Is Activity valid compared to Engagement in Gamification?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

This day and age, most Gamification structures have the intent of creating progression within the User Experience. So, what happens when Gamification is based more so on Activity than Engagement?

Now, before we dive any further into this issue lets make one thing clear, activity and engagement are both positives, activity should not be looked down upon simply because its roots do not run as deep. In fact, activity is in some cases the best outcome possible within certain gamification subject matter.

Different categories of Gamification

In the world of Gamification Marketing, customer engagement is the end goal, building both brand association and brand relationship through engaging practices. On the other hand, Business Gamification functions strongly within the realm of activity, creating automated game mechanic systems that help menial tasks get accomplished, and right in the middle of both of these examples is Educational Gamification, which often requires a balance between both activity and engagement in order to help students remain attentive and able to walkout their learnings within the game outlined structure that has been put in place.

Activity within Gamification doesn’t necessarily need to be viewed as a campaign or program falling short, it all comes down to location, location, location. In the context of Gamified Health, recorded activity through game mechanics is their cornerstone. Take fitness bands as an example. If you are not naturally motivated to exercise, a fitness band is a great way to create a healthy habit, it may not be engaging per say but it can prompt you into participating in goal oriented activities. In fact, I propose, that the creators of fitness bands are reliant heavily upon the fact that their customers require an external source to propel them forward in their goals.

If we wanted to exercise without the band, we would not buy the latest one. However, I digress. If wearing the fitness band prompts you to exercise – surely this is a good thing? If it requires constant prompting, but you are at least doing the exercise, is this not a successful venture? You may not be as deeply connected to the process but the goal has been accomplished.

If you look at more common uses for gamification, such as making training materials more interesting, do we need long-term sustainable, engagement? No! We just need people to finish the training. If gamification helps the training process to suck less, then it’s a win for everyone!

The difference between Activity and Engagement

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s look at the difference between activity and engagement. Engagement is somewhat subjective and can be hard to truly tie down and define, so for our sakes, lets consider it to be a state in which a person is voluntarily participating in an activity with commitment, without the feeling of being forced or coerced into participation. It is heading towards people “wanting” to participate.

This is very different to just an increase in activity. Without engagement, activity needs constant prompting. With the example of Gamification Marketing, if you were to find that users were starting to feel negative about your campaign, it is quite possible you’ve approached gamification from more of a Business Gamification perspective, creating an experience that is largely geared towards results based on activity. In another context you may have created a perfect gamification experience but in the world of marketing, it’s no bueno.

With Gamify, being first and foremost geared towards Gamification Marketing. Lets continue to analyse Activity and Engagement within this context. These days marketers no longer view smartphones as a multi-tool incorporated into the lives of everyday people but rather an external brain, due to the time people have spent imprinting themselves on their device. This means to hold the attention of a user through a game on their smart device, is one of the truest forms of engagement in a modern marketing landscape.

Advergaming, being the act of advertising a brand-name product by featuring it within a game context, such as an embedded website game, mobile app or social media link – is a powerful tool in the scheme of infiltrating the "external brain" of customers. In comparison to traditional TV ads which may garner the attention of viewers for only a moment, advergaming presents companies with the opportunity to have consumers internalise their desired messages, repeatedly and for extended periods of time. This is achieved through engaging the user by a way of stimulating their need to be both entertained and achieve little victories.

Games differ from other forms of entertainment mainly because playing them requires active participation from consumers. Advertisers and publishers need to keep in mind the unique characteristics of a “lean-in” game experience when deciding on the best integration and media placements. There is a unique opportunity to leverage ad formats which drive both retention for publishers and awareness/purchase intent for brands.

Unlike most traditional marketing, games cannot unexpectedly pop-up into user’s feeds, arresting their attention, instead users are provided both an option and incentive to play the game which means any engagement from that point on comes proactively from the user, they are in control, they choose to interact with the company. This alone is a marketing win.

With users engaging with games and inadvertently interacting with businesses, there is an opportunity for businesses to display their messages and brand in a variety of ways throughout the time that the user is participating in gameplay. Games invoke a level of engagement that cannot be reached by the likes of video. In fact, studies have shown that regular TV still has large viewership, unfortunately for stakeholders in the $72 billion TV marketplace, people are habitually looking at their phones during the airing of commercials.

Gabrielle Heyman the IAB Game Committee Co-chair from Zynga put it this way, “From my perspective, integrations in mobile games are an important way to leverage not only the 2-way engagement games offer, but the huge reach of the audience. According to Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report, three-quarters of mobile users are mobile gamers. Integrations in game offer unparalleled time spent and interaction with a brand. We’ve seen several advertiser integrations in games drive upwards of 15 minutes time spent with the brand.  

In a game with natural breaks between levels, a video interstitial between turns mimics the commercial break found on live TV.  Much has been made of the interruption this poses to consumers. However, the data tells a different story. For some of the largest games in terms of Reach – Zynga’s Words With Friends is an example – the game has maintained its position as the top #1, #2 or #3 game for eight years, even with an ad after every turn.  For game publishers and consumers ads are seen as a fair value exchange for otherwise free content.

From rewarded video to esports, playables and video interstitials, game advertising is uniquely suited for consumer engagement and, as we all know, engagement is the new gold standard for marketers.”

In an age when people look to a screen to be entertained in those daily moments of downtime, most users don’t see the games they’re playing as marketing at all, one of the biggest reasons being that games naturally avoid a lot of obstacles most traditional forms of advertising need to avoid, such as showing people’s faces in adverts. Yes that’s right, something as trivial as showing people’s faces or personalities could potentially deter numbers on a campaigns engagement rate. Most advergaming alternatively features more environmental images, product visuals and creative illustrations. This creates an opportunity for marketers, as games can offer them that quick burst of stimulating entertainment while also creating product awareness/passing along new lead information to businesses.


So, we’ve established that Activity works within certain categories of Gamification but what about Marketing? Does every campaign need to be fully immersive in order to be labelled a success? In short, no. In most cases Engagement will be the objective in order to motivate users to do whatever the campaign was designed for, but we get so hung up on words such as “engaged” and “sustainable”. More often than not the behaviours we are looking for in gamification are very short term. Not always, of course, but let’s be real about it and stop beating ourselves up over it!

Is an increase in activity, however short term, better than nothing? of course it is and it is worth every cent if it achieves its goal!

In the end, lets aim to be engaging with our future marketing campaigns, but lets not be too hard on ourselves if we find them to simply be vehicles for activity. Sometimes that’s all a campaign really requires.

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