Games and Gamification for Marketing: Event roundup and why it’s interesting

In mid-January I attended a Creative Edinburgh/IPA event on the subject of games and gamification in marketing.

The most insightful question of the evening in my opinion came from Andrew Burnett and was along the lines of:

Are we putting too much emphasis on games, and not enough on gamification?
Are we therefore risking getting too far away from the business objectives?

Gamification skecth

(image credit: EpicWinBlog who have a lot of good thoughts on the subject)

Games vs gamification:
what’s the difference?

As a marketer we might decide to create a game that is branded in some shape or form; that makes sense when 84% of the top grossing apps are games. As Brian Baglow, the evening’s chair, pointed out “Games are amongst the most valued forms of content”, and every marketer now understands the value of content.

On the other hand, gamification is the idea of applying the techniques of game creation to non-game scenarios to encourage certain behaviours. Boy Scout and Brownie badges are the easiest example of this: a badge really doesn’t matter, yet children’s behaviour can be changed by them.

It’s not just children though; adults are far from immune to gamification. If you have a fitbit, game mechanics are being used to encourage you to literally take those extra steps each day. When you start wondering if your Facebook post is going to attract some likes, you’re reacting to gamification. You could even argue that in having studied for a degree you’ve been gamified.  In digital marketing terms, though, the immediate “techniques” that spring to mind when thinking of gamification are:


  • completeness indicators (e.g. “your profile is 90% complete” or “you are X in the queue, invite more people to access quicker”)
  • points and score boards (e.g. numbers of followers)
  • badges (ala boy scouts e.g. Foursquare or Farmville) or other rewards (e.g. spend X for free delivery)
  • semi-hidden rewards/experiences (“easter eggs”)


Good game ≠ good business

What I liked about Andrew’s question was the simple idea that creating a successful game for a brand doesn’t necessarily lead to business success – something the panel were in full agreement with.

Indeed, as Brian pointed out “There is a risk of creating a destination that actually pulls people away from the business”; a problem that of course exists with any content marketing medium.

Gamification keeps (or at least should keep) focus on the business goals. Asking questions like ‘in a perfect world what do I want our prospect to do?’ and then seeking to apply game mechanics to incentivise that behaviour seems a much saner way of using limited marketing resources.


Key takeaways


  • Addiction of games comes from the control aspect of games (the user’s decisions impact the outcome – unlike so much marketing…) but also positive feedback (“you’re awesome”). Progression and the community aspect seems to work in particular for “non-gamers”. Emotional connections that work well in the real world tend to work well in games too (e.g. slapstick for children).
  • The real value of a game for a marketer is the data it can collect about what makes your customers tick.
  • Alternative reality (fictional activities happening in the real world) represents a real business opportunity. Here’s the text book case study:

Audi – Art of the Heist ARG – Case Study by Transmedialab


Further thoughts

  • An interesting piece on what make virtual reality games successful
  • Designing games for marketing comes with a high risk of a “miss”. The chances of success of any one game are small, and there’s also potential for negative press.
  • Marketing’s approach to games is not helping the success rate. Too many games are done as experiments with relatively small budgets in a world of exceptional quality, and the ‘campaign’ mentality is resulting in games being made and forgotten about. Games that show signs of success should really be getting further investment. Brand games are just not making the top lists in the app stores any more, and a lot of budget is required to promote a brand game if it’s going to be successful (ring any bells content marketing folks?).
  • Successful games today tend to be part of an overall ecosystem that includes TV, books, comics and other experiences. I’m guessing the lesson here is that brands need to avoid thinking of a game as a siloed marketing spend.
  • Business has really started paying attention to the games community in the last few years. When different groups come together there is a real chance of something interesting happening.
  • One route for marketers to get value from ‘virtual reality’, as it expands, is through offering experiences that people can’t normally access e.g. experiencing the presidential suite of a hotel (this sort of thing is achievable today, for example the Google Street View Attacat completed for the Highland Titles nature reserve).
  • The word ‘gamification’ has been massively abused by marketers and it makes the games community cringe. Sorry for adding to that!

With thanks to Creative Edinburgh, the IPA and the panelists (Brian Baglow, Sophia George, Dave Cook, Donnie Kerriga,and Jason Tammemagi) for a thought-provoking event.

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