Gamification is one of today’s hottest topics among marketing professionals. At first blush the idea of applying game design priniciples to a serious business model might seem ridiculous, but the odds are pretty good you are already doing it, and if you’re not you probably will be sometime soon.
What is Gamification?
Basically, this term is used to describe one of the marketing industry’s latest trends – or should I call it a fad? In any case, the official definition of this word reads something like this: ‘Employing game mechanics/ game thinking in non-game contexts in order to solve problems and engage users’.
In essence, gamification is a process designed to tap into people’s psychological predisposition to be competitive by introducing the design techniques, applications and mechanics of games into the somewhat serious world of accounting. Applications commonly repurposed to drive client engagement for CPA practises often include point totals, leader boards and/ or other typical game-type achievements.
Gamification and Marketing
In a word, “Meh”.
While I do see a lot of marketing potential for gamification I don’t see it offering much benefit to serious professional services like accounting and CPA practices.
Naturally, as a CPA, you will need to take a close look at your existing business model; both internal and external marketing communication and your efforts to attract/ retain clients in order to determine just where, when and how to apply gamification concepts. Offering gift vouchers for the local Starbucks, for instance, may increase business for them, but will do little to convert your visitors into long-standing clients. This stresses the importance of determining exactly how and why you offer what incentive for visitors to engage with you/ your Website.
There are some client satisfaction applications for gamification. For example, offering rewards for early filing or comprehensive completion of tax organizers. But as a rule I think gamification is going to be a bit of a dud in terms of marketing accountancies.
What Gamification Isn’t
It is vital to understand that gamification does not equal games. Although certain game-mechanics can be applied to non-gaming environments, the ultimate goal is not for your clients to have a great time playing, but to engage them with your CPA practise on a long-term basis.
In other words, simply adding games to your Website without any clearly defined goals/ strategies will be of about as much use to your business as a cat flap in an elephant house. While encouraging competition/ driving client motivation through gamification can be extremely helpful if applied sensibly, implementing these concepts without much thought will result in potential clients perceiving them as shallow gimmicks.
Gamification and Practice Management
While I don’t see much immediate potential for gamification as a marketing tool, I think you’ll find it’s going to become a major factor in business management. In many ways it already is, the technique just hadn’t been given a name yet. Obvious examples like employee leader boards and an “Employee of the Month” parking space have been around for decades.
A more focused study of game design, however, offers many more amazing opportunities to keep your employees engaged and motivated.
One such example is what gamers call “achievements”. Offer recognition for employees who touch milestones in their careers with you. This should include simple, even automatic achievements (like “Dependable: One Year of Service”) and more advanced ones (like “Rainmaker: Referred a Client to the Practice”). People will will work harder and get more satisfaction from their jobs if they are recognized for what they do. Achievements don’t need to include rewards. It’s about being publicly recognized to your peers.
Rewards never hurt though. Another game element becoming popular amongst business managers is basically giving away “gold”. This is fake money, points if you will, that players can redeem for a variety of gifts. While gamers might spend their gold on improved weapons or or other virtual property, employees might reap real world reward from their point totals. This can be anything from a day-off to deciding where to order lunch.
The Skinner Box
Another gamification technique that can take the sting out of your rewards system is called the “Skinner box” and is based on a psychological principle of the same name. Game designers, especially designers for a type of game called an “MMO”, find engaging players over time can be very difficult.One technique that is very effective in keeping players “grinding” in these games is called the “Skinner box”. Basically, this is the idea that it’s more effective for a reward to be a treat than it is to make it an automatic result of an achievement.
For example, suppose we kill a boss monster “Epic Douggie the Whiner” and every time we kill him we can loot a “Epic shield of Whine Mastery” off his corpse. This treasure, or “drop”, will have very little value in the game and will only engage the player once. Players will raid Epic Douggie’s dungeon once, kill him, get his shield, and move on to something else. The reward has little value because it’s easy to get. Everyone who kills Douggie has one.
On the other hand… suppose Douggie only “drops” his epic shield of ultimate whininess occasionally. Perhaps only 1% or 2% of the time. This is far more engaging for the players. They will return to Douggie’s lair many times trying to get a shield. When they finally succeed the reward will have far more value and offer far more satisfaction, and once they have found a shield they may even come back again trying to get another. They might sell to another player who isn’t strong enough to kill Douggie, or a player who has the skills but after 50 tries has gotten fed up and decided to just buy one, but that won’t really be why they returned. They returned because they are engaged with the game.
This can be applied to your point-buy rewards system, too. Rather than offering a straight trade on points for rewards, find some random way to reward them. Let them roll dice, draw a card, or give a wheel a spin for each point they’ve earned. This way small achievements can win big rewards, and big achievers will have a better shot at big rewards because they get more points and therefore more chances at the good rewards. Even if a big achievement pays off less than the winner might have hoped she will get the recognition she deserves and be eager to win more chances at prestige and rewards.
Is gamification here to stay – offering a meaningful way of attracting/ retaining clients – and evolve into generating ever increasing business for your CPA practice, or is it a short-lived fad that will sooner or later go up in a puff of smoke? As a general rule I think you’ll see gamification has some pretty serious staying power for some. But as a marketing tool? More to the point… a marketing tool for CPA and accounting firms? The concept is too new to tell, but already, marketing hype surrounding an array of other online tools signals a potentially significant fall in its use – especially when accountants begin to see that it is far from being a catch-all tool for client engagement.
As a management tool, however, gamification is around for the long haul. It provides a number of excellent methodologies for keeping employees happily engaged with their jobs, to keep them ambitious and learning, and to offer them recognition they deserve for their successes.