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An Interview on The Value of Gamification for Today’s Brands and Consumers

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Continuing from Lithium’s thought leadership series, I’ll discuss how brands can find the right gamification model for their business needs, as well as what the future of gamification might look like.





Q: To what degree is gamification customized for different companies in specific industries, and as a result, a different customer base?


A: All gamification has to be designed and customized to the specific behavior you are trying to drive and the specific audience you are trying to gamify. Another common misconception about gamification is that gamification is merely a new technology, so you just have to deploy the points and badges and it will work. This is never the case. Gamification is much more than the technology. It requires sophisticated design and iterations in addition to a deep understanding of human psychology and behavior economics for it to be effective.




If you’re a brick and mortar retail, you probably want to drive consumers to visit your store. But if you’re an e-commerce brand, then you want to drive consumers to visit your website. These are two very different behaviors that require different gamification design. So you should never just take someone’s successful gamification scheme and use it as a cookie cutter for your business.


Q: What questions do companies ask about enlistment, your customers helping you do the work normally done by your employees?


A: It would be “why would a customer help you do work that’s normally done by your employees? Customers are certainly under no obligation to help you do anything, let alone work.”


My answer is “That’s right, customers normally wouldn’t help you (the brand) do anything.” However, we have a powerful tool that can change customers’ behaviors slowly over time. And that tool is gamification. You can gamify the customer to encourage deeper and deeper engagement with the brand, until they co-create with you and become fully enlisted. It’s a process, and it’s not easy, but it can be done if you design the gamification well.


Q: What brands are doing the best jobs of gamification?


A: First, I must put forth a disclaimer: I feel it really doesn’t do justice to just mention my favorite example of gamification because there are too many inspiring examples of gamification in different areas.


With that in mind, my favorite example is Giffgaff’s gamified community business model. It doesn’t just gamify employee collaboration in a department or customer engagement in a community. It’s gamifying their entire business, which involves many parties with wildly different interests (employees, customers, community members, etc.) Moreover, it spans all parts of the business, including marketing, customer service, innovation, etc. To gamify all these moving parts and make them operate so seamlessly that it’s disrupting the incumbent telecom giants is simply amazing.




Q: What gamification trends are you seeing now, and what do you predict for the future?


A: Many gamification tools are being embedded in interactive platforms. The gamification industry started out with many standalone vendors of gamification tools. They offer simple generic gamification tools, such as points, badges, goals, and leaderboards that can be bolted onto systems of interaction. However, gamification often needs significant customization and deep integration with other interaction systems to track, get feedback from, and influence the user behaviors effectively. While there are many success stories, this approach didn’t live up to the promise of gamification. Having learned from this lesson, today’s gamification schemes are often built into interactive systems.


As a data scientist, I don’t like to make predictions lightly, because gamification is still a maturing and rapidly changing field. How it will evolve ultimately depends on what we as a community do with the technology today.


If we use it poorly to drive behavior for purely commercial interest, irrespective of what the consumer gets out of it, then the future of gamification will be pretty grim. Eventually, consumers will realize and recognize these gimmicks that wasted a lot of their time and resources, but didn’t provide value in return. They will resist gamification, much like pop up ads; and then it will be game over for gamification.


On the other hand, if we use gamification in the right way to drive behaviors that have value for the consumer, then gamification’s future will be very bright. It will be infused in anything and everything we do, whether it’s shopping, exercise, or work. It will be so pervasive that I think gamification will no longer exist as a separate discipline. It will just be seen as part of any good design in any product or apps.


I think the evolution of gamification can take any path between these two extremes. But it all depends on what we do today. And I certainly hope that we will use it well and evolve it to the bright side.


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Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is CRM2010MKTAWRD_influentials.pngLithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on the Lithium Community, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.
Occasional Contributor
Occasional Contributor

I like your comment / recommendation of not just taking what another company did and apply it to your community. I have seen this behavior too many times. 

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @skwilder,


Thanks you for taking the time to comment, and glad to hear that you confirm my observation too.


It is easier to see why companies keep falling into this pattern again and again. Because most companies are so risk aversive and do not want to do anything new and innovative. I hope this will change in the future.


See you again soon at this blog.

Occasional Commentator
Occasional Commentator

Nice article Dr Wu,

But what do you think about the issue: 'Oh another site with points and badges'. Does the user/customer become sick with such attributes of gamified platforms no matter how creative and innovative you are? 



Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @ivan73ganchev,


My apology for the late reply. I just got back to SF from a long work trip.


The problem you mention is well-known the gamification community. It is called gamification fatigue. I discussed this in an earlier post: The Gamification Backlash + Two Long Term Business Strategies. I recommend you take a quick read there.


But in short, badge/point fatigue could potentially happen if gamification practitioners today are only thinking short term gamification. For example thinking only to drive behaviors for to benefit their own business. We need to think longer term than that. We should think of gamification as a tool to drive behaviors that are beneficial and has value to the user or are align to their intrinsic motivation. In these case, when the user have participate enough to realize the value, the value becomes the primary behavior driver (or the well aligned intrinsic motivation). 


This is why I often proposed that we need to think about Sustainable Gamification: Playing the Game for the Long Haul. This is another related post that I would recommend you reading.


Have fun and see you around at my blog in the future.