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Live From SXSW: The Game Layer On Top Of The World

On top of our everyday reality sits a game layer dictating why we do what we do, says Seth Priebatsch.

The “Chief Ninja” at mobile game company SCVNGR, Priebatsch delivered a keynote on this mystical level yesterday at South By Southwest Interactive. The past decade was dedicated architecting the social layer of our world and Facebook owns the framework, he said. The next decade will be spent building out the game layer, which “has the opportunity to be 10x larger in terms of influence then the social layer.”

Priebatsch, who resembles a more gregarious Mark Zuckerberg, sees games in everything we do, from schooling to business to politics. In his worldview we make choices to gain status, and status very nearly equals competitive edge. Where games break down is when secondary rewards become primary (e.g. grades over an actual education).

The game layer can lead to robust customer acquisition, for instance. How? Take a look at Groupon, Priebatsch says. Groupon plays on our natural skepticism about deals that seem too good to be true. A deal is not unlocked unless enough people sign up for it and there’s a deadline. This naturally triggers a communal competitive to beat the clock. Add to that a massive email database, and you have the makings of a killer customer acquisition tool.

Similarly, American Express uses stature to sell its product, Priebatsch said. (Disclosure: American Express is an Eloqua client.) You start with a green card, and, if you’re a rock star, you get the black card. In reality, the company is using status, a natural competitive drive, to upsell – and it works.

From Priebatsch’s perspective, our natural desire to play and win games could serve as the framework for solving many of the world’s problems, whether they be financial or not. Location-based services could serve as the key here. They tap into our desire to be at the top of social ladder while simultaneously pulling us into communal spaces. But, as of this moment, they haven’t gone mainstream. The physical restrictions prove to be, well, too restrictive. The killer location based app will find a way to be more inclusive than what is currently on the market. Naturally, Priebatsch hopes SCVNGR wins that game.

What do you think? Do games play a role in your work? How do they impact the way you approach your marketing and sales strategy?

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