The Japanese arm of Coca-Cola makes a case for "vending machine" as the next big mobile gaming platform.
Gamification, the process of putting everyday actions in the context of a videogame, is a little bit like the Force: it has a light and a dark side. If you and your roommates are keeping your apartment spic-and-span thanks to Chore Wars or giving your students achievements for completing their homework, you're in the clear. If you're using it to hawk unhealthy food, the utility is a little more questionable. It's not exactly clear where Coca-Cola's latest marketing ploy falls on this spectrum. Soon, Japanese Coke machines will allow smartphone users to take part in a game called "Happiness Quest," where they can customize a digital Coke avatar and rack up points through constant check-ins. This tactic will encourage Japanese consumers not only to spend more time hanging out at Coke machines, but also to seek new ones out on a regular basis.
The setup for "Happiness Quest" is pretty simple: pick your favorite Coke machine, scan a QR code, and customize your anthropomorphic, soda-dispensing buddy with a number of backgrounds and accessories. As you travel the Land of the Rising Sun, scan additional Coke machines to amass a virtual coterie of companions for your machine. Checking in under special circumstances (such as on Christmas or multiple times during lunch hours) will net you badges which, in turn, unlock more accessories. While these activities seem pretty tame, some of the more adventurous badges requiring checking in at machines clear across the country.
To be fair, none of these activities requires buying so much as a single can of Coke. However, how many times do you think a customer can scan a Coke machine (during lunchtime, no less) without dropping just a few yen on the sweet, syrupy soda? Make no mistake: this promotion is out to make regular customers out of Japanese participants. Its ultimate success remains to be seen, but assuming this promotion makes money, how long before Europe and North America see a similar strategy?