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Why brands need to learn how to play

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Today, one billion people – that is, one seventh of the world’s population, spend at least an hour a day playing computer or video games.We have become a planet where gaming takes up 7 billion hours a week!According to Activision, the makers of Call of Duty, the average player spends 170 hours a year playing. Putting this into perspective, that’s the equivalent of one month of full time work.  In fact, 1 in 4 players called in sick to play “Call of Duty” on its launch day, according to USA Today!This phenomenon has spread to the mobile devices as well, as “Angry Birds” gamers have been recorded to spend a total of 300 million minutes playing daily.The internet and the digital era have also given birth to MMOGs- that is, Massively Multiplayer Online Games. MMOGs are games which are capable of supporting a large number of players simultaneously. This allows players to compete, collaborate and even socialize.Living in an engagement economy, all of us have intrinsic human impulses to move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and be challenged, achieve, progress, learn new things, and apply our skills and knowledge.How brands act as a catalyst to fulfill these internal desires will affect a plethora of consumers’ decisions – where they work, what brands they spend money on, what brands they are loyal to. It’s no longer enough to speak and have consumers listen; the goal has shifted to become a mutually beneficial engagement partnership.The goal of gaming is, without a doubt, player engagement. This “play” phenomenon has given birth to a marketing coined term, called Gamification. Gamification is not just about video games, online games or mobile games, it’s about applying gaming mechanics to a marketing environment to encourage consumer participation and engagement.The media industry has long been at the forefront of gamification. Think about those newspaper ads we’ve all seen that have thrown out playful promotions and incentives. This is gamification in its purest form.Gamification in media today has gone further, and has taken the form of loyalty cards, programs and check-ins to receive virtual badges, for example. These incentives and rewards – such as get 10 chops to receive a free coffee, or check in a restaurant to receive a badge – encourage user participation by tapping our internal and human need for achievement and great value.Besides encouraging participation and driving consumer engagement, the concept of gamification encourages loyalty, creates a fun and immersive environment, and has even helped solve complex science problems!One of the finest examples of this comes from Foldit, a company which rewards gamers for solving science puzzles, and notable specifically in modelling the structure of a component of the AIDs virus that had lingered for 10 years, and solved in 10 days by its gamers.Foldit created an MMOG; a virtual game, complete with all the mechanics of gaming, of the real-life problem. Users would log on and play, collaborate and share information with other games, engage, and more importantly, work to beat the game and win. And the best part? It worked. They beat the game and solved an HIV problem!Gaming and gamification doesn’t have to be confined to marketing and brands, it can work in our every lives, to help build relationships, encourage our kids behavior, and even encourage employee satisfaction.Whatever type of gamers we are, we pay to have fun. We are willing to pay for that miniature golf session, and “hardcore gamers” put down hundreds of dollars to buy computer games. When we examine the basics of gaming, we find that gaming actually performs the same functions as our jobs – organizing teams, assigning tasks, monitoring processes, staffing organizational units and overseeing the spending of resources such as money.We need to ask ourselves, then, how we can adopt this culture into our workplace to create a fun, engaging and playful environment, all while doing the work. Put simply, create the perfect blend of work and play.To do so, what are the essential building blocks to achieve this?  Being the creators and implementers of the game is undoubtedly the hardest part of gaming itself and the 5 rules to be implemented are:(1)    There must be ongoing and consistent feedback. What are the gamers doing well and what can they improve on?(2)    There must be a record of the achievement. After all, once the reward has been gained, we need to know where we stand relative to other gamers.(3)    There must be a reward involved, such as the reward of reputation and rank, not to forget celebration!(4)    Participants must feel they are rewarded internally as well – such as, through the awareness that they are part of a “gamer” community and/or that they have embarked on a quest or challenge which is emotionally fulfilling.(5)    Participants must feel a sense of ability to achieve an “EPIC” win.  Epic in two related ways: Epic in the sense that participants are aware that they’re part of huge, intensely-committed community and Epic in a sense that they’ve signed up to a quest that they perceive as imaginatively and emotionally significant.As Pat Kane in his book “The Play Ethic” says, and we strongly agree, that “’Play’ will become the dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value in the 21st century.”So it is time to start thinking about what are we doing at our organization or with our brands to leverage off of this great phenomenon.This was an excerpt from PHD’s book Game Change, discussing how “gamification” can be harnessed and applied as a business model for the future. 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