Understanding Gamification in APAC

John Brand
Vice President, Advisor
July 23, 2013
Forrester's global analysts have written some great pieces on gamification. In general terms, this research is is just as applicable to the SE Asian markets. However, there are some specific differences within the region that should also be considered. The most important thing to remember is that, while the general principles of gamification definitely hold true within the region, there are still some specific differences that should also be taken into account.
First and foremost, we definitely see the same problems in APAC where a lack of clarity on the desired behaviour encourages game play – for games sake. This is probably the worst outcome of all for gamification initiatives, regardless of where they're deployed. If there's no clear desired behaviour change identified, there's absolutely no valid reason to introduce gamification. The real challenge though is ensuring that the right strategy is selected to achieve the right objectives.
Having said that, here's a few specific things that we do see that are different in the Asia Pacific region. Some of these are specific to specific countries – like Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines or China. However, some are more general issues that apply across the entire region. When operating in APAC, the main thing to remember is that, not all countries should be treated exactly the same. Here's a few key differences that we typically see in APAC relating to the application of gamification:
  • Some competition is public, some is private. Asian cultures can be sensitive about the information they share and the way they are perceived publicly. Some public competitions (like leaderboards) may not work as effectively as private competitions (e.g., un-named groups or even competing against oneself or a technology system may be preferred in many instances over public declarations of success or leadership). This is very much dependent on the topic and the information being shared.
  • Multi-channel integrated gamification is much more powerful in Asia. Due to the high penetration of mobile devices and the different ways mobiles are used throughout Asia, the inclusion of an integrated mobility strategy for gamification is not only suggested, it is almost mandatory. The integration of gamification across channels, including physical channels, is a strong differentiator in Asia. 
  • Low investment or free rewards have greater currency in Asia. Commercial gamification can be challenged in Asia by the "game of free". It's not uncommon to see anything perceived as free (or close to it) as being attractive whether it has real commercial benefit or not. This is also impacted by many of the following observations.  
  • Kudos fails where real rewards succeed. A commonly cited difference in Asia from gamification advisors or consultants is that "kudos" is often not enough to engage consumers. They increasingly need real and hard rewards for investing game play effort. Without the opportunity for real value at the end (like discounts and free offers) they are much less likely to succeed. 
  • Many Asian users value the journey as much, if not more than, the reward. For many Asian users, the idea of gamification is not so much about the competitive rankings, rewards or gameplay. It's just as much about the learnings and the journey. Therefore, many of the objectives and benefits of gamification can be lost when translated from other markets to Asia.
  • The novelty of gamification often lasts longer in Asia. Many case studies show that the same gamification strategies can have a much longer life in Asia than in other global regions. It is far more likely that Asian consumers will persist with gamification once they have been onboarded and become absorbed.
  • Gaming cultures can dilute gamification benefits. Some cultures (for example Chinese) have an inherent proclivity for gaming. This can dilute the effectiveness or require significantly increased investments in the development of gamification strategies. When there is a significant tendency for game play regardless, the novelty and attraction of gamification can either be enhanced or diluted. Careful attention must be paid to understanding the likely perception of gamification and it's implementation based on existing cultural or behavioural traits.  
  • Wording is often more critical in Asia.  In many global markets it's the game play, not the wording that is critical. In Asia, language can have a major impact on the success or failure of a gamification strategy. For example, using the word "mission" may have a very different effect than using the word "objective" or something perceived as even softer.   
  • Gameplay must respect cultural norms. Many common gameplay strategies don't translate easily to Asia because of the complex web of cultural sensitivities. There are some things which are off limits for gamification. Some styles of gameplay in general, or specific styles of game play in certain situations, can be problematic. For example, life insurance companies have tried adding game play to morbidity calculators with very different results in Asia compared to other global markets. 
  • Addiction and compulsive behaviours/tendencies can be magnified. Where there are tangible rewards for game play (such as bonus or incentive schemes), there is an increased likelihood of addictive and compulsive behaviors being magnified. This can create social problems and may even be monitored or regulated by authorities in some regions. 
  • Gamification expertise remains scant. The experience and expertise in Asia is generally lacking compared to other global regions. This is perhaps due in part to the "over-optimism/over-pessimism" syndrome that markets like Singapore tend to adopt. That is, they begin with over-inflated expectations and then abandon projects with haste when the results don't seem to come so easily.

These differences highlight the need for independent validation of gamification strategies. Typical boutique consultancies are usually wedded to their own particular views of what these market opportunities are – and have a much higher assessment of the value of their own capabilities. To ensure success though, these views should be evaluated independently as the project progresses. Let us know what your gamification ideas, successes or challenges are. Even have us test your organisations assumptions… or just share your own views on how you see these and other differences in gamification being applied across the Asia Pacific region. Most of all, do check out our extensive research on the topic – before embarking on a gamification initiative.


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