Scholarly article on topic 'The Role of Gamification in Non-profit Marketing: An Information Processing Account.'

The Role of Gamification in Non-profit Marketing: An Information Processing Account. Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{Gamification / Affect / "Information Processing" / "Non-profit organizations" / "Consumer Bahvior."}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Elizabeth A. Freudmann, Yiorgos Bakamitsos

Abstract This paper examines gamification's role as a communication and customer engagement tool for non-profit organizations. Building on the findings of consumer research regarding brand recall and associations, as well as the psychology of gaming, we identify processes through which gamification can generate “process related affect” which can lead to favourable associations, longer engagement and increased loyalty.

Academic research paper on topic "The Role of Gamification in Non-profit Marketing: An Information Processing Account."

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 148 (2014) 567 - 572

The Role of Gamification in Non-Profit Marketing: An Information

Processing Account.

Elizabeth A. Freudmanna, Yiorgos Bakamitsosb

aOne More Thing, LLC, 1450 Annunciation Street #2315, New Orleans, 70130, USA bStetson University, 421 N. Woodland Blvd. DeLand, 32723, USA


This paper examines gamification's role as a communication and customer engagement tool for non-profit organizations. Building on the findings of consumer research regarding brand recall and associations, as well as the psychology of gaming, we identify processes through which gamification can generate "process related affect" which can lead to favourable associations, longer engagement and increased loyalty.

© 2014 PublishedbyElsevierLtd.Thisis anopen access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the 2nd International Conference on Strategic Innovative Marketing. Keywords: Gamification; Affect; Information Processing; Non-profit organizations; Consumer Bahvior.

1. Intro

Gamification is a topic that has garnered a lot of attention from both business press and in academic research recently. And though the specifics of what precisely the term encompasses are still in flux, it is generally understood to be the application of a game structure around an activity or a set of behaviors where previously, there were none (Smith, 2012). In this paper, we will explore gamification, and the unique opportunities the game structure creates for non-profit organizations. Based on existing research regarding the psychological states associated with game-playing, and the process-generated context affects generated by the in-game experience, we generate hypotheses on the value that gamification can provide to message-driven organizations.

Today, gamified experiences make use of the many technological advances that have been widely adapted in recent years, and offer players the opportunity to enjoy the game on a range of platforms including mobile phones, desktop computers, and real-world team interactions. According to the Knowledge@Wharton article titled "From Fitbit to Fitocracy: The Rise of Health Care Gamification", The healthcare industry in particular has been at the center of many gamification initiatives as a range of stakeholders—from governmental agencies, to application

1877-0428 © 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the 2nd International Conference on Strategic Innovative Marketing. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.07.081

developers, to insurance companies—recognized the potential for games to motivate long-term behavior changes in players, potentially motivating them to make lifestyle changes that improve their health (and lower healthcare costs for easily preventable conditions). These games appeal to users because they provide rewards—in a multitude of forms—to players just for playing, which is an essential component of psychological cycle associated with games.

The oldest documented game, Mancala, dates back to Egypt in the fifteenth to eleventh centuries, but according to game expert and proponent of gamification Jane McGonigal, Herodotus (of Ancient Greece), was the first to report on the cultural significance of game-playing in society and the psychological value inherent in the act of playing. In his Histories, he writes of an 18-year famine that plagued a society he calls The Lydians. He credits The Lydians with inventing and playing games as a coping mechanism for the hardships associated with the famine, and notes that many of The Lydians' games continued to be played by himself and his contemporaries. Though McGonigal is far from an unbiased reporter on gamification, she unsurprisingly, uses Herodotus' writings (while admitting that the story is as apocryphal as it is interesting) to support her theory that games can be "purposeful escape, a thoughtful and active escape, and most importantly an extremely helpful escape..." (McGonigal, 2011)

Fortunately, the majority of games played today are not born from the need to help players weather the hardships associated with famine. Indeed, one of the most successful non-profit games to-date has instead been geared towards helping players escape from a world of relative comfort into a world of comparative hardship, and the success of that game is indicative of the power of games as a tool for inspiring behavioral changes or attitudinal shifts. Spent, a simple social game that sought to, on some level, gamify the elicitation of empathy and the process of charitable giving, was produced pro bono for the Urban Ministries of Durham by the McKinney ad agency. In order to win, players must "survive" for a month on a tight budget, while making the same types of decisions that many families on the verge of homelessness are faced with every day. These decisions were based on the real-life situations that homeless families and individuals had faced, which created a heightened sense of drama for the players because they knew that in the real world, the consequences of a wrong choice would be profound and potentially life changing. The game structure encourages interactivity because players are allowed to "borrow money" through Facebook. It also leverages the drama of the narrative to create an immediate positive outcome: after completing the game, players have an opportunity to donate to the Urban Ministries of Durham's efforts to help the homeless.

Indeed, just as The Lydian's games helped a population to survive a famine, Spent helped a different population thousands of years later, to understand hunger, deprivation, and difficult choices, which in turn increased this population's interest in the Urban Ministries of Durham's work. Less than a week after the game launched, 100,000 people had started 145,000 rounds of the game and the Urban Ministries of Durham had added 100 friends to its Facebook page. Only four days after the game launched, the Urban Ministries of Durham had received about 70 new donations, averaging $27.00. About 10 months after the game launched, it had been played 1.7 million times, in 196 different countries (Flandez, 2011).

2. Flow, Engagement, and Marketing Implications

One theory proposed by gamification advocates is that games like Spent are impactful because the process of playing kindles the psychological state of "flow", in which people are operating at optimal performance and satisfaction levels. These advocates argue that games, especially games that are played in groups or teams, are inherently appealing to humans (McGonigal, 2011) and therefore any message can be made more compelling if it is presented within the context of a game. Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi's research and analysis on flow is often cited as evidence of this phenomenon. Csikszentimihalyi posits that flow is the experience of happiness or contentment aroused in people when the cycle of challenge and reward is balanced (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Breaking Csikszentmihalyi's theories into practicable elements, McGonigal explains that feeling of flow is triggered by the four "defining traits" that good games have in common: goals, rules, feedback, and voluntary participation (McGonigal 2011) Whether it is a videogame or baseball, her research indicates that while playing, gamers are experiencing ".positive stress, or eustress" stimulated by working hard to succeed at the game. McGonigal's

analysis of the psychological impacts of game-playing compliment's Csikszentimihalyi's conclusions regarding the positive feelings that come from pushing oneself to improve and reach new levels of accomplishment. In other words, a goal hierarchy and a feedback mechanism are important according to Csikszentmihalyi.

Gamification experts focus on the challenge-reward cycle that is present in good games, and stress its importance in gamification. This cycle is part of flow-inducing pattern, but a parallel cycle is articulated in research regarding consumer behaviour. Instead of "challenge", this research focuses on the initial behaviour (purchasing or sampling a product), and the most effective ways of rewarding consumers for that behaviour (Rothschild & Gaidis, 1981). One potential hazard of the "reward" structure is that consumers become focused on the reward instead of the purchasing behaviour, and therefore when the rewards are taken away or changed, the incentive to continue the desired behaviour is also removed. This raises an interesting question regarding games designed to change player behaviour in the out-of-game world: will the player revert back to former patterns if they stop playing? In order to minimize this risk, games of this type must design a game that conveys the inherent value in the desired behaviour (Rothschild & Gaidis, 1981; Rothschild, 1979;).

One challenge that gamified experiences face, especially gamified experiences seeking to benefit non-profit organizations, is the issue of player attraction and engagement. Unlike traditional games, gamified experiences require players to reframe an idea and interact with it in a new way. Moreover, unlike games that are part of marketing campaigns for consumer products, non-profits are often trying to convey a much less tangible message (Rothschild, 1979). And while non-traditional communication methods have been identified as being particularly valuable to non-profits (Rothschild, 1979), there is limited data regarding viable techniques for engaging new players, and perhaps more importantly, whether it is more effective to engage a broader audience of players right away, or to focus on customizing an enjoyable on-boarding experience to the segment of potential players most critical for the game to achieve the goals identified by the non-profit. This is an important question, especially when considered against the causes of affect, specifically how progress, or lack thereof, can trigger positive or negative emotions (Carver & Scheier, 1990).

At present, the methods for measuring user engagement in gamified experiences are fundamentally the same as the methods used to measure the effectiveness of traditional marketing campaigns, especially traditional marketing targeted at user loyalty (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). For example, airline frequent flier programs incorporate all the important engagement techniques required by games, and similar metrics (recency, frequency, duration, virility, and rating) can be used to assess how successfully the game is engaging its audience. However, unlike airline frequent flyer programs, the effectiveness of the non-profit gamification might prove to be more difficult to measure: whereas the one is successful if it leads to loyalty as demonstrated by repeat purchases, the other may not be quantifiable in terms of financial transactions. For example, while Spent was certainly successful in increasing donations, it is important to consider whether revenue was the only, even the most, desired outcome. Though the game has evolved since it was first launched in 2011, the Urban Ministries of Durham's website notes that the goal of "the current initiative is to explore and utilize the social networking platform to engage, educate and inspire existing and potentially new audiences in entirely new ways." Thus, while it can be assumed that the increase in charitable donations was a welcome outcome, it was only one of the dimensions along which the game designers hoped to impact players.

Based on our research into game playing, and the unique psychological properties that are inherent to games, as well as traditional measures of user engagement, we have identified three dimensions along which game-players engage:

1. Arousal- the degree of emotion or excitement that a player experiences as a direct result of playing a game.

2. Longevity- the length of time that the game remains interesting to the player. Longevity refers specifically to the time that passes between when the player plays for the very first time, and when they play their last game session ever, and is not related to the duration of each game session.

3. Frequency- the number of times within a given period that a player choses to play.

Each of these dimensions exist on a spectrum, from high to low, and depending on the game designer's goals, the mechanics of game play can encourage players to engage at different levels along the three spectrums. Thus, some games are designed to provoke a highly stimulating and exciting experience that players access with a high level of frequency, but for a shorter period of time. Other games are designed to provide a consistent and reliable game experience that players come back to again and again.

4. Context Affects

When we first undertook this project, the goal was to understand if games offer non-profits a new tool to use when packaging and delivering their message. Thus we consulted existing literature on information processing in order to help us analyse the way that messages are processed, as well as the impact that the message delivery mechanism has on the experience of the message recipient. Our research has lead us to the conclusion that gamification has the potential to mitigate the influence that both task-related and incidental affect (Garg, Inman, Mittal, 2013) has on decision-making, and thus enable the player to make a more organic, and thoroughly reasoned decision with regards to behaviour. Though games are perhaps not entirely unique in this capacity, there are few other constructs that offer the same benefits.

Task-related affect, which stems from factors embedded in the decision itself (Garg et al., 2013), can be mitigated through gamification in several ways. For example, task-related affect can arise when the decider is faced with more information than s/he can comfortably process; in these situations, the structure of games can be used to teach the decider relevant information in an non-threatening and gradual way. Thus, when it comes time to make the decision, the decider can retrieve the necessary information with relative ease (Tybout, Sternthal, Malaviya, Bakamitsos, Park, 2005), which might lessen both the anxiety associated with feeling uninformed, and the required cognitive effort.

If the decider is struggling with an emotionally-laden decision (Garg, et al, 2013), a game can help him/her think through potential outcomes, and generate approximations of likely outcomes, depending on the choices made. Though designed with other objectives in mind, Spent exemplifies this type of gameplay, and it is easy to imagine how a non-profit with a mission involving helping people make "better" decisions might design a similar game in order to counteract the task-related affect that is inevitably part of certain life choices.

Similarly, it is easy to imagine a non-profit committed to influencing behavior away from an easy, but ultimately detrimental behavior, using the Spent framework to help encourage the desired behavior. For example, an animal rescue non-profit might use a game where the player has the option to adopt a puppy from a shelter, or buy one from a pet store. The process of selecting a pet can be very difficult: the final big decision involves many smaller sub-decisions, including where you go to look for your new best friend. The cognitive effort required in this chain of decisions might cause some would-be pet parents to default to the easier option (Garg et al., 2013) of getting a familiar purebred from a pet store, instead of what might be seen as the riskier choice of adopting a mutt from a shelter. A game that engages and immerses the player in exploring the outcomes of their choices—for example, shopping for a purebred and thereby unintentionally supporting the inhumane activities of puppy mills—might provide the necessary motivation to encourage players to overcome the negative task-related affect that can lead to the decider either delaying the decision, or opting for the easiest, most comfortable alternative (Garg et al., 2013).

Consumer behaviorists have identified incidental affect—emotions caused by circumstances outside the control of marketers and potentially unrelated to purchasing decisions—as potentially hazardous to brands. Non-profit marketing professionals are similarly threatened by incidental affect, where an otherwise sympathetic audience member might react negatively to messaging after an unrelated incident leading to the arousal of anger (Garg et al., 2013; Herrewijn & Poels, 2013; Carver & Scheier, 1990;). Gamers might argue that it is precisely these types of incidents that gamification can neutralize to varying degrees. Even after a negative encounter in a parking lot, a player might remain positively engaged with their upcoming task if it is presented as part of a larger "mission." A well-designed game in the right hands might override some of the indirectly-related but potentially impactful factors

that could lead to negative affect; and, in inherently being "fun" (McGonigal, 2011; Poels, de Kort, & Ijsselsteijn, 2007), games might necessarily create a high level of arousal resulting in positive affect.

4. Gamification and Non-Profits

In order to analyze gamification's potential to impact message processing for non-profits, we identified the four types of messages that are packaged and delivered by non-profits. They fall into two sub-categories: 1) engage positive behaviors, and 2) avoid negative behaviors.

Non-profits with messages targeted at engaging positive behaviors are seeking to influence people to do one of two things: either a) to participate in a new activity that the audience would have avoided or not known about in the past; or b) to make changes to daily behaviors over a long period of time. An example of the first type of message would be an arts organization encouraging people to attend a performance like the symphony. If the audience is receptive to the message and it succeeds in engaging the positive behavior of purchasing tickets to the symphony, continued engagement with the same audience is not necessary, as the audience will decide they like the symphony and attend another performance without requiring further behavior modification, or dislike the experience in which case it would be very difficult to motivate them to attend again. An example of an organization that would be delivering the second type of message is one that educates people about the importance of recycling. In the short-term, recycling has few immediately gratifying rewards to the person who is learning how to do it, so the message must focus on conveying the long-term importance of the behavior, and teach newcomers what they are meant to do, step by step so that they don't get discouraged or confused.

Non-profits that advocate the avoidance of negative behaviors also fall into two sub-categories: the first are organizations that seek to dissuade players from committing undesirable acts that could be immediately and dramatically harmful to others or themselves; the second category is comprised of organizations that offer support to people who are trying to make long-term changes to their habits in order to live healthier or happier lives. An example of a non-profit that would employ the first type of negative behavior avoidance message is one with a mission to reduce incidences of drunk driving. An example of a non-profit that would use the second type of messaging is one that focused on helping smokers quit—a difficult task because the process of quitting is extremely unpleasant and the rewards of a healthy life are not realized until long after the difficult period of withdrawal. Looking at these four different message types from a game playing perspective, we identified four scenarios:

• Scenario 1: Defined as organization wants to persuade player to participate in an activity; player either does or does not enjoy the activity, no further support from game messaging is needed.

• Scenario 2: Defined as organization wants to persuade player to change behavior on an ongoing basis. Benefits of behavior change will not be evident to player in the short term.

• Scenario 3: Defined as organization wants dissuade player from engaging in dangerous or unproductive behavior. Benefits from abstinence may or may not be immediately evident.

• Scenario 4: Defined as organization wants to dissuade player from habits or choices that are unhealthy or unproductive. Benefits to player will not be experienced in the short-term.

Each of these scenarios requires a distinct combination of stimuli along the three dimensions of game engagement; arousal, longevity, and frequency. In order for gamification to work for non-profits, it is imperative that players engage properly, otherwise the organizations risk being ineffective, or worse yet, alienating to their audiences. Based on our research, we have made a prediction for each scenario for the type of engagement that would best deliver the organization's message in a palatable and impactful manner.

• Scenario 1 Required Game Characteristics: High arousal, low longevity, high frequency.

• Scenario 2 Required Game Characteristics: Mid-level arousal, high longevity, mid-level frequency.

• Scenario 3 Required Game Characteristics: Mid-level arousal, high longevity, low frequency.

• Scenario 4 Required Game Characteristics: Low arousal, high longevity, low frequency.

5. Conclusion

In this paper we discussed the important role gamification can play as a communication vehicle in the context of non-profit institutions. We focused on how game structure is unique in its ability to deliver messages in a palatable, digestible, even enjoyable way. We identified that non-profit missions are either focused on encouraging the adoption of a positive behaviour or the avoidance of a negative behaviour. More specifically, we further subdivided the types of mission statements into Scenario 1) behaviour adoption with immediate feedback, and Scenario 2) behaviour adoption with benefits that won't be realized in the short term, and Scenario 3) behaviour avoidance with potential—though not definite—immediate rewards and Scenario 4) behaviour avoidance where the rewards won't be realized in the short term. We identified three dimensions of engagement—arousal, longevity, and frequency—along which players can engage with a game, and furthermore, predict what combinations of these three dimensions are best suited for each mission statement scenario.


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