All the World’s a Game, and We are Merely Players

Gamification as a concept has been around for a while. I am not a psychologist so the science behind it eludes me. All I know is it can work. The gaining of badges, achievements, etc. seem to motivate people to engage on forums and with brands. So let’s spend some time talking about the concept and some of the issues you need to be aware of.

Let’s start with my favorite video clip explaining how you can gamify your life. The speaker is Jane McGonigal and she spends some time talking about how she gamified her own life. This is a pretty inspiring talk:

What is this gamification thing, anyway?

Wikipedia says that gamification is the use of game thinking and mechanics in a non-game context. So, if you make a game out of doctor visits, blood pressure checks, trips to the gym, etc, you are gamifying wellness. For some this external motivator overcomes their natural inertia to do nothing. Motivating people to take care of themselves is definitely no simple task.

Gamifying takes place also very subtly in some of our rewards based programs. A $50 check for driving safely over the last insurance period is a game-type reward. I wonder how many people think about that when they drive though? There are teen safe driving systems that give instant feedback on risky driving behavior, such as hard-stops and starts and quick lane changes. The immediacy of such feedback does change behavior over time.

Gamification of marketing is also something that over 70% of companies are looking to for marketing and customer retention. Very cool stuff for those that are motivated by these types of external rewards.

The biggest issue I see with gamification is data collection practices. What data are you collecting to administer the game aspect of your campaign? Is there are correlation between the data you are collecting and information that is regulated? Think age, for instance. How are you handling the data and where is it going?

The more you gamify something, the closer you get to the Children’s Privacy line. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) governs the collection of personal data from children under the age of 13. The recent amendment to COPPA also expanded the definition of who is collecting this data.

If you gamify a marketing campaign have you made it more desirable to those protected by COPPA? Many brands use the quick legal sleight of hand to say in their terms that it is not meant for children under age of 13. Q.E.D., right? Wrong. If you make something attractive to a child, you will be subject to the provisions of COPPA. Unless your subject matter may be too complicated for children, or you effectively age-gate, you will need some provisions in your campaign to deal with COPPA.

Other than data collection and COPPA, you are left with all the practical issues of any marketing campaign. Find someone who has some experience in gamification and pick their brain. Ask yourself if the game elements work for your campaign. And be open to comments from folks who “just don’t get it.”

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