A Message to Starbucks About Gamification
First Law of Gamification: Games are Supposed to be Fun!
Starbucks recently wrapped up their most recent Summer game and I have to admit, I was thoroughly underwhelmed.
Like with all Starbucks games, the more Starbucks products purchased, the more ‘plays’ you get in the game. This time however, unlike in the previous ‘Starbucks For Life’ games, there was no pre-determined game goal (like, for instance, with the Starbucks For Life game where you had to collect the correct number of pieces to win a prize).
The Summer game was set up like a traditional board game. You were asked to go to one screen where you clicked on a drink shaker which, after it finished shaking, would tell you how far you could move on a board. You would then click again and see your digital self moved the appropriate number of spaces.
The shaker and the board were on different screens (so you had to constantly wait between one game mechanism and the other, which was both time consuming and annoying). During the game, as you were moved, you were constantly asked to make decisions (do you want to go left or right) but with none of the information that would be necessary to inform you about how to make an informed decision.
Indeterminacy and uncertainty plagued every element of game play.
I never had ANY IDEA what the purpose of play was. Was I trying to reach a goal? Was there an end state? I still don’t know.
For some unknown reason, I was just asked to wander down some strange digital road being asked to make decisions that seemed to have no meaningful or predictable consequence until the game abruptly ended (not because I finished playing but because they discontinued game play).
Every so often, I would be told that I had advanced to a new level but if pressed of a reason why, I could have only told you the game said I was on a new level.
Was there an end goal of the game itself? Did picking one path over another matter? Did levels mean anything? Who knows?
Could your style of play or choices effect your chances at rewards? No idea.
Anyway, once you finally landed on a space, you were either told you had won a prize (almost always 1 Star), told something about one of Starbucks drinks, or asked to make another decision that carried no consequence (like should I go down Ice Frappe drive or instead head down Summer Cooler lane? Who knows, I still don’t know).
Mostly, I just felt like I was being asked to participate in a gigantic confusing and totally un-fun advertising campaign.
I suspect that if the good people at Starbucks had invested the same amount of time in the game mechanics as they did in the look and the art of the game, it could have been a much better experience.
The ‘game’ had none of the elements that define successful games (competitive purpose, clearly defined goals, clearly defined rewards, and fun).
I found myself nostalgic for the old Starbucks For Life Game (which I disliked as well).
Starbucks For Life? A Few Suggestions From a Frequent Customer
Starbucks for Life left me feeling grumpy. With characters so adorable, you are probably wondering how I could be left…
The problem with the old Starbucks For Life game was that it left the vast majority of players feeling progressively frustrated after every additional play (everyone would amass two or three of the pieces necessary to win a prize and then spend months ‘winning’ the same repetitive game pieces).
In other words, Starbucks for Life often made players feel frustrated because the more they played the game the less rewarding play became (the game mechanics didn’t reward, and seemed to penalize, continued play).
They could have fixed this problem by having an algorithm that weighted the likelihood of winning an increasing number of free stars relative to the amount of times a player received repetitive game pieces (“Congratulations, maybe you didn’t win Starbucks for a Week, but you did win these 23 free stars”).
Indeterminacy was precisely the wrong solution to this problem.
At the beginning of Starbucks For Life a player felt like they were making progress towards an achievable goal while during the Starbucks Summer Game the player didn’t even know what the goals of playing the game were (aside from a very vague promise of winning unspecified prizes and indeterminate star rewards).
The whole point of a company like Starbucks introducing a game is to increase brand-engagement. If, however, playing makes a player like me angry or frustrated about the game, that defeats the entire purpose by making me feel more negatively toward the brand.
Companies are under no obligation to provide games for their customers to play, but poorly designed games can increase customer frustrations in ways that can bleed over to frustrations about the brand.
At the base, a game has to at least be fun (not necessarily rewarding). The Starbucks Summer game was not fun (it was mostly confusing and frustrating).
Josh is a blogger and freelance writer who writes about television, movies, music, politics, ethics, and whatever else is of interest coming across his feed.