Q&A With Seth Priebatsch, Chief Ninja (Read: CEO) Of SCVNGR

If you haven't yet heard Seth Priebatsch, chief ninja of SCVNGR — a mobile company looking to gamify the world — address a conference audience, you're in for a treat. It's something that I and about 20,000 of my closest friends and colleagues were fortunate to experience at SXSW this year, and for those of you attending Forrester's Marketing Forum next week, you'll see why the pleasure was all ours. 

For a taste of Seth's personality, you need look no further than his bio ("An avid supporter of blood drives, Seth consistently donates plasma for use in large-screen televisions.") For a glimpse at what he'll be talking about at the forum, check out the description for his session "The Perils Of "Wait-And-See" Marketing Strategy: Five "Future" Trends For The Present." 

Lest you fear that he'll be all jokes and pie-in-the-sky outlooks, I've asked Seth a few questions about what "gamification" means and what potential there is for growth in the location-based marketing arena. You'll see from his answers that while he's obviously a future-thinker, he's also a practical-talker. 

Here's a taste of what you can expect in San Francisco next week:

MP: Your bio says you want to add the “game layer on top of the world.”  How would you describe that “game layer”?  What are the essential elements of game philosophy or mechanics that you’re hoping to build onto the world?

SP: Yes, at SCVNGR we’re determined to build the game layer on top of the world. We think the last decade was the decade of social, and the next decade will be the decade of games — the decade when the game layer is built.

So, what is the game layer? The game layer is the next decade of human technological interaction. It's when the game dynamics that influence our behavior in virtual worlds are brought into the real world. When game dynamics begin to influence our real lives — where we go, what we do there, and how we do it.

How do we build it? Well, the tools that we use to build the game layer are the game dynamics themselves. At SCVNGR, we have a deck of around 50 different game mechanics that we mix and match to add gaming elements to the real world, but we like to joke that with seven game dynamics you can pretty much get anyone to do anything. Here are three of our favorites:

The Appointment Dynamic is when a player must return to a place at a specific time to take some action and get a reward. A great example is happy hour. Go to a bar early, buy a drink, and get a discount.

Communal Discovery is when an entire community works together to solve a problem. FarmVille uses this game dynamic with co-op farming.

The Progression Dynamic is when a player’s success is displayed in real time and improved gradually by passing through different levels. Think of this one like a progression bar.

MP: How does your platform enable unique experiences between marketers and consumers?

SP: When you go to a place, the more engaging it is, the more fun you’ll have, right? So SCVNGR’s platform lets marketers do just this — make places more engaging, interactive, and, well, fun. This is great for consumers because we love to have a good time. Who doesn’t like to have fun? But this is also huge for marketers because it gives them a really powerful way to engage with consumers at a place.

And we can do it at huge scale. For example, our Buffalo Wild Wings campaign had over 130,000 people do over 600,000 challenges at their locations over four short weeks! 

SCVNGR’s game engine is really flexible, so marketers can easily build their own content into the game layer. Marketers can script custom, interactive experiences into places in a way that maps naturally into how consumers experience places with friends. This allows for deeper interaction and social engagement with consumers.

MP: Five years from now, how do you hope the landscape of location-based services will look?

SP: Right now, location-based services (LBSes) are really great at engaging people, but the problem is that only a really tiny part of the world (4%) are using them. But it doesn't need to be that way. Places are a huge part of our lives, but we've all kind of gone at it in a super techy way.

Our plan is to take LBS mainstream. And that's going to necessitate a couple of changes. Things like enabling people to engage with places from afar, to say that they're heading there, to plan in advance, and get rewarded for bringing friends.

If we redefine LBS to mean engaging with a place instead of having to physically be at a place, we'll dramatically increases the number of people who'll participate and perhaps even make it more fun while we're at it.

At SCVNGR, we don’t exactly have the solution figured out, but we’re spending a bunch of time doing research and launching neat pilots (like LevelUp) to test our theories on how to bring the wonders of social LBS to the mainstream... and fast!

MP: Where do you see the biggest opportunities for pushing the business of mobile-social gaming forward, in terms of both usership and monetization?

SP: I think the biggest opportunities lie in the convergence of mobile, social, and payments.

Our space is getting great at engaging people with places and with their friends. We've figured out what types of rewards people like. And we've even convinced thousands and thousands of businesses to offer those rewards. But somehow, at that critical moment of rewarding a user at a location, we're still relying on the user showing their phone to a cashier. Even Groupon, with billions of dollars in revenue, is still having people print out sheets of paper to complete an inherently digital transaction.

Clearly, that's insane. It's like typing up an email to your friend, but then instead of hitting send, you print it out and drop it in the mail. Why? Who knows. Like I said, it's crazy.

But luckily, it's all about to change. The next wave of opportunity will arise as we reduce the friction between digital action and transactional reward. Not sure what it's going to be . . . whether it's mobile payments or tying into cards or even having NFC-capable POS units, but something or someone is going to enable a seamless mobile => social => location => transaction experience, and that's going fuel a whole new wave of growth in the space. And just like everyone else in the space, I intend on getting there first.

Comments

Game layers everywhere

He seems like a chipper enough entrepreneur but it's not clear how insightful it is for the rest of us when a mobile gaming platform guy sees the future as one big gaming nail, based upon his singular hammer.

Imagining a game layer across everything feels a bit too magical to me. And to look back and posit the last decade as the decade of social with the next being the decade of gaming seems to both mis-read marketing history and suggest a bad case of the solipsisms for Mr. Priebatsch.

Gaming behavior is certainly not one of the primary need states of our typical consumer target. Shopping, searching, entertainment, communicating, reading, linking, sharing --- all of these behaviors would seem to be in line in front of gaming.

Priebatsch gets closer to a workable theory when he suggests things like payment layers and navigation layers could drive more consistent and rich engagement with consumers. These behaviors - especially when combined with the primary states above, certainly could be more consistently attacked with brand value and attachment across the actual daily thrum of human's lives.

But, perhaps what he's trying to think about, talk about, is not gaming but mobilityness. Now there's a theory I could get behind. ; )

Thom Kennon | @tkennon | bigevidence.blogspot.com

Gaming or game mechanics?

Thanks for commenting, Thom.

I agree with you that there are other consumer touchpoints and behaviors that represent more immediate needs for marketers. But I think the interesting thing about game mechanics is that, while one could implement gaming mechanics for their own end, the principles and technology pieces can be applied to incentivize those behaviors you've identified as being a primary need (shopping, searching, etc.) There are certainly case studies out there that show how adding game mechanics to other kinds of behaviors and actions can make a whole campaign more successful. So while Seth's business is focused on game behavior much more specifically than marketers', I do think there are principles that can be creatively applied to most consumer touchpoints to amplify results.

Frictionless Transactions

By displaying social media updates where everyone can see them, social media signage such as Twisplays can be the missing link that enables a seamless mobile => social => location => transaction experience.