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Why does tournament
gameplay work?

Competition is inherent in gamification. The very definition of the word implies adding a competitive element to activities. It, of course, owes much of its existence to the sporting world. One thinks of world-class events such as the UK Premier League, Wimbledon Tennis Finals and the Formula One Grand Prix season as highly gamified. The thing these, and other sporting fixtures, have in common is Tournament Gameplay.
Why does sport love tournaments so much? They are an efficient way of sorting winners from losers. At their purest, they let stronger players or teams beat weaker ones to reach a result. Through winning a tournament, the strongest prove worthy, gain bragging rights and get all the respect and adulation that goes with the crown.
It’s for these reasons that tournaments are also appealing to customers. Who doesn’t ultimately want to be named Champion in something? It’s a journey people commit to with an unrivalled emotional commitment.
Tournaments also provide organisers with mechanisms to control the action. The Union of European Football Associations, commonly known as UEFA, wants popular clubs to play in the latter stages of the Champions League, for example. Wimbledon adopts a seeding system to ensure the season’s top players make an appearance.
These ‘optimised’ tournaments are created by a range of pre-qualification processes, draws and ranking and seeding systems. In the sporting world, competitor attributes, strengths and weaknesses inform tournament rules to create the most engaging, and often economically advantageous, event possible.
Similarly, the gaming industry can fairly use tournament rules to attract and favour particular groups of customers. However, unlike in our sports comparison, we may not always be looking for elite performers. We might need to take an opposite view and create a tournament experience that is attractive to everyone, putting skill levels aside. We can do this by creating a game that gives users a more dynamic and unpredictable tournament leaderboard experience.

Economic drivers are, of course, a reality too. Tournaments can be structured to support any financial model. They might encourage deposits – ‘new money’ – into any system, for example, or encourage more profitable in-game spending or a balance of the two. A tournament with a dual-scoring mechanism might weight different values to drive behaviours. For example, imagine each spent unit being worth 5 points, but each deposit unit being worth 50 points. Such a tournament would inherently support new users. Swap the figures round and long term, active spenders will be favoured. Get the ratio right and the tournament will provide a dynamic and exciting leaderboard for competing customers of all kinds that also supports your brand’s financial model.
It’s not just money of course that benefits from a weighted model. Weighting improbable events with higher points will keep the leaderboard dynamic. Rewarding risk-takers with higher points means dull, predictable less entertaining players, good as they may be, are less likely to win. Giving more points to those that over-achieve a monthly exercise goal, for example, or hit the jackpot on a slot machine or hold four Aces in poker are all possible in gamified Tournament Play. Speed is another way to leverage volatility and excitement. A lot of swings in fortune can happen in just ten rounds or even just an hour. Here, seeding players, or handicapping them as in golf, can make a real difference too.
We can learn a lot from sports tournaments when it comes to prizes too. Even with the multi-million dollar elite events, prize money is linked to the costs of taking part. A lifetime dedicated to being number one deserves the big bucks. In our gaming world, prizes must be similarly aligned to the costs and efforts involved in playing the game. It’s no good, for example, if the effort required to advance on the tournament leaderboard feels a step behind the prizes. Simply, if you spend £10 (or perceive that to be the cost of playing) to reach the next step up for a prize of £8, you’ll spot a flaw in the gameplay and quickly lose interest. If you spend £10 and win £15 you might well continue to the next round imagining future riches.
Lastly, in this age of compliance, we must recognise that Tournament Gameplay comes with risks of addiction and misuse. We must be transparent, socially responsible and fair in the way we use this powerful tool. Used wisely a tournament can have a significant positive impact on you, your brand and, perhaps most importantly, your customers though.

Do you run tournaments for your customers? What have you learned? We would love to hear more about your experiences.