How Game Mechanics In Marketing Work

Here’s the 5 game mechanics that will increase impact of commercial activities and throughout the customer journey.

What are game mechanics?

The definition we often see is mechanisms used in a non-game environment or applying mechanisms such as goals or competition to get a desired result(s). At Playable, we like to use this definition: game mechanics are a mechanism for turning someone from unengaged to engaged. 

Game mechanics can be a tool applied in all types of campaigns: always-on or timed, triggered or non, planned or ad hoc, internally driven or externally inspired. They can help engage your audience and keep them engaged or active. We’ve seen a recent game campaign for a fast-moving consumer goods company that utilized competition, challenge, and reward, and the result was that the average time spent per play was 04:48 minutes. And another recent campaign we saw from a retail business reduced the time to purchase from over four months (120 days) to just one week (!) 

Here’s why they work: game mechanics help us tap into our motivation. Motivation is defined as the urge to make progress towards a goal. Game mechanics can be used to intrinsically (without a promise of an external reward) or extrinsically (with a promise of an external reward) motivate us.

Ready to learn more?

Learn more about the data behind marketing gamification.

We commissioned a study with YouGov to see exactly how powerful gamification and game mechanics are in marketing

yougov leadfamly data report

The Playable 5

There are many game mechanics, but these are the five we focus on at Playable. They are often utilized as part of a game campaign, but they can also be used to invigorate social media posts or newsletters. 

1. To compete

As humans, we are hardwired to compete and to play to win. It’s something that releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. 

Competing means that a player is inherently ‘against’ someone, and that they have the desire to win. Coupled with this is also the social aspect of competing, which makes it fun and engaging. Competing is an important game mechanic and the backbone of gamification. It taps into our subconscious desires and is incredible at keeping attention. 

There are many examples of competing, but one to highlight is Neste’s Drop Game. Neste, a Finnish energy company, created this campaign to raise awareness of their brand and to gather marketing permissions in Estonia. Players needed to avoid the witches and catch the eggs; they competed for a chance to win a tank of gas, a very useful prize!

Read the customer story with Neste here. 

2. To be challenged

We define ‘challenge’ as any task set for a player that is non-trivial to accomplish. It typically also means an obstacle to overcome or having to achieve a task. In the context of gamification, it often makes the game or experience more engaging and interesting than if the challenge mechanic isn’t present.

Here’s an example from a Danish insurance company, Købstædernes Forsikring. To raise awareness and inform website visitors of an insurance offering for children, they shared that only 14% of Danes answered all of the quiz questions correctly. This did two things: (1) Let website visitors compare their knowledge to someone else’s, which helped them benchmark their knowledge, and (2) If a website visitor got all of the questions correct, they could feel intrinsically good and that they performed better than the majority. 

3. To have fun

To have fun may seem like a no-brainer and something that all brands strive for. However, it is important. There is so much competition for brands, so one way to stand out is to make the experience fun.

A recent example we saw that perfectly fit this definition is from the British beauty brand, Carbon Theory. At the start of the lockdown last year in the UK, Carbon Theory wanted to create a fun and lighthearted game to entertain their audience. And that was truly their purpose — they didn’t even include a registration form. Once the player finished the game, he or she received a voucher code towards their next purchase. The campaign paid off quickly. Within the first 14 days, Carbon Theory saw £10,000 in sales they could directly contribute to the game campaign. In addition, the voucher became their most used voucher.

This campaign was so successful because it was created for the customer, to give them a break from the news, and to have them interact with something fun via their phone. 

4. To be rewarded

Rewards can, luckily, be many things. They can be monetary or not, be of high value, intrinsic, or extrinsic. A prize can be real or within the game, and it can even be feedback. The challenge or game itself can, in some instances, be the reward as well.

A great example that we’ve seen recently is by the Dutch football club, Willem II. They created an incredible experience for their fans, and this started with a somewhat stressful tweet. From their official Twitter account, Willem II tweeted that their team captain, Jordens Peters, had “left the club.” Fans feared that meant he was traded, but that wasn’t the case. What happened next was that fans went on a scavenger hunt aided by four games. Whoever figured out the scavenger hunt first found themself face-to-face with Peters, who revealed the latest home team jersey. 

This example has three rewards: the reveal of the new jersey, winning the scavenger hunt, and finding and meeting the captain, Peters. This cool and unique campaign performed extremely well, and it was a clever way to use rewards. 

5. To mirror

Mirroring means that the person or player gets to see how they compare to others (not necessarily in a competitive way though). It fills our very human need to see and feel that we belong and answer the question, “How do I measure up (against others)?”. 

The fashion brand VERO MODA created a Personality Quiz, ‘How Hygge Are You?’. Hygge is a Danish concept, which roughly translates into ‘coziness’ or a feeling of contentment. VERO MODA was able to create a fun experience for their audience and tap into the concept of hygge. 

What’s next?

We challenge you to start using these game mechanics as you plan your campaigns, whether they are gamified or not. Use these five mechanics as a way to get new customers, engage your audience, level up relationship management, and grow: data, personalization efforts, or more sales from existing customers.