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The game of life and how commerce is influenced by play

Choose sounds, press 19, 65, nine, then 17 and you’ll hear a chime. Hold ‘B’ and press ‘Start’ then hold ‘X’ and press ‘Start‘.

This is the cheat code to choose any level on the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 game. Press a few buttons and a whole new universe opens up to you.

It’s all about buttons and keys. People enjoy the challenge to their dexterity and the risk/ reward payoff of a game while the computer does the hard work behind the scenes. Funnily enough, our relationship with commerce, product development and marketing is going much the same way.

Why? Games are fun. Playing is fun. Playing a game and winning brings a warm, empowering feeling of success. And people like that feeling.

When we’re trying to sell something, we often talk about creating emotional bonds, meaningful relationships and positive vibes. All these things happen when someone feels that they’re winning.

In sales strategy, many standard methodologies can be related to a winning feeling – price anchoring, scratch cards, even the Weber-Fechner law related particularly to price reductions for products and services. The law hypothesises that a saving of approximately 10% is the average point where customers are moved to action – to make the purchase. This is therefore the time when the majority feel they are winning.

In campaign terms, ‘play’ and ‘win’ are terms that litter the campaign review pages of this very publication every week. Brands have taken this even further within their product marketing, my favourite recent example being Doritos with its Doritos Roulette product. Its claim that in every handful you run the risk of eating a Tabasco flavoured chip is enough to make Christopher Walken wince.

It looks like you can now turn anything into a game.

Employing the notion of playing a game therefore enhancing your ‘win’ is a long standing loyalty and retention device too. For the past 30 years McDonald’s has famously and successfully recycled its Monopoly promotion – and the numbers are undoubtedly significant.

Sales promotion as a channel almost exclusively employs game devices – BOGOF, scratch & win, mystery prize, lucky dip – think of a fun fair game and chances are it’s been utilised by brands at one time or other.

The game mechanics are getting tired – but that’s no reason for consumers to change their behaviour. Marketers need to find new and exciting ways to gamify their sales funnels and conversion pipelines. One obvious innovatory port of call is the world of computer and mobile games.

Beyond the channel marketing mechanics, game play is also how we frequently oversee product creation, marketing and distribution. The concept of push button manipulation is also now commonplace in the way we track, evaluate and optimise not only campaigns but product production too.

The world of commerce is becoming increasingly game-like with people handling the controls.

Don’t believe me? Let’s have a look at the trending tools of the day. From the birth of a product (let’s use a pair of sunglasses as an example) until it arrives in the hands of a consumer the world of commerce is becoming increasingly game-like with people handling the controls in the form of a keyboard and a mouse.

A.I. – through artificial intelligence, manufacturers are enabled with one button to scope out the global market for sunglasses, track current and future trends, source materials and design its first pair of ‘Ray Bots’. The computer needs switching on and programming, in the short term at least, and human oversight to make sure your laptop hasn’t self actualised and renamed itself Cyberdyne Systems while you’ve been making a cup of tea.

You, the manipulator can sit back and watch the product take shape.

3D printing – you (or more likely in the future the AI programme you developed) feeds in a CAD drawing. Already eyewear manufacturer Mykita uses 3D printing technology for its Mylon collection. The company started working with polyamides as far back as 2007 using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering).

Marketing – This part of the game is computer driven already. Programmatic and automatic attribution modelling defines marketing strategy and spending for a great proportion of the FTSE 100.

Distribution – Your weekly grocery shop online is already using machine learning to forecast behaviour through trends to predict repeat grocery orders, which can be smart enough to adapt to your behavior. Plugged into your calendar it can even adapt to your habits. The mother of machine learning for sales and distribution is Amazon. The Bezos behemoth tends to be pretty good at such things and already knows more about your buying preferences than you ever will. In fact, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t already have an algorithm in testing that knew your future purchasing to such a degree of certainty that it could charge your card, mail out the products you need and wait for you to return anything you didn’t want. And the return percentage would be nominal, too. Plus, drones.

Evaluation – From Facebook to Feefo, everything and anything can be evaluated and reviewed in seconds. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to plug this feedback back into the original AI network and update the product dimensions, colour or volume accordingly. By this stage you barely need to press the buttons – the game is playing itself.

What started as fun is now embedded in not only our social behaviors but also the methods with which the business world creates dollars from raw materials. The intuitive design of game play, the human nature around the desire to win and the shared parallels between playing a game and manipulating tools, machines and people have blurred the lines between what was once fun and what is now serious business.

This game is getting out of hand – and if the machines get much more advanced then you and I might end up being surplus to requirements.

Game over. You lose. Thanks for playing.

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