So the company turned to Ayogo, which created an online trivia game with answers hidden in the show itself. Players could test themselves, invite friends to take the quizzes, and compare scores. Successful players were rewarded with more video trailers of the MovieSet films. What would have been given away for free now had to be “earned.”
It worked. Within a month, MovieSet’s overall Web traffic skyrocketed from 24,000 to 125,000 unique visitors, according to Ayogo. The average visitor watched five trailers, up from one or two, while video views rose to 500,000, up from 30,000. The rest of the site benefited as well, with traffic to pages not featured in the game growing from 24,000 viewers to 45,000. What’s more, users readily volunteered valuable information on their movie-watching habits–an alternative way to win the trailer clip if they failed to answer the trivia questions correctly.
The psychology is simple but powerful: not only do people like to win, but they don’t like to feel like they’ve lost something, even if it’s just a chance to watch a trailer.
The movie game ultimately resulted in over a million views of promotional videos without requiring the producers to pay for any traditional marketing. “It was a very successful mechanism for jump-starting our traffic,” says Colleen Nystedt, the president and CEO of MovieSet. “It helped build the audience both for the hosted show and the films being discussed.”
More and more industries are finding that social games can reward users while helping a company or a society achieve a critical goal.
“Games are stylized systems of social interaction that incentivize engagement and behavior,” says Kati London, who serves as the senior producer at the New York-based game consulting company Area/Code. “That potentially makes them great engines for influencing and producing behavior change.”
Area/Code was hired by the Discovery Channel to produces games meant to stimulate new thinking about energy while promoting the network’s programs. Area/Code created a Facebook game called Power Planets, in which users are assigned a planet. Players gain points by creating buildings and developing energy sources. They lose the capacity for earning points when pollution increases or natural resources are depleted. Every few days, the planets are shuffled among the players.
Rather than explicitly promoting conservation, the designers wanted the game to make users feel the effects of risky environmental decisions by tapping into their sense of social responsibility. “You make choices about how to keep your inhabitants happy while maintaining a healthy planet, but then you pass your planet to another player on Facebook and you get someone else’s planet–which may or may not be left in a good state,” says Allison Rand, a vice president at Discovery. “The response was much like the real-life feeling of treating your planet poorly and leaving it to your grandchildren to clean up.”
The game, sponsored in part by Shell, was also meant to promote the Discovery series Powering the Future, which aired in July and gave viewers codes that unlocked powers in the game. Power Planets was the most popular game across the Discovery websites while the show was being promoted and aired, according to Rand, and the most popular game in the history of Discovery Communications’ Science Channel.
As social games grow increasingly popular, more and more companies are recognizing their inherent power to persuade. “This idea of gamification is spreading broadly,” says Ayogo’s Fergusson. “I hope that we can make the world better and more fun at the same time.”