Everyone has a role to play in this never ending story

Brands from every sector are paying close attention to gamification – the latest way of giving content a life beyond its original form, says Ruth Mortimer.

Imagine a magical world in which your content never dies, its profit-making ability never comes to an end and no book, film or marketing content ever reaches a final conclusion. Instead, the characters and messages inside live on forever for your customers.

Pottermore, announced last week by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, is a good example of that fantastical world made real. It is a free-to-use digital content ’universe’ incorporating personalised storylines tailored to its users, games and merchandise, backed by Sony. It appears that seven books and eight films are not enough content for Rowling and the Harry Potter brand has more space to grow.

In the words of Rowling: “Pottermore is a way for the creativity to live on and a way for me to be creative on a platform that did not exist when I started writing the books.”

While Rowling may be in it for the creativity, her business partners such as Sony clearly see the commercial benefits of never allowing a story to finish. And they aren’t the only ones using digital techniques to create never-ending content repositories. The ’gamification’ of books, films and even adverts means that brands from Disney to Kellogg are repurposing their intellectual property to have a life beyond its initial form.

To paraphrase influential game developer and entertainment producer Kevin Slavin, what’s different about games from conventional media is that whatever you watch passively is going to be less valuable to you tomorrow as you’ve seen it already. But a game like chess is way more interesting the tenth time you play it than the first.

It’s a long way from Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean. Most gamification isn’t about creating games, it’s about using the fun techniques of gaming to get things done

Disney has been working on gamification of its content for some years. Gamification, if you aren’t familiar with the term, means bringing gaming techniques to other forms of content to give it new life. In Disney’s case, this means that consumers do not have to rely on the release of a new Pirates of the Caribbean film to interact with that story. There is a giant virtual world or massively multiplayer online role-playing game where people can take the character’s tales into new places.

The great thing about gamification is that it is not only being used to breathe new life into character-based content like Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean. When we talk about content, it isn’t just entertainment that this trend has an impact on. It is just as or even more relevant for content such as marketing messages and customer data.

Take consumer goods brand Kellogg. It is hoping that its launch next month of a mobile app featuring a character called the Krave Krusader will keep shoppers interested in its cereal brand Krave outside the supermarket. It is giving the brand an existence and character beyond ads or packaging. While the Krave Krusader gamification is relatively small scale at the moment, it is a sign that mainstream companies are already acting to give their marketing content extra life.

Meanwhile, Finland’s National Library is using the technique to get consumers to help it digitise its enormous archives. By using a specially designed word-play game involving cartoon moles crossing a bridge, users can match and sort words for the library’s archive. It has taken a data content project and made it attractive to consumers through gamification.

Marketing group WPP predicts it will be the less obviously sexy area of data content that will actually be the biggest beneficiary of gamification in future, with sectors such as finance and travel seeing a boost. It’s a long way from Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean. Most gamification isn’t about creating games, it’s about using the fun techniques of gaming to get things done.

Continuing the data content theme, futurist Garry Golden says the energy sector will increasingly use its customer information with gaming mechanics to allow users to understand more about their consumption. This should eventually allow people to become smarter about their energy use without confusing them horribly or boring them to death. The San Diego Gas &; Electric officials in the US are already working on a pilot in this area with Google.

Ford, too, is working on using data content in this way. The car company is planning to help customers using the brand’s electric cars through a game-style electronic dashboard where people can access tips about how to drive efficiently. Further game mechanics will be used to reward customers with fun features at various points for their efficiency-related achievements such as saving CO2.

So with all these varying businesses from entertainment to automobiles using gamification to attract consumers, should you? A note of caution if you are thinking this is just about sticking a little game on your website or developing a fun app. Gamification of your content is about making what you already have more useful or approachable for customers. It is about keeping content of all sorts working harder for you than it was a year ago.

With that in mind, I’m hoping that when we finally get to play around on Pottermore when it launches in October, it offers an extra element to the Harry Potter experience rather than just a place to sell more wizarding merchandise. It sounds promising: JK Rowling has allegedly already written another 18,000 words of storyline about her characters, ready to be brought to life in this non-book, non-film form. If done well, it really could be magic.