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In 2011, a16z co-founder Marc Andreesen wrote that “software is eating the world,” describing how software was disrupting so many industries that we previously thought existed only in the “physical world.”
Rattling off examples like book selling and retail (Amazon), movies (Netflix), telecom (Skype) and other early 2000s era success stories, he argued that software had become the ubiquitous rails businesses run on, and that it also enabled ultrafast scalability, and gave tired businesses a new lease on life.
Looking at how that trend has played out over the past 12 years, I can’t help but draw some parallels with how, today, gaming and gamification have become omnipresent in many spheres of life and business.
I recently moderated a panel at Emerge conference in Dubai, where with Sandro Gelashvili (Google), Philip Wride (ClassBridges), Simon Hoffmann (GameIN) and Gevorg Sargsyan (Playtena), we discussed how gaming has moved from the realm of geek culture to a place where nearly 40% of the world’s population -more than three billion people- say they play video games.
There are many implications of gaming going mainstream. For one, with more and more people enjoying gaming, it means that gamification -the application of game-like mechanics into non-game situations- can become a successful approach and incentive system applied in learning, marketing, finance, and more. Here’s a look at how it is all playing out:
1. GAMIFIED EDUCATION The COVID-19 pandemic thrust games-based learning and gamification in learning onto the centerstage. With students cooped up at home and most learning taking place on-device, teachers sought a way to make things more fun, interactive, engaging. And studies are already showing that game-based platforms like Kahoot are delivering significantly higher outcomes for students than otherwise. Meanwhile, ClassBridges -based out of Dubai- aims to support the learning and development of one million children with the use of video games. Their team creates math resources like learning tools, workbooks, exercises and guides based on popular video games such as Minecraft and Among Us.
2. THE MARKETING GAME Gamification has become an increasingly popular strategy in marketing too, as companies leverage game mechanics and design elements to engage customers while also enhancing customer experience (CX). Point-based loyalty programs have been around for ages, but you now see airlines and ride-hailing and coffeeshops rewarding customers with video game-style virtual badges for completing quests, trying new products, referring friends, or reaching certain accomplishments on a brand’s website or mobile app. Such achievements often unlock new benefits or discounts. Meanwhile, Netflix and Amazon have followed the course of movie studios, and they’ve started creating mobile games to promote their movie franchises and streaming series. Netflix’s Stranger Things games are good examples of this, and recent high-level hires demonstrate there’s more to come. Netflix also gamified the viewing experience by adding choose-your-own-adventure gameplay into the “Bandersnatch” episode of its Black Mirror series. Due to the subscription model pricing of Netflix and Amazon, it seems to be less about revenue expansion, and more about time spent on the platform as well as deepened user engagement. This approach is quite similar to Nintendo, who revealed rather straightforwardly last year that they view their mobile gaming titles as a marketing strategy for their console platforms.
3. NEXT-LEVEL FITNESS How many of us can remember a childhood where our parents told us to put down the controller and go play outside? Outdoor activities, whether it be sport or just walking around, have become gamified as well thanks to the popularity of wearables like Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple Watch, all of which can track number of steps, calories, heartbeats and more, as well as alert us of our own progress (or lack thereof), and how our friends are beating us in exercise today. Maps-based fitness apps like Strava have also done a lot to gamify cycling, jogging, swimming, and running by pitting you against other “players” in your area, as well as offering digital badges and discounts from partner brands when you complete certain challenges. Brands such as Adidas have started to award points when a customer buys their products, uploads a sports activity or completes a challenge. The points could be spent on discount vouchers, entries into exclusive giveaways and other rewards.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
Today, we live in a truly gamified environment, where familiar tactics are employed even for buying a cup of coffee or using a language-learning app, and, often, we may not even realize it.
Gamification is everywhere, which means that those of us with experience designing game mechanics, incentives and so on, have a skillset that will be in greater demand, both within our industry and beyond it.
In addition, we should be willing to see this as a two-way street, where we can also gain insights, and learn new things from gamification being applied in other industries– there could be some amazing innovation that arises from cross-pollination.