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Gamification. Advergaming. Transmedia. The GAMESbrief guide to marketing and games.

By on June 16, 2011
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If you use the terms gamifying, advergaming, transmedia, in-game advertising and game-making interchangeably, STOP!

Stop right now before you waste your time, your client’s money and the efforts of whichever partner you commission to make the wrong product.

These five buzzwords (or, more accurately, four buzzwords and a career) all mean different things. They require different skills, achieve different objectives and give a different experience to end users. The differences aren’t hard to grasp, but it amazes me how few people in the games, advertising and marketing worlds make the effort to try.

So in an attempt to stop everyone from wasting money, here is the GAMESbrief guide to marketing and games.

What is gamification?

Gamification is about using game-like mechanics to improve a business process, or customer experience, or profits.

Badge Galore

It is not about making games. It is not about brand extension. It is about encouraging and rewarding users for doing the things that you want them to do.

A loyalty scheme where you “level up” for taking more flights is an example of “gamification”. An answers website which gives users badges and achievements for providing helpful responses is an example of gamification. Games purists sometimes refer to gamification as pointsification, deriding it as not being about making games. They are right.

But that doesn’t matter. Gamifiers are not trying to make a game. They are not trying to take the best bits of games and apply them to your website or product. They are trying to take many of the lessons that game-makers have learned – about showing users what to do, about offering rewards, about using psychology to encourage behaviours you want – and applying them to other fields.

The #1 rule of gamification is that you are not making a game. (Read The 10 rules of gamification if you want to know the other nine.)

I’m not sure that there are any gamification experts out there: the discipline is too new, and there have been too few good examples. You could do worse than hire a game maker, and tell them that you are not gamifying, you are pointsifying. At least that way you avoid the dull-but-worthy conversations about how much more games have to offer than the gamifying trend allows.

What is advergaming?

Advergaming is when a brand pays a developer to make a game. The brand takes on one of the primary roles of a publisher, which is to fund a game. (For the other three – sales, marketing, distribution – check out my book How to Publish a Game.)

If the brand has any sense, they will realise that games are great at Retention and Monetisation, but rubbish at Acquisition, and use the rest of their marketing to drive customers to the game. Unfortunately, in my experience, most brands think of games as being equivalent to a television spot.

They are not.

Games are not a mass broadcast medium. They offer individual users a personalised experience. It is this experience that gives users such a high level of engagement and powerful recall. It is a totally different experience to viewing a 30-second television spot.

Whether your game is a cheap Flash game seeded to Kongregate and Miniclip, a branded iPhone game or a Facebook social game, brands need to drive traffic to a game, and to keep them there. A good game designer can keep gamers highly engaged and coming back regularly.

But they need marketing muscle to spread the message in the first place.

What is transmedia?

Transmedia is taking a media property and extending it into a different medium. A games publisher which commissions a novel of its PlayStation 3 game is taking part in transmedia. So is the kids television production company which releases a TV series, a comic, a CD soundtrack and a colouring book. (Although the colouring book is veering into merchandising.)

Transmedia has come to mean “adding a piece of interactive entertainment around the edges of a non-interactive product, like a movie or book”. It often means a website, or an app, or an ARG (an alternate reality game).

The problem is that these are often ill-conceived.

I’m going to remind you of the great strength of games: they build engagement and excitement over time, and they monetise well. They are not brilliant for building awareness and excitement fast.

Don’t get me wrong. Games can do this. Movie companies in particular often commission games to support the theatrical release of a blockbuster. Their objectives are usually pretty limited: to get bums on seats in a cinema within a four week period.

It breaks my heart that games are made to be so disposable.

Transmedia is about brand extension. It is about taking what is unique about different media (film, books, comics, games) and showcasing the intellectual property in the best possible way. It is about giving the biggest fans more. Much more.

To confuse it with gamification is frankly bizarre.

What is In-Game Advertising?

In Game Advertising is a (largely discredited) attempt to bring television-style advertising to big-budget games. Well-funded start-ups like Massive, IGA and Double Fusion built ad-serving technologies to deliver high-quality advertising spots into games like FIFA and

Market predictions were based on the size of the audience playing games. The companies serving this sector missed two key points:

· Many games are unsuitable for advertising (futuristic games, sword and sorcery games)

· A billboard in a game is a fundamentally different experience from seeing one in the real world, or seeing a TV spot

To their credit, the startup in-game advertising companies recognised this, and invested heavily into technology platforms and processes to help media buyers understand (and buy) these spots.

Then they were hit by the emergence of social games and social media, which have drawn marketer’s attention away from the declining boxed product market. Massive (which was bought by Microsoft for a rumoured $400 million in 2006 was shut down in 2010 and the other players are shadows of their former selves.

For a brief while, in game advertising seemed like the next big thing. Barack Obama used it in his successful bid for the presidency in 2008. Now it is more like yesterday’s news.

What is game-making

Game-making is an art every bit as demanding as writing a book, making a film or creating an album. It can be done by a team of one (see Greedy Bankers from Alistair Aitcheson on iPhone or Gratuitous Space Battles from Cliff Harris on PC), two (see Hard Lines by Spilt Milk Studios or Frozen Synapse from Mode 7) or hundreds (see any traditional blockbuster game).

It is a creative endeavour, with all the challenges that entails (plus some of its own ones, such as dealing with changing technology). It is a totally different process from gamification. It can be part of a transmedia project, or funded by brands (i.e. an advergame) or carry in-game advertising.

It is a creative discipline.

Marketers: know your gaming buzzwords

There is a reason these terms are so popular. Games have an unparalleled ability to build deep, engaging and long-term relationships with their players. This is a marketer’s dream.

Mix up the different disciplines, though, and you will have a mess that few play and no-one returns to.

If you want to marry the disciplines of marketing and games together (and I hope you do), I hope this guide will help you work out what exactly it is you need to do. Please share it far and wide.

Then go and make games, or gamify, or place ads in games. Whatever will best deliver what your clients need.

Picture by What What

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • May I ask what that point has to do with gamification. Or are you just angry at a world that has gone digital. (F2P is just a response to fundamental shifts in the world, not a cause of change)

  • Connie Jordan-Carmichael
    f2p games also use every dody psychological trick in the book to try to make you spend. dehumanizing terminology such as “whales” is used to abstract away the reliance on exploiting a small pool of big spenders.

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  • Great post! A must read for anyone still unclear on the differences between advergames and gamification.

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  • Federico Fasce

    Yeah, I’m sorry, the statement was a bit too tranchant 🙂 But it was for stressing the point we need more on the matter. Thank you!

  • I think we broadly agree. The key for me was my disagreement with “The problem is just that offering rewards cannot encourage any type of behavior”. And I think we’ve agreed that some changes are possible

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  • Federico Fasce

    I’m not ssaying behaviorism is to be thrown away. It’s just that people are more complex. And they deserve not to be exploited with this tricks. Which by the way can work for some of them (kids are a perfect example, since they are more sensitive to operant conditioning) but not for others. Extrinsic motivations such as points have this big problem: they grow old pretty fast and we get bored of them.

    Supermarket loyalty cards and stuff are quite a different matter to me. Because they are based on a behavior you need to follow. You can’t really decide not to go buying food. Of course the loyalty card can make you choose a place over another, but that’s more a matter of a slight incentive on undifferenced goods than a real behavioral change.

    As i said, I’m not saying gamification is totally wrong: points are great to give feedback, for example. But it can (and I dare to say it must, at least for ethical reasons) be WAY better than that.

  • Do you have kids? I can promise you that rewards can encourage types of behaviour.

    To take a very simple example, let’s say that you want a website user to write reviews. It has never occurred to that user to write a review before, but now there see that there is a reward. If nothing else, this might be just enough of a nudge to tip them over into writing a review.

    In other words, gamification can act as great signposts to show users all the different things that they can do, and that you would like them to do.

    I totally disagree that “just offering rewards cannot encourage any type of behaviour”. The evidence is everywhere. But to take a simple example, how else do you explain the millions of people swiping supermarket loyalty cards just to get vouchers worth 2-5% of their total spend (and giving up enormous amounts of personal data in the process.”

    That sounds like a reward encouraging a type of behaviour to me.

  • Federico Fasce

    You say that gamifiers are “trying to take many of the lessons that game-makers have learned – about showing users what to do, about offering rewards, about using psychology to encourage behaviours you want – and applying them to other fields.”

    Well, can’t you see the problem here? The problem is just that offering rewards cannot encourage any type of behavior. Essentially because people are not red-eyed rats imprisoned in some sort of skinner box. And, I can assure you, a lot of game makers know that. Here’s because gamification is so criticized. I’m not saying that you cannot use game mechanics to engage users or to encourage behaviors. But the ways proposed by gamification advocates are not the right ones. They don’t work. Simple as that.