SCVNGR: The “Game Layer” Needs More Game

Abstract: Currently SCVNGR is doing a great job selling their platform as a way to turn life into a game. Beyond giving people virtual points points and rewards for playing there is huge potential for SCVNGR to take this concept to the next level.

Originally published right here.

SCVNGR has worked hard to frame itself as a game, i.e. users gather points for checking in and completing challenges (snapping a picture or answering a simple question). And, their new “level up” program allows repeat customers to earn more rewards the more they shop, er “play.”

But, these features are just mimicking the characteristics of games. The SCVNGR platform doesn’t fully speak to why people play games. As an account planner I work to see this from the consumer point of view and the game paradigm is missing something here.

Let me put it another way, I don’t play Mario to get the coins. I don’t play World of Warcraft to level up. There are deeper reasons that people love playing games, especially virtual, and SCVNGR’s robust platform is well positioned to start tapping into these motivations. In short these motivations include: experiencing a narrative, creating challenges that are tough to beat, and facilitating more direct competition.

Motivation 1: Experiencing a story

When people play video games they immerse themselves in a story. There is a character and a plot, and overcoming challenges such as solving puzzles, killing zombies, beating time trials etc. moves the story forward (more on this later).

SCVNGR applies no narrative to their game. And while neither does Sudoku, there is potential here for grabbing new users if we consider the power of putting people in the drivers seat of a really good story.

  • Example: Zip Car runs a promotion for people to rent a mini and re-create Paul Revere’s famous ride. With a list of locations to visit and challenges to complete along the way, guide people through the winding streets of Boston’s North End to the small monument in Concord, MA where the British finally captured the famous silversmith.

Take-away: Good advertising is good storytelling. Games allow people to experience stories in a whole new way, the first person, and with SCVNGR this is literally possible.

Motivation 2: Hard challenges are fun

Beating Super Mario isn’t easy (at least not for me). Neither is the New York Times crossword puzzle. These games present a real challenge and overcoming it feels good. In fact, how good you feel is inversely proportional to the likelihood of success. Overcoming a really tough challenge = hell yeah, I’m awesome!

SCVNGR does not offer users this experience of accomplishment (even Soduku does that!). There is potential for motivating people to play SCVNGR by giving people the feeling they have truly earned their rewards.

  • Example: City Sports runs a promotion rewarding those those who check in at their local Gym, and do so at a specific time designated by the user. Thus, it’s no longer about counting ceiling fans at checkout time, it’s about sticking to your workout routine. Further, it gets users are thinking about City Sports every day, not just when they shop.

Take-away: Games that are easy to beat aren’t any fun. People want challenges and they feel good when they overcome them. SCVNGR will appeal to more users when it can offer this experience.

Motivation 3: Competition is fun

Scrabulous is fun because you can challenge your friends to a game and play with them throughout the day or week in semi-realtime (the topic of my senior thesis). It’s casual, it’s fun, and it’s great for trash talk on Friday night.

SCVNGR does not facilitate this type of direct competition. I can see what badges my friends have and their recent activity, but that’s not competition. Building in clearly defined head-to-head competitions though, now that could inspire some participation.

  • Example: “Jason has challenged you to Spot a Yankee! For the next 2 days on your commute and out at the bars snap a picture of every Yankee’s fan you see. Caps are 1 point, Jerseys 3 points. Winner gets bragging rights, and the coveted “Yankee Safari” badge.” 

Take-away: Competition can happen in many different ways, and it should be challenging, too. Some groups of friends actually build their relationships based around this dynamic (see Fantast Football).

Conclusion: It’s not my intension to speak poorly of SCVNGR, just the opposite. They have created an amazing platform that provides a lot of value to both businesses and users alike. What’s more impressive is the huge amount of potential that still lies within the basic concept of SCVNGR.



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One response to “SCVNGR: The “Game Layer” Needs More Game

  • A letter to the Chief Ninja « Wicked Good Planning

    […] Here’s an example of what I mean. After overcoming any obstacle, how good you feel is inversely proportional to the likelihood of success. The harder the challenge, the bigger the rush when you finally achieve success. This emotional core is absent from SCVNGR’s game dynamic. Tap into this, and you’ll be giving people a compelling reason to play (read more). […]

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