Making game mechanics work for your business
Written by
Lakshmi Gandham

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Making game mechanics work for your business

Published : September 2, 2021

Using game mechanics in non-gaming environments can enhance customer experience, increase engagement, build loyalty, and drive business growth and profitability with deeper customer data. Game mechanics work because it taps into our innate desire to achieve and win, said Anirban Das, Product Head, Dunzo, speaking at the Netcore Martech Mashup 3.0. 

Do you collect frequent flyer miles? Do you avail Dunzo’s ‘Salary Day Sale’ to shop for provisions in bulk? Are Black Friday sales your go-to destination for some retail therapy? If yes, then you are being gamified.

The global gamification market is expected to generate a whopping $76,299 million in revenue by 2030, as mobile devices build a huge base of gamification possibilities. No wonder the concept is on a roll in the product management world as well. Modern marketers are increasingly using game design elements to make non-game applications engaging and fun.

 Game Mechanics Help Power Product Growth 

What really is a game mechanic? Game designer Jesse Schell, defines it succinctly, “Game mechanics are the core of a game. They are the interactions and relationships that remain when all the aesthetics, technology, and story are stripped away.”

Many key principles of sports and games have developed wider applicability and are being used to power product growth. Gamification taps into people’s motivations, offering ways to focus on a user’s needs and goals to boost engagement and prompt them to reach their goals. 

Let’s look at the most widely used game mechanics that are powering product growth and building customer retention. These categories are inspired by Steven Reiss’ framework of motivation – The 16 Basic Desires Theory – which deals with the fundamental needs, values, and drivers that motivate an individual.

1. Collections 

Saving or the need to collect things is what makes the Collections mechanics effective. In the realm of sports and games, the collection would include examples like Rummy, Hot Wheels cars, or even FarmVille, Zynga’s agricultural simulation game.

Outside of sports and games, brands have used this mechanism to drive conversions. Let’s look at some examples:

  • A lot of people like to explore things that are grouped in a certain fashion, and that’s where this mechanism came in handy for Airbnb. The brand used the concept of Collections to group their travel experiences (like Outdoors, Must-Sees, and After Dark) and improve conversion on their product.
  • Swiggy uses this mechanism to drive search and delivery for certain seasonal food. For instance, a ‘coolest summer food’ category would include pani-puri and ice cream sundaes.

2. Progression 

The need for status and acceptance is very important for humans. Progression is a gaming mechanic that’s based on these two needs and is proving extremely useful to products outside of sports and games.

It’s proven that progression improves retention. Every Zynga game has an element of progression in it – for example, level progression in Mario. The English football competition has progression and relegation built throughout the structure of the competition.

How can this core principle of mechanism be used in other products? Here are a few examples.

  • A lot of products have a multi-step onboarding flow. It has been established that visual indicators of progress leads to faster completion, especially for onboarding flows that have multiple steps or are complicated. 
  • Dunzo was trying to solve a problem about being overwhelmed by support tickets for order status. This, of course, came at a cost and led to a lot of user anxiety. Two aspects helped Dunzo solve this problem:
  • Use of realistic imagery of the delivery partner. It helped build empathy for why an order was taking time.
  • Use of progress bar for steps to time for completion. For example, it takes Dunzo 20 seconds to find the most efficient partner. The progress bar drastically reduced the number of support tickets that users generated.

3. Crafting 

Curiosity is said to have killed the cat. But in the information age, customer curiosity is integral to business success. By correctly channelizing curiosity, businesses have a higher likelihood to achieve customer-centric engagement and strong and enduring relationships. 

The mechanics of crafting addresses two basic human behaviors: curiosity and the need for individuality. To misquote Aristotle, “The whole can often be greater than the sum of parts.” A food delivery platform, for instance, customizes meals and specific products, like pizzas.

What crafting addresses is the need for individuality – or to customize. It’s a great mechanic to drive higher customer value. 

4. Appointment 

The appointment mechanic demands that one return at a predefined time to take action if one is to succeed. It is a simple and powerful mechanic as it focuses on establishing order and predictability.

  • The mechanic is widely used by e-commerce players, and explains the success of Black Friday Sales and other seasonal sales. 
  • Dunzo’s ‘Salary Day Sale’ follows the logic that larger purchases, such as provisions, happen at the beginning of the month when people get their salaries. This is also a use of the appointment mechanic.

5. Gacha 

Gacha works on the “Go Big or Go Broke” game mechanism. It works on the principle that there is a very low probability of winning a prize, but the product derives value from the people who participate.

An example is the “Live Anywhere on Airbnb” campaign launched in early 2021. The program offered 12 participants the opportunity to live exclusively in Airbnb listings for a year and share their experiences. About 314,000 people applied, giving Airbnb copious amounts of data on target customers. Also, once the company posted the list of contest winners on its site, it drove another surge of visits to the webpage. 

6. The Near Miss 

Research shows that the signals that the brain triggers when you almost win something are similar to those when you win something. Slot machines use this concept to perfection. It’s also used effectively by poker and other card websites, where they turn the card in a slow animation to create a sense of a near-miss.

Product managers can use this mechanism to build suspense around their products. When some part of your product is eagerly looking to deliver something, adding a moment of suspense can lead to a better user experience.

7. Self Expression 

The needs here are acceptance and status. Self-expression has been used in multiple ways by games. A shooting game has an avatar system to customize the looks of players, as it’s an extension of the player’s profile into the virtual world. Bitmoji, an application that was integrated into multiple messaging apps, was also a way for users to express themselves in a digital universe.

LinkedIn used the mechanic of self-expression when it popularized badges like `Hiring’ and `Open to Work’, during the pandemic-triggered lockdowns. Besides being an extension of self-expression, they were also relevant to the LinkedIn platform. When the platform launched its cover images, it used the self-expression mechanic to drive product growth and engagement.

8. Investment 

The investment mechanic works on the principle that the more a user invests – in terms of time and effort – into a product, the less likely it is for them to churn. Several games use statistics to drive retention via the investment mechanics. For instance, there are fewer chances of a user who has played 100 games to churn, as compared to a user who’s played 10 games.

  • An effective example is an app that manages expenses. Once users put their data into the app, it makes them less likely to quit, as they’ve invested time and effort.
  • E-commerce platforms like Amazon also significantly improves user experience by collecting more data and reducing the chances of churn. 

9. Catch Up

An element of chance is introduced into games in order to keep them interesting. This mechanic provides players who are lagging in the game a chance to catch up. The age-old game of Snakes and Ladders is a perfect example of this mechanic.

When a brand sets up a loyalty or rewards program, it only rewards a certain portion of its user base. But if they were to introduce a catch-up mechanic in the program, users who are behind the curve would get the ability to catch up. Alternatively, the bottom 50% of users may give up on the brand and not take any action.

Educational coaching classes in India have been using this mechanic for long – crash courses being a custom-built example.

To sum up

Game mechanics can help brands boost their product marketing and motivate employees. However, it takes time to build gamification into a business. So don’t go looking for instant success. In addition to a good product and content, ensure that you set timeframes, calculate time-to-market, make the product experience pleasant, and track results.

A well-designed gamification strategy can go a long way in increasing brand awareness, relevance, loyalty, and profits.

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