Thursday, May 6, 2010

Games, Not Just For Kids Anymore!

We love games, and by we, I mean I.  Although I have a distinct feeling that I'm not in the minority here.  Let's face it, we all grew up playing games of one kind or another.  Sometimes it was Monopoly, sometimes it was card games, sometimes it was football in the street with the other neighborhood kids.  Games are just a part of growing up. 

But somewhere along the way, we stop playing games.  Sure, there are a number of 30 and 40-somethings that still dabble in some video gaming now and then.  And the explosion of Rock Band is testament to the fact that, yes, even grownups like to cut loose from time to time. 

But games have become big business in the social media world, particularly for small businesses and non-profits.  You can't avoid the fact that Facebook games like Mafia Wars and Farmville have been a thorn in the side of many FB users while simultaneously being a source of "hours of fun for the whole family," for others.  A day doesn't go by that I don't get numerous pleas from friends asking me to help them wipe out a rival gang or to help them farm cabbage or fight rabbits or something along those lines.

But there's a new kind of game starting to take over social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and these games are starting to have some serious impact on the bottom line of businesses all over the world.  This isn't your father's game of LIFE, it's real life and these games are helping many organizations grow by leaps and bounds.

Say it with me, FOURSQUARE!

I have to offer a disclaimer here.  While I'm familiar with Foursquare, I haven't really played it very much.  It's not really my bag, baby.  Plus, so far at least, I haven't figured out a way to use it to help this blog or my company.  Although, if I DO figure it out, you can bet I'll be the Mayor of something within a short period of time. 

Games like Foursquare are a stroke of genius, really.  It allows businesses to build brand loyalty and develop a following simply by maintaining a presence online.  In some ways, when I first saw the game, I saw it as a natural outgrowth of virtual reality games and environments like SecondLife.  I may be off a bit on that assumption, but the fact is, businesses are using Foursquare to help grow sales by offering real-life incentives.  In a way, the game is like the 21st Century of those old coupon books you'd get at Subway or at barber shops or at ice cream parlors.  If you frequent a business enough, you get rewarded with a free sandwhich or free haircut or free sundae. 

While Foursquare might be the largest location-based game on the market right now, it's not the only player out there.  Businesses are finding new and innovative ways to use social media as a game platform to generate interaction, grow interest and build an audience.  Gowalla looks to be eating into Foursquare's market share and a California-based company called Shopkick has recently rolled out a location-based game called CauseWorld.  In each case, the idea is to encourage consumers to spend money as an incentive to gain rewards (as well as "Karma" points in the case of CauseWorld).

Then you have companies like Pepsi, who had to do something social-media-wise to combat Coke's recent social media blitz involving millions of dollars in donations to everyday people with good ideas.  This has been a spectacular success so far given the fact that millions of consumers everywhere are voting regularly on the myriad of ideas Coke has gathered.

But back to Pepsi.  They've actually created their OWN game.  Here is an excerpt from a recent article on InventorSpot discussing Pepsi's new venture.  As always click the link to view the entire article. 
Similar to the established location-based social networks that exist like Foursquare and Gowalla, "check-ins" will be an important component of this application. Customers that check-in to restaurants that offer Pepsi will begin to earn loyalty 'loot' points which can then be used to obtain downloadable songs from artists such as Keane, Katherine McPhee and Jamie Cullum. Additionally, Pepsi customer restaurants have the opportunity to provide exclusive Pepsi Loot offers to their patrons, such as a free drink with an entrée purchase.
The iPhone App called "PepsiLoot" is already on the market.  No word yet on the success of the program.

Even Non-Profits Benefit:

But social media games aren't just for businesses, large or small.  Even non-profits are getting in on the action as this article on Mashable illustrates.

4 Ways One Non-Profit Uses Location to Increase Engagement

NWF Logo Image
While many non-profits are embracing social media for fundraising, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has found social media to be essential for bringing value to its members, raising public awareness, and building community online.
As the United States’ largest non-profit conservation, education and advocacy organization, with over four million members, NWF relies on recurring membership revenue to create change in the world. Social media helps NWF create this change by encouraging staff to personally communicate and engage individual members, new supporters, and wildlife lovers on a regular basis.
This is just one non-profit that is using a variety of social media platforms to develop an audience and encourage participation and interaction.  But, depending on the kind of non-profit you work with, there are a lot of great ideas that are still out there that you can use to grow your organization.  The article above listed three other location-based social media tools that the NWF is using that doesn't involve game playing so much as it encourages participation.  And your strategy doesn't have to involve a location-based game, either. 

Some organizations are simply using the game to build brand loyalty by handing out "badges" to regular users.  This article from Cnet shows that the online social media gaming fad has even reached into local newspapers and services of all kinds.

Game mechanics," as this sort of points-and-achievements gimmick is called, is tough to get right: Turning everything into a contest may grab some extra attention at first, but it can easily veer into the annoying. Leaving a well-researched comment about foreign policy on a news story only to earn a cartoon badge for your effort, for example, may seem a little bit inappropriate. But don't be fooled. Gimmicky game mechanics aren't really the "World of Warcraft"-ization of marketing: they're the first entry of customer loyalty programs, long the sort of thing that even the customers themselves didn't know much about, into the age of Facebook and Twitter. This business tactic is here to stay, even though the "Animal House" badges might not be.
"I like game playing when it comes to really any kind of service," Gravity Chief Product Officer Steve Pearman told CNET. "It's just a question of identifying what are the right kinds of games to play." At least for now, the games du jour involve racking up what often amounts to little more than bragging rights.
Sometimes, though, there's money involved. HomeRun CEO Jared Kopf says that the still-in-beta start-up's various gaming features--from the "private reserve" achievement unlocking to a feature called "Avalanche," in which buyers can watch the price of a deal drop as more people spring for it--are designed to legitimately make commerce more exciting.
Getting In On The Fun!

Now, you might be asking yourself, how can I cash in on this social media gaming phenomenon.  That's a good question.  Chances are, you don't have the time or know-how to develop your own iPhone App.  And your budget probably won't allow you to give away the kind of incentives that will drive customers to your business in droves.

The good news is you don't have to develop an iPhone App or have an unlimited budget to play the game and reap the rewards.

Take a look at your business or non-profit.  It's likely that you already have some sort of reward system in place for your regular customers.  If you don't, put one together.  The whole idea of these games is to reward customers and users and attract potential customers with these rewards.  Maybe you hold a monthly contest, maybe you use a point system or maybe you use the aforementioned badge system.  Whatever it is, you have to first create a program that offers rewards that both won't break your budget, but at the same time will appeal to consumers.

Sometimes, as the previous article mentioned it can be a simple case of "bragging rights" but most likely customers will be drawn in by promises of future discounts and freebies.  The trick is finding the game that works best for your organization.  If your business is in the service industry, then a simple reward or point system for regular patronage might work.  But get creative and find some new, fun and unusual ways to get your patrons involved.

For non-profits, where participation is the name of the game, find ways to encourage interaction not only with volunteers and the organization, but among the various shareholders among themselves.  Maybe it's a geocaching game, or perhaps it's a giant game of "Scavenger Hunt".  Whatever you do, you want to get people involved, and, more importantly, you want them to get their friends involved as well.  Because these games not only build loyalty among your existing base, but they can even grow your base as others hear about it from friends and acquaintances. 

As Foursquare has made clear, people like to play games.  They like to win and they like to be recognized.  Using social media games is a fantastic way to cater to these needs and grow your business.  Now, get out there and let the games begin!

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