Brands that failed with gamification

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Monsters are very powerful. You need awesome weapons to kill them.

This is why game mechanics are such an integral part of games. They measure and show your progress toward getting awesome weapons so you can blast monsters to bits.

Gaming is huge -- a $60 billion industry. Yet, 84 percent of marketers had no plans to include games in their marketing efforts in 2011.

Marketers want weapons too. They want to blast the money out of their customers' wallets. Thus, it makes sense that taking cues from the game designer playbook would help them do that.

Brands that failed with gamification

And so a buzzword is born: gamification. What is gamification? It's is the application of gaming principles in non-game experiences to drive desired behaviors. Those principles include:

  • Game mechanics: Tactics like progress bars, badges, and leader boards
  • Game dynamics: Similar to strategy templates (for example, avoidance is the dynamic at play when you come water your digital crops each day in Farmville so they don't die)
  • Currencies: Different ways you can reward "players" for progress

And progress in undoubtedly a powerful motivator. In 2010, Harvard Business Review released a study showing overwhelming evidence that progress was the single most influential factor in keeping people motivated at their jobs on a day-to-day basis.

Gamification is, in essence, a bundle of tools for measuring and rewarding progress.

Some of those tools are nothing new. User experience designers were using progress bars long before "gamification" became a trend. But now that they've got a jazzy catch phrase to wrap them in, they've gained the attention of those seeking yet another tool to help manipulate consumer behavior in a digital world.

It's also worthwhile repeating that games are not the same thing as gamification. Marketers often fail to make that distinction. The examples in this article reflect that.

So are you ready to break out the joysticks and get your game on? Do you have visions of badge-laden brand evangelists clawing their way up your leader boards, clambering for the honor of being your biggest fan?

News flash: Strategy doesn't start with tactics.

There's a lot of hype around gamification. And while it is a powerful tool, that doesn't mean it's a magic bullet. The truth is that some very impressive brands have failed miserably in their oafish efforts to latch onto the next big thing. The successful application of gaming principles requires a very deft hand.

How can you avoid such a painful fate? Here are five mistakes you can learn from and avoid.



Hilton Barbour
Hilton Barbour July 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM


Fantastic article. I recently wrote a blog entitled "Are We Just Playing around with Gamification" where I expressed similar concerns about the random, insightLESS versus insightful, application of these tactics.

Unfortunately I think we've all seen the application of Bright Shiny Object tactics for no other reason than the fact that they're topical. Their applicability to solving a business problem is lost in the intensity of the shiny glare.

Again, a delightful read and appreciate the great cases. See you in the LinkedIn Snooki group - I've sent you an invite separately.

Adam Kleinberg
Adam Kleinberg July 23, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Thanks, Brant. I'm sure I missed a lot, but I'm glad you agree. The point isn't that gamification is bad. It's that it's hard and needs to considered carefully.


Brant Emery
Brant Emery July 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM

Really great article. Full stop. Nice to read someone else talking about gamification in this way. Something you miss on the consumer psychology side is that gamification doesn't just reward, it also plays on cognitive aspects linked to curiosity (which drives progress), intrinsic incentives (so yes, those badges are bad plays at extrinsic incentives, known to only boost behaviour for short bursts), and any 'game' should be based on a thorough psychological profile (well, at least a researched profile) of your desired audience.
-Brant, bran(d)t,