"Basically game mechanics are a way to get consumers addicted to
things," said Tim Chang, principal at Norwest Venture Partners,
which has backed many social mobile game companies. "They keep
people engaged to keep doing things, as opposed to what goes viral
quick: You click, you watch and then never see it again."
One of the best examples is, of course, mobile social game
Foursquare, which awards badges as users "check in" via their
phones at physical places. Accumulating badges -- and achieving
statuses such as the "mayor" -- are motivations to get people to
Mr. Chang plots this trend on what he calls the "game-ification
of life," where competition and points are increasingly a part of
offline activities, such as shopping with services like Gilt Groupe
and Groupon and health and wellness with NikePlus.
H&M hits MyTown
Recently H&M ran the first-ever brand integration on MyTown,
a mobile game like Monopoly set in the real world, created by
developer Booyah. During the campaign, H&M was the most
searched location within the game, 700,000 users checked in to its
retail stores, and 8 million saw its virtual goods. The game, which
has 2.3 million users since launch in December, has since worked
with brands such as Travel Channel, Olay and Microsoft Windows.
Keith Lee, CEO of Booyah and creator of MyTown, argues such
services are not bound for the fate of Second Life because of their
competitive aspect."The difference is that there was no higher
level engagement or depth," said Keith Lee, Booyah CEO, of Second
Life's popularity decline. "It never gave long-term value to users.
Our DNA has been long-term value. In this case, it's real-life
benefits and opportunities to do things with friends."
Another small app that motivates users through points, GateGuru,
just signed JetBlue. A navigational app for airports, it rewards
users for checking in to terminals and rating businesses. Since it
launched in December, 125,000 users have vied for points simply to
see their name on the leader board -- the road warrior equivalent
to being the "mayor" at a given airport. In June, JetBlue will
launch a program to reward those frequent travelers and point
leaders with airline freebies like plane tickets and vouchers. But
what motivates users to launch apps, play games and check in while
they're out in the first place?
"You cannot underestimate the power of an increasing integer,"
said Seth Priebatsch, CEO and founder of mobile game SCVNGR. The
Google Ventures-backed game has users complete tasks in the
real-world for points. Tesla Motors ran a brand challenge on SCVNGR
where users, when visiting dealers, could snap photos of the
electric auto brand's roadster or answer quiz questions for a
branded badge and, of course, points.
Developers also argue that game mechanics also provide more
in-depth engagement than other forms of digital advertising.
"Our brand activations are not banners and clicks," said Manny
Anekal, director of brand advertising at Zynga, whose properties
include social games such as FarmVille, Mafia Wars and YoVille. The
first branded crop in FarmVille, a game built around raising crops,
is coming soon, but Zynga has to be selective about advertising and
marketing partners, since brand integrations have to be an
"additive experience" for its users, he said. To illustrate, one
FarmVille advertiser is Green Giant frozen vegetables.
For now, the publisher is intimately involved with designing
brand programs to preserve game play, especially since advertising
only represents a sliver of Zynga's revenue. The game company is
predicted to pull in $1 billion in 2010, primarily from fees for
Zynga is currently seeking out distribution channels beyond
Facebook with sites such as MSN and Yahoo, and even in the real
world. Last week it announced graphics from its games will grace
Slurpee cups and food packaging in 7,000 convenience stores in the
U.S. and Canada. For its part, 7-Eleven is increasingly trying to
draw in younger shoppers and hopes partnering with Zynga will help
it appeal to millennial gamers.
"What if we brought the virtual world into the 7-Eleven world?"
said Stephanie Hoppe, 7-Eleven's senior marketing director. "And,
for Zynga, real world customers are brought into the virtual