Gamification continues to gain ground in marketing and higher education because games offer challenge, reward, and competition, which can engage audiences, influence behavior, and generate feedback. Can—but gamification doesn’t always work. As with any creative tactic, to succeed you must step out to the strategy level:

  • Have you put your audience’s needs front and center?
  • Do you have the resources to succeed?
  • Does this tactic fit your strategic goals?

Audience-centered. Game players expect:

  • Progressive challenges
  • Appropriate rewards or consequences for actions
  • Meaning

Yep, the game needs to be about something more than the game. The simplest meaning comes from the social sphere—sharing scores, seeing how friends are doing, and so on. Meaning can also come from real-world results; businesses often build games where consumers earn discounts (think reward miles). Taking the game even further, the University of Washington created “Foldit,” a game where non-scientists collaborated and competed to predict the structure of protein molecules, thus solving—in just three weeks—a decade-old question about a retrovirus’ structure.

Proper Resources. You need four resources to pull off a successful game:

  1. A satisfying, coherent web experience: When your players encounter your website, it should work well and seem coherent with the game experience.
  2. A social life: Games thrive in a social environment. The better your institution’s social media life —active, responsive, conversational—the better for your game.
  3. Data capture & analysis: Measure interactions to see if your game is having the desired effects.
  4. A support team: Games are almost alive; they need care and feeding. If iOS updates, the game will need to update. If an area of game play doesn’t have the desired result (see #3), you need to roll out an upgrade.

Strategic and Goal Driven. Does the game have a point? Does it solve some mission-critical challenge? For Foldit, the researchers’ mission faced a major hurdle. What they wanted to do outside the game defined and drove the game experience. If you want to increase deposits, create a game to build community among admitted students. If you need to encourage top high school graduates from distant locations to consider your school, build a different game.

If you have the resources and stay focused on the strategic level, a game can help engage an audience and achieve your goals.

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