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How to Use Gamification to Build Your Business: Inspired by Playground Sessions

How to Use Gamification to Build Your Business: Inspired by Playground Sessions
Credit: Quincy Jones and Chris Vance

In a digital era where society is bombarded with options and boredom is a thing of the past, many businesses look to strategies like gamification to stay relevant and cultivate engagement with their consumers. 

Playground Sessions, a piano-learning software company, has succeeded in using gamification as the focal point of its business model by turning something as dated as piano lessons into an engaging, modern-day game. 

Before coming up with the idea for Playground Sessions, Chris Vance struggled to learn how to play the keyboard. He had a difficult time with the inconvenience of private lessons, and he felt there was a lack of educational, digital piano platforms available, which limited what he could learn on his own. 

According to Vance, conventional piano lessons in the United States have an extremely high dropout rate, with only 7% of students ever becoming proficient on the piano. 

With this data and his own experiences in mind, Vance believed there was a need for a digital piano platform that combined learning with entertainment. That idea gave birth to Playground Sessions. He was confident that an engaging platform like Playground Sessions could change the game for many aspiring pianists like himself. 

"Our curriculum is built to engage people with the songs they know and love on day one, which means learning will come easier to them, and they'll be more likely to stick with it," Vance told Business News Daily. "Because people are most open to learning when it's something they love doing." 

Twenty-seven-time Grammy Award winner Quincy Jones was intrigued by the concept of Playground Sessions and partnered with Vance to launch the company in 2010. With an impressive background in the music industry, Jones' expertise provided him the knowledge and skill set to create a music platform that was not only educational but fun. 

"Our mission became to make learning to play the piano as much fun as playing it," said Jones. "We wanted to build a Rosetta Stone for music but with a focus on making learning fun." 

Jones isn't the only musical icon lending their talents to Playground Sessions. The company recruited Harry Connick Jr. to teach lessons and bring a level of credibility and trust to the offering. They also sought out award-winning pianist Ko-wei Chen to ensure their approach was the best for music education. 

Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing (i.e., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity to encourage engagement with a product or service.

The creators of Playground Sessions have strategically used gamification to create a business model focused on both education and engagement. Instead of bogging students down with rules and theory, the platform enables them to play songs they love from the start. Vance said this strategy has been one of their keys to success.

Vance said the "playing" aspect is what attracts users to instruments and games alike. Since there are many similarities between the two activities, Playground Sessions capitalized on bringing them together. 

In addition to creating engaging content, Vance emphasized the importance of adding game-like elements to their business model. The goal was to make piano lessons feel less like practicing and more like playing a game. 

"For us, being able to add gaming elements, such as progress tracking, real-time feedback, badges, leader boards, etc., makes Playground Sessions that much more compelling for our players," said Vance. "In both music and games, participants are called players, and that's no accident."

With Playground Sessions, CEO Chris Vance learns how to play the keyboard.

People, not just consumers, are typically more engaged when they are having fun; they also feel valued and are willing to hone their skills. Gamification can be used for more than just developing consumer engagement and increasing sales. It can also boost internal engagement and employee satisfaction. 

"For our team, I also look to gamification to increase engagement and overall productivity of our core operations," said Vance. "The goal is to give each individual a sense of ownership, value and professional development, which makes their job here that much more valued." 

For example, Vance said one business goal was to increase internal team engagement with the larger piano-playing community. To track and reach this objective, Playground Sessions set goals for the number of new YouTube subscribers or Facebook group members they gained. They utilized gamification, like adding extra incentives or rewards, to make sure they hit those goals. 

"Games are about data – how well you shoot, how much time things take you, etc.," said Vance. "Businesses are about data, too, so we try to use our data to inspire us and inform our business operations." 

Although gamification may not be plausible for every company to fully incorporate into their business model, there are elements of the strategy that you can tailor to fit your needs and grow your business. Vance said business owners do not need to figure out new activities to incorporate into their business to capitalize on gamification. Rather, said Vance, it is about identifying what drives your business the most, and then figuring out how you can get your team and consumers engaged around those activities. 

For example, the Playground Sessions team tests their new song arrangements by competing with each other for the highest score. This enables them to not only look for mistakes (quality control), but to also have fun doing it with a sense of competition. Incorporating small tactics like this into your business model can increase engagement and community. 

Another way to incorporate gamification into your business model is to integrate game mechanics, like, for example, rewards, scores, badges and levels. Examine at how your business functions and see if there are ways to tie those mechanics into your product or service.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a Business Communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four different states and backpacking throughout 16 different countries. During her travels, Skye began a blog at www.skyeschooley.com. She now resides in the arctic tundra that is the northeast coast, writing for Business.com.