The Not-At-All-Distant Future of Green Gamification

Games are like ketchup: widely loved and diversely applied, with an appeal rooted in childhood. In fact, a new report reveals that over 90 percent of U.S. kids aged 2-17 are gaming today. Yet the gaming generation has been on the rise for three decades, leading to not only an army of young gamers, but also an influential adult segment. It is small wonder, then, that "gamification" is the most disruptive force to impact marketing since the arrival of social media.

Typically defined, gamification refers to the use of game mechanics, such as points, badges, leaderboards and challenges in non-game settings. Traditional examples include airline frequent flyer programs and "Buy 10, Get 1 Free" loyalty offers. But the proliferation of social media and smartphones along with the cultural adoption of gaming has increased both the scope and sophistication of gamification.

At its core, gamification is about one thing: fun. In today's competitive battle for mindshare, games are the most effective tool for leveraging technology, rising above marketing noise and engaging the socially networked consumer.

Like any marketing strategy, gamification can be applied to encourage frivolous consumption or provide superficial entertainment. But games are also uniquely suited to change the world for the better. As gaming enthusiast and renowned author, Dr. Jane McGonigal, points out, "When we are playing games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure."

In other words, the most compelling rewards fulfill innate human desires for achievement, reciprocity and appreciation. Great games make us feel alive.

The Game Era has arrived, and the rise of gamification is only just beginning. Gartner analysts predict, "By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application."

As a result, gamification presents an exciting opportunity to advance sustainability initiatives. Research from Ogilvy Earth [PDF] suggests that games can be a vehicle to create brand equity while also promoting green behaviors.

The synergy between gamification and sustainability is based on the fact that, like gaming, greening is largely a social action that triggers an emotional response. Innovative companies recognize the opportunity to tap into consumer passions and have begun to employ "green gamification" to create shared value for individuals, businesses, communities and the environment.