One of the consistent themes at South By South West this year was the growth of game and gaming principles within Web applications. One the best examples of this was the almost overwhelming hype in Austin around two competing social/location based apps: Foursquare and Gowalla. Both of these Apps are using similar game-like concepts to rapidly grow and maintain a devoted user base. The Apps work something like this: A participant “checks in” to a specific location such as a restaurant, coffee shop or store. Once checked in, both Apps offer a variety of virtual rewards. These include receiving and collecting badges on your smartphone, becoming the “Mayor” of a location, receiving virtual pins you can exchange and recently the ability to win actual prizes. The entire process of check-in and reward is created on your smartphone and is simultaneously tweeted out to your followers. This way your friends not only know where you are, but learn a little bit more about what you are doing and your involvement with your location.
Recently I heard Naveen Selvadurai, one of the founders of Foursquare, talk about some of the key guiding principles around the development of Foursquare. The first was idea of keeping a record of what interests you as you travel through an urban environment and developing a crowd approach to the DNA of a city. But a close second was the idea of using gaming principles and rewards tied to social currency as a key driver for long term engagement and participation. The idea of turning record keeping into a fun task has made participation in location based apps a rapidly growing phenomenon. The role of the gaming environment is its encouragement of engagement and re-engagement through the system of rewards and rankings, while requiring minimal involvement by the participant. You check-in, get your badge, rinse, repeat and have fun.
Where these ideas get even more interesting is when you apply them to Web sites. Infusing game ideas into a Web site could be an opportunity to build a deeper more engaged visitor pool while helping you learn more about your consumers. A simple demonstration of this is giving visitors the opportunity to rate themselves by creating a profile.
LinkedIn and Mint.com both do this very well:
Each site presents participants with a progress chart showing how much further they need to go to “complete” a “100%”profile.
Do you really need to get to 100%? Clearly I do. So each time I visit these sites I feel like I have to make an effort to move that progress bar to completion. Usually I do a little bit each time and feel like I have at least done something to improve my status within the site. But I’m not the only winner in this game. The Web sites gain also. Not only do they continue to grow repeat traffic, but by building greater richness of data on members they can better understand their members, provide me with additional benefits like connecting me with like minded users, offer me more services and most importantly maintain my engagement with their brand.
Updating status is probably the simplest example of how gaming features can build engagement and Web visitation. Other ideas could include creating levels and rankings for visitors who engage deeper, sharing data anonymously and allowing comparisons and competitions between visitors. A whole other direction would is the idea of creating badge like virtual or real rewards for frequent visitors to help members of your engaged online community interact. All in all, infusing your Web site experience with a little bit of fun could lead to some serious rewards.