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Investors aren’t just looking to fund game makers, or even new technologies — they are looking ahead to the application of gaming mechanics in people’s real lives, according to the investor panel at today’s Gamesbeat@GDC conference. By making real-life tasks and experiences more like games — adding levels and point or reward earning potential — almost any business can inspire customer loyalty, launch much more engaging marketing campaigns, even change consumer behavior in radical ways, panelists said.

We’re already seeing a bit of this, with companies like Booyah (its MyTown game is pictured above) launching gaming platforms to reward people for achieving their goals — goals as mundane as exercising more or eating healthier. Mobile applications like Foursquare and Gowalla also encourage consumers to go out and spend money in the world by conferring badges, which don’t even have monetary value. Now some vendors, spotting the inherent opportunity, are offering discounts linked to Foursquare, giving mayors discounts and the like.

But these concepts can be taken much further, argues Tim Chang, a principal at Norwest Venture Partners. The idea of letting people “level up” in their lives and consumptions habits, could drive traffic to web sites and retailers alike. For example, if you were to introduce gaming dynamics to business-recommendation site Yelp, he said, you could generate instant engagement and healthy competition among foodies. He suggested that, instead of assigning the title of mayor to just one person, Foursquare should create tiers of fan-dom. If you have the chance to climb the ranks by coming back to a restaurant or bar — or airline for that matter — again and again, you probably will.

“Real life leveling systems can be applied to everything,” Chang said. “If only the music industry had been more aware of this, it might have been able to save itself. Loyalty 2.0 is powered by game mechanics — then you can tap into marketing campaigns, coupons, etc.”

He even took it a step further, claiming that this trend toward game-ification could one day be leveraged to improve public health. If people have the opportunity to earn points for eating healthier — or, alternatively, can be punished for eating junk food — they will probably be more likely to stick to a beneficial nutrition plan. Considering that supermarkets know everything you buy after they scan it, it’s not inconceivable that health insurance costs could one day be connected with food purchases. “People who eat crap should pay more,” Chang said.

There are several market forces pushing the gaming industry closer to this reality. For one, social gaming companies are going to undergo a wave of consolidation, Chang says. In order to stay standing, you need to do something fresh and new that immerses a large audience quickly. Fellow panelist Paul Lee, managing general partner at Vanedge Capital, also noted the evolution of game distribution.

“Companies focused on building just one product will see it pirated broadly throughout the web,” Lee said. This also creates more pressure to release unique concepts that transcend entertainment and impact other areas of players’ lives. The outcome of games is to make players feel good, he noted. They make them want to share content and information with their friends, even if they’re just bragging. This impetus is powerful enough to shape their behavior, he agrees. And now that the average five or ten year old can pick up a game interface almost immediately, there’s a major opportunity to instill these principles early on.

Read all of our coverage from GamesBeat@GDC.

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