Game Mechanics you can use tomorrow

I work with a lot of very smart people. Among other things, they design and develop proprietary loyalty programs for some of the worlds biggest brands. One thing that has been around for years but is getting new attention these days is the idea of Gamification; that is, using game theory and specific game mechanics to manipulate or shape consumer behaviour.

Before I get into some tactics and ideas, you have to answer the question 'Why?'. Why add game mechanics to your website, to your business or to your loyalty program? The reasons are easy to understand and ultimately will make you more money:
  1. They focus the attention of a consumer, user or member on a goal or achievement.
  2. They reduce attrition by creating an incentive for continued interaction
  3. They help a business to get users to adopt new features, try new products, or other desired behaviours-- ultimately making the business 'stickier'
From that short list, I'm sure you've already started thinking of the things you could do for your brand or clients or in the retention program you currently use to increase engagement, stickiness and reduce the rate of attrition.

Here are some simple ideas that you can put in play tomorrow:

Status - Whether a badge, a colour or a level, people like to compete and collect. We've seen status used as a game mechanism since the first days of internet forums, but also as one of the easiest to understand in an airline frequent flyer program. Are you super-ultra-elite-deluxe?

Achievement Unlocked - Completion of a task, objective or challenge. This can be simple stuff like a check-in using a location-based application---or something like Do X, Y, Z and get 25% off your next visit.

Turns - Just like a board game, if two or more users have a single goal, making everyone take turns increases the amount of engagement and can help with the social stickiness by pushing some of the social psychology 'buttons' around peer recognition and competition. Promoting multi-customer goals was how the daily-deals business took off... Only 100 more people have to buy and we all get the deal, it's your turn...

Bidding - Probably one of the reasons eBay is so successful-- people like to be the winner in an auction scenario. It's pushing all the same buttons as gambling (which is why casinos are so successful) Just a little more and it's mine! Just yesterday, a colleague of mine told me that someone had bid $20 for a $15 iTunes gift card in a recent internal auction. Sometimes winning overcomes logic.

Capture - Using a mechanism where one user can capture the achievements of another may seem complicated, but it can be very simple in context. Foursquare's Mayor functionality is all about the capture. I get to oust someone else (sometimes a complete stranger) from their achievement and get to sit on my spoils and brag--- until someone does the same to me.

Building or Construction - Just like a board game, building something from nothing is fundamental. On Farmville, it's about growing your farm. In SimCity it was about growing your city. This idea is actually fundamental in loyalty, because it's what drives the desire to collect points or miles and build towards a single aspiration, like a Cruise or Vacation or Big Screen TV.

There are more ideas that you can use in a loyalty program, or in your business operations in general. Some more subtle than others. The beauty of this stuff is that they don't have to be secret or subversive--- you tell your customers what you want them to do, and if it pushes one of those buttons--- they'll do it.

What other levers can you use to increase engagement or reduce attrition?

Check out Mark Sage's Playful Engagement on SlideShare.