instead of spending the money on TV ads, they spent it on getting people engaged with a virtual currency, leaderboards, quests, and each other. (Gabe Zichermann calls this stuff “funware.” It’s a good name for it. I also like the idea of the “gamification” of everything, which I’ve heard Clay Shirky and Bret Terrill use.)
Gamification is coming to everything in the next few years. The next portal is a game. The next email is a game. The next social network is a game. Your next trip to the supermarket could be a game. Your next job could be a game. That means a lot of things, but for one, people with an understanding of those mechanics and how to create contexts will be highly valued. Second, gamification is just the beginning, and will continue for decades.
So forward thinking people should consider marketing dead. To heck with cajoling, influencing, convincing, and motivating. Create contexts for people where it is in their self interest to do what you want them to do. It works for them, and it works for you. And that might be the best part of it, is that as everything gamifies, we’re going to like it. It’s fun! and taking action in a well defined context with a clear rewards structure can be flat out meaningful for people.