How Chinese Manufacturers are Using Gamification to Gain Customer Loyalty

Simulation games continue to enjoy great pleasure among gaming fans. Escaping from everyday life and immersing yourself in virtual but real-life-like worlds, designing a theme park, building cities, or imitating activities you can't do in real life – that's the appeal of this type of video games. Chinese manufacturers are now using the enthusiasm for these games in different business models. But before we take a look at how gamification is brought to real life, let's get to know the definition of the super-category of these video games first. There are further subgenres of simulation games, such as life simulation games and construction games:

  • In a life simulation game, the player will take over the control of a human or any other lifeforms and explore the virtual world. An example we all know is “The Sims”.
  • In a construction simulation game, the player will use limited resources and tries to build or expand certain projects, such as a city, or maybe a factory, one example is “SimCity”.

So how do Chinese manufacturers translate gamification into real life to win customer loyalty?

Example 1: Life simulation game in terms of “Girl/boy superstar trainee group”

In the 90s, a Japanese entertainment agency introduced the idea of a  singing and dancing girl trainee group. Later it got popular in Korea, since 2005 in China.

But how does it work? The whole idea is a “survival competition game” among a group of young women or men. Their fans will fight for them so that they can perform on stage. Let’s say there are 30 trainees, the TV program shows how they get trained for singing and dancing regularly and their fans should vote for their favorite girl or boy. Additionally the fans can spend money on their favourite participants by purchasing products they endorse. In the end, the three girls or boys who have gathered the most amount of vote and sponsor/money, will be allowed to turn into “superstars” and perform on stages.

What is the selling point? It is not about watching the performance, it is more about letting the fans and their future superstars “grow up together”. Just like a life simulation game, the fans are the “players” and the trainee girls or boys are “the virtual human in the users’ control”.

The agency will earn a lot of money through this kind of grown-together business mode because the fans are willing to spend tons of money on supporting their favourite girl or boy so that she or he can become a superstar.

But what do the fans get back?

  1. Strong bonding with the trainee through watching the girl/boy working hard for the fans. They believe that the trainees are really “doing hard to respond to the fans’ love and support”.
  2. Strong bonding with other fans who are supporting the same favourite girl or boy, so they feel like they have found THEIR group. This kind of group usually consist of more than 1.000 fans.

Those fans are mostly young girls and boys from 15-25 years old who are really stressed out from studying but do not lack money from their parents.

Check out our article about the involution to get a deeper insight into the Chinese mindset.

Fans on average sponsor 100 Yuan (13 Euro) for their favourite trainee, but there is a small group of top fans who would spend more than 200,000 Yuan (25.000 Euro). Imagine there was a trainee in a show who achieved a sponsorship of 1.5 million Yuan (190.000 Euro) in total in the past.

Example 2: Construction simulation game in terms of “The Suprise Factory from JingDong” (E-commerce platform, similar to Amazon)

We all know how online shopping works: putting a product in the cart, paying online and 2-5 days later the product is delivered home. But what if you were allowed to enter the “factory” of this product, if you “worked” every day and after 8-20 days you received the product for free, for 1 Yuan (0,2 Euro) or with 70 % discount of the original price? This is how the surprise factory works. The user can choose different products, from toilet paper, rice, to small household appliances. JingDong offers a huge range of daily life products.

User needs to log in to the App every day. The daily attendance will produce electric power to the machine, for example 2 % points of power every day. You can also “hire” your friends as helpers for one day in the factory by letting them click the link you shared with them via WeChat (similar to WhatsApp). When they enter the factory and complete a small task, you will get up to 10 % points of power. You can ask your helpers to invite more helpers into your factory who are not in your WeChat contact list, as there is a limitation: one helper can only help out in three factories per day. Once you have gathered 100 % electric power, the production will be started and you will get this product delivered to your home.

It seems to be a good deal for the end-consumers, but what’s the benefit for the e-commerce platform?

  1. A high amount of daily active users who log in every day and stay for a long time.
  2. A free word-of-mouth advertisement when the users are sharing their links. It aims to reach the 1.2 billion monthly active users in WeChat. (JingDong has 260 million monthly active users right now ).  

Now back to the idea of gamification. What do these two “games“ have in common?

1. Intuitive competition or earning more Mianzi in Chinese:
The trainee agency will publish a ranking list every day showing the sponsorship results. So more sponsorship of a trainee means more Mianzi of the fans. The surprise factory will give you titles like “director”, “factory manager”. The higher your position, the more Mianzi you get.

Mianzi means your value and status and it is one of the most important things of the Chinese culture. You earn Mianzi when you have more resources, such as money, expensive cars, knowledge, outer beauty of your partner, etc. than others, and you think other people will “respect” you because of that.

Check out our article about Mianzi.

This also explains why certain premium car brands might not perform well in usability tests, but are still extremely well sold in China. What matters to the drivers is the Mianzi, not the functions of a car. Being better than others and being able to show it off is important in a collective culture because it gives you the feeling of standing out of a group.

2. An interaction, the feeling of “being part of the production”:
With the trainee group, fans are producing their superstars, in the surprise factory users are producing their own products. This leads to a higher customer loyalty.

Compared to European or US brands it seems like Chinese brands are performing very well in this way at the moment. It remains exciting to see which Chinese business models will continue to embrace gamification and how customers will adopt them.

Spiegel Institut conducts market and consumer research studies all over the world, we do not only offer the results but also explain the cultural differences to explain the results so that our clients could have a meta understanding of the culture and society.  

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Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim

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