Eat Candy, Win Prizes!

What’s old is new again, and I’m not talking about Cracker Jacks. They never went away and so too the “prize” inside, which more often than not was a temporary tattoo (ever the provocateur, the tats were my childhood favorite). 

The old and new that I’m talking about is gamification – the application of game mechanics and techniques to make <insert your site, mobile app or product here> more fun, engaging, popular and hopefully successful. But does gamification have any value, or is it just another 21st Century mashup?

The question is more than academic because designing games — particularly serious games, or intentional games as I prefer to call them – is an important part of my practice. And the more I consider the best use of gamification, serious games, or simulations for a project, the more I see them as different points on the same continuum – and one that’s been going for some time. Consider:

  • S&H Green Stamps (now GreenPoints) gamified grocery shopping in 1893
  • CrackerJacks with a free prize inside gamified candy in 1912
  • Spinach sales bounced 33% higher when Popeye began eating spinach in 1931
  • Frequent Flyer programs have been rewarding brand loyalty since 1979
If you accept these as examples of non-digital gamification and acknowledge it’s been around a long time, the next debate is the efficacy of using games or gamification for learning and motivation. For a deeper dive on this, read Gamification in the Workplace: Learning vs. Motivation, a blog post I co-authored with Stuart Silverman, founder of Impact Simulations.
The idea for the post came from talking with prospective clients, many of whom aren’t so clear about the difference between simulations, serious games and gamified applications. We’ve found this can lead companies to make poor choices in deciding which kind of educational, knowledge transfer or motivational tools to deploy.
For more I’ve also posted a resource page on serious games and gamification to support my recent presentation for Creative Village at Hyper Island in New York. And needless to say, if you have a gamification strategy or are considering one, we’d love to help you chart the right course.

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