Brands, AR and advergames: when the experience is enough

Advergames and Augmented Reality, what a powerful combination. Getting people to go to places just to get a free item and have fun with it is definitely a successful strategy. Since everyone has a mobile phone, you can “catch them all” and win prizes every time you visit a store. This is what many brands are doing, since the arrival of Pokemon Go! and its large adoption by the general public. Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming mainstream and with that, brands don’t want to waste time! But what are the implications of that? Is that really effective? How?

Recently, the beer brand Amstel created a treasure hunt game app that allows players to win prizes by holding a parcel (?) for 6 hours or so. Basically, Amstel has hired the services from the app company Snatch that has a kind of “model” of treasure hunt for brands that people can simply steal virtual parcels from you. It is quite clever because it makes people engaged and they don’t want to lose their parcel, so I guess people will do everything to keep it safe (hello psychology!). You can also protect yourself, by building a tent or other things by spending some virtual currency (hello, IAP!). In the end of the day, the strategy is pure psychology! People don’t want to lose things and for that, they will do anything. Again, the app is free, but you have to “wait” 6 hours holding this parcel. It is a lot of time. So, as we know, nothing is free in this world!

“It is thought that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining” –

What is the potential of this type of interaction for brands? The answer is in the experience. Again, if you have a good experience and this is related to a brand – magic! You will remember the brand easily.

But how can this be sustainable? That’s the most difficult part of the whole thing. If you win something that you don’t like, would you play it again? Remember, you need to wait 6 hours. Or if you lose every time? Or if actually you don’t have spare time to play and you know you will lose it anyway? There is a world of possibilities and experiences here. So if you have a bad experience, would that influence the experience with the brand? It all sounds fun in the beginning. And what if you can’t use your phone in the streets because it is dangerous?

My conclusion of this is: brands could benefit from it if it is an event with beginning, middle and an end – not as an on-going experience that will be there forever. Brands should make sure that the experience is positive in the beginning and sustain it until the end – and after that move to another level. Since players evolve in the game, people might lose interest, they might move on and find other interesting things to do.

I’m studying games design, not gamification

This post is just to avoid the usual misconceptions between gamification and games. Although the names are very similar, they are not the same thing. In fact, they are not the same thing at all. There are three words that address gamification: motivation, persuasion and games. Not to mention, gamification is often discussed as a Design strategy. I must admit that in that case, I totally agree. Gamification is a design process and a design choice. However, in which way?
Gamification as game design elements?
Gamification had its first definition as the utilisation of game design elements into non-gaming contexts. Well, we have been using games in non-gaming contexts through serious games and persuasive games. Although the idea is actually the implementation of those game mechanics, the focus on the game design elements pushes the application of gamification towards game-like activities. This approach makes everything look like a game and in fact, it might be not exactly like a game at all. Gamification goes beyond that.

Gamification as a tool of persuasion or motivation?
Right, because gamification tends to make you do things that are good for you but you don’t feel like doing them, it can be related to persuasion, right? However, this is like the two sides of the same coin. Is it persuasion or motivation? Where is the line that divides persuasion from motivation? The answer here might be an issue of goals. If I want to do something, but I lack of motivation, then it is motivation. If I don’t even know that I want to do something, then I need to be persuaded. However, that difference between one and the other needs to be refined. People mention persuasive technologies a lot in this case. Things like providing the right access and ability to perform a task and some triggers may function to persuade someone to do something. But, yet, again, is it motivation or persuasion? Or maybe motivation that drives persuasion?
I think that gamification might actually try to do both – if possible. But it might have an order. First, you might persuade someone to do something. Then you motivate them to keep doing it. It is possible that the gamification strategy could have two approaches at the same time – why not. Or it may vary according to the context (health, education and so on). Or even better – it will vary according to the PEOPLE.

And what about the game-side of the gamification?
Personally, I’m starting to think that the name is the main problem. It should be design for motivation or design for persuasion. Or maybe people really need to explain better – myself probably. I must admit that I’ve done some mistakes as well, mainly because of the name.

My research is NOT about gamification
Now I need to make a point. I’m not studying gamification. In fact, I’m very far from that. I’m looking at advergames, which are indeed games for advertising purposes. I’m not researching in-games advertising, if you thought about it just because of the name. I’m looking at advergames, games that are TOTALLY shaped for the advertising message. Are those games brand-related? Sometimes. Are those games persuasive? Yes, totally. Are those games gamification? NOT AT ALL. If we look from the lenses of persuasion, it may have some similarities. Advergames are created to change consumers attitudes, make them share the message with others and make them remember the product or something before making a decision. But gamification has motivation as one of the main principles. And it really feels that one of the main triggers here needs to come from the individual. Games are, of course, amazing engaging tools and it is a fact that they can really change the world. This is why gamification was born from the game-design elements. BUT, the aim and nature of gamification is motivation – and can be combined with persuasion in some cases. For marketing, for example, it is almost impossible to motivate someone to buy a product. You persuade someone to buy a product. Moreover, advergames are games – this means that they are a WHOLE game with ALL the elements functioning together. Even if you break the elements and change them, they will be always games, with game mechanics, interface design, story and so on. And if you manipulate one element of the game, you are still working in the game perspective. So, because of that, I can say – I’m NOT researching gamification. And it might be very difficult to explore gamification for advertising and marketing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any interest whatsoever in gamification. I actually want to keep discussing this aspect and I really want to get involved in the Design process and research. But till now, I just need to make myself clear. :)

photo credit: Goomba Clay Figure from Nintendo’s Super Mario via photopin (license)

Is advergaming dead?

Well, not really. Advergames are games built around a rhetoric message, usually related to a brand. See for example the classic Magnum Pleasure Hunt and Colonel Sander’s Quest from KFC. I could talk about all the examples but, yet, do you really care about advergames?

Gamification vs. Advergaming

The interest for advergaming decreased over the past years, if compared to gamification, for example (see Google Trends). Gamification emerged as concept that includes design process, through the application of game design elements for non-leisure contexts (Deterding et al., 2011). In other words, gamification is about making situations and contexts more “gameful”. The confusion of the blurred line between games and gameful design could have been one of the reasons why advergaming decreased the interest. Well, advergames are games, and gamification is a design process. I could even go further and say that advergames are persuasive games and gamification could be more related to motivation (extrinsic + intrinsic) (if you don’t agree correct me :)). However, it seems that the term gamification is lasting more than advergaming design. But why?

Maybe people are just getting bored.

Or maybe they’ve just discovered that they are being persuaded by the game and they might not like it.

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Gamification (blue) vs Advergames (red) – Google Trends, 2015


Now imagine that you’ve discovered that Coca-cola created a new mobile game. Are you going to play it? Maybe. Why? Maybe because of the mechanics, or the fun for fun sake, just pure entertainment. But are you going to play it because it’s coca-cola? Maybe not. You might play it because people are talking about it. And if they are talking about it and you are playing it, you’re cool. This is a bit of what it is called as social exchange. In the social media and in studies about viral marketing, this is an important element. You’re playing the game that everyone is playing, you’re cool. It has a status and you will easily share it with your friends. This is one of the reasons that games need to be connected to social media and it has to carry a value or something that will make people share your message. With that, the advergame became not only fun but a channel that will help to spread the message. Although this is a kind of obvious, it is possible that not all marketing companies are integrating this very well. It is not just sharing a score. It might have something that goes beyond that: a message.

What am I going to win?

Taking back the example of Coca-cola game. You might not play it because it’s coca-cola, but if you think you’re going to win something, maybe you will. The idea of a clear rewarding system is crucial for the success of the advergame. Most of the people that play those games stop at some point. Possibly because the game didn’t have enough challenges or just because they’ve finished. See the Magnum game. You’ve play it once, you won it, you’ve shared it, done. You’re not coming back, right? You’ve just got your points. Maybe you could get better than your friends… However, if you share it with your friends, the maximum that you can get is status. But playing this game was useful?

Utility vs pleasure

So, where do we situate advergames? Are they “useful” or are they just “pleasurable”? From the advergames that I’ve seen, they’re most “pleasurable”. What I mean by it is that they are just in the category of “fun for fun sake” or the old term of “advertainment” – as an evolution of branded entertainment. But, yet, are advergames just entertainment? Can they carry other things? How can they be effective? It is possible that this could be expanded to the rewarding system of the game – one it’s just fun, and another one is utility – or both. Yet, something to be analysed…

Consumers are humans

Effectiveness of advergames mostly depends on what consumers perceive of your advergame. But, sometimes, we forget that the consumers are humans – and humans have expectations, needs and frustrations. Because of that, advergames should focus on PEOPLE. This is not only thinking of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, but also that there are expectations around the game. What I see here is that there are two different kinds of literacy – or things people learnt: gameplay and advertising. People got used to advertising and now they know what they’re up to. Sometimes this could be secondary, as for example, people expect to see Christmas adverts on TV. But if the advertising is boring or not meaningful, the person will probably forget about it. So, yes, why people like Christmas adverts? And why would they talk about it? Well, they might connect with people through their emotions – and memories. Marketers know what they’re doing. So why don’t they apply this to advergames?

Humanising advergaming design

Let’s make it simple, emotional and contextual.

Christmas adverts, for example, are contextual. They’re on TV on December, which is obvious. We know that this is contextual. But what about advergames of “cars”? How do you apply context? Or tourism? It seems that each brand category might have a different approach of advergaming design. Another question is about emotion. How to build emotional relationships through advergaming design? One buzzword would be “telling stories”. Right, games do have stories – but, are they emotional? Let’s take for example a mobile game. Well, mobile games are often simple games. First, because they’re mobile, they don’t have enough memory for heavy games and second, it is a question of context. People that use mobile games they might be on the go, or waiting for something… The screen is small and sometimes you might be without of headphones. Interruptions are more possible – and then we think again – the context is important.

When game literacy meets advertising literacy

I love this word – literacy. It means that you can read and write things, but it also means that you can decipher and understand things. Game literacy is something that came with the expansion of the gaming culture. You play games, you know about games and you might be more keen to understand how to solve the problem inside the game. The same for advertising. You know advertising, you know that they’re trying to send you a message. What happens with advergaming design is that now everyone knows what you’re doing. You’re doing advertising and – if you’re not careful – you might be doing silly games. Players know – they’re not stupid. This is why it is necessary to change the approach: make them more interesting!

Advergames are not dead. On the contrary, they’re there – and changing. They’re forms of interactive advertising that can incorporate stories and make people actually “do” things. They’re are not loyalty cards. They go beyond the points. They make people share things – they’re are naturally viral (or should be). And this is where we should think.

And you, what do you think?