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What marketers can learn from gaming

2016 has been a big year for gaming. Huge leaps in augmented and virtual reality technologies, greater computing power and stronger connectivity have come together to allow developers to push boundaries further than ever. We’ve seen the unprecedented global success of Pokemon Go – now downloaded more times than Tinder – and the launch of No Man’s Sky, a game with thousands of randomly generated worlds to explore.

What can marketers learn from this year’s high profile successes (and failures)? Bandstand’s resident gaming expert, Gala Jackson Coombs, explains.

#1 - Simplicity is a double-edged sword

If we judged Pokemon Go by its teaser trailer, we’d think the game was destined to be a niche fad for millennials who were fans of the game. But when it launched, Pokemon Go became an instant global phenomenon. Servers crashed during American and Australian launches, with people creating false Australian Apple IDs just to play the game early. This world domination was a huge achievement for a brand that recently celebrated its 20th year.

Reviewers pointed out the game was far less functional than what was originally promised in the trailer. But it was precisely this simplicity that made it so popular – not only with the Pokemon fanbase, but also casual gamers. Kids, grandparents and professionals became Pokemon Masters, intent on catching ‘em all.

However, after the most successful game launch ever, the app’s popularity has been on a steady decline. With a limited number of Pokemon to catch and a repetitive feel to the gameplay, players simply got bored. This is a common issue with mobile, free-to-play games. Many stagger the release of new functionality to maintain player interest. In Pokemon’s case, there’s been very little added to the game since launch, with some features removed.

There are two key lessons here for marketers. First, make sure that you’re offering the consumer something valuable for their time. If the content you offer is repetitive or aimless, your customer’s experience will feel shallow, unfulfilling, and not much fun. Secondly, simplicity is an incredible tool. Use it to drive clarity and create inclusivity – but take care not to use it as an excuse to limit your brand.

#2 - There’s a new landscape to embrace

Let’s say you don’t like or ‘get’ Pokemon Go. Fair enough. But what if your business was a Pokestop and you had no idea? If we choose to remain unaware of the digital landscape that surrounds us, we could miss opportunities. Being agile enough to respond to changes in the digital environment can put you ahead of competitors.

Pokemon Go is a strong example. With its huge audience and proven effect on footfall, the game provided lucrative opportunities, and not just to Niantic and its partners. McDonalds in Japan foresaw this, and paid to have all of its Japanese restaurants turned into Pokemon Gyms.

On a more organic level, when many small businesses realised that they were close to Pokestops or Gyms, they decided to turn it to their advantage. Café’s put down lures to attract more Pokemon and offered free wifi and discounts to players, with great results.

#3 Use gaming to inspire action and drive loyalty

With improved connectivity, more geolocations and greater accuracy, games focused on real world action are the Next Big Thing. By offering consumers the chance to be part of something exclusive, these game experiences translate to greater word of mouth and shareability, as people flaunt their achievements to each other.

Sports apps such as Strava and the Jawbone UP app allows users to compete against each other to cycle faster or walk further. Newly launched app Run an Empire allows you to build your own ‘empire’ by running enough around an area to take dominance of it.

Combining real world objectives with virtual achievements makes goals more meaningful and rewarding. Users have become accustomed to virtual badges and awards – now they want to feel like they have earned them in the real world, and are competing with others, rather than being impressed by their own points score.

#4 - Gaming can make learning fun. For brands, it’s a way to make campaign messages more memorable.

People like having fun. Who knew? It may be the urge to collect, reach the highest level, or complete something in the fastest time – if we feel we’re achieving something, even the most mundane tasks are a bit more enjoyable. If this translates to real world rewards, like prizes, discounts or vouchers, even better.

Gamification has already proven effective in education, by connecting learning with fun. Codecombat has gamified learning how to code, making a dry topic much more visual and appealing.

In the marketing world, we might call learning ‘brand awareness’, but the principle is the same. Gaming can help you sell your brand’s narrative, and even combat bad publicity. US restaurant chain Chipotle showed this with its new Guac Hunter game. Everyone loves burritos, nobody loves paying extra for guacomole. Chipotle’s game championed guacamole as an amazing extra, rather than a tax on those of us partial to avocado. With a free serving when you win the game, it also offers players a real world reward for their input.

#5 - Ignore your community at your peril.

One of Niantic’s biggest mistakes with Pokemon Go was to remove game features without providing someone for players to direct their questions to, which angered its community of players. This was a huge misstep for a company essentially launching one of the largest online communities of all time. If they’d explained the update before going live, they may have avoided the backlash. Additionally, if they’d listened to players' concerns and found a workaround (or visibly shown that they were trying to find one), it’s likely the community would have been more forgiving. Pokemon’s success is due to the players who championed it. By treating their announcements as proclamations rather than a conversation, Niantic’s tone felt disrespectful to their customers.

Written by Gala Jackson Coombs

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