Playing The ‘Game’ of Life

Posted: March 30, 2011 in News/Current Events
Tags: , , , , ,

Welcome to what I call the “Facebook” generation in which we all now live. People all over the world yearn to share their lives with one another, including, and perhaps most importantly their successes. Whether with gold stars, blue ribbons, badges, stickers and trophies, people always like being rewarded for their behavior. Accordingly, companies offering every assortment of goods and services have taken notice. A recent article by Alex Pham on the Los Angeles Times website sums the concept up nicely: “Dubbed gamification, the practice involves using game mechanics to get people to spend more time on certain products, be it a website or a piece of software.” Essentially, people have become bored with the previous system in which a vendor offers their wares and potential customers decide whether to purchase or not. I would venture say that this ‘old way’ of doing things has become too personal for a consuming public now more comfortable doing business on a computer screen, rather than face to face.

No, this is not an attempt to rail against the seemingly limitless potential of technological innovation. In fact, I support pretty much all social media platforms with a much more open mind than I had been known to previously. Yes, I too now have my very own Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Yelp! accounts, all fairly similar in their basic concept of social networking. yet distinct in the ways they entice or encourage people to participate.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Facebook,well, doesn’t need much explanation… the site grew initially via ravenous word of mouth, then Time Magazine took notice and then a movie was made (purportedly not based on Facebook specifically). With well over 500 million users, the site’s draw may be mostly due to a ‘bandwagon effect’ now than its initial popularity did. Its interface is also quite user-friendly, allowing users to easily communicate and share photos, videos, and information with their friends and family. This is not a very poignant example of a gamification strategy, though many of the advertisers on the site enthusiastically make use of this strategy in their ads. Indeed, many of those advertisers are developers of online games, therefore it is their express business to at least address gamification in their marketing schemes.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter appears to use a strategy similar to that of Facebook, though the profiles users create on the former are not as detailed as is possible on the latter. You also are not able to write as long of a post on Twitter, as you are limited to just 140 characters in which to express yourself. I actually believe that is what is appealing about the microblogging service: since users are limited to such short messages, each message (in theory) is a powerful little package of information.

Foursquare (social networking)

Image via Wikipedia

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Yelp! and Foursquare are very similar in their base function as social networking tools, as well as their use of gamification. Bothsites are allow users to create profiles, Foursquare with fewer places toinput personal information than on Yelp!, and write reviews of places they visit, such as eateries, stores, parks, and other assorted venues. Both also use status symbols to rank users on the frequency with which they visit individual venues, or venues with certain attributes. The main difference between the two, in my opinion, is the emphasis put on actual social networking. Yelp! gives virtual ‘badges’ to people for sharing with other users on the site their thoughts on different venues. Foursquare also gives these status symbols to users for leaving reviews, but also for going to places with other users on the site. To me, this should be the purpose of any gamification attempt on these types of sites.

Any way a particular company decides to use it, gamification appeals to the way in which today’s consumer is programmed to operate. It’s simple: we want recognition; we want to be entertained; we want stuff. This strategy’s success as an advertising tool depends upon the demographics of a participating vendor’s customer base, the product or service offered, and most importantly, the message the company wants to send to the consuming public. It may be seen as immature, off-point, or just plain silly by some, but I truly believe this approach to advertising will grab attention as it becomes more prevalent. After all, isn’t life supposed to be fun anyway?

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