Arment Dietrich

Game Mechanics and Its Effect On Marketing

By: Arment Dietrich | June 1, 2011 | 

Gini Dietrich and I get the question often, “What is the point of Foursquare? Why are you on it?”

Our answer?

So we can beat one another. That’s the reason. We just want to win.

So when David Tyler, Chris Pirillo, and Mike Schneider took the stage at BlogWorld East to talk about the marketing effect of gamification, I was in for a treat.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the act of applying the things that make games interesting to non-game activities. Baseball isn’t fun unless you start looking at the statistics such as ERA’s and batting averages, and then talk about it with your friends at the bar. (Full disclosure, I still don’t think baseball is fun even when you look at those stats but that’s just me.)

Games, points, and leaderboards have been around forever. Now, we can apply these game mechanics to non-game activities in the online world to drive loyalty, and influence  customers to complete a behavior or set of behaviors.

There are a lot of companies that are doing this well:

  • Buffalo Wild Wings. A bar where you can go and play games. They use SCVNGR, a game about going places, doing challenges, and earning points.
  • Socialfresh. They want agencies to list themselves so they motivate them to complete their profiles by listing based on level of completion.
  • Empire Avenue. Gamifies you and your social graph by rewarding advocates to ”touch their social graph.”
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn wants you to provide as much data as possible so they show you a progress bar that gives you a percentage of completedness. We hate to see we’re only 70 percent complete, right?

Seth Preibatsch, chief ninja of SVNGR was not on the panel, but he did do a Ted Talk on Adding a Game Layer to the World. If you have 12 and a half minutes, I highly recommend you watch.

Seth argues that no one is doing gamification right. Yet.

He dissects the process for us.

Four Dynamics that Drive Game Play

  1. Appointment: Influence someone to be at a place at a specific time.
  2. Influence and status: Like the coveted black American Express card, create demand by making it difficult to achieve.
  3. Progression: Motivate to get through a certain number of steps.
  4. Communal discovery: Work together to achieve something.


It’s not enough to just make a game. You have to think about the behavior you are trying to drive. Decide what the story is that you want to tell. Think about the game mechanics you want to employ to accomplish both of these things.

Once you have the idea, use the tool of game mechanics to create an interactive campaign.

I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts:

1.     Gamification cannot solve a bad product. No game is going to make a person loyal to a brand if the brand is crappy. If you are looking for the answer to creating loyalty, it is in creating a great product.

2.     The last five to 10 years, the digital world has been building the social layer and now we’re building the game layer. If you’re starting a community today, you need to think about building gamification into it and unleash the ability to tap into a larger community.

Is this cool or what? How can you incorporate this into your online activities?

Thanks to Vegan Japan for the image.

  • great stuff I’m sure my bud @joey_strawn will be over here shortly…

  • LisaThorell

    Nice post pulling together some of the companies using gamification and the dynamics driving it. (SCVNGR knows their stuff!) One of the issues I often hit with clients on adopting gaming principles is resistance to the fact that this is more than a kid’s game. On this, I found Aaron Dignan’s book Game Frame, most enlightening — especially his reference to a PopCap study that the average age of a social gamer is 43 yo. . That has helped move clients off the dime!

  • @faybiz You know me so well. : )

  • Lisa, great post! This topic has been one of interest for me for a while. I’m even dedicating about a third of my blog posts going forward to dissecting how gamification can be applied to social media to improve and increase engagement and loyalty.

    It’s really interesting to look back through history and see how communities are formed and survive. First, there’s chaos and separation, then groups and networks form, then business and gameplay are introduced and societies that excel at both (i.e. Greeks, Romans, etc.) thrive and expand. The same thing is happening online and now that networks and businesses have set up shop, it’s only a matter of time for communities to implement game mechanics to succeed. I’ve been an avid gamer my entire life and have merged my two passions of social media and gamification to see where we might all be headed and hopefully help to lead the way.

    Thanks for writing such a great article and bringing up this topic!

  • @LisaThorell Game Frame is great. I also highly suggest Game-Based Marketing and Game On! They are both enlightening and wonderfully entertaining reads. : )

  • @joey_strawn so glad to see someone who shares the same enthusiasm with me! I am NOT a gamer as it turns out, but I was fascinated by this topic. TOtally love it. Maybe you should guest blog for us on it? I love the concept you talk about – how communities are formed and survive?

  • @joey_strawn @LisaThorell excellent, I’m adding this to my already fairly long reading list! and you’re right, Lisa. It’s definitely NOT kids’ stuff!

  • @faybiz haha! so, tell me. Why do you owe ericamallison bigtime?

  • ericamallison is good peeps. Course, you are probably the first person to notice that- I don’t think she has… so don’t tell her.

    I was supposed to get her something for her blog and was a true slacker and she STILL did a profile on me…

    I love this gamification of life. Have YOU read Reality is Broken either? joey_strawn and I were TRYING to get ginidietrich to read it!

  • CristerDelaCruz

    Hey, I won a $100 during Chicago Restaurant week just for playing SCVNGR (didn’t really think I would win, but what the heck?!). And as for Foursquare, well, as Gini knows, I check in so it doesn’t take y’all 3 days to find me just in case I disappear or something… so it’s more for SAFETY, not gaming… okay, maybe a bit of that too.

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  • @Lisa Gerber I’d be happy to write up a guest post. I’ll have to think of a good topic, but I’m totally in. : )

  • @faybiz ericamallison ginidietrich It’s awesome!

  • @faybiz ericamallison joey_strawn ginidietrich Ok, I’m here! What’d I miss?

    Oh, I see…Todd’s bio says he owes me big time…he’s being dramatic! I’m just doing my job! I’m gaming my blog in the hopes that I’ll one day rise to world domination (he, he, he).

    thanks, Todd. I love this post, @Lisa Gerber ! I need to get clued in. Case in point, you asked to be friends on FourSquare and I was a little concerned because if ever someone could damage your overall impact, it’s me. Wait, that doesn’t apply there, does it? In that case, you could totally beat me on FourSqaure!

  • HowieSPM

    Last summer I had a phone meeting with SCVNGR for a client and in August got a Droid so of course downloaded Gowalla and Foursquare etc. I got tired really quick. To this day I have gotten one deal for playing (free Chips and Salsa at Chilis).

    But I love Gamification. And what I have learned from running social game promotions for a client is the reward must be worth more than bragging rights. And unless the reward is worthwhile people get bored really fast.

    A great case study was when Starbuck’s made the Foursquare Mayorship Program. If you think about the people who will compete at a high traffic business will be just the top 1-5% pf customers because the rest will know they can never win. I bet at each starbucks (no idea the number of unique customers they have on average) no more than 10 to 15 people competed to be mayor to get the special pricing.

    So I am working on a game of a SCVNGR nature for a client that requires hurdles but has a significant prize that anyone who can completes can win the prize. But overall I am skeptical on this being much of a long term or high impact marketing strategy.

  • I’m a gamer, but I don’t think I use Foursquare to compete with people. That problem probably exists because I have about 5 or 6 friends on Foursquare, so there’s not a whole ton of competition to be had. I secretly try to beat my brother, dreshfield though. To be honest, I mainly do it to keep track of my travels (there’s something satisfying about checking in at airports and seeing how many miles it’s been since your last check-in), and to check in at interesting or fun restaurants. Other than that, I either don’t think about it or just don’t care enough to pull out my phone and disengage with the people around me.

    That being said, since I am a gamer, gamification really excites me. I hope to see it used more to promote brands.

  • @annedreshfield dreshfield Hi Anne, well now that you mention it, Foursquare motivates you in different ways. Some of us do it to beat others, some of us do it to compete with ourselves (ie tracking how far you’ve gone, where you’ve been). Definitely fun to integrate it into marketing. 🙂

  • @CristerDelaCruz that’s hilarious, Crister, because so many people won’t play because they don’t think it’s safe. You play it FOR safety. Awesome. :)!!

  • @HowieSPMtotally agree! I won’t bother if I know the odds are super steep. Empire Avenue is a great example, however, the second you join, you start earning badges, people start investing in you. It sucks you right in. When the rewards are easy, then it’s motivating. I compare it to training the dog. If you make it too hard for them, they just give up.

    There. We’re dogs.

  • @Lisa Gerber dreshfield Lisa, I suppose you’re right! Even though I’m not consciously competing with others, I’m competing with myself (and earning those badges is pretty addictive).

  • ginidietrich

    Dang. You REALLY want me to watch this video, don’t you?! Jeez. OK! OK!

  • ginidietrich

    @annedreshfield @Lisa Gerber You want to friend Lisa and me? We’ll compete with you!

  • @ginidietrich NO!!!!!!!!!! do not watch it. I don’t want you to watch it.

  • @ginidietrich Did you mean will kick her butt? @annedreshfield

  • SimoneNicoletti

    i think so

  • SimoneNicoletti

    @annedreshfield @Lisa Gerber dreshfield

    you are right

  • Why does this surprise me with you two? Haha. Great post @Lisa Gerber I definitely want to check out the Ted Talk when I get a chance. Thanks for breaking it down though. You bring up a good point about the need to incorporate games, and hey you are “living your talk” (as jillfoster would say) with the gaming mechanic you’ve incorporated into spinsuckspro . May the best woman win 😉

  • @rachaelseda jillfoster spinsuckspro I think that’s why the topic fascinates me so much. It’s nothing new but we’ve been trying to figure out how to implement this “competition” into Spin Sucks Pro, and since neither @ginidietrich nor I are gamers, we weren’t entirely sure how to go about doing it. It was great to see someone sort of break out a process and identify the different dynamics involved!

  • adamtoporek

    @HowieSPM I completely agree. This whole concept is really intriguing but I think you have to figure out a way to make the game interesting for people who really have no chance of “winning”.

  • LisaThorell

    @adamtoporek @HowieSPM That’s an excellent point Adam makes – “ow to make the game interesting to people who have no chance of winning”. Again- I’ll bring up Dignan’s Game Frame book which has some pretty neat discussion on “renewal” mechanisms — refreshing player’s pts with “power-ups” (he gives Monopoly as an example: Everybody collects $200 when they pass “Go”) Great game design keeps people believing they are winners (and maybe they truly are) longer. Case in pt: I studied the NetFlix $1 Mn Challenge in detail. One of the cool things they did was a “Last Call to Action” where after a team submitted a solution, NetFlix broadcast to all participants they had 48 hrs to get in their solution or this team won. Whoa- that is when the challenge went wild: losers became winners as team members rehustled and recombined to submit. Fantastic design.

  • You lost me at “Baseball isn’t fun unless you start looking at the statistics.”

    I’ll admit baseball isn’t for everyone. But while statistics enhance the fun for some, they aren’t necessary for many, many people to enjoy the game.

  • (thud)

    That kind of comment would usually be enough to start a holy war on a sports blog. I figured it would’ve at least sparked some more conversation. Awesome post though, even if we disagree on baseball. Wish I could’ve added something better. Oh well…

    BTW, I’m actually working on “gamifying” baseball. Long story. I’ll let you know when it’s completed so you can tell me if it makes the game any more interesting to you.

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  • Very nice post! I’ve also begun to give this notion some heavy thought with a big focus on Facebook and the value of a “like” both for the Page and also for the Person “liking” a Page. There are some real game mechanics at play there and now Google has made another entry in “gamification” with +1.

    It seems that a big challenge has been separating the raw numbers (the Game) from real value.

  • @fitzternet wow! for some reason I missed both of your comments until just now. and apparently so did others, because that holy war was avoided. LOL! Even though I know nothing about baseball, and have no business even discussing it, seems to me if there weren’t even a score, baseball still wouldn’t be fun. Has to be some type of game mechanics, oui?

  • @Gadarian Sure!! the proof is always in the measurement. very good point. 🙂

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  • Dootson

    @FunkinBrilliant exactly!