Thursday, May 15, 2014

Game On: gamify the audience experience

Contributed by Gabe Zichermann

Gamification—or the use of gaming concepts to drive user engagement— is an integral part of the modern business landscape, with the majority of Fortune 500 companies already having implemented the technology in some shape or form. Smaller companies are turning to the technology in droves as well, and while their implementations may be different, the goal for all is to drive new customer acquisition, increase retention and return visits, grow revenues and foster loyalty. So, why can’t theater companies join the party and gamify the audience experience? They can, and are indeed beginning to, as seen by such companies like the Brick Theater in Brooklyn with their annual Game Play Festival, and it’s time the rest of the theater community also considers incorporating games and the variety of ways they would be able to do so.

First, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of gamification, which is most simply portrayed by the Three F’s: Feedback, Friends and Fun. These are the three things are seen in most every gamified application with sustained success, and they can be seen as the essence of what makes gamification so potent.
  • Feedback- the process of giving users information on how they’re doing.
  • Friends- creating meaningful interactions that feed a game-like system.
  • Fun- understanding the needs/desires of your particular audience, and providing them an intangible enjoyment when they participate in your game.
If you can bring Fun, Friends and Feedback to a theater experience, then you can create the power to change behavior.

So now the question is begged, how do we incorporate these principles into our production? You’re already producing an entire show, what more does the audience need to be engaged? Sadly, the answer is a lot. The current environment simply does not allow for people to be engaged for extended periods of time no matter what we are observing. Television, once the distraction from the rat race, can no longer hold people’s attention itself, with over 80% of people admitting to “second screening,” or divvying up their focus to multiple screens, be it smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.

If TV can’t hold people’s attention for 22 minutes, how can the theater do it for 2 hours? The first step is to do away with the “NO PHONES” rule in the theater. Especially if you have a tool that could make that smartphone use productive. (For example, livecube is a new app designed specifically to increase audience engagement and increase an event’s social media footprint.) It’s assumed all phone usage is negative in a theater setting, but in the current cultural environment it is necessary to warm up to the idea of utilizing the power in the pocket of most every audience member.

You must also try to channel the time you do have with the audience more efficiently in order to keep their attention. This means more breaks with social games/activities, networking with other attendees and cast members, etc. You can also provide achievements for attendance to give the audience a sense of accomplishment that could help pave the way for another visit to the theater. A unique souvenir beyond a playbill can go a long way here.

For those who prefer traditional theater this may seem like you are loosening the grip on the essence of what a play is; the telling of a story, but it is important to remember that this isn’t a “Choose Your Own Adventure” situation. The audience still wants you to tell the story, they just want to be more centrally featured in it, and feel like it’s more relatable. The use of gamification tech, before and after the show, to get insights about what’s happening with the audience will help you bring those elements to the stage.

Loyalty is also of extreme importance. You can use gamification to drive affordable loyalty for theater goers, though you must consider carefully the behaviors you want. It’s probably unrealistic to expect an audience member to attend the same show 50 times, but going several times and inviting friends by driving word of mouth is a very realistic goal.

No matter the application, the goal is to engage the audience and make them feel like more of a part of the experience. I hope you might now see that it would be beneficial to at least begin the brainstorming process about what game applications could fit best for your company, and most importantly, for your audience.


Gabe Zichermann is the chair of GSummit where top gamification experts across industries gather to share knowledge and insight about customer & employee engagement and loyalty. He is also an author, highly rated public speaker and entrepreneur whose next book, The Gamification Revolution (McGraw Hill, 2013) looks at how leaders are leveraging gamification strategy to crush the competition.

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