Real Rewards Help Gamification Take Flight

Despite some bad examples of gamification, the concept of adding game mechanics to tasks, as I’ve said, has merit when done in a thoughtful way. And that requires offering real-world rewards, said Irving Fain, CEO of New York start-up CrowdTwist.

Fain said the startup, part of TechStars’ first New York class, helps brands and companies track their social media efforts across multiple platforms and build engagement and loyalty through real rewards. He said he’s found budding success by tying game mechanics to things that people care about, not just points and badges.

CrowdTwist recently worked with LiveNation on its website for the upcoming Bamboozle music festival. The company created a feature called BoozleTwist on the Bamboozle website that allowed fans to gain points by doing things on the site and sharing online. For instance, viewing Bamboozle photos earns a user 500 points while “liking” Bamboozle’s status is worth 100 points. Reading the Bamboozle blog is worth 25 points. Users who attend the show can then eventually redeem their rewards, which can include things like signed posters from bands performing at the festival to a dinner with a band. One reward includes having a performer serenade a fan onstage.

Fain said in a month, BoozleTwist added 10,500 members. Engagement went from an average of three page views a week per visitor to 26 page views a week. Visitors now spend about eight minutes and 30 seconds on the site, compared to a little over two minutes before BoozleTwist. The campaign has resulted in 6 million impressions through Facebook and Twitter.

Fain said the key has been Bamboozle working with its artists to offer up valuable and unique rewards. That has given fans the motivation to engage a lot more than without the incentives. He said the power of points and badges is limited to people who are motivated by status. But real rewards can get people engaging because the pay off is tangible.

“Gamification tied to virtual things can’t sustain long-term engagement,” Fain said. “Our platform can activate and magnify an audience. It can encourage people to move outside their regular behavior.”

He said that’s where gamification works best, by bringing about smaller behavior changes on the periphery of a person’s existing actions. If brands are creative about what assets they have to offer users, they can build a lot more engagement and loyalty if they build that into their gamification efforts.

I think CrowdTwist has got a good take on this. There’s a lot of companies adding simple game mechanics to their products and websites. But many times, the features seem mindlessly bolted on and don’t seem to cater to what the the product is. Badges, points and other virtual rewards are great for certain users, but to activate a larger audience, a company needs to offer something real.

Foursquare, a leader in game mechanics, is also realizing this. It recently launched a program with American Express at SXSW that allowed Foursquare users who check-in at dozens of Austin retailers and spend at least $5 to get another $5 credit added to their American Express account. Others are also moving in this direction. Last year, I wrote about how TopGuest is tying location check-ins with real rewards like from existing loyalty programs. CrowdTwist’s take is different in that it can tie a host of online actions to rewards not just check-ins.

Ultimately, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this happen. It doesn’t have to cost brands and companies a lot. It’s more about figuring the right type of reward and the best way to implement it. If done right, real world rewards could help turn gamification from a buzzword into a real tool for companies.