about to embark on what’s known among travelers who love puzzles and prizes as a “gamified city tour.”
For the next three hours the couple would explore the area and learn about its history by tackling trivia questions and accepting benign dares — challenges that came not from a tour guide but from an app called Stray Boots that Peters had downloaded to her iPhone.
The first question seemed like a test to ensure that they were in the right spot: “What color is the wall painted?” Peters typed “blue” on her iPhone. Up popped the verdict: “Correct!” That earned her 10 points from the app, which then provided some history about the 1973 artwork by Forrest Myers.
Stray Boots, which sells $2-to-$12 tours of more than a dozen cities including New Orleans, Philadelphia and Miami, was introduced last year, although the company began testing the concept in 2009 using only text messages. Since then, it has sold more than 85,000 tours, roughly doubling sales each year, said its chief executive, Avi Millman. (Stray Boots is also available in Britain, where it’s known as UK: The Game.)
Yet the app is merely one product in a wave of new travel programs and promotions that are using game theory to win over customers, particularly those under 30 (so-called millennials). Today online tour operators like Expedia are incorporating avatars and trivia contests into the browsing and booking process.
It might sound like play, but it’s part of a broader business trend known as gamification. Gabe Zichermann, author of the new book “The Gamification Revolution” and chair of the annual Gsummit in San Francisco, describes it as the process of using the best ideas from games, loyalty and behavioral economics to engage people and solve problems (or both).
On a deeper level, though, great gaming experiences speak to our inner desire for mastery, autonomy and purpose, Zichermann noted. The same can be said of travel.
“Why do we travel?” he said. “It’s all about creating memories and discovering ourselves. Gamification is perfectly aligned with that.”
To achieve the latter, companies that specialize in gamification say they are trying to design experiences that are emotional, that delight or surprise, unlike early loyalty programs, which Zichermann described as “transactional systems that are trying to get as much out of consumers as possible while giving as little as possible.”