« Screenshot taken by the author from https://videogame.balenciaga.com/en/ on 11 April 2022, published under fair use ».


More and more popular among luxury companies for marketing purposes, current gamification strategies have yet to reach their full potential. In addition to requirements for realistic objectives and aligned capabilities of the firm, a successful gamification project should be integrated in a scalable, omnichannel strategy that benefits the company as a whole.


Video games have become more and more popular in recent years, and have demonstrated a high level of motivational potential. The idea of taking advantage of this motivational potential for real-world applications is at the core of current discussions about the concept of gamification.

The term emerged in the early 2000s. A first definition elaborated by Deterding, Dixon & al. and widely acknowledged by the academia stated that gamification refers to the “use of game design elements within non-game contexts”[1]. Werbach proposed the following definition: “the process of making activities more game-like”[2]. While Deterding, Dixon & al. focused on the building blocks of gamification, Werbach focused on the user experience. Despite a lack of consensus on how to define gamification, the concept has gained growing interest both among researchers in Human-Computer Interaction, business literature or psychology. Conceptual frameworks were developed, as for instance the MDA[3] one, standing for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. According to Hunicke and al., Mechanics describe the components of the game implemented by the game designer, dynamics refer to the behavior of players during the game, and aesthetics describe the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player when interacting with the game system. The three components form a particular view of the game depending on the perspective applied to it. From the player’s perspective, the game will be seen from the aesthetic component first.

Applications in business increased over the past years, be it for internal purposes – the retention and acquisition of talents – or for marketing-related purposes – the retention and acquisition of new customers. Afterworld by Balenciaga, Mini-games by Karl Lagerfeld on Instagram, Ratberry by Burberry, Gucci retro-gaming app… at a time when competition prevails and digitalization is accelerated by the covid-19 pandemic, luxury companies, mainly operating in fashion and cosmetics, massively adopt gamification strategies to differentiate and transmit their core identity and values to customers when launching innovations or events. Such strategies aim at generating strong implication and engagement among prospects, through the creation of platforms where specific game design features ranging from ‘classic’ digital tool boxes to the most sophisticated virtual universes are implemented. The success of such strategies – when successful – stems from the activation of intricate and complex psychological mechanisms in people. All of these expectations are rooted in abundant literature on the psychological effects of gambling, the drivers of motivation, the need to renew the customer and employee experience in a fast-paced and competitive environment.

However, marketing in the luxury industry follows specific codes, and current research in gamification has not focused on practices that can be observed in luxury. In this research paper, we discuss how luxury companies can benefit from gamification, in terms of results of course, but also in terms of relationship and emotional link to the customer.


We focus on qualitative secondary data consisting in a selection of games or initiatives related to gamification launched this year or in previous years by companies operating in the luxury industry (see Figure 1). The selection of games was made in order to have a varied panel to analyse: the concepts, the setups, the experiences deployed by these games are all different. We study these different games using the conceptual MDA framework theorized by Hunicke and al[4]. We proceed as follows: for games that are still available online or in application, we play them and note the different elements included in the defined conceptual framework. For games that are no longer accessible, we collect relevant information from websites.

Data analysis

Overall, games developed by luxury brands are based on well-known mechanics, often derived from arcade games. Rules are usually mentioned explicitly and shortly at the beginning of the game, which is easy to access: no personal information is required, the user only has to accept cookies and terms of use. Sometimes, an email address is requested at the end to allow the user to collect a reward.

The most frequent setup is that of an avatar evolving in a virtual environment, collecting objects and avoiding others (see Figure 1). Only a few moves are authorized, and the game stops when the avatar hits an obstacle.  The goal is to get the highest score, and / or to complete a level, and there is almost always a reward as an incentive. One special and interesting case is Afterworld by Balenciaga: designed as a walking simulator, it allows the player to immerse in the latest collection’s universe by meeting characters wearing Balenciaga garments in a 3D environment.

Gamification dynamics are the players’ behavior emerging during the experience. Bartle[5] defined four profiles of players, with differentiated reactions to one specific game: the killer is the most competing player, while the achiever is oriented towards mastering the mechanics of the game. The explorer is interested in discovery, and likes to show others what they understood. For the socialiser, relationships taking place within the gamified environment are more important than winning: they need to interact with other players.

While the simplicity of minigames allows brands to reach all kinds of players, killers might be more sensitive to games with a score and a ranking, like Hero by Burberry. Achievers might enjoy Enigma by Ferragamo, a game built as an investigation with several consistent steps. Explorers will surely love Afterworld by Balenciaga, as it gives them the opportunity to discover a new universe.

Rewards from Enigma by Ferragamo and Hero by Burberry are badges and Instagram filters that can easily be shared on social media, and might be most appealing to socialisers.

Aesthetics are strongly linked to Dynamics, since they really impact players’ emotions, hence influencing their reaction to the games. The striking element from luxury mini-games is their retro aesthetics, both in the overall interface (Karl Lagerfeld’s “Pacman”) and in avatars (Miu Miu’s pixelated star with a glamorous 50s look).  Cuteness is also really present in gamification, as epitomized by Burberry’s little deer avatar. Once again, Afterworld by Balenciaga is a special case: on the reverse, its aesthetics is strongly futuristic and appears as a real brand statement.

Figure 1 – Studied games’ characteristics

Brand Game Avatar Well-known mechanics (arcade games, etc.) Retro / cute aesthetics Reward Data collection
Balenciaga Afterworld X
Burberry B-Bounce X X X X
Burberry Hero X X X X
Ferragamo Enigma X   X X
Fondation Louis Vuitton Lucky Vibes X X X X  
Karl Lagerfeld Revisited « Pac-Man » X X X X X
Marc Jacobs Perfect X X
Miu Miu Be the first Woman on the Miun



Click on the games in red to access them.


The rise of the highly digitized Asiatic market – 35% of luxury consumers are Chinese, and they should reach 40% by 2025[6] – combined with Millenials and Gen-Z decreasing attention span account for luxury companies’ growing interest in gamification strategies, which have a “stopping power” online and allow brands to break the ice with prospects. Covid-19 most certainly accelerated the development of gamification projects, since companies were urged to develop online communications; mini-games with a vintage, cute design were perceived as good alternatives, by answering consumers’ psychological need for comfort in such a disturbing period. Luxury companies usually demonstrate great creativity; games always feature key differentiating elements related to the aesthetics or history of the brand. Paradoxically enough, gamification strategies are rarely considered as 100% digital projects. They try to encompass a wide array of touchpoints and aim at creating a complete experience that allows the brand to stand out from the crowd. However, data collection is often very scarce (see Figure 1), which prevents brands from integrating players in a real conversion funnel, and to take full advantage from these costly developments.

The impression that current French gamification strategies are not being exploited to their full potential in comparison to Asian initiatives stems in particular from the structural gap in potential between these two areas. The existence of centralised platforms that facilitate the development of games, like Wechat[7], and a favourable socio-cultural ground[8] explain the Asian lead. By extension, the benefits of gamification should not be overestimated: alone, they cannot solve a brand’s structural problems. Many gamification projects fail due to lack of knowledge on gamification and realism about the pursued objectives. Therefore, a strong marketing team should develop knowledge on game psychology, reward mechanisms, ethical issues and data collection to embrace all opportunities offered by gamification and create unique experiences rather than just copy competitors. A gamification campaign that is not rigorously planned in terms of budget, motivations, capabilities and target will not prove insightful. Behind the simplistic aspect of some games, the complexity of internal projects implies a long preparation time before moving on to development.

The rise of digital uses[9] has contributed to the renewal of physical sales areas, which are perceived as vectors of unique experiences. Integrating gamification into a 360° vision, at various moments of the customer journey and not only in digital, is an excellent way to maximise its experiential potential. Many companies already understood it and combined digital mini-game to an experience in the physical world: Marc Jacobs designed physical slot machines for their stores to echo Perfect mobile game, Burberry developed specific versions of Hero game to be played exclusively in point of sales. Developing an omnichannel strategy comes with struggles, as regulations on data collection are being reinforced. Furthermore, the teams’ coordination and agility required can be restrained by luxury companies’ wide structures and processes, and deploying it over different markets can prove tedious. Finally, as it evolves in a very volatile market, a successful gamification strategy must be scalable. In a near future, integrating AR and VR technologies could compensate for some of the shortcomings identified.


Luxury companies benefit from gamification strategies in terms of brand image and emotional link to the customer, however they often lack quantitative data to have a precise view of the results of such initiatives. If gamification strategies are not exploited to their full potential yet, there is no denying that they are a great way to differentiate from competitors. The once improbable marriage of video games aesthetics and luxury happens not to be absurd at all: both have in common the will to immerse the player/customer in an extraordinary universe, to tell them a story, and even to make them feel unique. At a time when consumers want to live memorable experiences, gamification appears to be not only the future of digital strategies, but also the future of retail. In fact, retailtainment came and will come in various shades: from arcade games of Coco Game Center in Tokyo back in 2018 to the implementation of Augmented Reality in physical stores – like Burberry in Shenzhen with its social retail store in 2020, luxury companies seek new ways to attract customers and live up to their ever more exigent expectations. Over the past few years, the luxury industry has become increasingly competitive, which led to an overbid effect; mini-games we know in 2021 might become outdated shortly, yet they lay the ground for further digital innovations. The general trend shows that the interest for gamification remains vivid, fed by the increasing popularity of Metaverse, a virtual universe converting in the new playground for brands. At the moment we write this article, Balenciaga has just released a second gamification initiative, in collaboration with Epic Game to develop a partnership with Fortnite. Cartier just launched a collaboration with Drest, an application fully dedicated to virtual fashion and luxury accessories. These latest initiatives confirm luxury industry’s growing interest for the metaverse territory. This might be the sign that the luxury industry, once reluctant to digitalization, has decided to be at the state of the art for good. Another striking and fascinating evolution is the development of Non Fungible Token (NFT); luxury companies like Louis Vuitton start offering exclusive, unique, purely digital elements – in Louis the Game, another gamification initiative, players could win 30 NFTs. Often linked to gamification projects for the moment, at least in the luxury industry, these NFTs are highly valuable, and closely related to complex blockchain topics. Beyond implying a great transformation of marketing – which will have to evolve towards a much more technological approach – NFTs also question our whole conception of objects. This question might be particularly crucial for luxury Houses, which have long based their expertise on craft, excellence and perfection of tangible goods.


This blog article is written by our students Pauline BESNIER and Laure FLEURIOT, as part of their thesis research, with the supervision of Professor Massimo AIROLDI, Lifestyle Research Center, EM Lyon. Further reading, relevant to this research has been published by the center:


Godey, B., Manthiou, A., Pederzoli, D., Rokka, J. et al. (2016) Social media marketing efforts of luxury brands: Influence on brand equity and customer behavior, Journal of Business Research, 69(12), 5833-5841.

Javornik, A., Duffy, K., Rokka, J., Scholz, J., Nobbs, K., Motala, A., & Goldenberg, A. (2021) Strategic approaches to augmented reality deployment by luxury brands, Journal Business Research, 136, 284-292.

Javornik, A., Marder, B., Pizzetti, M. & Warlop, L. (2021) Augmented self-The effects of virtual face augmentation on consumers’ self-concept, Journal of Business Research, 130, 170-187.

Javornik, A., Marder, B., Pizzetti, M. & Warlop, L. (2021) How AR Filters Impact People’s Self-Image, Harvard Business Review, digital articles.


[1] Deterding et al (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: defining “gamification”; In Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (MindTrek ’11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 9-15.

[2] Werbach, K. (2014). (Re) Defining Gamification: A Process Approach. Persuasive Technology Springer International Publishing. pp. 266–272.

[3] Hunicke et al. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research, Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Challenges in Games AI Workshop. 19th National Conference of Artificial Intelligence.

[4] Hunicke et al. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research, Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Challenges in Games AI Workshop. 19th National Conference of Artificial Intelligence.

[5] Bartle R. (1996), “Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs”, Journal of MUD Research, 1996, vol. 1,n°1

[6] McKinsey, “The Age of Digital Darwinism”, 2018

[7]  Daxue Consulting, « The era of WeChat mini-games has come: How to monetize and advertise on mini-games”, 2020

[8] Marketing to China, “Increasing your Audience Engagement through WeChat gamification”, 2019

[9]  Les Echos Etudes, “Luxe & Digital : quelles stratégies à l’heure du client 3.0 ?”, 2017