As a marketer, here is what you can learn from video games: a complete guide to gamification

Recently, Activision took the internet by storm with their Picadilly Circus’ promotion of their newly released Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

Here at topflight, we realised how amazing video games could be as a source of inspiration for marketers. 

After all, customers of digital entertainment – from your casual Solitaire player to your hardened collector who spends thousands on every game ever created for a Playstation – all behave in a way that is similar to what you’d want customers for your business to act like:

  • They actively “chase the next fix” and find products on their own. People who buy a videogame are likely to buy another one of the same franchise, such as FIFA and Call Of Duty.
  • They promote products on their own on social media – just look at those “let’s play” videos on YouTube, people sharing their Fortnite wins and TikTok reels with the best plays of the week.
  • They talk about their friends and families of products they find interesting. This generates word-of-mouth, the most powerful advertisement out there.
  •  They spend hours and hours on their games. Wouldn’t you like your customers to spend ten thousand hours on your product? The brand awareness that would generate is insane!

So, even if your target buyer may not be a hardened “gamer” (does anyone even use this word unironically?), there are plenty of things video games can teach you.

By just playing a few videogames, or reading this article since we did it for you, you’ll learn how to create a loyal fanbase that will treat your business and your product as an enjoyable time to share with friends and family.

What do we mean by gamification?

Just like video games use psychological tactics to sell, companies can do just about the same thing with a process called gamification.

Just like the name implies, gamification blends the line between game and reality to create an enjoyable, interactive experience for your customer (or even your employees!) to dedicate time to. To gamify your business, you essentially add the game mechanics you are about to learn to a non-game environment.

You must have thought about a customer leaving up to unlock special items you are selling – that is exactly what gamification is all about!

Game mechanics such as leaderboards, quests, team missions, unlockable boons and power-ups are all great examples of gamification since they deploy the very same psychological tactics found in the aforementioned videogame examples.

At its core, gamification is a force to be reckoned with, if you seek to increase business engagement and brand awareness – your customers are encouraged to interact with your business and discover more about you and your services because they are rewarded for doing so.

4 psychological triggers we can apply from the gaming industry in our marketing campaign

Some videogame franchises have become incredibly successful, spawning movies, comic books, merchandise and more, simply because they took a formula and developed it into an incredibly successful marketing strategy that gamification experts know all about.

Games use psychological triggers that give you dopamine releases to become the addicting experiences they are – in the same way, marketers can use the very same tricks in their digital campaigns.

We are now going to explore some hyper-successful videogames, why they became so successful and what we can learn from them.

Reward accomplishments

Example: World Of Warcraft

People love rewards for what they have done. All the efforts they put into something must be for a reason.

People start businesses because they want money or they want to fight for a good cause. They invest in marketing because they want to be seen more.

Starting with the end goal in mind is exactly what made some videogames franchises so successful.

In this example, we will use the insanely popular MMORPG “World Of Warcraft” from Activision Blizzard.

In this game, people can “level up” their character by embarking on quests of different lengths. These quests can be as simple as finding a bunch of flowers to more epic journeys where they’ll have to team up with like-minded players to slay difficult opponents.

And, based on the quest’s difficulty, they will gain experience, gold or loot to grow their character’s strength and unlock new abilities to vary the gameplay and open up more choices on what they can do with their current skill set.

This simple system rewards players’ accomplishments and keeps them glued to the screen for hours on end – how many times did we say “just one more quest” and suddenly, eight hours were gone just like that? Too many to count, probably.

This system rewards and gratifies accomplishments so much that the game has even caused some fatalities in real life. But despite these events, which are few and far between, everybody can agree that this simple system has led this video game to grow into one of the most popular franchises ever.

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We, unfortunately, can’t ask customers to go around and kill dragons for their teeth, nor they can learn to cast fireballs and other crazy magic spells.

However, seeing and rewarding their accomplishments is enough to get them addicted to your business.

To do this, you have to study your buyer’s journey and pinpoint the struggle they are currently dealing with, and what they would like to see in the end. So, for example, a gym enthusiast would love to see themselves in the mirror and stare at the body of a Greek god.

How do you sell them that? They already know the “quest” they have to tackle, which is the diet and all the weights they’ll have to lift.

Simply enough, you tell them that in the end, they’ll have exactly what they want, and even show them what life would be like once they’ll reach those goals.

Instant gratification

Example: Call Of Duty

What makes arcade games so appealing is deeply rooted in the “monkey part” of our brain. To summarise, we are always on the lookout for things that could make us feel good quickly, such as food, sex and drugs, and video games capitalise on that.

The sheer adrenaline and instant rewards you’ll get from playing a Call Of Duty match are unparalleled.

Despite being thrown in a room where the only goal is going around shooting other players, this game is hyper-successful simply because, for every kill you do, you’ll immediately feel gratified – so you just keep playing, because your “monkey brain” rewards this behaviour since it makes you feel good.

Every time the announcer booms out “double kill” and “triple kill” because you defeated your opponents quickly enough, your brain will just tell you one thing: I WANT MORE.

And look at how successful this simple “run and gun” formula is. Over 300 million copies sold and even a spot in The Guinness World Record for the most successful FPS franchise ever.

Instant gratification is an extremely powerful tool, that if used correctly, can give you a huge edge over your competition.

Companies such as Mcdonalds provide food fast for this exact reason: once you press “buy”, you get your burger and you feel good.

Shortening the time between purchase and business action is often enough to make the customer feel instantly gratified.

However, why not take it a step further? Try to segment your buyer’s journey and reward them at each step of the way with something they’ll enjoy.

Maybe you can shower them with coupons, interesting copy, free rewards and more.

Power fantasy

Example: Doom Eternal

It’s a sad thing to say, but how many people actually feel strong and powerful in their lives? Not that many.

This is why so many video games take it a step further to make you feel strong and mighty. In this example, we’ll use Bethesda’s Doom Eternal – although we also have plenty of other examples, such as God Of War, Prototype and many, many others.

In this single-player experience, you play as an angry Marine with a vast arsenal of sci-fi weapons, whose only goal is to mow down wave after wave of demons and monsters and make them pay for the atrocities they committed on mankind. 

Paired with a heavy-metal soundtrack and testosterone-fueled gameplay that makes you increasingly lethal, this game is a “power fantasy” by definition.

Doom’s gameplay is an exceptional formula that elevates the player’s sense of ego and strength. The soundtrack and the over-the-top violence make the player feel rewarded for the mayhem they are causing – and it’s an exceptional marketing idea.

Making a customer feel powerful and important is what adds digits to your monthly invoice. To do this, treat them like royalty.

And how do you do that?

By onboarding them like they are royalty.

Send them a detailed, custom email when they sign up for your service or buy from you and tell them about the next step.

Consider adding them to a private network such as a Slack dashboard or a dedicated phone line – and what about something where they can keep track of the project’s progress?

And, it’s really important, you must onboard them quickly and deliver on each and every one of your promises!

Great storytelling

Example: Detroit Become Human

Detroit Become Human is an interactive story, more than a game, where the player can control the fate of a handful of human-like robots called androids – the choices and actions of a player will shape the story and consequences these characters will face and eventually even change the story’s finale – with over 80 finales are available for the player to discover.

An interesting part of this video game is that the gameplay is barely existent. The player can walk around, pick up objects and make choices when cued, but that is all.

There is no power fantasy or gratifications like our previous examples displayed – and yet, this videogame was extremely successful and the proof that a great story can be a strong selling point for all videogames out there.

As people, we are curious – and our experience needs to be unique because we need to feel special. So, through the use of cookies, data capture and algorithms, you should try to create a service, system or buying funnel that is unique and interesting. 

Did you ever consider using a story as your main selling point/ storytelling is still one of the strongest selling strategies out there – and in the same way, interactive storytelling is perhaps one of the marketing assets with the most untapped potential yet?

Key takeaways

  • You should sell the end goal, not a product. This means selling what the customer dreams of achieving, and you should reward every step of the buyer’s journey.
  • Providing a huge dopamine shot is all about instant gratification – give them something to keep coming back for, and make it easy to access.
  • Make the customer feel important – treat them like kings and make them feel powerful.
  • Create unique buying experiences to generate stories around your brand.
  • Interactive storytelling is an incredible way to do marketing that you may have not thought about yet.

Now that we thoroughly understood the secrets behind videogame’s insane commercial potential, it’s time to look at how you can convert that into a marketing strategy for your business through gamification.

A foreword: gamification is normally quite expensive and will probably require an overhaul of your software and content strategy. However, it’s very much worth it once you discover the amazing benefits gamification has to offer.

How can companies make use of games for marketing?

Now that we know exactly the psychological triggers a good gamification strategy needs to have, let’s look at the companies that successfully implemented these in their own business.

Learning a new language is always fun, but when you gamify the process, you become a force for good – and that is exactly what Duolingo’s murderous owl has mastered by turning the entire learning process into a video game.

Study your way through the language and unlock badges, and new difficulty levels, and rank up the leaderboards – all features are seen on RPG videogames, but now, with the added perk you are also learning Spanish.

Although this is a brilliant example of excellent software, it’s also a marketing asset – Duolingo is one of the most successful apps ever and earns the creators well over 100 million a year and even a position on NASDAQ.

Learning platforms with a gamified reward process were also successful in other industries – websites such as Codecademy, EdApp and Kahoot all offer services to make the learning process much more interesting and fun.

Another great example of Gamification was created by Nike – the Run Club App initiative was an interactive experience designed to encourage runners while also building a community in the process.

The application is fairly simple and not much different from other running trackers on Google Play Store – however, it comes with the added benefit of automatically generated training workouts, leaderboards, challenges, win badges, trophies and similar social features.

Nike’s Run Club promotes competitiveness just like a videogame would. 

A similar app that however uses a vastly different strategy is Six To Start’s “Zombies, Run!”, another running tracker that however allows users to unlock parts of a story as long as they keep running. The story sees the player as the protagonist in the midst of a fictional zombie apocalypse and allows for different types of training which are all gamified.

For example, the player can opt-in for “zombie chases”, where they are required to run faster than their average to avoid being caught, and they can reach certain points of their real-location map within a time limit to collect resources to build their base – which then influences the story’s progression.

The power of Augmented Reality: A case study

AR-powered gamification is also proven to increase the user-engagement rate and grow your business massively. The AR industry in itself is projected to boom a whopping 25% in the next two years, and these are the reasons for this.

AR is exciting, and the gamification strategies that come with it are predicted to be huge in the market – the immersive experience this technology causes will be astonishing, and the gamification opportunities are unreal.

However, there are some limitations with this technology, most of which are caused by the limited progress of AR decoders such as dedicated mobile apps.

Although examples of real AR-powered gamification are few and far in between, the most notable example of AR engagement comes from Nyantic’s Ingress. Despite this being a videogame, rather than a gamified software, it proved to be a brilliant data capture method built on Google Maps’ libraries.

This allowed Nyantic to use their AR videogame to capture and refine their data, which would then be used to build the hugely successful Pokemon Go.

This leads us to the question: will AR be an incredibly powerful tool for all marketers who opt for gamification processes within their businesses, or is just a big hype? 

VR is definitely making its way inside the marketing industry, with big companies making 360 advertisements all around us and Facebook’s metaverse promising an immersive experience for customers.

A big downside of Virtual and Augmented reality lies in its cost and, as previously mentioned, how accessible the technology is – your target audience needs wide access to VR helmets and devices capable of capturing AR in order for your campaign to be a huge success. 

Not that many examples of fully fleshed VR campaigns are quite there yet but who knows, maybe your business is the one that will claim such a prize!

Gamification: The benefits

Gamification is a tough process that comes with plenty of benefits. Sure, it may be costly and hard to get right, but the cold hard numbers justify this process.

Let’s look at the benefits that come with it:

  • Gamification is a brilliant learning tool: engagement levels can increase four times, and a test carried out in a classroom environment has led to the conclusion that gamifying tests and content leads to a net increase in productivity amongst the students tested.
  • Gamification is also particularly effective in adolescents. This is likely due to the cognitive bias presented by a familiar environment (Video Games)
  • Gamification is also a useful tool in the education of children diagnosed with autism

This leads to the conclusion that gamification is an important learning tool, and should your business have a demanding quantity of material or host a Content As A Service business model, then gamification should be your weapon of choice.

But hold on, we are not quite done yet! Here is more you need to know:

  • Gamification increases productivity amongst employees by nearly 40% due to more engagement during training.
  • Gamification channels tend to encourage rational thinking and calculated decisions, which remove anxiety and improve leadership skills, all leading to better management within your business.

Gamification could provide a stress-free environment for employees to hone their skills. Websites such as “Hack This Site” allow for coding practices, for example.

How to gamify your business

Just like every single time that a marketing campaign is involved, the most sound advice you can follow is this:

Learn what your customers are like.

Easy as.

Once you understand exactly what your customer’s pain points are like understanding how to fully gamify your business will be easy.

Often, businesses are born out of a desire to serve a mission, such as reducing plastic in the ocean or reducing poverty overseas – therefore, why not make a gamified content piece that teaches the audience why your business serves this purpose?

Why not give them an interactive story so that they can see first-hand the issue you are trying to solve?

Creativity rewards the marketer. And in this case, playing video games and going crazy with your storytelling is exactly what you need.

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