More than just a game

Just before the party conference, Demos launched a competition that one Twitter user called “everything wrong with politics in one link”.

Luckily, not everyone agreed with him.

Around 400 people entered Fantasy Politics. The three-week contest sparked consistent social media chatter (with MPs such as Tom Watson and Lynne Featherstone getting in on the action), contributed to a 35% increase in Demos web traffic over the conference period, and was also mentioned in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary.

The premise was simple. Take the ever-popular model of fantasy football, but replace footballers with politicians. Managers selected three MPs from each party, with points awarded for anything from media coverage and Twitter mentions, to good gossip and sartorial excellence. Meanwhile tiresome speech clichés and cringe-worthy gaffes were punished accordingly.

But was this all just a bit of fun, or is there a wider lesson we can take from it?

The last few years have seen more and more marketing experts latch onto the benefits of gamification – the use of game mechanics to encourage engagement. A recent study showed that it improves engagement by one-third, with online commenting increasing by 13%, social media sharing by 22%, and content discovery up as much as 68%.

It appeals to our human nature. We’re naturally competitive. Show us a progress bar, or set a level to achieve, and we can’t help ourselves. How else can you explain grown adults spending hours moving pieces of candy around a screen? But you don’t have to design the next Candy Crush to reap the benefits. Many examples of gamification are much simpler.

Take the Telegraph’s pre-conference imaginary cabinet reshuffle. Or the many international apps come budget time encouraging you to plug the gap in the economy. These are simple survey dressed up as puzzles. Most of us wouldn’t bother filling out a questionnaire on who our favourite cabinet member is, but the lure of being a backseat PM is hard to resist.

Let the games begin

Never has data been more valuable to folk working in communications. Companies pay thousands of pounds to find out what people think about their industry, or their specific organisation. Gamification is one way of gaining access to these opinions in a way that is not only cost effective, but also fun. One hotel chain encouraged guests to unlock loyalty reward points by checking in to various locations of their hotels using Foursquare. The chances are your organisation has an asset you can ‘game’, and with a bit of forward planning and news awareness the data you gather could even secure some coverage in itself.

Social media also amplifies our human nature for sharing tales of successes and failure. At a recent News Rewired conference Mark Johnson, the Economist’s Community Editor, explained how their weekly quiz encouraged audiences who wouldn’t normally read the Economist to promote their content on Facebook. The viral success of us vs th3m’s online challenges is further testament to this phenomenon.

Tapping this combination of competition and personalisation helped make Demos’s Fantasy Politics competition a sustained success over conference. People wouldn’t just tweet once and forget. They continued to boast and whinge about their team’s progress with each scoring update.

But what of the original criticism? Sure, you could make a case that ranking politicians like horses in a race is a demeaning oversimplification of what should be three weeks of vital policy debate about issues affecting lives across the country. But in an age when traditional party participation continues to fall to depressing levels, maybe gamification could have a place in politics? Either through encouraging greater online and offline political engagement amongst young people, or using it to gather people’s opinions on policy issues who normally wouldn’t share their views.

The methods may be trivial, but if the results are concrete and quantifiable then who are we to scoff? Let the games begin.

Rob Macpherson is Communications Officer at the think tank Demos. He tweets @RJ_Macpherson.

WonkComms will be holding a roundtable discussion on the value of attending party conference at the end of October.

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One comment on “More than just a game
  1. […] took some inspiration from John Wilshire’s Artefact Cards, from Rob McPherson’s post last year on gamification and from Sky News back in 2010. We designed some ‘Top Trumps’ style cards for people to play […]

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