Published March 2018

For nearly 20 years, companies have used gamification—applying game mechanics to something other than a game—to engage with customers. A revolution in content marketing, gamification hooks people emotionally and guides them naturally to the consumer funnel. And, to nobody’s surprise, some companies have seen it increase audience engagement by 50% or more.1 Because gaming is more than just fun. Humans are, as it turns out, naturally wired for this stuff.

At Quango, gamification has proven to be a tried and true strategy for grabbing—and keeping—audience attention. We execute gamified campaigns regularly, from the obvious (video games) to the less obvious (interactive web and event experiences). Over the years, we’ve learned a few things. Here are the top 5 takeaways to remember when pondering this type of approach.

1. Keep It Simple

From Pong to Call of Duty, all great games have simplicity at their core. That doesn’t mean they’re not dynamic or multi-layered—merely that they have both a clear objective and evident progression toward an outcome. Similarly, game mechanics must start with simple, consistent rules. As you build off of them, it’s important to circle back regularly to ensure that you haven’t lost your way or convoluted the user’s path.

When you add marketing to the mix, the game becomes multifaceted by necessity. On top of offering a fun experience, you have to sell something or distribute key information in hopes of influencing an action. Simplicity grows trickier as you intertwine these two objectives. Real games take real skill, and mastering them is what makes them great—but when you gamify a marketing campaign, you don’t want to alienate your potential audience because they keep losing or don’t understand what to do next. Don’t kid yourself: In marketing, your “experience” is not a real game. Everyone wins. If you want results, you’ve got to keep it simple.

Google’s Interland game, part of their Internet Awesome campaign, teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship through gamification of key lessons on digital safety.

2. Release Content over Time

Think about how your favorite games work. Usually, there are levels, or at least stages of progression. At Quango, we’ve found that breaking up content this way is great, too, because it allows you to funnel your audience toward different actions at different times—rather than throwing too much at them all at once. Ideally, you’ll have a decent body of content ready when your gamified campaign launches. But when you break up your releases over time, you don’t get hung up on everything needing to be available out of the gate.

A good tactic is to launch with the first level and prime the audience to come back at a certain date for the next one. As long as you incentivize that return, there is an opportunity to loop in a larger audience with each release. The most effective campaigns are sustained across quarters, as opposed to being a flash in the pan. This segmentation makes it easier to manage outreach, with the added bonus of allowing you to course-correct as you observe audience behavior.

By delivering content over 8 consecutive “tracks” released every two weeks, we were able to educate our audience on a wealth of information and refine the experience along the way.

3. Use the Real World

It’s always a good idea to contextualize your game around something culturally relevant. Even better is to implement an action the user might be performing anyway. Say your audience contains current and prospective members of a certain program. In this scenario, you could leverage a specific member requirement as incentive for progressing through the game—like members who complete a stage by a set date would qualify for a desired program benefit. Double the payoff, double the incentive.

In 2012, Autodesk released a game in support of boosting trial downloads of their 3ds Max software. Users were asked to perform missions that guided them through interactions with various aspects of the product. When the free tutorial ended, the game prompted a download, rewarding completed missions with a discount for purchase. The campaign increased trial usage by more than 50% and drove a 15% increase in “Buy” clicks.1

Autodesk introduced new software features to their target audience of artists and designers by engaging their creative skills in a gamified tutorial.

4. Pick a Lane

When deciding how best to gamify an experience, keep your objective and how it relates to your target demographic close at heart. Based on that, plan an approach that remains consistent from beginning to end. Will your users solve a series of puzzles? Will they control a vehicle by driving or flying? Is the game story-driven, like an RPG? Don’t mix it up too much. Remember step 1—introducing too many play dynamics can confuse the objective.

A couple of years ago, Quango developed a side-scrolling game in which the player maneuvered through a map to collect tokens that unlocked crucial information about the campaign product. At the end of each level, the player battled a boss in a dodge-and-attack mechanic (think Sonic the Hedgehog). During the concept phase, it was tempting to get carried away—to introduce side missions, or make each boss fight in a different style. In the end, keeping the game consistent allowed players to build on their accumulated experience rather than forcing them to constantly learn a new set of rules.

By focusing on an objective and maintaining consistent gameplay mechanics, you have a better chance of keeping your audience’s interest and successfully communicating your message.

5. More Experience, Less Content

This one is undoubtedly the biggest challenge. Especially in the B2B space, where awareness is simply not enough, the campaign may need to deliver a huge amount of content (in the form of messaging, downloads, quizzes, or a lead-gen activity like collecting signups). The best way to handle this is to expand the experience so that it provides air cover for the content delivery.

Ultimately, people just want to play the game. Focus on experience first—then decide how to break up that content so the game incentivizes engagement. Be honest in your perception of your audience; people generally don’t want to sign up for stuff, download things, or read a white paper. Deliver the content organically. Spread it out, or reward each content-related action with a game-based action. Whatever you propose, your goal is to sustain engagement. If you do it right, your audience will follow—and the results will speak for themselves.

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  1. “Autodesk Scores a Home Run with Gamification.” Social Media Explorer, November 2012.