Proceeding with the previous reflection (read here), in which we approached the fantastic world of games and how brands are dealing with this universe of new possibilities, now our gaze turns to the engaging mechanics of games, known as gamification. They represent valuable opportunities for brands and agencies to create new experiences in research, innovation and design processes and methodologies.
We can define games as something we do to entertain ourselves, with a clear goal, and challenges along the way that affect our performance. That is, when we talk about gamification, we are approaching these three key elements: pleasure, objective and interactivity. What is behind these elements and why are all spheres of society trying to apply them in different ways?
- Pleasant stories involve us and soothe our soul: “Stop playing because it’s addicting”. Who has never heard that? Games are in fact addictive as they activate serotonin. They also create a unique and personal universe where individuals can easily escape stress and forget about their problems. This escapism, in the right dose, can be useful in challenging times. In the pandemic, we have had to escape (and a lot!) from boredom and unplug from bad news. In this context, playing is not simply a waste of time, it is also a means to keep a healthy mind. This is what led the Lego company, for example, to expand its target, designing experiments and game sets aimed at adults . The AFOLs (Adult Fans of Legos) seek to practice mindfulness by fitting the colored pieces and following instructions, while revisiting the past with universes that recall their childhood or youth. It is also what explains the success of coloring books for adults, the insane popularity of social simulation games such as Animal Crossing or even simple pastimes like Candy Crush.
- The goal is an excuse, what matters is the journey: from board games to Nintendo Switch, all games have a goal and clear rules that establish who wins and who loses, stimulating competitiveness. The goal is taken seriously only within the game universe, but has no importance outside of it. What happens during the match (and how it is won) is the most important, bringing indirect benefits to the players: creating bonds between friends, relaxing, passing time, learning. In the end, games are the best way to put into practice the appreciation of the journey, and not of the destination.
- Interactivity reinforces human connections: the interactivity inherent in games is what differentiates them from simple competition. This means that games “force” contact between players and prompt a more active than passive posture, building relationships. In times of social isolation, digital games have also made it possible to bring together distant people, which explains the boom of the online version of traditional games like chess and poker, or the success of more immersive games like Fortnite, which create parallel universes and avatars where people can connect in micro-communities.
Springboard for emerging technologies and opportunity for brands
The principles behind gamification have always existed, so why is this phenomenon now gaining ground? For Vicente Martin Mastrocola, assistant teacher at ESPM where he teaches digital platforms, Game Essentials and Game Design, “companies have begun to understand the motivational techniques used by video game designers and apply them in other contexts. These techniques include goal design, badge recognition, team collaboration, stimulation of competition via rankings and points accumulation.”
Just as with the porn industry in the 80s, the game industry in times of pandemic seems to be the driving force for the implementation of emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality, accelerating their use outside of it. There are plenty of examples: The New Yorker magazine has just released its first animated film in virtual reality; the 2021 edition of the SXSW festival was all online and interactive; Folha de São Paulo newspaper conducted a survey on the impact of the pandemic in an immersive game format; The Black Mirror series produced an interactive episode with multiple endings.
For brands and agencies, we see some opportunities to apply these experiences in processes and methodologies, and in how to interact with the public. For Carina Benitez, designer at CBA B+G, bringing this kind of dynamic to the corporate context makes the contact between all participants more enjoyable. “When we gamify the process, people instinctively want to participate more. This way, something super-ordinary and mundane in their routine ends up gaining a new look.”
Let's check the opportunities:
- Using immersive technologies to produce insights: the engagement in role-playing games, where the viewer embodies a character within a virtual environment, promotes empathy. Today, with virtual or mixed reality, immersion in the reality of the other is even more complete, and can be extremely powerful as a consumer research tool and for prototype testing.
- Using game dynamics to drive innovation: game formats are extremely valuable when applied to processes that are typically exhausting, boosting learning and internal-team engagement. For Fabiele Nunes, CEO and co-founder at Startup Mundi, “the main objective of the game is to bring to companies an innovative solution in Team Development, working from the conception to the scalability of a disruptive idea. The game is an unforgettable experiential experience, which mixes learning, simulation and a lot of emotion.” Fabiano Naspolini, expert in game design and coordinator of the site Game Factory, warns about the importance of fully analyzing the goals to be achieved with gamification. “Are the new skills developed throughout the game by the participants aligned with the goal of gamification? I’ve seen many applications that use these elements, but the ultimate result ends up generating a behavior that was not initially desired.”
- Applying Game UI in digital product design: The culture of games has driven advances in service and experience design, more specifically the improvement of UI (user interface) concepts, improving user interaction with digital services and narrowing the gap with the physical experience. The Tinder “match”, for example, was inspired by the gaming universe, putting a little more challenge and fun into the process of finding the perfect match, creating addiction.
- Embracing digital consumer experiences: As the digital world and the real world mix, new consumer experiences that explore fantasy and imagination are emerging: The Fabricant is a 100% digital fashion house with garments and scenarios made in 3D. Retail is moving to embrace phygital, as was the case with Ikea, which swapped its printed catalog for virtual stores; Google has also created a virtual city for Black Friday.
Video games and immersive technology possibilities promise to revolutionize the way we consume and interact with brands. However, it is important to keep in mind that we are also experiencing a technological fatigue: excess screens, confinement and social distancing can lead people to seek a reconnection through physical contact. That’s why we bet that, in the future, brands should invest in gamer culture beyond pure digital, with playful experiences that mix digital and real, such as augmented reality. Our Branding for the future playbook and our article on empathy are good reading tips for those who want to delve into the importance of brands’ online presence and use of hybrid features.
Contact us if you want to chat about the challenges and opportunities for your brand. And if this topic inspires you, and you are or know business professionals, strategists and designers who are interested in being part of our team, write to firstname.lastname@example.org telling us about your expectations, goals and history. We are always in search of talent!
This article had the contribution of: Carmen Beer, Ana Cerqueira, Giuliana Sanchez, Thaísa Miyahara, Ana Paula Moreno, Fabiele Nunes, Carina Benitez, Fabiano Naspolini, Vicente Martin Mastrocola, Josy Lamenza, Daniela Irrazabal, Rosario Maglione, Renato Storni and Luis Bartolomei.