Adding game-like elements to your product or service isn't just about slapping a badge notifications all over everything. The key metric should always be to actually create an experience that provides real game play and, most importantly, fun -- even if it's in the service of a greater goal, whether it's engaging people with a charity or with a new brand of shoes.
To that end, it's easy to look towards Foursquare and FarmVille for clues on how to proceed, but it's also worth a look at some of the mainstream console and PC games that are racking up not only impressive sales ($400 million for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in its opening day), but also incredible amounts of user engagement.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 The key takeaway from this year's installment of this popular franchise is not simple the massive levels of engagement, with millions of players taking part in live war games simultaneously, it's how the brand has grown beyond the console into areas that much more closely resemble social media.
The key new additional is Call of Duty: Elite, a companion subscription service that works hand-in-hand with not only Modern Warfare 3 but also other Call of Duty games. It's a web-based experience (with a console version as well) that not only tracks your in-game statistics, but also different interest groups you can join, additional downloadable content for games, daily contests, and an encyclopedic help section.
Interestingly, Elite has a freemium model. It's free to join, but only paying members, at $49 per year, get access to the best content, or a chance to win real-world prizes.
Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary Edition The idea here is simple -- take a 10-year-old game everyone loves (or at least has fond nostalgic feelings for), and dress it up with a new coat of virtual paint, so it won't look painfully out of place on today's Xbox 360.
This recycling of content is a smart idea, and there have been several other examples of it in games recently. If you have some older gamification content, there's nothing wrong with re-purposing it for a new audience, or bringing up to speed with, for example, the latest ideas in Facebook games. (The Facebook version of The Sims does an excellent job of this, the Facebook version of Civilization, less so).
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim This game, an unlikely crossover hit considering it involves dragons and elves, is so ambitious you could literally throw a dart at a list of its many features and come up with a good idea.
Players can ignore the main storyline for a long time, or skip it entirely, and instead spend dozens of hours collecting pants and ingredients and learning how to synthesize them into useful potions. Or hunting animals for their hides, which you then turn into leather and eventually clothing. Or you can just wander dozens of square miles of countryside, engaging in conversations with the farmers and merchants you meet along the way (the ones that aren't trying to kill you, of course -- it's always important to watch out for bandits).
The key takeaway here is to not focus exclusively on getting people to play your game in the way that you want to to. Consumers will take the tools you give them, and discover their own way to interact, and if you encourage that kind of freedom, you may be rewarded with a very loyal, engaged audience.
That's just a few ideas we've taken away from some of the hot holiday video game titles hitting stores right now, further emphasizing our point that games and gamification are more than distant cousins, and each side has much to learn from the other.
If you've seen features in mainstream console, PC, or mobile games that could inspire or add to a gamification project, let us know in the comments section below.