News sites reward readers by getting in on the game

Google News, The Huffington Post, and TechCrunch have added badges and points to reward their audience for reading particular stories.

In the news
Google News, The Huffington Post, and TechCrunch have added badges and points to reward their audience for reading particular stories.

Why does it matter?
Gamification - the inclusion of game mechanics in non-game settings - is a current marketing buzzword, with supporters suggesting that over the next decade game dynamics will play a growing role in virtually everything we do, especially online.

Adding badges and points might work better for entertainment sites than news, but Ian Bogost, digital media professor at Georgia Tech and author of Newsgames, suggests the problem isn't that gamification could taint traditional news presentation, but that it will be seen as a panacea for all that ails journalism.

"The assumption that news gamification makes is that everything is OK, you just want tools that can squeeze a bit more attention out of your product," he adds. "But there is a danger in that it just defers the problem until the next big trend comes along."

Right now, adding a badge or game-like incentive to one story over another seems to be just another part of the editorial process. Mike Farber, GM of LaunchSquad Boston, says this won't impact how news is gathered, but notes that on- line news is competing for an audience and must look at tools that can increase stickiness. "Game dynamics cost nothing to experiment with," he notes. "From a demographic perspective, younger audiences will be the ones most engaged by this."

As more news sites begin adding game-like features, Farber says PR pros should pay attention. "It's another arrow in the research quiver, though it ultimately comes down to the quality of the pitch and the story you're able to present," he adds.

Key facts
1. M2 Research estimates that gamification projects will generate $1.6 billion in revenues by 2015.

2. Google News said it already offers more than 500 different types of badges to readers since the launch of its gamification program in July.

3. The Gartner Group estimates that by 2015 50% of US companies will add some form of gamification as tools to boost morale, cooperation, and productivity.

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