Gamification and the Arts, Part One: The Growing Trend of Games

Note: This post is the first of four by guest blogger Alli Houseworth, about the trends and strategy of gamification and how it can be applied to the arts.

When I talk with arts professionals about how they can better use technology to diversify and enhance their marketing strategy, my favorite question they ask is, “What’s next?” The question implies that they already understand the power of targeted electronic and social media strategies and are filled with an energy to look toward the future and get an early grasp on trends that are already catapulting forward in outside industries.

However, when I light up and reply, “Gaming!” the brows furrow and heads cock to the side. Panic spreads across their face. As art-makers are we not wedded to the in-person, live experience? How can we even consider a shift to a virtual world? However, what virtually everyone with whom I speak fails to notice is that “gaming” does not inherently imply “video games”; rather, gaming has encompassed a broad, multi-platformed definition in the marketing and consumer relations world, and you might already be doing it.

When you break it down into the simplest terms, gaming (or “gamification” — a term less likened to World of Warcraft and/or Dungeons & Dragons) is simply the act of taking fundamental game-design elements and layering them into humans’ psychological predisposition to various behaviors such as — for the purpose of this blog series — the decision-making process.

What would happen, for example, if we were to “gamify” our subscription or membership models? In order to do so, we’d have to apply some game strategies to the model. A comprehensive list of various gaming strategies will be the focus point of my post next month, but as a teaser let’s choose these: levels, progression, points, and reward schedules. Sound familiar? Perhaps like an airline’s frequent flyer program?

In US Airways’ frequent flyer program, Dividend Miles — or Preferred Dividend Miles, if you achieve a certain status level — participants (players) can get the following rewards after they obtain a certain number of points (which they get after accomplishing a task; in this case, a purchase): guaranteed seats, easy upgrades, companion upgrades, a free checked bag, and the list goes on.

Do the majority of our subscription and membership models not guarantee our subscribers (players) seats, seat upgrades, or an upgrade or free ticket for a friend? However, in our model instead of asking our players to accomplish certain tasks before we reward them, we simply reward them for agreeing to participate in the first place (by purchasing a subscription or membership).

As we look toward the future, I imagine that many economists and psychologists would argue that if we were to apply the principles of game mechanics to our business models, we would see an increase in patron loyalty, consumer engagement, and the bottom line. And these would increase simply because we were able to tap into the multiple, very basic human needs on which gamification is based.

Very basically, from a consumer’s point of view this model works for me because of my fundamental human desire to be part of a community and to be rewarded for my good behavior. With its business model, US Airways keys into these basic human needs, and makes more money off me.

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The next segment of Alli Houseworth‘s four part series will be published in mid-October.

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