What Can Video Game Design Teach Marketers?

By sethmsparks

It’s more than the gamification buzz that’s been thrown around.

I’m a total nerd. It took me a long time to realize how big of a nerd I really am though. In high school, I was friends with people that played sports (when I did not). Being friends with “jocks” clouded my self-assessment accuracy, and drowned out all of the Pokemon I watched which would have normally allowed me to easily establish my nerditude. I also spent a lot of time playing video games, both with friends and alone. Video games offered a source of connection and camaraderie with jocks that I couldn’t fake on the court/field/pitch, and an escape into a more heroic self when I was alone.

College was a lot of the same. Other than my roommate, I didn’t socialize much. I spent most of my time studying, learning how to film and edit video, learning to do a little bit of coding, and re-watching movies pursuant to my film criticism courses. All of that learning led me down the marketing/communications route, which I fell in love with. Marketing, coupled with my new found interest in criticism of movies (and in turn everything else I encountered) let me down the road of looking at all of those video games I’d played differently.

Fast forward a dozen years, and here I am. Sucked down a flooded rabbit hole of marketing, drowning in buzzwords and phrases preaching “starting with why”, “building the customer life-cycle experience journey round”, and “content and context and con-queso are kings”. As I’ve struggled to parse together the thought-leadership from a million different and disconnected applications of modern marketing theology, I think I’ve found a group of disciplined professionals building a framework for what modern marketers are trying to say.

That group of unwitting pioneers is video game designers. Game design is a complicated thing, grounded tightly in behavioral psychology. That obviously closely aligns it with marketing as a discipline, but game designers have been testing and perfecting their craft differently than marketers for the last 30 years. To that end, I think we have a lot to learn. And while I’m obviously not a video game designer, I feel confident enough that my understanding of the concepts will allow me to make the connections over to a marketing application far better than the standard analogy post we’d usually get from the idea.

I’ve spent some time researching and dissecting this already with the intention of putting together a blog post. Unfortunately, I’m already well over 5k words and feel like I could finish with 3x that. So, I’ve decided to turn it into a (small) book. I know nothing about writing a book, or getting it edited. I only know how to put words down on “paper”. So that’s where I’m starting. I’m excited about how it’s making me think differently, and I can’t wait to keep working on it.  I’ll keep you posted.