Consumers’ insatiable appetite for game playing has reached the point where the use of socially meaningful gamification elements has become more essential than ever to fostering engagement across an expanding array of online activities.
But there’s something beyond the sheer number of gamers that makes this an especially propitious moment to be stepping up the use of gamification. Thanks to the maturation of highly scalable real-time interactive video streaming infrastructure, it’s now possible to inject a much-needed burst of social energy into efforts to gamify internet engagement.
A Long-Running Growth Curve
Gamification, which entails the use of game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts, has long been employed in marketing initiatives, education, worker training, and other applications. Nine years ago, Forbes shared the results of a global survey that revealed that over 70% of respondents planned to use gamification in their marketing and customer retention initiatives.
But since that moment of nearly universal enthusiasm, attitudes about gamification have become more subdued as marketers found reasons to doubt its effectiveness. While surveys consistently point to positive results, gamification strategies haven’t always panned out.
Responding to those doubts in an interview with workforce information hub Built In, Kerstin Oberprieler, gamification researcher and CEO of gamification consultancy PentaQuest, acknowledged there have been deficiencies common to many gamification initiatives, especially with approaches that showed little understanding of underlying principles.
“A lot of those early examples were really basic,” Oberprieler told Built In. “They basically relied on these simple extrinsic mechanics, which is good because it popularized gamification, but it’s bad because they could be a little bit superficial and a little bit too competitive.”
Incentives related to listing high-scoring participants in gamified activities on leaderboards, voting to drive outcomes in various types of competition, amassing points toward rewards, and other activities sometimes misfire, even to the point of generating considerable annoyance. But a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t has led in recent years to far more compelling, scalable, and user-friendly applications as the surging number of gamers makes the investment in gamification a safer bet than ever.
Game market researcher Newzoo estimates that 3 billion people, representing over 40% of the world’s population, can be categorized as gamers, which equates to a 50% increase over the count registered in 2015. Moving in tandem, the global gamification market is on course to grow from $6.9 billion in 2019 to $34 billion in 2025, according to Adroit Market Research.
The Implications of a New Interactive Video Paradigm for Effective Gamification
As impressive as that growth rate might be, such calculations don’t reflect what’s likely to happen now that any provider of online products and services can benefit from the natural competitive impulses of people interacting with each other via video in real time. New approaches to enabling user engagement through activations of real-time video communications operate at levels of quality, functionality, and scalability that far surpass the capabilities of traditional video communications apps.
The possibilities are evident in how Red5 Pro’s multi-cloud Experience Delivery Network (XDN) platform is employed to support a vast array of applications worldwide. As often reported in Red5 blog posts and white papers, XDN-supported use cases infused with tightly synchronized real-time video communications are impacting everything from casual activities like social media communications, live event watch parties, and multi-player gaming to more serious pursuits like remote work collaborations, remote participation in education and training, and oversight of military and space operations.
The ability to instantiate such capabilities casts a transformative light on gamification. The rewards of being seen can be a big incentive to participate in gamified activities, and, with synchronized real-time video communications in play, more visually dynamic scoring mechanisms can be set up to assign standing or other rewards to people for their performance.
For example, producers of live sports and esports events can tap into people’s competitive urges by making it possible for them to vie for bragging rights for accurately predicting outcomes. This can be a highly engaging alternative to spending time and money setting up micro-betting operations with online bookmakers.
Proofs of Concept from the Gaming World
A look at how gamification is evolving across multiple market sectors sheds light on the role interactive video enhancements could play. From the outset, confidence in gamification has been fortified by consumer responses to innovations in online games.
The credibility of one of the basic ingredients to gamification strategies, namely getting people to assign value to activities that would otherwise have no value, was greatly fortified by consumers’ participation in virtual role-playing games (RPGs) that thrive on people spending real money or hard-earned virtual currencies on virtual property. For example, the amazing success of Zynga’s FarmVille simulation game at building communities of virtual farmers in the years immediately following its 2009 launch on Facebook was an important inspiration to gamification as well as game developers.
At its peak in 2010 FarmVille was the top-ranked game on Facebook with 34.5 million daily active users spending Farm Coins purchased with real money or investments of time on the site to build productive virtual farms. Social networking is a major aspect of gameplay with players reducing what they spend on Farm Coins by joining in co-ops to grow crops and complete tasks in exchange for virtual gifts and supplies.
Of course, the buying and selling of goods and property now permeate the gaming world, ranging from weapons purchases in battle royale scenarios like Fortnite to territorial acquisitions on RPG sites like Decentraland. In an extreme example of this trend, last year Reuters reported that Tokens.com, a Toronto-based investor in metaverse real estate, spent $2.4 million on a big patch of land in Decentraland.
While not directly relevant to gamification, such commitments to virtual living do reflect the cultural environment gamification is now playing in. Much more relevant is the success of social engagement as an inducement to participate in games.
Another pioneering effort pointing to such benefits was mounted in 2009 by Foursquare, a mobile location-based social network with significant gaming elements that had a significant impact on perceptions about the potential of gamification. Here the aim is to drive traffic to merchant locations via socialization around friendly competition for standing in tabulations of users’ visitations to participating establishments.
People receive display badges for achieving certain numbers of check-ins, often tied to specific types of venues like Greasy Spoon badges issued for diner visits and Jet Setter badges awarded for hitting visitation thresholds at airports. Users gain status as the “mayor” of a venue by racking up the most visits over the previous 60 days, which creates an incentive to protect the title with ongoing visits.
Research tracking a sample group of Foursquare users found venues attained significant gains in visitations by virtue of the competition for badges and mayoralties. It seems reasonable to assume enthusiasm for participation in such location-oriented networks would be even greater if people could see each other via built-in support for video communications.
Another signal to gamification developers as to the power of a simple social gaming app to draw mass market participation was generated with King.com’s launch of Candy Crush Saga on Facebook in 2012. This was a version of the popular online board game that introduced socialization along with a “saga” approach to gameplay featuring a steady stream of new episodes containing multiple levels of play.
Beyond the value of playmaking in a social setting, the deceptively simple game, where players amass points by matching colored candy images in rows and columns, illustrates two major facets of successful gamification strategies: it doesn’t take a lot of razzle dazzle to draw people into engagement, but, to keep them engaged, it takes layered levels of complexity and a stepped approach to play that keeps people coming back for more while allowing them to play for just a few minutes with each session.
In less than a year, Candy Crush Saga overtook FarmVille as the most popular game on Facebook and by 2016, with King introducing new content on a regular basis, it had registered over 1 trillion gameplays on Facebook. This contrasts with examples of how not to do things provided by Netflix, beginning with a highly publicized effort aimed at drawing audiences into watching a show by allowing them to influence the outcome.
While lauded as a worthy attempt at interactive storytelling and initially hailed as a success by Netflix officials, the 2019 edition of the long-running Black Mirror series – Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – garnered the series’ lowest critical ratings. Two key problems with the Netflix approach were noted last year by Jacob Navok, co-founder and CEO of Genvid, which is pursuing its own interactive RPG storytelling agenda via its Massively Interactive Live Events (MILEs) platform.
In an interview with Fast Company, Navok said the fact that Bandersnatch wasn’t delivered live was one major drawback. “The only way it works is if you’ve got a live video feed, users are making decisions, and there’s an algorithm that’s behind it that’s adjusting,” he said.
The other big problem for Netflix was the absence of a social feature, Navok added. Speaking of the success of video games produced by a former employer, he said, “We used to joke that (those games) were just visual chat rooms. The thing that people enjoy the most and what got them to spend money every month was the fact that they had friends they’d communicate with and chat with every night. If you don’t have that, it’s very hard to create interactive content that is engaging.”
This is still an issue at Netflix, which this year introduced two new stabs at gamified storytelling with the animated Cat Burglar and Trivia Quest series. In both cases right answers to questions posed in daily updates allow users to move along through the narratives.
While closer to the gamification mark with their support for short episodic engagements, these new programs don’t provide users a means of comparing their performances. This contrasts with highly popular games like Wordle, which have seen rapid success by allowing people to tout their successes online. In Wordle’s case, people simply push a share button that allows them to cut and paste their scores into social media or messaging apps.
In other words, if your gamification apps can be easily tied into social media, you don’t even need a leaderboard any more than you need materially valuable rewards to tap into people’s enthusiasm for competing with each other. Nor do you have to be an expert game developer to build those apps, thanks to the availability of online toolkits that make it easy to combine gaming elements into a specific use case.
The list is long, including Owiwi, Spinify, Trivie, and a host of others specifically targeted to various gamification use cases. Roblox, the most prominent multi-developer platform, is more directly targeted to game building as an end in and of itself. The company reported that in Q2 2021, 9.5 million developers who used the toolkit generated over $129 million in revenue, representing close to an 8x increase over the total three years earlier.
Gamification at Work in Multiple Fields
The benefits of gamification are in play worldwide across myriad fields beyond marketing and entertainment.
One important arena that has a greater need of support from gamification than ever in the wake of the Covid pandemic is education. This has not required a major adjustment in strategies, given that, long before the pandemic, research showed that 74% of all K-8 teachers in the United States were using digital games as instruction aids.
Now teachers have access to services like Kahoot, which enables real-time remote group participation in quizzes as a way to keep students engaged. Or with Archy Learning, teachers can cut and paste links and classroom notes into learning pathways that mix in quizzes, educational games, and mixed media exams.
Along with these and other in-class and online gamification platforms, resources are abundant for individual and group learning independent of classroom instruction. For example, Duolingo, a language-learning app, rewards students with a flame icon for sustained “streaks” of completed lessons over many days. The Education Edition of the massively popular Minecraft game offers coding lessons that allow users to control their gaming environments. Another coding instruction gamification platform is Treehouse, which awards badges for accomplishments in group learning scenarios.
Gamification is now a major tool used by many companies to train new employees and keep all workers up to speed on new policies and developments. Walmart, for example, made gamification a major part of its training with the introduction of its Pathway program in 2016. As described in a corporate blog, the program is using animation, video-game-style interactions, and trivia quizzes in multiple training scenarios, from entry-level to operational leadership positions. Notably, a popular component of the program enables employees to inject their personalities as on-screen characters in video encounters.
The military, too, has taken steps to increase the use of gamification, including setting up training for high-risk group operations in virtual reality (VR) simulations. These efforts are benefitting from an outpouring of responses to a request for proposals from video game companies issued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2017.
An even more ambitious undertaking was instigated in 2017 by NATO with its four-year Gamification of Cyber Defence/Resilience project. The alliance used the research and game-building expertise of project participants to create a massive wargame training template designed to train militaries in the mounting of high-tech defenses against attacks coordinated across every domain of conflict, including land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace.
Seen in the vast context of all this activity, gamification is soon to become a ubiquitous aspect of life in the emerging Metaverse. As we’ve previously described, in this transition to a new era of internet engagement, old barriers between activity online and off are giving way to a seamless flow between the two worlds enabled by pervasive availability of distributed computerization, AI-assisted application-specific access to data from massive cloud-based archives for any use case and synchronized real-time video interactions unimpeded by distance or the number of users, with or without the aid of VR or other extended reality (XR) technologies.
Red5 Pro’s XDN architecture is playing an ever-greater role in this transition. As explained in this white paper, the XDN platform is built on a cross-cloud architecture that supports tightly synchronized real-time streaming to and from any number of endpoints over any distance. In long-haul scenarios, end-to-end latency in any direction doesn’t exceed 200-400 milliseconds, which means all live feeds remain in sync at all endpoints with no perceptible delays in video interactions. In more regionally focused applications, the latency drops to 50 ms or below.
To learn more about XDN technology and how it can be applied to support gamification strategies, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call.