Is Game Design The Future of Marketing?

In recent years, between console wars and massive multiplayer online games (MMOs), the gaming industry has boomed. Consequently, the practice of game design has also attracted more attention. At the heart of game design is the art of interactive storytelling, and that art is also at the heart of several other practices. For marketers, there's much that can be learned from the study of game design theory, how it has been applied to other fields, and how it can be applied to ours.

In this excellent presentation at the DICE Summit this year, Jesse Schell examines the question of what happens when game design theory is applied to other fields of study. In an example of game design applied to schooling, Jesse presents fellow game designer and University of Indiana professor Lee Sheldon as a sort of case study:

School is a game right? You go, you get scored, you come out, there’s a leaderboard etc. He doesn't give out grades anymore; he gives out experience points, and you level up through the class. And so class attendance is up. Class participation is up. Homework is turned in often and better, because it's a better structure, a better system.

While I doubt many of our readers are professional game designers, or even teachers, many of you are marketers. So, how can we learn to implement these types of systems, these games, into our marketing strategies? What game design theory can we learn from before heedlessly introducing points, challenges, and contests into our tactics?

Early in their book Rules of Play (hat tip Big Spaceship), authors Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman describe  their three primary schemata for viewing the study of game design:

  • RULES contains formal game design schemata that focus on the essential logical and mathematical structures of a game.
  • PLAY contains experiential, social, and representational game design schemata that foreground the player’s participation with the game and with other players.
  • CULTURE contains contextual game design schemata that investigate the larger cultural contexts within which games are designed and played.

In many ways, these three overarching categories describe every marketing campaign. Each implementation lives within the context of logical limitations, social incentives and barriers, and the cultural identity and behaviors of those exposed to it.

There are clear cross-overs between marketing and game design, and behind each of these schemata are valuable lessons that will help marketers create better systems, systems that lend themselves to a better customer experience and influence customer behavior positively.

If you have any insights on game design theory, examples of great game design applied to marketing, or just want to leave some feedback, please leave a comment or send us a tweet.

Written by Chris Allison on March 5, 2010

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