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Gamification - More Than a Buzzword

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Whenever I'm with clients, at an event or marketing function and somebody brings up the subject of gamification - the word is usually met with a wince or a grimace. The very word itself is received with either hatred or bewilderment.

I'm in the first category and hate the word for what I think are two good reasons. The first being it makes anybody using it sound like a press officer for the George W Bush Presidential Centre - "we mustn't misunderestimate our target voter, we have to arrestify their attention by gamifying our marcomms"...you get the picture. The second reason is that, in my opinion, it encourages organisations and their marketing and management teams to be lazy, rather than address some of their fundamental problems.

Got a bad product? Hell, just stick a game layer on top of your marketing and the stupid customers will fall for it. Got a bad service, stick a game layer into your call centre or your Facebook support page and customers will be entertained whilst they are bounced from department to department or held on the phone for 60 minutes.

These lipstick tactics work because they tap into some powerful elements of the human psyche and, although superficial, deflect attention away from the real problems. But the underlying flaws remain because, as we all know, a brand is the sum of all an organisation's behaviours not just the gloss.

This really annoys me because I know that gamification is so much more than a buzzword, so much more than gloss. In fact, play is incredibly powerful in all aspects of life, we just seem to have forgotten how so.

In my childhood a gang of 10-20 children would regularly sail the seven seas in pirate fashion, race around Silverstone in a beer crate with pram wheels (an F1 car to us), travel into space and more.

Games and play are an intrinsic part of childhood, yet somewhere along the road called 'growing up', play seems to get supplanted by serious study, business and responsibility - such a pity really.

But I'm here to tell you play is coming back and the use of the dynamics of play in customer service, product development, marketing, education and complex problem solving will be immense and as profound as the socialisation of the web of the last decade.

My business successfully launched a brilliant, new financial product for M&S that makes everyone's life just a little bit easier, by creating a simple social game that used some basic game dynamics (collaboration, appointment and progression) - it went viral, and M&S was delighted.

Relatives and friends of deaf people are quickly learning sign language not through complex and clunky technology so often palmed off to folk with disabilities, but through a cool little piece of play delivered via XBox 360 Kinect.

Domino's Pizza are genuinely deepening customer engagement and handing out free product through some simple play in Foursquare.

Jane McGonigal, in her excellent book 'Reality is Broken', shows numerous examples of how play and collaborative play, rather than competitive play, can tackle real world problems like depression and obesity.

Play shouldn't be used to gloss over a broken product, but as powerful juice to find out where and how your product is broken and how your customers feel you can fix it.

If you have a good product or service, game dynamics can turbo charge brand awareness, deepen engagement and accelerate sales like no other marketing tool because it does tap into some basic human needs and motivations. It can whisk us back to our formative years, it can bring back joy.

Make no mistake the disconnected, poorly implemented game layer we have today of Foursquare badges, pub happy hours, airline loyalty schemes, competitions, status points, social games, etc are going to change - they are going to connect and be as revolutionary as social media.

If you wish to call this radical change "Gamification", so be it, but remember it is so much more than a buzzword - Electronic Arts get this, I wonder if you do.