Engaging Customers and Employees With Games


“Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.” That’s the theme of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, above.

Games are a serious business, projected to grow from $100 million this year to $1.6 billion in 2015, according to M2 Research. That’s why brands are getting on board, and not just as a marketing tool.[more]

Gamification is becoming a crucial part of how consumers engage with brands, as more industries adopt the method for non-game application making technology more engaging through manipulating humans’ primordial predilection for playing games. No wonder McGonigal’s services and insights are in high demand.

As head of game R&D at the non-profit Institute for the Future think tank, which is a big believer in games, McGonigal helped create Superstruct, a multiplayer game about solving world issues that will confront us in 2019; and World Without Oil, simulating a global oil crisis that requires players alter their daily energy consumption habits, both using game-based collaboration to inspire social change.

She has also worked with global companies such as McDonald’s, whose alternative reality game, The Lost Ring, was played by more than 5 million people in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as the Top Secret Dance-Off game on Ning.

Her latest book title says it all: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World. Her new startup, Social Chocolate, describes its mission as “making worldchanging games powered by the science of positive emotion and social connection.”

Consider the game behavior we now take for granted just on social media: checking in with Facebook’s Places feature, Foursquare, and Gowalla’s use of achievement “badges” and levels, “leader boards” and progress bars, virtual currency, and general awarding, redeeming, trading, gifting, and exchanging points. These social media game behaviors are now moving into business.

That’s why smart brands are using games for internal and external brand engagement and recruitment, for example. Siemens has just launched launched an interactive gaming platform, Plantville, which the public is invited to play.

It features an animated character, Pete the Plant Manager, who runs a virtual manufacturing facility, taking three dilapidated plants and making them run more efficiently by redesigning layout, purchasing and installing new equipment (Siemens, of course), and hiring employees to meet customer demand.

“Employees are sometimes siloed in their business units and don’t see the breadth and depth of our portfolio,” says Tom Varney, head of marketing communications at Siemens Industry.

Siemens hopes games the game play (see a demo below) will retain current employees and attract new ones: “With Plantville, we think there’s a big educational play with colleges and high schools. We have about 3,000 jobs posted in the U.S. at Siemens, many in technology or manufacturing. We’re hoping to inspire a new generation of plant managers,” says Varney.

Hilton’s Embassy Suites customer loyalty campaign invited 50,000 of their most loyal guests to participate via direct mail, e-mail, and game-play.

“The game option proved most effective, says Christian Kuhn, director of brand marketing for Embassy Suites. The 5,000 people targeted by the game were most likely to open e-mails and later spent the most money, Kuhn says. That group accounted for about $200,000 of the additional $1 million in revenue generated by the campaign, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Nissan’s electric Leaf car uses gamification for fuel conservation by offering an eco-mode feature that registers and rewards efficient drivers with virtual bronze, silver, gold, and platinum medals.

Frontline staff, a brand’s unsung ambassadors and intermediary with customers, can also be engaged through games. Cashiers at Target are scored with every check-out and performance is based on transaction speed and overall success rate of multiple transactions.

“What we have is a crisis of engagement,” says Gabe Zichermann, CEO of Gamification, which offers workshops on gamification strategy, to Businessweek.

Games may be as old as Methuselah, but with fresh thinking and a modern twist, they’re proving enduring and engaging as brands and companies look to innovate.