Playing Games with Customers

Entrepreneurship and Networking
10 Minute Read
October 4, 2021

We all know that computer gaming is big business. Companies like Sony and Electronic Arts are making pots of money selling gaming software and the hardware to play it. But a growing number of executives are looking for ways to marry the public’s love of gaming with their companies’ strategic objectives. In fact, some companies—Chrysler, Coca-Cola, and the U.S. Army, to name a few—have begun to add games to their marketing, training, and recruiting tool kits. While it’s too early to get an accurate ROI, the data thus far are encouraging.

Car companies have found that simple on-line games can be a powerful way to promote vehicles. When Jeep launched its Wrangler Rubicon, for instance, it put on its Web site a special demo version of a retail game featuring the new car. Fourteen percent of the initial orders came from people who had registered for the game. Last year, when Chrysler wanted to increase its brand awareness among women ages 34 to 49, it launched a travel-themed personality test. Called Get Up and Go, it followed the popular “Cosmo Quiz” format. Chrysler and Wyndham Resorts e-mailed the game to their mailing lists, and each company put links to Get Up and Go on its Web site.

After they answered the 21 questions, players were matched to a travel personality (beach bum, city slicker, and so forth) and a corresponding Chrysler vehicle. They were then encouraged to invite friends to play in order to assess travel compatibilities. On average, players spent 7.6 minutes with the game—and 32% kept playing for ten to 20 minutes—compared with the 30 seconds people generally spend looking at a television ad. What’s more, 15% of the players ended up requesting vehicle brochures, compared with less than 1% of overall Web site visitors. And 22% of players sent e-mails inviting friends to play; 66% of the e-mail recipients opened the messages—far exceeding the industry average of less than 40% open rates for other types of e-mail direct marketing. Along the way, Chrysler collected the players’ e-mail addresses and some demographic information while intermittently displaying information about the company’s cars during play.

As Chrysler’s story suggests, gaming may have some advantages over traditional marketing. It can hold a consumer’s attention longer than advertising can; it often gives the company a way to collect customer data, such as names, addresses, and buying preferences and history; and it’s relatively inexpensive to execute. Putting a sales message in an entertainment wrapper allows an organization to not only project an image about its products but also to engage in dialogue with its consumers. And that can produce all kinds of useful information. A Nike game, for instance, explored what colors kids like to wear; Ford of Canada discovered what automotive features parents were looking for; and CRM services company, Roundarch, developed a game aimed at corporate executives so that it could learn what kinds of customer service challenges they were facing.

As for training, studies have shown that employees learn and retain more from interactive games than they do from the one-way delivery of information. What’s more, companies that rely on third-party resellers and distributors can’t necessarily mandate training for these nonemployees—but they can sometimes entice them to learn by offering the information inside entertaining games.

Chrysler uses an on-line game to help train Jeep and Dodge dealers on the nuances of different four-wheel-drive systems. Players learn by assembling drive-train components in a virtual motor pool and then applying that knowledge in a simulated driving experience through a variety of environments. Preliminary results show a ten-times better retention rate from playing the game than from reading a manual.

When it comes to using games for recruiting, the organization to watch is the U.S. Army. It recently spent more than $7 million on a suite of games to support the increasingly difficult task of signing on 120,000 new soldiers each year. The first game, America’s Army: Operations, was distributed on CD-ROMs inserted in gaming magazines and handed out at recruiting events. The army also made the game available on its Web site.

In the first six months after the game was launched on July 4, 2002, more than 1.2 million people registered, playing nearly 55 million game missions for an average of ten minutes each, and 758,584 completed the game’s basic-training component. Before the launch, the army’s recruiting Web site logged 30,000 hits per day; after launch, that number rose to half a million. Commercial organizations like Siemens are now following the army’s lead by incorporating games into their recruiting efforts.

Photo by Jippe Joosten on Unsplash

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