Thursday, May 24, 2012

(empo-plaaybizz) When you cannot play the game

Taking the lead from others, I've spent some time on this blog discussing how gaming mechanics can contribute to business. When a business introduces game mechanics, this gives certain people an incentive to buy additional products and services from the business. And I'm not just talking about Zynga; there are a number of companies that offer badges or points or things that you can earn by buying stuff or doing stuff that benefits the business in question.

But what when the game is broken, and the incentive is lost?

I'm not going to name the company, but its name rhymes with "bartrucks." This company offers a rewards program in which you can earn benefits as your purchases from the company are tracked. The company also offers smartphone apps which facilitate purchases - if you register a gift card with the company, you can use the app to use your smartphone to make purchases which are subtracted from the gift card.

For the last few months, I've been using the "bartrucks" gift card to track my purchases, and when I recently acquired a smartphone again, I began using the "bartrucks" Android app to make my purchases. To do this, I start the app, see how much credit I have on my gift card, and then press a button that reveals a barcode that the "bartrucks" employee scans to complete my purchase. I can then go to another tab on the app and see how I'm doing on earning my rewards.


About a week or two ago, I went to look at my rewards, and I got a message saying that reward information was unavailable and to try again later. I tried a little while later, and still couldn't get my reward information. A day or two later rewards data was available again, but it really put a damper on the game when you didn't know your score.

But a few days ago it turned more serious. As I mentioned, the app allows you to see your gift card balance and make a purchase; after the purchase is made, your gift card balance is immediately updated.


Over the weekend my wife and I walked into our local "bartrucks," each armed with our smartphones. (We are a smart family.) In turn, each of us walked up to the person behind the counter - I won't reveal what they're called, but it rhymes with "turista" (whoops, forget that) - and made our purchases.

After I made my purchase, I noticed that my displayed gift card balance wasn't updated. The same thing happened to my wife, so we both checked with the "turista" who confirmed that our purchases went through.

But I didn't know how much value I really had on my card.

At the same time, there was an outage on the rewards side of the app - another of those "reward information is unavailable" messages.

So now I don't know how I'm doing on my reward level, and I don't know how much money I have to make purchases. And because the amount of my purchase was almost as much as my gift card balance itself, I didn't know whether I even had enough money to buy one of the tiny products that "bartrucks" sells, much less one of their larger products.

So what happens when you don't know your score, and you don't know how much time is left on the clock?

You take a time-out. Don't play. Don't buy anything.

Thankfully, that outage cleared up a few days later.

But the game is certainly less fun when you can't play.
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