8 steps to avoid gamification failure

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A new Gartner report on gamification echoes something I've learned over the past four years: Just blindly adding game mechanics to a website or application isn't likely to give you the results you're looking for.

The Gartner report predicts 80 percent of current gamified applications will fall short of their intended business objectives by 2014. It's not that gamification doesn't work, the report notes. Many companies, after gamifying websites or applications, have been successful in boosting customer or employee engagement, driving conversions, improving loyalty and brand awareness, increasing social sharing and collaboration, or sharpening employee skills.

It's the poorly designed gamification experience that will flounder, according to Gartner.

8 steps to avoid gamification failure

Based on my experience across hundreds of gamification implementations, Gartner's 80 percent figure sounds high, but I am in full-throated agreement with the report's core argument. When it comes to gamification, success is about starting with objectives and then designing an experience that will help you reach them. The experience needs to make sense for your business and for your users.

Gamification is more than slapping points, badges, and rewards on a marketing campaign and hoping for the best. It's about strategically using those mechanics to address the elemental needs we all share: the hunger for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism. Good gamification works when it satisfies these universal human desires.

To get there, it's crucial to follow some well-established best practices that will help you design a gamification experience that's built to deliver the results you need. Some gamification platforms wisely build many of these best practices into their solution. But no matter which platform you choose, your success depends on designing an experience that supports your goals.

Here are a few tips for gamification done right.

First, do no harm

Don't make the mistake of starting out with game play ideas. Instead, identify specific goals you want gamification to support. Do you want to increase registrations? Convert shoppers to customers? Improve community participation? Motivate customers to evangelize your brand on their favorite social networks? Pinpoint and prioritize your business goals first, and work from there.

Know your audience

It's hard to encourage behaviors in people if you don't know what makes them tick: their interests, goals, purpose for being on your site or using your application. The more you know your users, the more effectively you can gamify in a way that speaks to them.

Make missions purpose-built

Your gamification experience should never amount to a generic race to amass points. It's up to you to channel users in a direction that makes sense. For instance, we recently helped gamify a sales conference for a fast-growing company that emphasizes collaboration among colleagues. Many attendees had never met face-to-face, and the company wanted them to network. The answer was a mobile gamification experience that awarded points for finding the answers to trivia questions about colleagues. Which one was a White House intern? Who gave will.i.am a bloody nose playing softball? The only way to get the right answers was to connect with other people, thus turning the task of networking into a game. When coming up with missions, always ask, "Does this concept support our goals?" If it doesn't, keep brainstorming until you find one that does.