Gamification, Fun, and Sex at the Engage Expo

Gamification, Fun, and Sex at the Engage Expo

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The Engage Expo is wrapping up here in New York. The conference focuses on engaging kids and youth with digital games, with thematic tracks ranging from “App Strategy” to “Creative, Design, and Development”, and of course our favorite, gamification. Speakers in the gamification track included a panel with Rajat Paharia, Chief Product Officer at Bunchball, Steve Sims, Vice President at Badgeville, and Keith Smith, CEO of BigDoor, as well as a presentation on legal issues by James Gatto, Entertainment and Technology Team Leader with Pillsbury, LLP.

The Expo kicked off on Tuesday with a keynote presentation from Brian Reynolds, Chief Game Designer at Zynga. His speech promised  to reveal Zynga’s playbook and tricks for creating the massive appeal and virality of its “-Ville” series of social games, and it did a good job of delivering.

Some of the topics Brian covered included his aunt’s love for her nephew, and how she openly expressed her love when Brian delivered some much needed energy packs. This demonstrates one aspect of the mass appeal of the -Ville games: their ability to keep people in touch with friends and loved ones.

FrontierVille demonstrates some tactics for virality at the EngageExpo
FrontierVille demonstrates some tactics for virality at the EngageExpo

Brian also shared secrets on ways to make an update about sheep getting lost immediately  shareable: allusions to sex. Although this may seem like the lowest common denominator and an odd topic for a keynote at a conference focusing upon digital games for kids and youth, their is some logic to it. He described that many of Zynga’s customers are adults and updates that operate on different levels of understanding are immediately more viral.

On the gamification side of the event, one event was a panel moderated by Patrick Murck from BigDoor with Michael Saunders at Dotmenu, Sally Wood of Kapitall, and Vincent Beerman from SpectrumDNA. Saunders summed up the field very well stating that both “creative types and economics majors are needed” in order to create an engaging, gamified experience as well as “just make it fun”.

There were also many interesting case studies of brands using game mechanics and game thinking in order to engage users and improve loyalty. Rajat brought up some classics such as Nike+ and Club Psych, as well as some newcomers to the space such as Hopelab’s new venture Zamzee. Steve Sims reviewed ActiveTrainer and their methods for arranging content on exercise within an engaging framework in order to make people more, well, active.

Rajat also demonstrated how something as simple as Microsoft’s Beta1 Game from the Vista release can increase the number of users. With different levels of involvement in the Windows Vista Beta, testers received either a “b”, “e”, “t”, or an “a”. This extremely simple game mechanic led to a 400% increase in the number of beta testers.

Each of these examples of gamification demonstrate how the movement is beginning to take off as well as how powerful something as simple as spelling “beta” can be. As we say around here, just a spoonful of engagement results in huge increases in frequency, duration, virality, and ratings.

More coverage on the gaming (not gamification) side of the Engage Expo can be found at PCWorld.

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