Is ’gamification’ a way to increase audience loyalty and engagement? That’s the research topic for Swedish journalist Anna Thulin who is at LSE for a Polis Newsroom Fellowship. If you are interested in the subject, please contact her.
Let’s play news: follow today’s hot topics and get your score in a knowledge tracker. Answer questions about current events and see what others think. Try being a hard-working gig driver in an Uber game. Or take the role of an investigative journalist who must navigate hackers and viruses in Syria’s cyberwar.
These are all real examples of how games and gamification can be used in journalism. Both fun and innovative, but could it be more than that? Could gamification also be relevant to meet one of the biggest challenges in digital journalism today, to build audience engagement and loyalty?
Without the reader, listener or viewer, there would be no purpose to news. For journalists, our work will only have impact if we reach out with our reporting and investigations. For the marketing departments, knowing the audience is a necessary part of the business model. If games seem like a fun way to reach the audience, it’s can also be deadly serious.
Does It Work?
The big question is if gamification in news actually works. Does it increase audience loyalty and engagement, or is it just another buzzword? At first glance, there is much to suggest that it could have a good effect in journalism. Gaming companies have seen a dramatic increase in sales and time spent on online games, especially during the pandemic. Game-inspired marketing methods have long been used to target users with offers, advertising and subscriptions. Most apps are using some gaming technics, whether it’s for learning or keeping up a workout routine, as with Duolingo or Nike Training Club.
Gamification is already used in journalism for two main reasons:
Firstly, to increase users’ time with a media product, to reduce churn and create a social context around news. In this case games could be built around points systems, achievement badges, polls and leaderboards.
The second purpose is to be experimental with storytelling. For example, to get the audience emotionally involved or learn more from coverage, as with the Financial Times’ Uber Game or Al Jazeeras’ #Hacked.
In the report that I will produce as part of my Polis Newsroom Fellowship at LSE, I hope to collect case studies and analyse their effectiveness. I also hope to open a wider discussion about the ethics of gamification. Can confidence in journalism be improved or damaged by playful elements? Does learning increase with gamified news apps, or rather lead to less attention when ’instant gratification’ is promoted? Can it attract new audiences and improve dialogue with others, or rather discourage some people? What ethical dilemmas are there to collect users’ information through polls or games? Is it more or less ethical than cookies and automatic data gathering?
Do you know someone I should talk to, or a project to learn about? Please get in touch: annathulinkm (at) gmail (dot) com
This article by Anna Thulin, Polis LSE Newsroom Fellow 2021, sponsored by the Swedish journalism foundation Journalistfonden.