Made in Emerging Europe

Made in emerging Europe: Gaming the system

Small businesses without a large digital team can struggle to create unique and engaging online games. An Estonian start-up is trying to change that. 

It’s easier than ever to start a website and advertise one’s business online. But with this democratisation comes a new challenge: differentiating individual brands and products in a sea of competitors. A 2018 report found that 58 per cent of survey respondents said online ads had little or no influence on their behaviour. 

When it is so easy to scroll past or skip digital ads, getting consumers to meaningfully engage with brands online has presented a perennial challenge to firms. 

Gamification—applying mechanics and incentives associated with gameplay like competition and point-scoring to non-gaming contexts—has emerged in recent years as a buzzy new method to increase engagement during learning processes and marketing campaigns. The results have been astonishing.  

Starbucks applied gamification to its loyalty programme, My Starbucks Rewards, such that customers who become Starbucks Reward members receive points or “stars” with each purchase that can be redeemed for specific items or prizes. As customers earn more stars, they gain access to rewards like free birthday beverages and refills. After introducing the Starbucks Rewards app, it saw a 2.65 billion US dollars increase in revenue—which it largely attributed to the programme—as well as 25 per cent more customers who joined its loyalty programme. 

After Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Japan created a shrimp attack game for their customers, 22 per cent of people who played the game redeemed their rewarded voucher at a store and sales figures increased by 106 per cent. 

Games without frontiers

However, small businesses without a large digital team may struggle to create unique and engaging online games. An Estonian start-up called Adact is trying to help businesses gamify without needing to write a single line of code.  

Kalev Kärpuk founded Adact in 2020 after working as a lecturer in game design at Estonia’s main business school, EBS, and as Lead Gamification Analyst at Dopamine. He had also partnered with several Fortune 500 companies like Volkswagen, Verizon, Twitch, and Caesars Casino to improve their gamification strategies. 

“I started Adact from my desire to enable everyone to use gamified experiences regardless of company size and budgets,” Kärpuk tells Emerging Europe. “Gamified campaigns are profitable and everyone should be able to create something fun.” 

Adact raised 370,000 euros in a seed round and has received 790,000 euros worth of investment in total. Kärpuk says his firm is based in Tallinn due its relatively cheap operating costs, access to talent, and the fact that it is an ideal place to test the market and a product before scaling up.  

The latest Emerging Europe IT Competitiveness Index ranked Estonia first in the region for its abundance of talent and business environment. Estonia has the most start-ups and unicorns per capita in Europe.   

Adact helps businesses create raffles, competitions, and employee engagement games. It claims that its gamified marketing model generates four to seven times more leads and helps partnering firms acquire more qualified leads and differentiate themselves from competitors.  

Adact’s campaigns have demonstrated an impressive conversion rate, with approximately 83 per cent of customers becoming leads, says Kärpuk. 

“Our approach differs by placing more focus on game design knowledge and teaching our clients an entirely new fields of expertise,” he adds. “The simplicity of the software removes the heavy lifting and makes the process of building campaigns fun and easy.” 

Adact’s biggest clients are the Slovenian telecoms company A1 and the Bitė group in Latvia as well as Tele2 and Mediabrands Digital in Estonia. It has also supported global brands Coca-Cola and Starbucks.  

The firm’s next target is global. “We want to be the market leader,” says Kärpuk.  

Fun and games ahead

Adact is not the only firm in emerging Europe to offer gamification services. Bulgaria’s, founded in 2018, has prepared a suggested set of missions, rules for the accumulation of points, and structure of different business verticals that can be combined with creative materials to create brand-specific games.  

Ignico meanwhile is a Polish firm that gamifies and automates rewards and commissions for sales teams and brand ambassadors to boost motivation and engagement.  

More are likely to follow. While gamification’s efficacy is empirically supported, there are still many areas where it can be further applied—from education to physical activity.  

There is room for new firms in the region to find other novel applications for gamification to further engagement and outcomes, particularly where these can be rolled out quickly and cheaply to small and medium-sized businesses. 

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