Gamification — using game-like features in non-game applications — is paying off for brands.
NBC Universal’s USA Network found that it could double the engagement on its Psych TV show web site with a game-like competition. Jesse Redniss, vice president for digital at USA Network, said in a talk at the Gamification Summit today that game-like reward programs generated a 130 percent increase in page views for the network’s Psych show and a 40 percent increase in return visits. That adds up to a decent financial pay off.
While gamification is a fledgling industry, the early results from players such as USA Network will likely inspire even more brands to start using game mechanics and games themselves to keep users more engaged.
Redniss said his network figured out five years ago that the demographics of online casual game fans matched pretty well with those of USA Network, which is the largest network on basic cable TV.
A few years ago, the company started adding online games, and it now has more than 75 of them in the Character Arcade section of its web site. The games have driven engagement upward from 4 minutes per session spent on the site to as high as 28 minutes now, depending on the show. One game based on the Monk show has been played more than 13 million times.
“We wanted to find users who wanted to engage with the brand beyond the show,” Redniss said.
USA Network has also integrated Bunchball’s system for adding achievements and rewards for loyal site visitors. As soon as USA Network launched Bunchball’s Nitro system, it grew its Character Arcade registered users from 400,000 to 1 million. Now there are 3 million monthly unique visitors on the overall USANetwork.com web site.
Advertisers have taken notice, not just because of a growth in page views but because of the increase in engagement. Companies such as Ford and Toyota have asked USA Network to create custom games around their products.
The Character Arcade and its gamified reward system current drive about 50 percent of overall referral traffic to the core web site. Players experience the brand through the games and then become show fans, Redniss said.
The company’s Psych show is a case in point. The show has 1.3 million fans in a key demographic, ages 18 to 49, and about 53 percent of them are female. It’s the top basic cable program on Wednesday nights for people ages 18 to 49.
The Psych section of the site, dubbed Club Psych, encourages visitors to become loyal fans with achievements and rewards. The show has 1.5 million Facebook fans and users spend an average of 22.5 minutes on the Psych site. Fans can play games, watch videos and answer trivia questions. If fans share something on the site, they get 200 reward points. If they take a poll, they get 50 points. The challenges are posted on the home page every week; that drives return visits, with 50,000 coming back every day. For every shared piece of content, the fan gets 10 points for every additional fan who shares the content with someone else.
“The more you share, the more you win,” Redniss said.
The Nitro-based reward system for the Psych site shows the leaderboards for who has the most reward points, spurring a natural competition among users. The network offered virtual goods for users with lots of reward points. But the engagement really took off on Sept. 3 when USA Network offered a limited number of real goods — merchandise related to the show — to users in exchange for their reward points. Within a few days, the DVDs, signed posters and other goods ran out.
Redniss said the show’s audience grew significantly during the past season. The network is planning to expand the use of gamification across a number of its other properties as well, Redniss said.