Somewhere right now someone is walking by your business or brand with their phone held out collecting Pokmon--nonexistent virtual reality video game characters. In a matter of a week's time, mobile gaming app Pokmon Go became the biggest mobile game ever in the United States and, depending on which report you choose to read, has driven engagement numbers that Twitter and Facebook had previously owned.
A simple video game capturing nonexistent characters is causing leg cramps from walking all around the world. It has to make you wonder why is so this compelling. For me, this was exactly the type of thing that made me wonder how I could add it to my arsenal of tools for business.
Over a decade ago, I led the technical team to build ae.com, American Eagle's website business, during the dot com boom and bust. My next promotion led me from ae.com to information security officer within the lifestyle brand. While I also enjoyed InfoSec, let's just say it wasn't... as much fun. Looking to escape my daily grind of protecting denim from would be criminals, I found myself playing video games. By day, I reported on risk to a board of directors for a $2 billion US company. By night, I was a 30-something woman playing video games online and wondering why I liked it.
It makes sense that I learned more about marketing while working in retail. Marketing curated the brand, permeated all decisions and tried to get into the head of the customer. I sat in meetings reviewing technology concepts to create an epicenter destination in the stores. We even bounced around the idea of video game consoles inside each store. Some rolled their eyes, while I seriously assessed costs, network consumption and how it could be made to work.
It was in these meetings doing what I loved--solving problems with technology--that I realized there had to be a way to take the alluring pull of video games and tie it to brands to drive loyalty and sales. So I resigned, went to grad school and studied video games.
I learned many things about entertainment technology that would fill several blogs, but I will offer these 3 cornerstones that make playing video games powerful which can also be leveraged to drive engagement for your business.
Add fun to your metrics or requirements.
Video games are fun. They INVITE you in to play over and over. If you design something to engage customers - like a mobile game - it should be fun for as long as you anticipate the shelf life of the mobile game to be.
Fun can be a hard thing for companies to embrace because it requires creativity, courage and potential failure--things that don't really sit well on corporate books. When executed properly though this has a big impact on brand perception, loyalty and sales. Failure means learning what works and what doesn't; and that education is expensive regardless of how you pay for it.
Create an interactive experience that tells a story
Video games tell stories that allow the player to interact, which is more involved and engages different parts of the brain in ways that reading or watching tv doesn't always do. When you play a game, you have an interactive role which requires immersion, decision making and thinking. I have never played a video game where I 'lost my train of thought'. Playing requires me to be present and thus, I retain more.
A gaming experience my startup created was for PepsiCo and involved using your body as the game controller to provide input on the screen instead of using a traditional mouse or handheld controller. PepsiCo wanted customers to know they had additional brands in their portfolio such as Sabra Hummus. By merely including those items as rewards in game play, customers walked away saying 'I didn't know they also made Sabra' and over 90% of the people who engaged tweeted photos of themselves playing the game with the brand extension.
Harness motivating behaviors that already exist in people.
One of the things that drives continual video game play and usage is our psychological wiring. Most people have a need to achieve, belong and collect. (This can be seen outside of video games as well.) Using leaderboards, badges, scores, points, teams, etc., a designer can motivate the behaviors that support their goals. One person may play a video game to collect achievements, badges or rare non-existent creatures. Others may seek to be the top of a leaderboard and obtain status. Some play certain games to participate socially on a team for a shared quest.
These gaming tactics are more commonly seen in corporations. If you think about reward systems that allow you to earn points for coupons, this is a 'light' use of one component of an overall game. The challenge when designing experiences to use existing motivating behaviors is creating an overall design that balances the use of these gaming components without it being 'tacked on'.
Using video game principles can be complex for people who don't understand video games so before you begin exploring this, I recommend you play some games if you haven't. For fun and research. Have a brainstorming session to think about how you could apply cornerstones of video games to your organization. There are a number of game designers who would love to have these conversations. Digital agencies are developing these skills as a competency. You never know who within your organization may be secretly well versed in video games already. As we say in video game land, good luck and have fun.
Tracy Kobeda Brown is an experienced start-up and corporate executive and Springboard Enterprises Alumna '11. She founded Evil Genius Designs as a spin-off from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Evil Genius provided interactive, branded gaming experiences for companies like Disney and The Economist and was one of the PepsiCo10. Prior to earning her Masters in Entertainment Technology, she was in charge of information security and ecommerce technology for American Eagle Outfitters. She served on non-profit boards, chased cybercriminals with law enforcement and has an undergraduate degree from Wharton. Tracy's expertise spans initial start-up concepts to Fortune 500 companies ranging from technology strategy, product design, engagement, gaming and information security. She is an avid problem solver, gamer and animal lover. Follow her on Twitter @ticorah.