Neuroplasticity, Social Games and Marketing

Great game design is just, well, great game design unless somebody plays your game. Find out how neuroplasticity contributes to making your game more appealing. This post is originally part of a series on @ayogogames's Social Game Design blog.

Social games in particular seem to be very good sources to draw from as examples of motivating players to act for many reasons. Mainly, it’s because game designers have figured out a way to build these casual games with certain game mechanics in mind that encourage this behaviour. This is important to marketing efforts as many believe these forces are the same motivators that can be triggered and then utilized during times when purchase decisions are made in real life.

Based on some of your comments that I received to my last post, I feel like it would be beneficial to unpackage this idea of gamification a bit further. So, I thought I’d devote the next few paragraphs to just that and to introduce you to the concept of neuroplasticity (gasp!) and how it relates to gamification.

What if I told you that if you want to use gamification to make your marketing more effective, you actually need to make your marketing more difficult to engage with?

The fact is that if you want your customer to do something only once, then it makes the most sense to make it brain-dead easy. But, if you want your customers to really care and return to take action multiple times, then you need to make it challenging. You need to make it something for which they can develop a skill in doing and therefore derive satisfaction from it. You see it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but for humans, we’re hardwired to get satisfaction from doing things that we can get good at.

Let me give you a simple example that may be illustrative: a kazoo is very easy to pick up and learn. After about 10 minutes of playing with it, you can assume that you pretty well know everything there is to know about playing the kazoo. Then you will put it down and probably never pick it up again. With a guitar, on the other hand, competency is slowly and progressively gained over weeks and months of practice. …and you will take precious room for your guitar in your car on a camping trip. Each has it’s place of course, but if you’re developing a brand around camping equipment, do you want to be the kazoo (in the basement) or the guitar (in the back seat)?

So, how does neuroplasticity come into this equation? Neuroplasticity is the changing of neurons in our brains (and their functions) by learning or participating in new experiences. It’s also something that can demonstrate how gamification works as a game mechanic. As a behavior becomes learned, practiced and refined, the brain appears to recognize this behaviour as somehow important to survival and begins to “hardwire” it in (so it becomes “second nature” as they say) by making it “feel” more important, and more satisfying when you do well.

The repetitive nature of social games, intertwined with achievements and other representations of in-game merit then become powerful tools for triggering this effect. After enough time and enough rounds of play, the brain will put a “flashing MUST-RETAIN sign on all information,” as Vancouver-based marketer Taylan Kay points out in his blog, The Selling Game. Taylan makes the point very well that social games represent perfectly how neuroplasticity creates a cycle of relevance and therefore drives player engagement, reach and stickiness.

Perhaps this is the year of marketers adopting “gamification” as a technique to drive consumer participation. With any luck, this will mean that we as customers get to have more fun, while businesses can build more loyal brand following and brand affinity. What are your thoughts? Send me an email at michael [at] ayogo [dot] com or leave a comment.

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