How to set-up gamification strategy to increase conversion and retention in my ScaleUp

How to set-up gamification strategy to increase conversion and retention in my ScaleUp

Juan David Mendieta Villegas
Entrepreneur | Shaping industries, growth strategist

If you are seeking to increase your acquisition, retention and referrals, think gamification. It is one of the most scalable and impactful growth strategies because everyone, from high school students to top-executives, play games on a regular basis. That’s why engaging users by creating game dynamics within the user-interaction with a product is so powerful. It is indeed a key differentiation factor of successful ScaleUps like Linkedin, Quora and eToro (among others).

As a growth strategist, it is very important to understand what gamification is really all about, and how to get the most out of it.

In what follows, I will

explain what gamification is from a business perspective (examples), and

show you a methodology that I developed for tech ScaleUps to structure and execute successful gamification inside their product in order to maximize conversion.

What on earth is gamification?

Before continuing, be aware that gamification strategies are a lot of hard work, expensive to implement and require a lot of iteration. For this reason I recommend small StartUps to avoid relying on gamification as one of their first growth techniques, but rather focus on the value of their product. Once your team is robust enough (10 + people) then its a good time to start. That’s why gamification typically part of the scaleup stage of a company.

So what is gamification, from the point of view of a ScaleUp?

A “game” is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback, that results in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction.

Not so clear? Then let me explain what gamification is “not”.

Gamification is commonly misconceived as simply awarding “badges”, “points” or cool names to your customers. Business managers often get excited about the idea of gamification, get together with the development team and start simply including unnecessary badges, names, points or levels in their existing flows.

To illustrate my point watch how Google tries to “gamify” the Google news feed by pointlessly adding “badges” and “level-ups” to the user-experience. Even Google can entirely miss the point sometimes…

Libraries could be filled with books on the various gamification components. Everyone agrees however that the three most significant elements to create gamification are the following: gameplay, game mechanics and artificial conflict.

Gameplay and game mechanics are rather close concepts that need to be understood in context.

Gameplay defines what a game is to the player in the most basic terms. The game mechanics is a rule-based system that facilitates and encourages a user to explore and learn through the use of feedback mechanisms.

Too confusing? Let’s simplify it with these examples. If I would like to define the gameplay and game mechanics of golf, it would be something like this:

Gameplay: hit the ball to put it in a hole.

Game Mechanics: 18 levels, each level with a hole and the winner is the one that needs the least shots to complete the entire course.

Another good example would be a fight video game. The gameplay would be to hit and avoid being hit. The game mechanics are that the player needs to fight and win all the battles and reach the final decisive fight.

Good game mechanics unite three magic elements: a multilevel approach, instant feedback and quantifiable outcomes.

The game mechanics need to provide clear rules about the game and simple quantifiable outcomes to measure progress. Combined with instant feedback, a player easily gets caught up in playing a game because he can constantly and easily gage his advancement in the solution of the challenge.

The feedback also creates an emotional reaction in the player which leaves him wanting more. You can test this by asking your test-users do describe 2 or 3 emotions they feel when receiving certain information from the game.

If you like to learn more about this have a look at this book on how to use game mechanics to crush competition.

“A player gets caught up in playing a game because the instant feedback is related to the challenge of the game and provokes a consistent emotional reaction.”

The third element of gamification, artificial conflict, is perhaps the most important, and often forgotten one. It tickles a deeply imbedded aspect of human nature: the competitive flare. The exhilaration of surpassing challenges and achieving goals, gets players (i.e. customers) more attached and engaged, creating a desire to be part of a journey. Seeing one’s self being the best, the first, the fastest, the richest or the strongest creates a sort of dependency on the game and its plot. The player will not want to let go of his status, his “prestige” and his fellow players recognition. Allowing your customers to fight hard to improve by giving them incentives and advantages, and finally allowing them to achieve incremental wins, is a true winning retention technique.

Zombies, Run! is a fantastic example of how a good artificial conflict was the key to create real engagement. The game is simple, it engages the player in a zombie apocalse to make him do exercise. Have a look at how it works.

Another very good example is eToro, a fantastic company that has used gamification to create a differentiation factor in the crowded online trading industry.

Gamify like a pro

My experience dealing with ScaleUps in Europe led me to develop a practical and easy-to-follow methoologdy for you to sketch your gamification strategy.

It can serve as a very well-defined guide for your development and growth team. In short it is as follows:


Now, let me explain how to use it.

Follow the steps as explained in the methodology in progressive order by following the arrows.

Start from the business objectives. These will help you understand the nature of your need. Is it to enlarge your customer base, to reactivate your current users, reduce your churn rate, create referrals or to tap into a new market segment…? For each objective an adapted strategy is needed.

Next, understanding the player is a critical part of the puzzle. You need to place yourself in your customer’s shoes and discover what motivates him the most, what incentives correspond the most with him and how can you categorize him. The following two illustrations will help you to make a well-defined profile of your target player.

After your player is well-defined, the next crucial step is to have a clear and evident artificial conflict that can then be put into reality by deciding on your gameplay and game mechanics. Make sure your gameplay is easily quantifiable and that your game mechanics is expressed in levels or sections in the game.

Now to ensure that your clients get “hooked” and goes along the different stages of your game, creating systems for instant feedback, notifications and the master leaderboard (here you can see an example if is not clear to you what this means), are key to represent all the abstraction you have put together before, as these elements will answer basic and unconsious human needs.

The next step is of course to have a clear objective for your player and a reward that actually motivates him. Try to be completely honest with yourself about the impact of the reward and if you are not sure that is a powerful enough, start by AB testing this first.

To finish I would like to mention that I put a blue bar under the methodology that represents the need for UX/UI design. This is an extensive topic on its own, but to keep it simple my recommendation is to make sure that before you build the game you build the player journeys, you can use this to do it.

To close, here are a couple of last bits of advice that will certainly help you throughout your gamification adventure:

1. Only start doing gamification once your team is robust (recommended for ScaleUps and not StartUps).

2. Align your gamification strategy with your organization’s goals.

3. Analyze your target Player very closely (Who, When, Where, How, Why).

4. Make sure you have a clear artificial conflict, this will be key for success.

5. To create a gamification strategy, use the methodology below. Before you start coding it make sure to draw your players journeys and then move on to execution and testing.

6. After you get your game out, test the rewards with AB testing

7. Last but not least, make it fun!

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