Understanding the rise of gamification in brand apps!


Following attendance of the IPA Gamification Panel at Summerhall, Edinburgh


Many would be forgiven for imagining the archetypal ‘gamer’ in a damaging light, having grown up with images of antisocial, unhygienic and inactive basement-dwellers. Fifteen years into the new millennium, however, games and gamified apps have become infinitely more accessible to the average consumer and an estimated 71.7% of the UK population who own a mobile phone in 2015 possess an app-enabled smartphone.

The number of Apple AppStore offerings hit 1 million in 2013 – with on average 30,000 added a month

To put this into numbers is staggering. 93 million unique users play Candy Crush Saga daily, and King, the developer, have seen their Saga-brand games installed over 500 million times to mobile devices – that’s one-fourteenth of the world’s population. Farmville, the popular Facebook app, records 30 million ‘visits’ to neighbouring farms every day.

This has understandably caused quite a stir in the media community and the use of gamified mobile apps for brands is something that’s potential is yet to be wholly unlocked. To explore this, the IPA commissioned a panel event of industry professionals to discuss where gamification could take us in the next few years, and I braved the tail-end of a transatlantic hurricane (possible hyperbole) to attend in picturesque Edinburgh.

Chaired by the gregarious Brian Baglow, Games Partnership Manager at Creative Skillset and a writer on the first Grand Theft Auto game in 1997, debate soon turned to the evolving use of games within media and how the users of today were accessing them. Sophia George, a game developer herself and chair of Swallowtail games, indicated that it was the community aspect of these mobile apps that was a key sales factor for the new demographic of gamers, and commented that “It’s like going down to the pub.”

From left to right: Donnie Kerrigan, Dave Cook, Brian Baglow, Sophia George and Jason Tammemägi

The two themes that shone through were clear – engaging and retaining your audience through the delivery of an entertaining and appealing gaming model, while simultaneously rooting said model in the core strategies of your brand. The panellists were keen to point out successful examples of gamification and the benefits that it would hold for the media industry. In one example, the famous London-based retailer Harrods had produced a Candy-Crush-like game in which blocks of shoes rather than confectionery were destroyed, drawing on the hugely popular gaming template but remaining committed to the brand. Shoe sales for the retailer rose 58% in the month following release.

Even the most addictive app could fail to engage a market if it was generic enough to be used by any company flogging any product. The fashion retailer destroying shoes was a perfect way to remind their principal users why they loved the brand, and the resulting sales figures supported this investment. And the retailer didn’t skimp on the rewards – whoever had the most points at the end of the month had that amount to spend on shoes.

And with the mechanism of a loyalty scheme resting upon a value exchange, for marketers this resides in the data obtained from users downloading their app. The initial outlay of a gamified app may be steeper than other channels, but the customer statistics gained in return are incredibly valuable in driving brand engagement in the right direction.

Dave Cook, deputy editor at DigitasLBi, offered parting advice: “Remember, if a game performs well, invest in it, don’t develop a new one.” Constant improvement and development is necessary to continue to engage and impress a customer base and sustained investment in a gamified app would be vital to achieving the full potential of the initial expenditure.

Gamification is not without its detractors. Common complaints are its manipulative nature and that the social aspect can appear forced by brands desperate to fast-track the ‘community’ aspect championed by developers. Nevertheless, the benefits are obvious and cannot be downplayed.

The IPA Event was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative trip, and equipped me with more of the tools that allow us to stay abreast of the technology that is driving our industry. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by the mass potential of such branded apps, but the expert knowledge provided offered a keen insight into an undeniably growing sector.

In my opinion, brands open to gamified content are tapping into a lucrative audience of digital consumers who want to interact rather than be bombarded with advertising. By producing fun, engaging applications that provoke positive brand associations, they can exponentially increase their brand equity with the pervading association that theirs is a brand that gives – rather than takes.

Sources: Venturebeat, Polygon, Forbes, Statista

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