I’m always on the lookout for inspiration, and not too long ago I found it in a pretty unexpected place: a frozen yogurt shop in Washington, D.C.
But before we talk fro-yo, let me back up for a second.
The casino industry is constantly looking for ways to enhance the customer experience. We tweak the smells in the air, the placement of couches, the color of the signs, the background music and more. The casino floor is the lifeblood of most properties, so machines and tables are carefully moved around and A/B tested as we aim to create the perfect environment for our businesses to thrive.
And yet, the game experiences we offer tend to be narrowly focused on the same proven formula: players go to the casino floor to play variations on slot machines, wheel spins, card games and the like. That’s starting to change a bit as skill-based gaming ideas gain more traction, but those ideas are still a long way from widespread implementation.
What if there was a different way for us to use games; an approach that could generate far more revenue for us, create competitive advantages, and delight our players in the process?
Which brings me back to frozen yogurt.
Most yogurt shops are the same, right? You get an oversized cup, dispense your soft serve, add your toppings, weigh and pay. They all seem to have the same tasting thimbles, the same standard flavors and the same array of decadent toppings.
And then there’s Mr. Yogato near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. When you go to pay at Mr. Yogato, the cashier asks if you want to try your luck with a trivia question. Get it right for 10 percent off your bill. Get it wrong…and 10 percent is added.
Answering a trivia question is just one of the myriad ways you can get a discount, including putting a Yogato stamp on your head, wearing a kickball uniform, or reciting the battlefield speech from Braveheart. Looking at their online reviews reveals what people think: “I love this place!” and “This place is great!” are common refrains.
This is the world of gamification.
Gamification—the use of game mechanics in contexts outside of thegames themselves—is revolutionizing how companies motivate their customers and employees. Changing behavior through games is a proven, fast-growing trend across dozens of industries.
There are dozens in the HR space alone, such as Rocketrip, which motivates employees to spend less on travel by giving them back a portion of what they can save.
In the health arena there’s Fitbit, maker of fitness-tracking bracelets, a multi-billion-dollar company that turned walking into a game to get people exercising.
One of my favorite examples comes from Smart, the car manufacturer. To convince more pedestrians to wait at the crosswalk for the walk signal instead of darting across early, they created a digital dancing figure that dances to music while people wait. (Check out the video, which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB_0vRnkeOk.)
The result? The Dancing Traffic Light led 81 percent more pedestrians to wait for the green light.
But as gamification spreads, there’s one industry that’s strangely stayed mostly on the sidelines of this trend: casinos. Our industry, more than any other, depends on people who love playing games. People visit casinos when they want to have fun, yet why aren’t more casinos getting creative with bringing these types of gamification experiences to interactions throughout the property? Why aren’t there game-like experiences at the steakhouse? At the hotel check-in desk? At the spa? In the restaurants? In e-mails? In TV ads?
One casino executive I spoke to about this told me: “Aron, our players only want to play games on the casino floor, not anywhere else.”
“Really?” I said. “What about the games they play with their friends? Or with their kids? Or on their phones?” When I asked if he had ever tried introducing games elsewhere, he admitted that he hadn’t… it was just a hunch.
That hunch has been proven wrong again and again in casinos around the world that are giving gamification a try.
Imagine if you could make waiting in line or getting an e-mail blast as much fun as throwing dice. Well, you can. And doing so leads to surprisingly strong financial returns. Strategically deploying games at key decision points attracts more people to the casino, drives more loyalty sign-ups and boosts spend per visit. I know because I’ve seen it work again and again—it’s the focus of my current company.
For example, one casino we worked with put games at the check-in desk at their hotel. Guests who agreed to upgrade their room or join the loyalty program qualified to play a game to potentially win their stay for free. Most of the rewards given weren’t for a free stay; they were for discounts on future visits or at other parts of the property. The result? The casino hotel had its best month ever for paid room upgrades, an extremely strong month for loyalty signups, and it saw its hotel offer redemption rate double.
Another casino inserted games into their e-mail campaigns. Rather than just offering a discount, they invited players to play a game embedded in the e-mail to win their reward. These gamified e-mail campaigns have achieved open rates above 50 percent, almost unheard of in e-mail campaigns.
Another team used games to revolutionize their traditional billboard advertising. They replaced paper ads of smiling people in front of slot machines with actual interactive games on iPads and digital signage that could be played at the airport, mall and other spots where they had advertising partnerships. These free-to-play games in public places brought a flavor of the casino into the outside world, and people were awarded discounts that could only be redeemed at the property. Again, excellent results.
One final example: another group used games to motivate their staff. Each night, the server who served the most drinks that night got to play for a prize. Housekeepers who cleaned their 500th room got to play a game for a thank-you reward. Employees who convinced another person to join the players club got a chance to win something, too.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Incorporating games throughout the casino’s operation benefits everyone involved. Our customers (and many of our employees) are a self-selected group of people who genuinely want to be around games. Let’s give them what they want. Let’s bring game experiences to everything we do.