The Game of LIFE


I was always more of a Monopoly girl, but the game of LIFE is an appropriate analogy for all the subtle ways that marketers entice us with game-influenced campaigns and programs.

Take the drugstore CVS, for example. When I go in and scan my ExtraCare card at the big red coupon machine, I see cherries. Not real ones, but the red casino ones with the long stems bunched in twos or threes. The coupon machine even has a catchy chime that tells me “I won,” even though there’s nothing to win here except a few pieces of paper worth a dollar off my next Advil purchase or a buy one get one Snickers bar.

Gabe Zichermann, author of Game-Based Marketing and chair of The Gamification Summit (taking place June 19-21, 2012), says I’m not far off, though. While the nationwide drugstore hasn’t designed their kiosks with meaningful gamification objectives in mind, the machines do leverage gamified concepts, which lets people like me think I’m playing a game.

“Real-life gamification gives us a chance for surprise and delight in unexpected places and ways,” Zichermann says. As such, gamification uses game thinking and mechanics to solve real life problems. In the every day monotony of life, that can be a great thing. Here are five examples of gamification in your life.

1. Electronic dashboards in cars

Today’s gas-electric hybrid vehicles feature elaborate in-dash information screens with average miles per gallon and battery life meters, but ever notice something game-like about them? In front of a TED audience in Brussels, Zichermann explained how researchers in car design found that drivers altered their driving styles when they saw a number or meter displayed. Drivers altered their driving styles to raise their MPG or keep their battery meter “in the green.” Not unlike the Japanese giga-pet called Tamagotchi (remember them?), which grows and changes with your attention and affection, drivers wanted to nurture their car’s statistic numbers and “win” with better gas mileage and fuel efficiency.

2. Games in the media

Seattle-based BigDoor, a B-to-B gamified loyalty platform, recently teamed with Big Brother Sweden and Nickelodeon to get watching fans more active on the shows’ websites. BigDoor designed online hubs that rewarded users for watching, discussing and sharing via social media and awarded badges to the most active users. As a result, the networks saw longer “time on site” averages and more page views per visit.

3. Games in politics

MTV’s 2012 election coverage will include Fantasy Election ’12, which encourages players and friends to sign up, draft a team of politicians and compete against each other. “Millennials are increasingly viewing life through a game lens, even just using #winning or #fail…. Game vernacular has become a part of youth vernacular,” says MTV VP of Public Affairs Jason Rzepka. “By putting that competitive layer on top of it—a lot of people are inherently competitive, so if the path to winning is being informed, there could be a really great civic benefit.”

Just like fantasy sports leagues require “team owners” to do their homework about the players, MTV’s Fantasy Election ’12 makes learning about the candidates a preferential game strategy. According to the game site, “Your drafted team of politicians will earn points for exhibiting the kind of behavior we want to see, and lose points if they don't. You will have the power to add and drop politicians based on their actions.” Registration is open now and formally launches on Sept. 1, 2012.

4. Board-game marketing

There are two annual events at McDonald’s that you can set your calendar to—one is McRib, and the other is Monopoly. “McDonald's Monopoly is, of course, one of the best examples of gamification in the literal sense,” Zichermann says. “The company has been using this popular game for over a decade to promote the brand, and it's had great success.”

But there are hundreds more examples of contemporary notions of gamification, Zichermann says. For example, Carl's Jr. has an app that lets you spin a rewards wheel when you check in to a store, and offers you photo challenges you can complete to earn virtual and real prizes. “Monopoly at McDonald's is a powerful and highly effective example, but certainly not the only approach,” he says.

5. Collecting points for redemption

Just like you used to save up your arcade tickets for that giant pink teddy bear, sites like MyPoints and ShopKick let you collect points for $25 Amazon or Target gift cards. According to a psychology study by Florida International University, researchers found accumulating points for frequent flyer programs creates an anticipation of positive future events, which increases the member's likeliness to stay in the loyalty program.

Companies can create games to reward good behavior, such as RewardsBank that offers points for recycling, or DailyFeat, which offers points for setting and completing goals.

“Games are designed to speak to our need for intrinsic reinforcement,” Zichermann says. “That is, the jolt of dopamine we get from challenging ourselves and then achieving that goal. So we are hardwired to respond positively to this challenge-achievement loop, and games are designed—among other things—to optimize that sense.”


More examples of gamification

According to a May 2012 Pew Research Center study on gamification, game-style engagement can bring an element of enjoyment to otherwise dull or challenging tasks, thus it will become a vital aspect of training, personal health, business and education.

As if shopping wasn’t fun enough. Gilt Groupe posts new sales every day at noon—not because they arbitrarily chose that time, but because that employs what Zichermann calls appointment mechanics. By rewarding users who check in every day, Gilt makes visiting their site a habit. Sites such as MyPoints also reward daily check-ins with points. One easy logon earns you 10 points toward dozens of retail gift cards.

In Sweden, the government conducts a curious “speeding camera lottery,” where select traffic cameras offered speeding citations on a sliding scale, so that speeding drivers who made more money paid a higher fine than lower-income individuals.


Read more about the lucrative Business of Games on and hear more from Gabe Zichermann about The Psychology of Play


Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for Before joining SUCCESS magazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.

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