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Thoughts and observations

What video games teach us about community engagement

Alright, I will let you in on my morning routine. At dawn, I run down to the beach to pick up shells and throw out my fishing rod to catch sharks. Then I go for a swim to grab sea creatures from the bottom of the ocean until I find a scallop. On my way to the store, to empty my pockets for Bells, I dig up fossils to have them curated by an owl.

If this makes no sense to you, then you are not one of the 22 million people initiated to the video game Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch.

Animal Crossing’s success is exceptional but does not stand on its own. The entire gaming industry has enjoyed a steady growth in revenue for years now. In 2020, around 2.7 billion gamers worldwide will spend an estimated 159.3 billion dollars on their favorite video games. Most likely, revenue will surpass a whopping 200 billion dollars in 2023.

Don’t worry, Gaining Goodwill is not changing into a review blog for video games. I do think it is relevant to point out that the popularity of video games, like Animal Crossing, can be largely attributed to the power of community. Studying the dynamics of social gaming is the most clear-cut way to a better understanding of how communities work. I bet you could even utilize these universal community strategies in your line of business.

So, let’s examine the blueprint for community-driven video games.

1. Sharing the experience

Playing a video game on your own can be fun. Playing the same video game with others is usually more engaging, though. Personal interaction, competition and acknowledgement of achievement are key factors that make social gaming alluring.

In the early days, playing video games with friends was limited to physically sitting in the same room with two controllers connected to one console and a tv. Today, local co-op is still a common way to enjoy video games together. But with an internet connection, being in the same room is no longer a requirement to interact with others. Online co-op offers people to play their video games with any person on the globe, creating new incentives to stay engaged – like any healthy community does.

Animal Crossing shows us social gaming done right. In this video game, you are assigned to tend to a small island. Local co-op allows you to inhabit the island with someone else playing on the same console, like a family member. Through online co-op you can also invite people from all over the world to visit your island, to show off your creation and trade valuable items. For example, the cherries growing on your trees might be common to you, but rare to others. You rely on each other.

Don’t be fooled by the playful premise, though. Pay close attention to Animal Crossing’s ecosystem and you will discover a very serious community strategy.

2. Competing

Secondly, it is in our nature to compete with one another. Most of us strive to be better at something than the next person. Video games make full use of this human driving force.

Be the first to beat the level. Break the two minute record. Knock the other player out. We love a challenge, especially when we are playfully competing with real people. While we are aware that we are just playing a game, winning a fair match often results in a spike of testosterone and a boost of confidence.

In other words: it feels good.

3. Collecting rewards

When we reach a goal, we feel urged to show off our achievement. Sometimes we try to be modest about it, because we were taught not to brag. Yet, every fiber of our body just wants to boast about the amazing accomplishment.

Like no other, online video games and gaming platforms know how to exploit our blunt need to flaunt our accolades. Achievements in video games are presented as fun and innocent collectibles, but we all know how we feel when we obtain one. That’s serious delight. Another digital pin on your jacket. And everybody is watching.

On top of that, gaming platforms, such as Steam and Playstation Network, push social incentives even further. Their online communities are virtual trophy cases for purchased video games and gameplay activity. Having access to your video games through these interactive platforms means that you, and the people you are connected to, notice each other’s achievements all the time, triggering a wide range of emotions.

So far we have covered the three basics of social gaming and why those lead to an engaged player base:

1. Shareable experience
2. Driven by playful competition
3. Acknowledgement of achievement

Makes you wonder: would you be able to engage your customers like modern video games do? Is there a way to connect customers through your products and services – making it a ‘co-op’ experience?

Do you allow your customers to playfully challenge each other? Surely, the gaming industry does not have a monopoly on the winner’s rush. This sensation can be replicated in many different situations.

Finally, is there a way for customers to show off their standing and track record with your business? You know, that virtual trophy case I mentioned before.

Every other line of business requires a unique and creative approach to apply these insights. There is no one-size-fits-all. If you are looking for more direction, I would tell you to google ‘gamification’ – the industry term for adding elements of play to your business in order to engage customers.

A few examples, to get you going…

One form of gamification that we are all familiar with, is working towards a discount with each consecutive purchase. At Starbucks, for instance, your Frappuccinos are worth Stars, adding up to the achievement of a free drink. Thus, collecting and winning.

For a more elaborate example, look at Nike. Selling sports shoes and clothing is Nike’s core business – one customer at a time. The brand experience, though, goes beyond the individual product purchase. Nike Run Club enables runners from all over the world to experience their exercise together.

The developers of the mobile app Habitica take it another step further. They believe that you can change persistent daily habits by turning your life into a role-playing game, under the watchful eye of friends.

Trust me, with these examples I am only scratching the surface of what is out there. Go see for yourself and find case studies that match your line of business.

Please share examples of gamification that inspire you. Leave a comment below.

By Rogier

With over ten years of experience in the ever-changing landscape of social media and strategic community management, Rogier helps the largest Dutch health insurance company to more openly communicate and collaborate with its customers and partners.

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