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The Pwning of Gamification

The Pwning of Gamification

Barry Kirk


By Barry Kirk VP, Loyalty and Motivation, Bunchball

Mark my words: 2012 will be the year that loyalty marketers finally pwn gamification.

If you aren’t familiar with the expression “pwn” it’s video gamer parlance meaning to take ownership or dominate decisively. I’m intentionally using gamer language to highlight one of my pet peeves as both a marketer and a gamification practitioner: that a small but vocal part of the game design industry has chosen of late to take up intellectual arms against gamification, showering it with skepticism and even verbally colorful disdain.

If I understand their beef, it’s that gamification is an egregious example of marketers appropriating the pure art of game design in order to manipulate consumer behavior. And that they should have some special say in the future of gamification because it’s based on what they do for a living.

It’s understandable that they came to this conclusion. They just happen to be all wrong.

If the emergent gamification space is derivative of any other, it is clearly the loyalty marketing space, where game mechanics (points, levels, rewards) have been techniques wielded in consumer programs with precision and effectiveness for decades, particularly in the hospitalityairline and retail industries. Loyalty marketers are already experts at deploying game mechanics — they know how to create and manage sophisticated points-based economies, sustain engagement through level unlocks, and reward behavior with status-based benefits. What gamification promises them is:

  • A whole new suite of engagement techniques to incent profitable behaviors

  • A new set of analytics tools and data sets to derive customer insight

  • The technology to enable a dynamic customer experience and rapid response

The good news is that many in the loyalty space are waking up to the potential of gamification and evangelizing its promise. And it comes not a moment too soon, with less than 50% of companies now believing their current loyalty programs are working (Axiom). When consumers who spend hours playing Angry Birds can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes with your loyalty program, something is broken. Gamification can fix that.

So, game designers, time to give it a rest (and get back to creating awesome games like my current favorite, Journey). And loyalty marketers, time for you to get into the game.

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