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With our Power UP gaming event nearly upon us, we take a look at how gaming is being used by big businesses to improve the customer experience.

What is gamification?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, gamification is a concept most of us have been engaged with for a while now. From nicking your mate’s KOM on Strava to Starbucks Rewards, many of us game on a daily basis without even realising it. Put simply, gamification is applying the principles of game design elements in non-game contexts.

Caption reading 'If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen'
The mantra of every Strava user, ever

The companies using gamification are taking the essence of what makes games so alluring (a shared sense of purpose, challenge and reward), decoding the mechanics that make them work (personalisation, rankings and leaderboards) and then applying these principles to enhance customer loyalty, encourage spending and provide mechanisms for retaining and encouraging talent.

The potential power of games-based applications has been magnified by the convergence of two major trends: the coming of age of Generation Y, and the overcrowding of the digital space, which makes it harder for companies to stand out.

Generation Y, the demographic born between 1980 and 2000, has not only grown up in a digital world, but they are also enthusiastic online gamers. They have driven the growth of an industry that global research firm Gartner reckons will be worth $129 billion globally by 2020.

Some Gen Y gamers at Power UP
Gen Y gamers having a lovely time at Power UP

Have I been gamified?

More than likely, yes.

Businesses have long been using gamification to try and drive changes in customer behaviour. Children of the 80s and 90s whose parents wouldn’t fork out for a proper games console will have spent hours playing Solitaire (or was that just me?), but Microsoft didn’t include Solitaire just for your fun. Oh no. It was introduced to help acquaint users with the newly introduced click-and-drag functions of the mouse, and to get us all used to a new way of working via the medium of games.

Microsoft Solitaire
Microsoft Solitaire, the original time-waster

Vokswagen’s The Fun Theory gave us The World’s Deepest Bin, which used sound effects to put the ‘wahey’ into waste disposal. They also channelled Tom Hanks in Big to produce a natty set of stairs that looked like a piano keyboard and played music when you walked up them. The result? 66% more people took the stairs instead of the escalator.

There’s an app for that

Gamification can be especially effective when applied to complex challenges.

Foldit is an online puzzle game devised by scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle to help them understand the structure of proteins. In 2011, the game’s 240,000 registered players were invited to configure the structure of an enzyme associated with the AIDS virus.

Tracking their competing scores through shared leaderboards, Foldit players solved a problem in three weeks that had stumped scientists for 15 years.

If a trusted source serves as the messenger, campaigns can become collaborative exercises that use social networks to spread the word and game mechanics to engage participants.

So, how is gamification it being used in banking?

The digital revolution and mobile banking has transformed the way people interact with their banks. This trend is set to continue, with new figures revealing that mobile transactions are set to rise by around 121% between 2017 and 2022, and the average branch visits dropping from seven to four by 2022.

Traditional providers have also been faced with the emergence of challenger banks (such as Monzo and Starling), which are striving to capture the attention of millennials with their agile, digital offerings. The territory of the high street stalwarts is being encroached on by the likes of PayPal and Apple Pay, which have disrupted the payments market, traditionally an area that banks have dominated.

Back in 2013, Spanish bank BBVA led the way with incorporating gamification into the experience it offered customers. The provider analysed how its customers interacted, and found that many felt more secure going to the branch to complete their transactions. BBVA Game was launched to encourage customers to use its digital platform, with the ultimate aim to improve their customer retention and online customer experience.

The game allows people to make account enquiries, pay bills and carry out different kinds of transactions. With each completed transaction, users earn points (this the gamification bit). There are also challenges and missions for users to undertake, with medals and badges being rewarded – which can then be shared to social media.

Promotional image from Brewster's Millions featuring Richard Pryor and John Candy
Brewster’s Millions – the gamification of banking on the Silver Screen

More recently, BBVA has also invested in the development of Atom, the UK’s first digital-only bank. Atom has no branches and banking services are provided through a smartphone app.

Atom has recently acquired software designer and developer Grasp, which specialises in games and virtual reality development, to build its digital platforms. Atom claims to “celebrate your individuality in every way”, by allowing its customers to choose a logo, name and colours to personalise the app experience.

By allowing customers to adapt the interface to suit their preferences, Atom is tapping into the psychology of taking control by allowing customers to make their banking experience truly unique.

It seems as if the big boys are now trying to play catch up with companies like Atom. Barclays recently announced the launch of its Launchpad Business Challenge to bring together bright entrepreneurs to answer the question: How would you use gamification to enhance the mobile and online banking experience for our customers? The bank is exposing sandbox banking application programming interfaces (APIs) and a sandbox mobile banking app and asking participants to “challenge what’s possible”.

The Launchpad will allow Barclays customers to try out and give feedback on new features and ideas developed by startups. Given that the bank has 16 million customers worldwide, out of which 5 million use mobile banking apps, the challenge has a strong appeal for startups.

Why does gamification work?

As we all know, points make prizes. We all like prizes, therefore we all like points. But it’s not just about the prizes.
Consumers are also looking for experiences that are uniquely memorable and immersive. Social connectedness is a hugely influential factor. People typically join a game because their socially networked friends are playing it, and enough interaction can unleash a tidal wave of interest. In addition, status, milestones, competition, immersion and rankings all contribute to the success of a game.

It’s not you, it’s me

Personalisation and the ability to customize promotes a sense of ownership in the game through self-expression. Having experiences that deliver delight, preferably packaged into social media-friendly personalised snapshots, is what drives many consumers.

As brand loyalty diversifies and consumers want more personalised experiences, gamification is a perfect way to attract and retain customers. Gamification allows businesses to understand why their customers do what they do, and that they share their values. Moreover, this is an experience that is much more likely to be shared on social media—redefining the relationship with users away from one of them as just consumers.

With consumers demanding ever more personalized experiences, gamification seeks to put the fun into fundamentally pedestrian experiences and transform everyday experiences into something unique.

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