"It just works", Steve Jobs repeated ad nauseum at Apple's recent Worldwide Developer Conference last month. He was talking about Apple's new iCloud service but he just as easily could have been talking about an array of Apple products. Macbooks, as with most of Apples products, are Apple to the core. For example, my Macbook Air starts in just seconds, as my last PC took minutes to boot. It's almost as if all the different parts just don't know how to work together.
On the social Web, it's much of the same. As the Web outside of Facebook continues to become more social, the problem is being compounded with the advent and growing popularity of game mechanics.
"Gamification" indicates when a system of game-like constructs are put in place to incentivize users to engage with a brand, product, or service. Companies like Foursquare helped revolutionize the space by rewarding their users with badges and points for social check-ins and, perhaps even more profoundly, Zynga employed game mechanics to turn causal gamers into full-on devoted fanatics. Today, game mechanics are on the verge of exploding as websites look to reward their most loyal visitors and syndicate content. In fact, Gartner Research predicts that by 2015, more than half of companies managing innovation processes will employ game mechanics. Further, in that same timeframe, M2 Research forecasts that the game mechanics production will generate $1.6 billion in revenues and will account for 23% of social media marketing budgets.
This impending surge makes sense as game mechanics has the potential to reach website visitors in ways that marketers have only dreamed of. Yet efforts to gamify sites can fail because those game mechanics remain siloed from the rest of a site's social elements.
In essence, gamification can't just be a light layer sitting atop a website like a cherry on a fudge Sunday, with social rewards being served up to any user who merely "likes" your page. Users should be rewarded for interacting with your site in positive ways—like sharing, commenting, chatting, and logging into your site through a social network. And the only way for that to happen is if your site's game mechanics are actually able to interact with your other social functions, all speaking the same language. It's not an easy task for your IT team or developers especially as social networks constantly change or upgrade their APIs, which can stop your site's social elements dead in their tracks, leaving your visitors confused and unengaged.
When I think about the landscape of companies offering some kind of "social solution" for Web sites and see the impending explosion of game mechanics as an industry, I see a virtual Tower of Babel ahead. Game mechanics are going to be an integral part of companies' social strategies for keeping their customers engaged when they're not on Facebook. But right now the market is littered with point solutions all offering different components coded in different languages—there are just too many cooks in the kitchen. Technologies for Web sites will continue to evolve and become more complex. The market will have no choice but to gravitate towards simple and easily integrated products that just work.
Patrick Salyer is the CEO of Gigya. Gigya makes sites social by integrating a suite of plugins like Social Login, Comments, Activity Feeds, Social Analytics and now Game Mechanics into websites. Gigya's technology reaches 280 million users worldwide and is used by some of the largest online brands.