Gaming is the most prevalent and fastest-growing form of media on the planet,” said Sarah Bond, current president of Xbox at Microsoft, in an interview with McKinsey in early 2022. She wasn’t wrong. The global games market went on to generate an estimated $184 billion in 2023, which is expected to grow further this year, to a whopping $189.3 billion.

But what is it about gaming that makes it such a popular medium? There are numerous reasons, ranging from the obvious form of “escapism”, to the more psychological motivations, such as the satisfaction of mastery, enjoyment from systems of progression, and outright dopamine hits from in-game rewards.

Gamifying the business model

This psychology has been leveraged in other ways for decades now, in the form of “gamification” – the use of game-like elements and principles in non-game contexts, to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. A loyalty program, for instance, ticks all the boxes on this front, rewarding customers for their consistency or support with say, store vouchers, discounts, or exclusive content.

Some companies, meanwhile, build their whole brand on gamification. Duolingo, for example, has taken the overwhelming prospect of learning an entirely new language and turned that user journey into bite-sized daily lessons, complete with leaderboards, achievements, and experience points (XP). Today, the app boasts over 500 million registered users.

It’s no wonder. Studies have found that gamified experiences can increase customer engagement by 48%, and of the companies using gamification, a third have seen at least a 50% increase in registration and conversion rates.

Gamification doesn’t necessarily need to be long-term

One of gamification’s biggest strengths is its flexibility – while there are certainly best practices, there are no hard and fast rules on what one should or can do with it. Loyalty programs, for instance, are long-term affairs, requiring a fair bit of research, planning, and resources to successfully enable and sustain. One-off campaigns or initiatives, on the other hand, are far less complicated to implement, yet still able to boost customer engagement and retention effectively.

Take Xbox, a global video game organisation under the Microsoft umbrella, and one of Clockwork’s long-standing clients. While their entire brand IS literal gaming (complete with a loyalty program in the form of Microsoft Rewards), that doesn’t mean they are averse to giving their fans even more ways to play, away from their Xbox consoles.

Wakanda Forever!

For example, Xbox created custom consoles to celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which Clockwork helped give away through a web-based competition that was fun, drove excitement, and highlighted the need for diversity in STEM. Kimoyo beads, a hi-tech piece of technology unique to Wakanda, and easily recognisable thanks to multiple appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, were used to create a unique memory game.

A teaser post on X (formerly Twitter) acted as the first true test of intellect, hiding a message in the fictional language of Wakandan. Eagle-eyed fans that visited the secret URL (after first translating it) were met with the Kimoyo bead challenge. If they could prove their worthiness by correctly memorizing its sequence – itself containing a secret STEM-positive message – they would receive extra entries into the then unannounced console giveaway.

48 hours later, the website went public, revealed by another social post. It was updated to not only spotlight the prizes, but also featured resources that allowed visitors to learn how to code a game and glean insights from developers in the industry.

Helping fans find what to play on Xbox Game Pass

As seen with Duolingo, using gamification for educational purposes feels like a no-brainer. Game Pass is a subscription service from Microsoft that offers access to hundreds of titles for a monthly fee. With such a large selection, choosing what to play is a game in itself, which sparked the idea for ‘WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?’ – a recent campaign to boost awareness around the catalogue.

‘WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?’ was inspired by a traditional board game that works, in principle, by having the player ask a series of questions to narrow down, and eventually guess, a character chosen by their opponent. Clockwork created a single player edition for web, specifically around Game Pass titles.

In the back end, each game was given a series of descriptive tags (is it a roleplaying game, does it take place in outer space, etc) as well as a TRUE or FALSE state for each respective label. Visitors must choose from a list of questions linked to those tags, and then, through the process of elimination, identify a mystery game that had been chosen. At their own discretion, they could learn more about each title, purchase them, or join Game Pass to access the full library of hits.

Interested to see the experience in action yourself? Visit the ‘WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?’ website here.

What is the right gamification fit for your brand?

The opportunities for additional engagement are honestly endless! Do you establish a loyalty program? Create an experience with the intent to educate? Implement a one-off competition to generate hype? All of the above, or something else entirely? Whether you know the answers or not, Clockwork can help you navigate a way forward.

Do you have a social, content or production brief you would like help with? Get in touch