Badgeville Democratizes Gamification and Check-Ins for Publishers

Judging by the name alone, many would think of Badgeville as just the latest in the swelling line of social gaming and check-in companies (Foursquare, Gowalla, Zynga) that promote shared online experiences through status updates and virtual currency. CEO Kris Duggan prefers to think of his product as a “modern loyalty platform for Web sites.”

Badgeville, along with similar brands (DoubleDutch), aspires to democratize the Foursquare experience beyond retail by enabling publishers and other segments to build their own game mechanics and incentives platforms. Then it wants to enrich the Foursquare experience by extending social gaming beyond geocentric sharing to a set of more complex behavioral functions (what uers are doing on the site, and what the publisher would like them to do). 

Of course, the central component of Badgeville (hence the name) is leveraging virtual reputation and reward to spur defined engagements as dictated by the publisher. The three-step process that Duggan and his team work through with prospective publishers is to first understand exactly what metrics the company wishes to measure and behaviors it wants to encourage (viewing videos, commenting on stories, etc.), then identify the audience segments that match those objectives, and finally, build out rewards-based engagement programs to achieve the set goals.

As Duggan told BIA/Kelsey, the net effect is not only incentivizing faithful users or increasing online traffic, but also developing a richer understanding of who the most loyal and active site users are, and what types of content interaction resonate with them. “Publishers can’t even tell you who their high-value users are. This isn’t just about badges and stickers, but about giving real analytics insights into the loyalty of your community.”

Aside from “mayorships” and “trophies,” that is how Duggan is positioning Badgeville — as a longer-term solution for publishers, not a get-in-the-game plug-and-play in the much-hyped realm of game mechanics. This follows Duggan’s belief in the dramatic evolution of analytics from quantity-directed metrics (UVs, PVs, CTRs) to “outcomes-oriented” measurement of the loyalty graph, allowing companies to more effectively focus on their core.

Badgeville launched in early October after winning the Audience Choice award at TechCrunch Disrupt. Recently, it went live on with a loyalty program built around reading and commenting on articles. Duggan says his start-up currently fields a dozen clients, primarily publishers. However, it is also being received with interest from non-publisher verticals such as education, government and automotive … a sign that the mainstreaming of location-based services and social rewards programs may not be too far off. 

The company works directly with partners on a monthly service fee, not usage-based pricing, and also offers a simpler package with API access only for those that want to roll out an introductory product.

Within any conversation of social gamification, there’s always that pesky question of “check-in fatigue” when badges and buttons lose their luster. Duggan is well aware that more robust, tangible rewards are required to push forward the allure of this urban, “techy” concept.

Comcast Sports, for instance, will launch with Badgeville in the next month across all of its regional sports properties and is considering a car sweepstakes in which only those site users who have met a certain virtual reputation threshold (accrued enough points) can qualify. Comcast will also feature activities such as picking game winners and checking into stadiums from mobile phones, both of which are easy to append with real prizes.

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