• Image about Samantha Skey
Lee Hasler
Computer-game addicts — slavishly working to gain points, conquer foes and reach higher levels — in many ways represent the ideal consumer. They’re obsessive and will let nothing stand in the way of spending as much time, energy and money as necessary for them to scratch their gaming itch. Who wouldn’t want similarly loyal customers? Better yet, how can you get some?

Gamification may be the answer. While this technique of adding game-play elements to business websites was bleeding-edge a couple of years ago, today it has gone from nascent trend to potential game-changer. Market analyst firm M2 Research of Encinitas, Calif., says gamification could net revenues of up to $1.6 billion by 2015. And that’s just what companies will spend on gamifying themselves, says M2 CEO Wanda Meloni. The effect on their sales could be well beyond that, although it’s too early to predict exactly how much.

The idea was born from the frustration of companies that saw their website visitors come and go quickly, without engaging the site. This made it hard for media and other companies to sell online ads. Also, consumers weren’t showing the brand loyalty that retail websites needed. Then somebody had an epiphany. “The same game mechanics that were being used in games to really addict game players could be used to drive deeper engagement and affinity to brand sites,” explains Jim Scullion, CEO of Bunchball, a Redwood City, Calif., company that helped pioneer gamification in 2007.

The mechanics don’t necessarily involve blasting alien invaders with space cannons or running obstacle courses with cartoon characters. Instead, they incorporate the elements that attract and hook gamers to their activities of choice. These include points, levels, ranks, trivia games, challenges, leader boards, gifting and, most important, receiving and sharing content with other users on social-media sites. “It’s taking all these mechanics and driving a user experience to get them to take high-value action,” Scullion says.

Loyalty programs, which date back to the days when people filled books with stamps redeemable for merchandise, have long been used to influence consumer behavior. However, gamification goes beyond that, with competition and interaction that ramp up the fun to the point that people don’t realize they’re doing another’s bidding. “It’s applying a fun layer to a task that isn’t typically perceived to be fun,” says Samantha Skey, chief revenue officer at New York–based Recyclebank, which uses games to get people to engage in environmentally preferable activities like recycling and creating compost piles.

That fun layer can give serious traction to business initiatives. A gamification effort helped increase recycling-participation rates by 75 percent in Cincinnati, while Philadelphia increased recyclables collected by nearly 29 percent, Skey says. And a gamified Green Your Home Challenge to teach people about ways to make their homes greener worked even better. “When we surveyed [the participants] before and after they engaged with this weeklong game, we saw that their positive green behaviors increased from around 10 percent to around 40 percent,” Skey says.