Companies have a growing need to provide an engaging experience for their customers, and incorporating Gamification techniques is becoming an increasingly better way to do that. This concept has been buzzing around for some time now, but a deeper understanding is needed to effectively implement it into a real business; simply putting badges on your website and giving away mediocre prizes isn’t going to cut it.

There are two game mechanics concepts that game designers consider when building games that are also helpful when developing products, services, ideas or businesses. The first is understanding what players or customers crave above all else at the root level. The second is understanding what fundamentally motivates and drives consumers to act. At the end, we’ll tie it all together to show how these concepts need to be taken to the next level in the near future.


To start off, we’ll talk about what customers really want from your company. Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann explains that people want four different things: status, access, power, and stuff. Purposefully giving people these things will engage them far more in the short and long term.

These are ordered from most important to people to the least important to people. Luckily for marketers, they are also ordered from cheapest to implement to most expensive.

People with status rank highly in the social hierarchy compared to others and this is very important to people. Depending on the person, status could look like getting a higher score than friends in a video game, being publicly recognized as being in an elite group such as a country club or airline frequent flier club. Airline frequent fliers track their miles like a gamer would track their high score because they are treated as more important than normal passengers when they reach the platinum level.

Giving people access is all about giving people permission to be somewhere or do something that they couldn’t have done before. As usual, scarcity produces a higher demand. In a game, this is often implemented by giving bonus levels or some sort of special abilities. Businesses could give certain customers access to important people, places, tools, or technologies.

For example, a retailer giving top customers a shorter line to wait in when they check out is an example of giving them exclusive access to something. These types of promotions are very valuable to the consumer, but don’t usually cost very much to implement.

Not surprisingly so, it turns out that people want power. Most often this looks like people having control over others or some sort of responsibility that gives them influence.

A great example could be making a top contributor on a company forum a moderator for the forum. They are then able to influence the content on the forum from a more official position. This influence is very valuable to people.

Lastly, people still do want free stuff and businesses should continue to give them what they want. However, there are two downsides. The first is that it is usually relatively expensive. The second is that consumers value free stuff less.

People have a tendency to value the above intangible rewards such as a VIP express line more than they are actually worth because it appeals to what they really want. On the other hand, giving away a baseball hat that retails for $15 will never be worth more than that much money. It is much harder to assign a monetary value to something that isn’t normally sold.

Overall, consumers want status, access, power, and stuff and this is important to know when thinking about how to develop a product, promotion, business or idea. The second important component to consider is what motivates your customers to play a game or engage with your brand.

Richard Bartel conducted research about how and why people play games and found some interesting results. He lays out four types of people that are motivated differently. Businesses need to design their products and services to specifically engage each of these types of users.

The first is called the Achiever and they wake up every morning thinking about winning. These people are motivated by success and progress. The primary reason they play games or engage with a brand is to win. Brands can easily target and engage Achievers with contests and with auctions.

The second type are the social players and the vast majority of the population fall into this category. They may play a game and even keep score, but the reason they play isn’t to get the highest score. The reason they play is to get the social interaction that playing with other people provides. Target this type of person by allowing them to interact with other people while interacting with your company

Thirdly, the Killers are similar to Achievers, but slightly different. They not only need to win, but they need for you to lose. In fact, the more people that publicly know they won, and you lost the better they feel. Give these customers an opportunity to compete directly and publicly against other people.

The last type are the Explorers and they value the search, not necessarily the thing they are searching for. Target them by giving them an experience worth telling their friends about.

Companies need to get to the point where they give incentives and rewards to get their customers to do what we want them to do. Hoping they do these things is not a very good strategy; we need to design for it. It doesn’t matter if your product, service, or business looks like a game as much as it works like a game.

We need to look at a store in the mall and recognize that shopping at the mall is where many people go not just to shop, but to socialize. Shopping is simply the medium to socialize and the mall is where that happens. Therefore, this is a game that isn’t as fun to play by yourself. It is better for the user to go with friends.

Understanding this helps this business in the mall to know to give incentives for people to come to their store together. So why not have a sale only available for people that come with 3 or more friends? This capitalizes on the social motivation of shopping while giving customers special access to something. This will appeal to what customers really want.

Specifically target all of the above customer wants and motivations like this to effectively implement game mechanics and game thinking into your initiative.

Mini Cooper created an excellent campaign that naturally drew in thousands of people to play a city wide game because it was designed to engage them. In short, Mini Cooper placed a virtual car in the middle of Stockholm and would give away an actual car to anyone who got within 50 meters of it at the end of the competition. Only iPhone users with the application could find the car or see where the other players were. The catch was that once someone claimed the car, anyone else that came within 50 meters of them could steal it so they had to stay on the move.

This campaign appealed to Achievers wanting to win, Social players wanting to play with and against their friends, Killers wanting to show how many people they beat, and Explorers wanting to tell the whole story to their friends. They also gave something away and made it only accessible by the iPhone community. Mini Cooper’s budget and team was no doubt bigger than most, but the concepts still apply.

Do you see a growing need to design business strategies around these gamification principals or do you think these principals are not relevant?