Customer Engagement: Lessons from Video Games

March 1, 2016 | Joan Jasak

animated hand wearing ring with Sitecore logoIs my website engaging? What data are relevant? And what is “engagement” anyway?

Measuring digital engagement is no easy task. To tackle the topic, we broke out our analysis of engagement into three parts. In this, the final blog post on the topic, we will look at how engagement is defined in a parallel digital industry—video games—and examine how that applies to the development of Web products. Before that, let’s remind ourselves what we learned in the first two posts.

We first considered how tools like Google Analytics provide digital marketers with inchoate data such as bounce rates and device categories but not the means to interpret that data in a meaningful way.

Next, we looked at Sitecore’s solution to the Google Analytics what-but-not-why problem that’s inherent in data science. Using a (rather playful) customer engagement model, the Customer Experience Platform asks marketers to assign a score or engagement value to a conversion action, like signing up for a newsletter or submitting a form, based on how important the action is in relation to broader strategic goals. Marketers are then able to measure engagement in terms of the total, additive value of these conversion actions. When combined with a methodical approach to testing and iteration, the result is that it’s possible to move a site from less engaging (qua conversion value) to more engaging.

Now that we’ve examined why measuring engagement is difficult, as well as some better and worse ways to do it, let’s conclude our series on digital engagement more broadly by discussing what it is exactly. To do this let’s consider how customer engagement is defined in a parallel digital industry—video games. Like Web, the games industry depends on customer engagement for its revenue, and therefore, an analysis of engagement in games may lead us Web developers and marketers to some important insights.

Colloquially, something is engaging if it’s pleasing or appealing. We might further define it in a business context in terms of relevancy or usefulness. Sitecore’s Jill Grozalsky, for example, defines engagement as “conversion potential” or the potential of an action to be appealing enough to a user to complete that action (i.e. to convert). How is engagement understood in the video game industry?

One popular engagement model in games comes from Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work on Flow. The “psychology of optimal experience,” or Flow, is total immersion in a task. Also described as “being in the zone,” Flow is as much an emotional state as a cognitive one. By experiencing neither anxiety nor boredom, one is able to concentrate (without getting distracted) by losing oneself in the activity at hand, and this results in an experience that is self-motivating.

Games designers want their players to keep playing; designing an engaging flow experience, as it’s called, is certainly one way to do that. (Here at TBG, we created our own video game as a holiday card.) Csíkszentmihályi defines two conditions that must be met in order to produce a flow experience; namely, there must be a balance between the challenge level of a task and the user’s skill level. Flow happens in between an activity being too hard (and thus causing anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

chart of emotions and colors

The iconic flow diagram by Csíkszentmihályi (Finding Flow, 1997).

This model is relevant to Web design and development because the flow experience of a game is not unlike the flow experience of a website. For example, one way to think about a digital product like a video game—which is a continuous feedback loop between the (programmed) actions of a system and the actions of a user—is as thousands of rapid-fire conversions. In fact, the popular free-to-play business model that is used in games like Candy Crush Saga, FarmVille and Clash of Clans creates revenue by monetizing the flow experience of play. By parsing the gameplay into compartmentalized bits, designers monetize these moments—micro-conversions if you will—by relying on the psychologically compelling nature of Flow. We don’t want to stop the flow experience, so we pay to keep having it. From the vantage point of a Web product, each monetizable “bit” of gameplay is a conversion action.

In this sense, a website can be seen as a very slow, very long video game. Each conversion action, which is part and parcel of a larger strategic goal, can be designed to optimize an effective flow experience. Filling out a form online is a conversion that can be either anxiety inducing (say it has a time limit or that the user’s data doesn’t persist) or boring (convoluted or excessively long). Either experience can cause attrition—and failed conversions. The flow experience model is therefore helpful to keep in mind whether one is designing (and measuring) engagement on a video game or a website. 

About the Author

Joan J.
Joan Jasak

I’m a Senior Digital Strategist & UX Architect at TBG. On my bucket list is to see a soccer game in each big European league.

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