How Gamification Changed the Sport of Skiing (And How it Applies to Your Life)

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In January of this year I was introduced to a service called Epic Mix while skiing at Vail in Colorado.

In my mind Epic Mix is the most well executed marketing tools in the history of sports.

So what is it?

Epic Mix is a system that essentially turns the sport of skiing, into a social vehicle and game.

Lift tickets at any Vail Resort have RFID chips embedded in them that track all of your actions.  Take a lift up and ski down? It will track how many vertical feet you skied.  Have a family member on the mountain with you? Easily keep track of them and their activities. Do something noteworthy, get points and badges to compete with your friends.

Along with all of this, at all of the mountains where Epic Mix is implemented, they have photographers in the terrain parks and at the top of various lifts.  All they have to do is scan your badge, snap your photo and it’s automatically uploaded to your account – and Facebook or Twitter if you’re so inclined.

Epic Mix not only makes skiing and snowboarding social, but it turns it into one giant game.

A couple weeks ago I headed back to Breck with an intention to spend more time with the system and get a better sense for how it works.  No one in my group really knew anything about it, but everyone was sucked in as soon as I could tell them we just descended 12,000 vertical feet, and already had the photos we took waiting for me on my iPhone.

What is Gamification and Why Does it Work?

We all like games in one form or another.  For some of us it’s video games, others its sports , and who doesn’t like a good game of Monopoly every now and again (ok, bad example).

Gamification is essentially the idea of taking components from games or competition, and using it in marketing.

What do you think Foursquare is? It’s essentially one big game – and that’s why most people use it.

Think about it, how many people actually want everyone to know where they are at all times. I know I certainly don’t.

Yet, I still use it because it’s an opportunity to turn my life into a game.  A new badge for visiting my 25th airport? Sweet! Bonus points for traveling 7,604 miles since my last check in? Awesome, I feel accomplished simply for hopping on a plane.

Epic Mix has applied the same marketing techniques to skiing.

“You received the Everest Pin for skiing 29,035′, the height of Mt. Everest.” 

Seriously, that makes you feel pretty badass.

I know that I took 27 lifts on my most recent trip. I skied a total of 35,364 vertical feet. I have 10 photos to show for it.  Thats information I never would have had, let alone be able to share and compete with my friends over.

Jason Keath, CEO of Social Fresh looks at 10 components of Game Mechanics that have been successfully integrated into web apps and marketing campaigns:

  1. Achievement: A badge, a level, a reward, or points given to a person for accomplishing something.
  2. Levels: Breaking a storyline or activity into levels or chapters, creating smaller goals. Leveling up can also be an experience level, showing how long you have worked. Often certain tools or story lines only become available at a certain level.
  3. Appointments: come here at this time and get something good. You see this is World of Warcraft and Farmville, “your crops will be ready to harvest in 12 hours.”
  4. Progress: Showing a person what percentage of a task they have completed or what portion of a map they have explored.
  5. Countdown: Having a time limit to complete a task.
  6. Tools: Needing to gain a specific item in order to complete a task.
  7. Free Lunch: The feeling of lucking into something free because other people did the work. See Groupon.
  8. Loyalty: Returning to a task or location repeatedly and gaining status for it: Airline levels, Foursquare mayors, etc.
  9. Leader Boards: Displaying a list of people to recognize publicly who has earned the most achievements.
  10. Loss Aversion: Do this or you lose this benefit.
If you can work even one of these into your marketing, you’re going to grab people’s attention.  The reason gamification has been so popular lately is it allows you to work many, or all of these into your marketing which hits people on a deeper psychological level than just having them watch an advertisement.

How so?

Take loyalty for instance.  Maybe there’s a foursquare special that says if you go to the same place 5 times you get a free meal. With this you feel accomplished for having spent money at a place 5 times, and can even feel as though you’re saving money because of the one free meal.

I have a friend who recently booked a flight to Hawaii just to get the miles so he could gain Gold Status.  Once again, feeling accomplished and rewarded for spending tons of money on one particular company.

If I’m in Colorado or Tahoe, I’ll easily choose one of the Vail Resorts simply because of Epic Mix.  If I ski somewhere else I feel like I’m missing the chance to boost my stats and show off to the world all of my cool ski photos.

You might hate to admit it, but turning things into a game truly does make any product or service more interesting.

How This Applies to Your Small Business

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  How do you take similar principles and work it into your business?

My friend Steve Kamb has done this better than anyone I can think of with his business, Nerd Fitness.

The more you participate in the forums, the higher the level you achieve -from Recruit to Rebel, all the way up to Renegade and higher.

To take this a step farther, he’s even built a game around working out (one that kicks the crap out of Fitocracy). When you gamify something in any business, it makes people more likely to engage and make the community stronger.

In 2013 I’ll be integrating components of this into the Location Rebel community.

It takes a long time to build a business online, and in the beginning it can be especially difficult to feel as though you’re making progress.

However, what happens if you’re reaching milestones every week? What if you have the opportunity to share those accomplishments with the community and further boost your confidence?

You’ll stick with it, making you more likely to achieve your business goals – instead of giving up like most people do.

Gamify Your Life and Productivity

Don’t have a business quite yet where it makes sense to apply these techniques?  Simply apply them to your day to day life.

Take an hour, and turn your regular activities into a game.  300 points for writing a blog post. 500 points for working out. 500 for cooking a healthy dinner. One point for every dollar you make online.

Keep track of how you do everyday, and you’ll start getting competitive with yourself.  You’re getting the same benefits of those Angry Birds achievements except you’re actually making positive changes to your life in the process.

Skiing is one of my favorite hobbies – I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember.  However, Epic Mix is the first service provided by a ski resort that brought my experience outside the mountain, and really made me want to ski at their resort.

We can all learn a thing or two from businesses like them.

So think about how can you apply basic gamification principles to your business, marketing and personal life.  The way things are going, you’re leaving a lot on the table if you aren’t thinking about how you can engage your users and audience on a deeper level.

Jenna January 2, 2013 at 10:16 am

Wonder when Epic Mix will be at Meadows…

Also, check out Untappd, they have some great gamification.

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Stephanie @ The Empowered Dollar January 2, 2013 at 10:34 am

I think we’re going to see gamification everywhere in the next few years – it’s a hot buzzword. Something as simple as airline rewards programs are “gamified.” Even brushing your teeth will be “gamified,” like in this video :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NzFCfZMBkU

I feel super lucky to get to use these principles every day at my job – gamifiying personal finance for kids!

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KimBoo York January 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Ooo! Sean! I love this idea. As I get ready to really launch my site teaching personal project management techniques, I am hoping for mad-crazy success and expecting a long slog towards it. *sigh* Gamifying my start up phase would be very motivational, especially as still have to hit the day!job at this point to make ends meet. Love it!

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