The travel industry can gain much from gamification if it understands that it works best when it combines the physical and digital worlds.
Jeff Coghlan, founder and former chief executive of Matmi, coined the word ‘phygital’ to explain how brands can use games to increase engagement with customers.
He cited games Matmi created for United Airlines, used to promote ancillary options that travellers could upgrade to when flying with the airline.
United found the uptake was low, due to the fact that customers had not experienced the options so did not really understand what was being offered.
The games, designed to be played in the airport, offered instant wins like extra legroom or lounge passes, were played nine million times and generated millions of dollars in revenue for United.
“What this woke me up to was why this worked – it was because of the physical location. The digital and physical worlds combined made this work.
“The instant win in the airport is what made it work. If you can engage with a brand and benefit yourself you are going to do it.”
Coghlan said this example was potentially costly, as United had to give something physical away for a digital action.
However, a game he created for an agency working with Alton Towers parent, Merlin Entertainments, for its new Smiler ride turned this on its head.
Players had to physically ride the rollercoaster in order to download previously locked parts of a virtual rollercoaster, which the game encouraged people to construct on their devices.
Coghlan said he was very excited about how new iBeacon technology may be applied to retail and travel in general.
But he warned that most agencies he advised on this new technology were considering using it in ways that amounted to commercial suicide.
“They want to use them to tell everyone who walks by their shop there’s a sale on,” said Coghlan.
“If I’m walking down Bond Street and everyone’s got iBeacons I get 70 spam messages saying come into my shop because I’ve got a sale on which means I’m just going switch iBeacon off and never use it again.
“People need to realise with technology if you can doesn’t mean to say you should. Use iBeacon to recognise someone is there but don’t hit them with something straight away.
“Recognise patterns, that someone comes here every Thursday and send them something on email because they come here every Thursday.
“IBeacon can be used in lots of different ways. It’s very interesting technology and iBeacons are very cheap. We’re playing with iBeacon a lot.”
Another technology development Coghlan tipped to make a splash in travel is iTag, currently in beta and being developed in Ireland.
This allows people to leave content like video or pictures in a physical location so that people can see the place they are through other people’s experiences.
It is also being integrated with archive footage so that users can virtually go back in time and discover how a placed used to look.
Coghlan said this could potentially transform the experience a site like TripAdvisor offers on mobile, from what is essentially an experience designed for desktop replicated on mobile.
“Mobile should be used as mobile. The problem with something like TripAdvisor at the moment is it’s something they had online which they have put into mobile but they are not thinking of mobile in itself.
“iTag lets you see what other people saw and your friends saw in a particular location.”
Coghlan said web experiences have to be engaging and fun and games are a way of achieving that.
“Surely people have to put stuff on their website that people want to engage with and come back. We all like to play. Life is a game. We all like to compete. It is about engagement, competing and ego.”