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Gamifying Your Website and Business

December 17, 2011 · 4 comments

in Internet Marketing

The world of search engine optimization is evolving and, in the great online war to gain and keep the attention of users, many companies are looking to games as a source of inspiration. It may just be the solution needed to provide an unfair advantage over your competitors.

As any Facebook or smartphone user knows, games are an ever-expanding part of our culture, especially with younger generations. From Mafia Wars to Angry Birds, World of Warcraft to Magic the Gathering, games can give us insight into how we can make our businesses more attractive, and even addictive, to users.

Business Like A Child

When we were kids, we created games and challenges for ourselves using our imaginations. We would develop a storyline to follow and, in that process, devise small, achievable goals for ourselves. While playing with friends, we received feedback about our progress, “You can’t do that! The village is in a secret valley…you can’t see it!” Yet, all the while, we are able to play in a safe environment, unhindered by parents, and sharing our creativity with like minds.

The current trend in gamifying businesses, however, doesn’t always work because too many companies are assuming users are motivated by points, badges, and leaderboards – all aspects found in many popular games.

Though these aspects are indeed present, in and of themselves, they lack substance and therefore, won’t create the pull companies are looking for. To work, a game has to have a meaning, it has to provide an opportunity of mastery and it must have autonomy.

All successful games have a meaningful story. A powerful, engaging story can wrap around an experience and make the entire activity meaningful to the user, supported and enhanced by visuals and copy.

One of the most popular themes in video games, for example, is only you can save mankind. That powerful visual adds an emotional pull and value to the activity at hand. The story should also connect to the personal goals and passion of users. This can be especially powerful if you discover goals and desires shared by a community.

To build on the story, you need to design challenges. In A Theory of Fun For Game Design (2005), Raph Koster said, “Fun is just another word for learning.” That’s why companies designing games for their business should create interesting and varied challenges that are well-structured, with a flow from one goal to another, pulling the user along in a positive and rewarding manner.

This should also include challenges that become more difficult the further users progress, but are still achievable and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Importance of Failure

Ever play a game where you failed? We all have, and there’s a very good reason for this. It was designed to provide two distinct experiences:

  • An opportunity to learn from the mistakes made. (Why did I jump when I should have swung?)
  • Increased value when you finally overcome the challenge. (Yes—I did it!)

The best games also provide a period of time after an achievement where the difficulty level drops off. This is to give the feeling of being an ace, then slowly raising the difficulty bar once more. Games of this caliber also create variety, depth and complexity to their experiences and then provide excessive positive feedback.

Create an Experience

To create the ultimate experience, there are three key elements involved with autonomy:

  • No strings attached. Provide something free that’s actually free, without expectations from users, while still providing something valuable to them. This creates a draw and builds a positive reputation with your business.
  • Create shared goals in you games, but allow individual pursuit. People play games for a variety of reasons, and their motivations can be as varied as their personalities. Allowing users to choice to work alone or with others is a powerful draw.
  • Provide informational feedback, not just a pat on the back, or loaded with badges and points. Feedback that assists strong personal growth is best. The biggest mistake business owners can make is devaluing their product by giving worthless or perceived value through fixed rewards, rather than positive feedback.

When you decide to start gamifying your business – think process, not features. Read the rules and know your users. Create prototypes and make sure to play your own game to find hidden exploits your users will find later.

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Tim is a game developer and online strategist for cabledeals.org. If you would like to learn more about Tim follow him on Twitter @TimlCooley

Tim has written 1 awesome articles for us at Opportunities Planet

Twitter: @TimLCooley

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