Social gamers know virtual worlds such as FarmVille and Bejeweled Blitz all too well, but a new form of online gaming is infiltrating the entertainment industry by rewarding viewers with big prizes for sharing articles, making comments and watching trailers about their favorite TV shows and movies.
From TV shows such as "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," "Top Chef"" and "Psych" to the recently released box office hit "Rio," more people are logging online to visit TV and movie sites, read news and interact with their favorite shows and films.
But to give people incentive to return to these sites, entertainment companies and various brands are making the browsing experience a game, allowing visitors to compete with other fans to get points that can be redeemed for prizes, such as brand merchandise, trips and cash prizes.
The growing trend — called "gamification," which can be misleading because not many real games are played on the sites — thrives on the human desire to be rewarded for doing something, similar to mileage programs on airlines.
"It's about applying the mechanics of gaming to nongame activities," said Molly Kittle, director of client services for Bunchball, a gamification solutions provider that works with TV networks and brands.
"Games are an insular and finite experience, while gamification takes that experience and the site itself becomes a game as people compete against other fans to rack up points and work toward something."
Social gaming methods such as these are growing more than ever. eMarketer recently reported that more than a quarter of the online population now plays at least one game per month on a social network and the industry is expected to hit the $1 billion mark this year.
Meanwhile, according to market research firm Gartner, gamified services for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon by 2014 and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.
Popular shows aren't the only ones rewarding its site visitors with prizes. Playboy and Capital Online Banking are also encouraging its fans to interact with their site with the help of gamification.
"As generations evolve, people want to interact with new, multiplatform games," Kittle said. "They don't just want to play Scrabble on a board anymore, they also want to go online and play it with friends. This is an extension of just being a big TV and movie fan — now you can get rewarded for the time you put in browsing some of your favorite sites."
Companies are coupling a series of easy prize targets to get people invested, with long-term point goals that can take a few weeks or a few months to achieve (and require a high level of activity).
"The trend started in 2010 and it's growing even more this year," Kittle said. "We expect it to be even more mainstream by the end of the year."