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Why Play is Important in Websites, Work & Digital Marketing

Updated February 19, 2016
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Why Play is Important

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

A couple of years ago gamification was all the rage. Gamification is defined as – “the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.” Perhaps the term and the trendiness of that has faded, but the elements that encourage interaction online such as earning points or badges lives on – albeit in a more integrated way and with less fanfare.

Why Play is Important

Coffee, Pizza, Naked Bodies, and Facebook Notifications

Not only do the techniques show up still, less often touted as gamification, but the world of subscription sites has blown up and rewards/ attempts to spike dopamine in phone apps has reached a new high. I see that this trend that continues is just tapping into human nature; our reward and pleasure center of the brain. It’s activated when we see a cup of coffee, a hot fresh steaming pizza, a naked body of the variety we’re most attracted to, or perhaps reading a romantic story. And perhaps even more in the modern age, we get a spike of dopamine when we see the little red dot in the corner that tells you when you have a notification on Facebook, the notifications in Instagram and Twitter – we get a small rush of dopamine out of this.

Not only is this important and applications, but I think that we can use this psychological fact in our everyday life to incentivize ourselves to get more done, and perhaps in the context of  a group of people in perhaps let’s say – a digital marketing agency.

This description of why gamification works from 2010 is still highly relevant today:

How to Use The Dynamics of Play in Website Design

I always highly suggest being intentional about error messages and micro-copy throughout a website; being playful through copywriting – have fun and pay attention to all of the small messages in your website. But in web design a crucial element to keeping a playful element throughout a website is  progressively revealing elements, and not giving people everything you possibly can in the first screen.

“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” - Thoreau |“One simplify would've sufficed” - Emerson Click To Tweet

Imagine dating someone and the first date they try to tell you their mother’s maiden name, what their in-depth social status was in high school, that one thing they did in their teens that was most embarrassing and every detail of their dream life and ideal relationship. It would be downright intense, a may likely turn you off a bit as you are just trying to get to know them. The same concept applies to a website – you only need to reveal the key features and the over-arching story at the overall glance. This is playfulness at work in web design – it’s flirting, it’s progressively revealing a bit at a time of who you are in a way that feels natural and unforced.


Spenser Baldwin

How to use the Dynamics of Play at Work

Being rewarded and incentivized at work has to do with money yes, but it is partly about the social dynamics of the work environment as well and some kind of system of play can help stoke the desire to be rewarded for the sake of social recognition. For each situation play can be instituted in different customized ways to recognize effort and reward it.

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According to Tom Chatfield suggests these keys to help increase engagement by integrating play – and reward:

1. Use calibrated slices of metrics that are different in parallel.

2. Give people credit (small rewards) for trying.

3. Add an element of uncertainty  – use calculated randomness with some rewards coming when people don’t expect them but they’ve done something well.

It’s interesting how Chatfield seems to suggest that large numbers are harder to care about in these games – 35 feels more real than 3,000, and I think the same dynamic can be seen in work. Small carrots purposefully placed along the road  – whether if it’s for ourselves with little rewards throughout our workday when we get things done, or if we have a incentivization schedule for others. Little numbers and rewards can feel more real and compelling than out-there bigger numbers – raises – etc, when it comes to getting stuff done now. 

Play leads to a more relaxed environment and a better experience and quality of life. Whether this has encouraged you to implement some daily incentives for yourself to get more done, a flow-chart for rewards for the people you work with, or just mixing in an extra game of pool or ping-pong at work– I hope you have some fun today, make play a priority.

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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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