Gamification’s Growing Impact On Participatory Sports

The lead item in the March 10 Marketing Insider on Media Post features research driven observations on the role of gamification in sustaining and growing participatory sports.

Weekend warriors and recreational athletes appreciate the inherent difficulty of mastering their chosen sports.

As participants, we invest in the most technologically advanced equipment.  We constantly seek the magic fix or that one elusive tip that will elevate our play, and yet most of us plateau or decline at a point in our lives way earlier than we want it to be.

Concurrently, our attitudinal research has shown that we’ve become more impatient as a society.  With instant gratification or entitlement pejorative descriptors of our younger generations, it’s no wonder that many of the stewards of various sports are keenly focused on delivering a more time-efficient and personally enriching experience.

Our research has also yielded the insight that looking beyond the limits of how we define success can provide more attainable personal rewards to keep recreational athletes in the game longer.

This makes intuitive sense, since we are living in a time where personal performance data and statistics are rampant.  We count our steps, measure our heart rates and engage in virtual micro-challenges against readily attainable benchmarks as we ride our exercise bikes or climb stairs. We break virtual bricks, remove rows of coins or eliminate angry birds on our mobile phones. Our video games enable us to be instantly dropped into virtual worlds where seemingly anyone can be an NFL quarterback who can throw for 500 yards a game, or a modern-day superhero saving humanity from destruction.

It’s an age of gamification that often allows for bite-sized experiences and often sets easily reachable milestones that then drive us to the next hurdle.  Peleton has mastered this reality, by building a readily available virtual community around these pursuits, while simultaneously adding a layer of convenience, personalization and recognition of individual time constraints and the discomfort of performing poorly in front of others.

I’m far from advocating a watering down of sports.  But at the same time, I think about ways in which entry ramps can co-exist with their own sets of simpler milestones at certain levels, even temporarily, as participants hone their skills, or watch them diminish.

By resetting the bar and meeting the athlete in his or her own comfortable place, we sustain and ideally grow interest. The recent proliferation of gamified golf ranges is another example, offering up a more social and welcoming environment, with alternate definitions of success in manageable portions.

There is much to be learned  as we look to harness technology in new ways that make participatory sports more accessible by providing important little victories along the way. We’ve found that embracing this reality also amplifies appreciation of athletes who are at the highest levels of skill.