Humans are born to play. From children’s “make believe” games to sports broadcast to billions of people, games have always been a crucial part of human life. All games share an end goal, a set of rules that players must follow, and a challenging but rewarding path toward the goal. Games provide us with many benefits: access to engaging “flow states”, improved social bonds, improved mental health, feelings of accomplishment, and a chance to relax and have fun. Recently though, businesses have started to incorporate elements of gameplay and have offered consumers a unique way to use their products or services.
Combining concepts of gameplay with non-game activities is known as gamification. Businesses in many industries are finding gamification to be one of the best ways to help their customers learn, consume, get incentivized, and progress through a customer journey. It converts a non-game activity into a game by adding the core elements of gameplay: enticing end goals, a set of rules, and an exciting journey through which the “player” can progress and grow.
It can be as simple as a rewards program or as complex as an intricate online course that navigates a user toward mastery of a new language. Turning rather mundane aspects of our lives into gameplay can motivate, connect, teach, engage, and educate. There are countless potential applications of gamification and they all operate on the foundation of human psychology.
The term “Gamification” exploded in popularity in 2010 (according to Google Trends). But there is much debate about when this process originated. Slowly over the last few decades though, we’ve seen surges in the use of point systems, badges, rewards programs, leader boards, and many of the other gameplay elements by brands.
Most games operate under three conditions:
Consider soccer as an example of a game. There is a goal: get the soccer ball into the goal more times than the opposing team. There are several rules such as a time limit and out-of-bounds areas. The “path” of the game is to advance the ball up the field with the team to get to the goal. As an example of gamification, consider a clothing brand’s rewards program for their eCommerce website. It shares the same fundamentals as a game of soccer. The objective might be to collect 50 rewards points to receive a free hat. The rules? Every dollar you spend in the store equals a single rewards point. The “path” of this game is simply to shop.
What drives the popularity of games and gamification? Human psychology. Gamification works so well because it taps into parts of our brain involved with motivation. Human behavior is fueled by reward mechanisms like the pleasure of eating calorie-rich food. With readily available ways to receive rewards (often done in visually stimulating ways), users become truly engaged. Gamification provides powerful extrinsic motivation (rewards, perks) while also being intrinsically motivating (it’s fun!). Additionally, they appeal to the variety of ways in which each of us might feel rewarded. Some enjoy watching the rewards or points stack up. Some like the feeling of accomplishment, finishing something or checking off a box. Others may feel motivated by the reward of competing against others.
The inherent reward structure in gamification gets us hooked but also delivers a host of benefits.
Gamification motivates and encourages productivity. Users get inspired to finish a course because their progress is tracked and rewarded. Habits may be monitored and users may feel motivated to do better than their peers on a leaderboard.
Gamification helps us retain information. Learning anything this way makes learning fun. When we enjoy activities, we stay more engaged with them and for longer. This could apply to a new subject you want to learn or a new employee onboarding course. Keeping your attention focused on a “fun game” is sometimes all the motivation needed to keep learning.
Gamification offers businesses insights into customer behavior, mentality, and motivations. Gamification processes and platforms allow businesses to see inside the mind of their users. Where are users most engaged and where are they losing interest? What makes them keep going and what makes them quit and never return?
Gamification promotes social connection. Doing things with other people is more enjoyable for many people than doing things by yourself. By being part of a circle of like-minded peers, users may feel excited to continue playing the game (and using the product or service as a result).
Gamification is fun. Playing games delivers us a host of “feel good” chemicals like endorphins and dopamine spikes. We learn better when we are emotionally engaged and feeling good. That’s why we love stories. Gamification is storytelling. How? By creating a story out of the user’s journey and making them the hero of the story.
DuoLingo, a popular language learning app, guides users on an engaging journey toward language mastery with its use of fun rewards, badges, and progress tracking. It uses a fantastic visual brand in a way that makes language learning fun and thus improves your progress.
Domino’s Pizza improved its business by introducing gamification to its online business, an arena that had been previously unexplored by the pizza company. Locating stores nearby, tracking pizza delivery, offering rewards coupons, and in-app games offered customers a way to engage with their favorite pizza company.
Reddit, the massive social media website that replaced forums as the go-to way of making connections and following your passions, features the popular upvote system. They also feature something called Reddit Gold, a way for users to reward one another for good content. These two aspects of Reddit motivate users to post in and engage with any of the thousands of “subreddits”.
Strava began as a tracking app for cyclists and runners. Using this app, fitness enthusiasts can compete against one another by comparing your route’s time with that of another user. Strava provides an excellent example of the power of a social community and goodhearted competition in creating a great gamification experience.
McDonald’s created the fun and addictive Monopoly promotion where customers received peel-off stickers with their orders. These Monopoly piece stickers were used to play a game of Monopoly with various rewards offered for the successful completion of parts of their Monopoly board. With free food and big cash prizes available as a reward, it was a wildly successful example of gamification.
As a business, there’s no limit to what gamification can do for your product or service. Businesses looking to create a gamified version of their product or service or enter into gamification in any way need to keep a few things in mind.
Think about the big picture. When designing the “game”, map out the best path in the best timeframe and do so from the perspective of your end-user. Make sure the experience isn’t too complicated or daunting. You want rewards to be strategic triggers to encourage further use. This builds engagement and a strong bond while not bogging them down with something that seems like work. Make sure to balance your users’ extrinsic and intrinsic motivations such as competition, community, rewards triggers, and status.
Make sure you have a deep understanding of your customers’ motivations. What drives them? What benefits are they seeking? What do they want? What do they need? Understanding this sets the best framework moving forward to create the best “game” out of your product or service.
Create something that can compete amongst the other alternatives out there. This means, creating something worthy of being played: high-quality and relevant content, a solid user experience, and the most visually appealing design and play methods.
Test and tweak. Your first iteration of gamification is only the beginning. Use data and insights to make the experience better for the end-user and your business. Take every opportunity to seek out feedback and listen to what consumers want and need.
Expect gamification to continue to expand into every facet of our lives. Many are looking forward to our lives truly becoming a game with many engaging gamification journeys leading toward the attainment of our professional and personal goals.