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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Home Shopping Network Gamifies. Who Else Should Be?

That HSN is gamifying is smart. From the Wall Street Journal:

The new feature, called HSN Arcade, will pair 25 games like Sodoku and Mahjongg with a live stream of HSN's main television channel.
The move highlights how retailers' aggressive push online is putting them in competition not only with established e-commerce outfits, but also with other demands on Internet users' time.
Both HSN and online games are popular with middle-aged women. "There is a ton of overlap there," says Jill Braff, HSN's executive vice president of digital commerce.

HSN, a hybrid of a media company and a retailer, is hoping the games will keep customers on the site longer and expose them to more products. "There is quite a bit of commerce we can drive for this," Ms. Braff said.

Users of the HSN Arcade will play a game on about two-thirds of the screen, with the remaining space dedicated to a high-definition live stream of the company's primary television channel, featuring items for sale. The site also prominently features links to the most recent products to appear on air.

The television channel has a sizable online audience already, with 2.4 million unique visitors last month, according to comScore. Last year, HSN sales increased 5% to top $2.1 billion, with one-third of that coming from online customers.

This is all about engagement, keeping eyeballs in a digital universe where distractions -- cable, iPad, gadgets, social media, texting -- are everywhere. This is why this blogger believes that the traditional television ad is toast. It was inevitable. In March, I wrote that publishers should not dismiss gamification as out of hand for emediavitals, saying:

After all, if legacy media has crossword puzzles and Sudoku as engaging time wasters, then how far-fetched is social gaming? Clearly gamification has a high sticky quotient, encouraging greater user engagement. Not a bad thing, that. Add a well-executed social component, which builds an even greater motivation around achievements, and you could conceivably have a very attractive app.

Why is it that I believe that widespread gamification is inevitable? If Zynga has proved anything it is that simple, time wasting games are engaging. Add a social element and you have a very powerful tool for your platform to increase engagement. "Social gaming has a business model," Jonathan Miller, NewsCorp's head of digital media, told the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. "People who play Farmville actually spend money to buy virtual food or whatever it may be for their pig. Most people don't but enough do so that its a real business."

Sodoku and Mahjongg are all well and good, but if an media organization that could tailor these games -- organicize them -- they could be a brand enhancing proposition. Here are two examples of media brands that could increase online engagement by organically incorporating social gaming:

The Huffington Post. HuffPo already has a brilliant platform -- always improving -- and a playful style that attracts a rabid leftish and presumably young following. Colbert and Stewart, also playful and progressive, would probably eschew the morality of any kind gamification getting in the way of their content. Something, however, tells me Arianna and AOL are not "above" such additions to their platform.

Sarah Palin and President Obama have already made cameos in video games. From ESPN:

Throughout the history of the "NBA Jam" franchise, some of the most popular players in the game weren't players at all, but hidden characters from politics and pop culture like Bill Clinton, DJ Jazzy Jeff and even George Clinton.

EA Sports' new "NBA Jam" game for the Wii is about to top them all, however, as in addition to a hidden team of Beastie Boys, there is an unlockable team of Democrats, featuring President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore, as well as a team of Republicans that includes George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, John McCain and Dick Cheney.

I caught up with Trey Smith, creative director of "NBA Jam," to get all the dirt on the hidden politicians and various other secret characters in the game.
Only thing Smith wouldn't reveal is how to actually unlock them as EA Sports is being tight lipped on the codes (for now). But if you ask me, it probably has something to do with pressing right or left for the specific political party you want to play as.

"Barack Obama vs. Sarah Palin, in a little world that I can control completely like a maniacal fanboy puppet master?" writes a Daily Kos reader. "Yes please." Are you listening, Arianna?

HBO. Dear Jeff Bewkes: Please "Gamify" Game of Thrones (if you do it will possibly irk Reed Hastings). I can't wait for these kingdom's to go to war already, and while I appreciate the thoughtful exposition of the plot ...*sigh*

Off the top of my head, I cannot imagine anything more open to gamification than HBO's sanguinary epics (HBO's Rome -- at the time the most expensive series ever -- would have been an AMAZING game). They already have, content wise, as much sex and violence as a videogame. And this blogger doesn't see why -- particularly considering their well executed HBO Go strategy (over a million downloads in its first few weeks) -- shouldn't be "gaming" Game of Thrones even Boardwalk Empire.

While not allow gamers to war while waiting for the plot to unfold and the dysfunctional clans -- the Lannister's, the noble Stark's, the Dothraki barbarian warlords -- to do it dramatically on screen in their own sweet time.

And these are only two examples of creative social gamification. Jimmy Kimmel's demographic would probably love a social gaming element to the program. NPR and the New York Times haven't even scratched the surface of what they could be doing with Will Shortz on Weekend Edition.  Even Antiques Roadshow on PBS -- which my mom loves to watch -- could use an interactive element where viewers could online guess the prices of the items.

The sky's the limit.

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