Gamified Websites Invigorate Brands

Feb 9, 2012

“Gamification”—the current “next big thing” in marketing—is expected by analysts to be a multi-billion dollar industry within a few years.

Ready to “gamify” your website to invigorate your brand, enhance your online presence, drive traffic and customers, generate leads and maybe boost revenues (aka, monetize)?

A bit of upfront advice: proceed with caution.

“’Gamification’: A Growing Business to Invigorate Stale Websites,” read the headline in the Jan. 19, 2011, online edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.  “A new breed of consultants…promises to boost business by adding game elements to humdrum sites.”

“Gamifying” a website means adding familiar game elements like points, challenges and leaderboards to make the site more attractive to prospects and more compelling to visitors in order to encourage certain desired behaviors.  These could include answering calls to action, filling out webforms, completing surveys, entering contests, vying for giveaways, downloading white papers, reading and generating content, watching videos, taking tours and tutorials, shopping, buying products, using contact information to call or email the company, increasing time on site, etc.

In other words, get site visitors to stick around to “win” rewards, and not click away.

The process entails the use of gameplay for non-game applications and involves applying the basic elements that make games fun and engaging to activities that typically aren’t considered a game—e.g., exploring a website.  Each game “mechanic” (tool or working part) prompts a corresponding “dynamic” (driving force of human need requiring satisfaction):

Points/Credits = Reward; Levels = Influence & Status; Challenges = Achievement; Leaderboards = Competition; Virtual Goods = Self-expression.

The basic idea is to take advantage of the psychological predisposition of human beings to engage in play, with your website serving as the virtual playground and your brand as best friend forever (BFF).

There are other practical reasons to gamify.  Neil Patel, the search engine marketing expert and angel investor, posted some interesting advice on his blog on 7/14/10 about gamification.  Essentially, he says game mechanics, if done properly, can improve a site’s optimization for search engines. In other words, you will rank higher on Google or Bing if you make your site more addictive. You can do that by adding scoreboards, giving heavy users certain privileges, and rewarding people who comment and therefore add engaging content to your site.

It means making your value more visible so visitors stay longer and come back more often.

If it’s Good Enough for Facebook…

Gamification of websites stems from the incredible success being enjoyed by social media gaming sites—primarily Facebook.  The largest social network has also become the largest gaming website on the Internet because, of the 600 million users registered with the service, nearly three-quarters of them play at least one game (e.g., CityVille) on a regular basis. Moreover, a majority of the applications on Facebook are games, both small and big.

Gamification of commercial websites fits in with the social media channel phenomenon of customers researching and buying goods and services independent of traditional advertising and marketing campaigns and messages. Traditional business/corporate websites can no longer entice customers in sufficient numbers to be considered effective business development tools.  Social media platforms build buzz and boost business based on social interaction, so interactive commercial websites are following that lead right into making online game-like connections with their site visitors.

The business of engendering online loyalty through gaming techniques parallels the real-world loyalty industry, which builds rewards programs for airlines, hotels and credit cards.  Whereas real rewards, like free hotel rooms and airfare, cost businesses real money, virtual badges and leader boards cost next to nothing.

There are, however, those pesky fees to website gamifying consultants— Bunchball and other game consultancies charge clients as much as $10,000 a month to bring game features to their sites, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Website Gamification Players

Before you start to play this game, you should familiarize yourself with some of the leading players already busy gamifying websites. For example, Badgeville (www.badgeville.com) and OneTrueFan offer services to help publishers add badges, “virtual currency” and other game mechanics features to existing websites and Web services to encourage engagement.  Bunchball is the big dog in the space

Bunchball (www.bunchball.com) is the leading provider of online gamification solutions used to drive high- value participation, engagement, loyalty and revenue for some of the world’s leading brands and media.  In October of 2007, venture-backed Bunchball was the first company to provide game mechanics as a service—on Dunder Mifflin Infinity, the community site for the NBC-TV show The Office.  San Jose, Calif.-based Bunchball’s Nitro gamification platform is a scalable cloud-based service for gamifying websites, social communities and mobile applications.  It has served more 80 million unique users and four billion transactions to date. In addition, Bunchball’s analytics service measures how well a website incentivizes and rewards consumers and how well the gamification succeeds at luring new audiences and customers.

Several other angel and venture-backed companies have emerged, including BigDoor, Badgeville, OneTrueFan, Reputely and Gamify.

  • BigDoor.  Founded in June 2009, BigDoor (www.bigdoor.com) provides gamification technology to non-gaming websites.  BigDoor, Seattle, Wash., has raised more than $5 million in two rounds from Founder’s Co-op and Foundry Group, and has 20 employees.  BigDoor’s “virtual economy” platform is designed to help web developers and digital publishers add customized game mechanics to their sites to increase user loyalty, better monetize user interactions, and more effectively target new and existing customers.
  • DevHub.   DevHub (www.devhub.com) is a free website creation platform from Seattle-based EVO Media Group.  DevHub guides users through creating a site and integrating other elements/resources around the Web to optimize for traffic and monetization.  DevHub added BigDoor as part of a major service redesign – essentially turning the process of making a website into a game. Users perform more actions, and virtual goods become a key revenue stream.
  • Badgeville.  One of BigDoor’s competitors is Badgeville (www.badgeville.com), Menlo Park, Calif., which recently partnered with Bluefly, a small publicly held online retailer. Through the relationship, Bluefly rewards shoppers who watch videos, create wish lists, write reviews or read blog posts.
  • OneTrueFan.  OneTrueFan (http://onetruefan.com) is a service that enables users to see who else has viewed and shared the pages they read.   The company helps publishers add badges, virtual currency and other game mechanics features to existing websites and web services. OneTrueFan’s service allows visitors to earn badges for interacting and sharing content on the site.
  • Reputely. The free Reputely (http://reputely.com) platform (“From signup to gamification in under a minute!”) is designed to make it simple and easy to add social game mechanics to a website to increase user engagement. The company is located in Palo Alto, Calif.
  • Gamify. Gamify (www.gamify.com) offers game mechanics as a service—plug-and-play widgets with no programming required, simple installation of reward programs, streamlined addition of points, levels, badges and leaderboards to products.

Next up:

Is Your Website Already Pre-Gamified?

You may have already gotten a head start on gamifying your business website.