Reflections on developing branded gamified learning experiences
In recent years we have had the privilage of partnering with several brands such as Kotex (link), Google (link) and IBM (link) on branded and gamified learning experiences. With this expression we are referring to (digital) games aimed at teaching something to a defined group of people and clearly labelled as being financed by a private actor, such as a brand or a corporation.
When done well, branded learning experiences are able not only to drive brand awareness but also to show a brand’s tangible commitment towards a cause. And from a user point of view, gamified learning techniques seem to have a positive influence on the motivation to learn and the retention of the learned content (sources here and here).
What have we learned from working on these kinds of initiatives and what advice can we give to brands looking to undertake the same path? Read on to find out.
1. Have a long term timeframe: we recommend a total time (between production and live time) of at least 8 to 10 months, even better if longer. When your learning experience is effective, single students or entire schools might want to use it and it might be a pity to make that experience unavailable once someone is counting on it. Also, updating a game to make it its best possible version require testing, fine tuning and ultimately time. You might even have to considerably expand your time horizon, Google Interland was supposed to be live for a few months, but we are at 6 years, 30+ supported languages… and counting!
2. Adopt a product mindset: given the longer timeframe, it helps to adopt a product over a campaign mindset. Start by defining a core set of features for a minimum viable (or lovable) product in order to have an idea of the total investment needed, but then be open to a more adaptable and iterative process that pursues outcomes (such as a certain learning or feeling) over the production of a feature (for example producing a platformer game). An important part of a product mindset is also to test soon and test often with real end users. This is to ensure that the experience is enjoyable and the learning actually happens. For Google Interland for example, our team completely re-designed the Tower of Treasures minigame after observing opportunities for improvement during user testing.
3. Co-create with teachers and game designers: this might sound totally obvious, but since you are making a game finalised at learning why not putting around the same table (virtual or irl) the two groups of people that might have the most relevant ideas and experience? In a workshop you can deepdive in the learning outcomes you want to achieve and start ideating around different game mechanics that are most suitable for them. If your game is not aimed at school students, you can substitute teachers with the people who are currently providing the learning, or anyone that will help you to understand more of the context in which your end users are learning today, how they are currently doing it (and the challenges you should take into account).
4. Put end users in front of your brand: even if you might be under pressure for showing your stakeholders results to justify the investment, the focus should remain what a user should be learning and why. What is more, users are aware of promotional content and they will leave the experience if it is too centered on conversion. Our advice is to clearly label the experience as branded and sprinkle it with some references to your brand, but do not lock results behind data collection and resist the urge to place big logos everywhere possible 😉. Finally, consider adding qualitative KPIs to your definition of success because the biggest difference you are making might not be one that can be measured through Google Analytics.
5. The game is not necessarily the full journey: wouldn’t it be fantastic if one game could achieve every learning in your curriculum? Maybe so, but such game could also be too long to complete or too expensive to produce and update. Try to prioritise the most important learnings and to experiment and test what is achievable by the game: what is the level of complexity and what are the game mechanics that fit your target audience? What learnings can comfortably find place inside a game and which are more suited to another form of learning? For example, both our Interland and our Period Planet branded learnings were accompanied by an online PDF curriculum aimed at reinforcing and deepening the learning.
Have you been part of a branded gamified experience and wish to add your wisdom to this article? Add your reflections in the comments below!