The secret to business success? Make everything a game—at least until it stops working and consumers end up bored with that, too.
"Most people are bored," says Aaron Dignan, author of the book Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success and a keynote speaker at the 99 Percent Conference in New York today. "They're bored at work, bored at home, bored at school." But an antidote is on the way, Dignan says, and it could make everyone in the room a lot of money.
Businesspeople are confounded by consumer ennui, perhaps because its historic antidote, fun, is extremely difficult to shoehorn into traditional marketing. Of course, large-scale fun hasn't disappeared from modern life: It's alive and well in the tens of millions of American Idol votes and the meteoric sales of video games like Angry Birds and Call of Duty.
But for businesspeople who are not Simon Cowell, consumer boredom can be a monolithic impediment. So it's no wonder the audience is rapt when Dignan suggests that video games—lamented for atrophying our attention spans and turning us on to Ritalin and Adderall—have actually held the secret all along. "Real life is not always satisfying," Dignan says. "But games are."
Dignan believes that anyone can use "game mechanics," as they're called, to get what they want out of people. As long as there is a skill to learn and a way of measuring success, he says, anything can be game-ified. Small business owners have been pioneers at game-ifying local shops. Nascent marketing programs bundled with "check-in" apps like Foursquare allow your local coffee shop proprietor to turn patronage into a game that earns regulars "badges" and "points," which then accumulate into real-life rewards like free coffee.