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What is gamification?

Gamification involves using language, visuals or an experience to challenge, motivate or reward your user. It can be as simple as “You’re doing great, keep it up!” or involve points and rewards systems.

The process of gamifying a website or app does not entail genuine gameplay but rather incorporates game mechanics within websites, apps, and intranets to aid users in maintaining motivation and sustained engagement, particularly when faced with intricate or intimidating tasks.

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Why you should consider gamification

Gamification is effective in many ways to enhance customer and employee engagement. We’ve compiled some statistics, so you don’t have to take our word for it.

Gamification is an aggressively growing market

The gamification market was valued at $4.9 billion in 2016, $12.7 billion in 2022, and is projected at $87.58 billion by 2030 (USD), resulting in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.3% from 2023 – 2030. (GlobeNewswire, Zippia)

Gamification in commerce and e-commerce

Queue-it has compiled 79 loyalty program statistics with sources, to help justify gamification in the form of loyalty programs, product queues and drops, with these high-level statistics:

  • 15-25% annual revenue boost for retailers who use loyalty programs.
  • 84% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that offers a loyalty program, and
  • 50% of customers of brands with loyalty programs actively recommend those brands to others.

Gamification in education

Gamification has proven invaluable in education (Zippia):

  • 50% improvement in student productivity,
  • 34% improvement in student test scores, and
  • 40% improvement in skill retention.

Gamification for employees

The estimated cost of bored workers in the USA equates to between $450 and $550 billion annually (USD), averaging $15,000 per employee. 33% of bored employees are looking to leave their jobs, with only 19% leaving for a better salary. (Forbes)

Gamification in the workplace and training systems can be a helpful mechanism to engage with employees (Zippia):

  • 95% of employees prefer a gamified work experience.
  • 30% of employees find gamified e-learning more engaging.
  • 89% of employees are happier and more productive due to gamification at work.

The benefits of gamification

Applying game elements and principles to non-game contexts offers several benefits when implemented effectively:

  • Increased engagement: Gamification makes tasks and activities more engaging, encouraging users to participate actively. It taps into people’s natural desire for competition, achievement, and recognition.
  • Enhanced learning: Gamified experiences can be educational and help users acquire new skills or knowledge in an interactive and enjoyable way. This is particularly useful in e-learning and training environments.
  • Motivation and productivity: By setting clear goals, challenges, and rewards, gamification can motivate users to accomplish tasks and meet objectives more efficiently. It can boost employee productivity and engagement in a workplace setting.
  • Behavioural change: Gamification can be used to encourage specific behaviours, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle or adhering to best practices in a professional setting.
  • Data collection and insights: Gamified systems can gather valuable user data and insights. This data can inform decision-making, helping organisations better understand user preferences and behaviours.
  • Community building: Gamification often includes social elements like leader boards, badges, and challenges, fostering a sense of community and friendly competition among users.
  • Brand loyalty: Companies can use gamification to enhance customer loyalty programs, rewarding customers for their engagement and purchases.
  • Goal achievement: Users are more likely to set and achieve personal or professional goals when they are presented in a gamified format. This can apply to fitness goals, financial savings, or project milestones.
  • Feedback and improvement: Gamified systems often provide immediate feedback, allowing users to see the consequences of their actions. This feedback loop can encourage iterative improvement.
  • Entertainment and enjoyment: Ultimately, gamification should be fun and enjoyable. It can turn mundane or routine tasks into something more enjoyable and memorable.
  • Competitive advantage: Organisations that effectively implement gamification can gain a competitive advantage by offering unique and engaging experiences to their customers, employees, or users.
  • Cost savings: In employee training and onboarding, gamification can reduce the cost of traditional training methods while achieving better results.

Step 1: Setting challenges

Why challenges work

  • People are more likely to perform favours for someone they’ve helped before, a concept known as the Ben Franklin effect.
  • Getting fully immersed in a task with goals and challenges puts users in a Flow State, resulting in happier users.

How to challenge your users

Create opportunities for your users to feel like they are a valuable part of their community through active participation and contribution. Some of these can be seen in user forums like Stack Overflow.

  • Fill out a signup form.
  • Answer forum questions.
  • Moderate posts.
  • Vote in community polls.
  • Enter business data like market trends, inventory levels and forecast data).

Creating and communicating challenges

  • Think about what your users like and how they might respond to challenges.
  • Balance questions with user ROI (what they get out of it).
  • Leave some things to the imagination (users don’t need to know your motives).
  • Consider the aftercare (the user completed a task, what’s next?)

When crafting challenges, consider your audience and how different user types will react, since this can impact participation:

  • some users may be sceptical and feel discouraged by the time requirements or ROI of their time investment, where
  • others may enjoy the challenge as long as their expectations are managed.

Check out our article on how to approach UX design from a more scientific angle with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Step 2: Encouragement and motivation

Users’ needs drive their motivations. Encourage and motivate users with fun and context-appropriate statements to help them push through lengthy or complex processes.

This can be helpful in long or complex forms, data entry and high-stakes tasks (e.g., scheduling an email campaign to thousands of recipients). Long and complex processes chew at users’ tolerances, and they may find themselves demotivated, which could lead to abandonment. Encourage them with statements like:

  • “Nearly there!” or “Not long now!”, which are valuable on:
    • long forms, and
    • loading screens on apps and websites.
  • “You’re doing great! Keep it up!”, keeping users engaged in:
    • fitness apps,
    • learning management systems (LMS), and
    • multi-page form submissions.
  • “You’re more than halfway!”: The Kappa effect or perceptual time dilation explains that users may feel like time passed than actually did when involved in repetitive tasks. This can help users stay motivated when completing:
    • long forms with multiple fields, and
    • complex forms where users have to think about each answer.
  • Motivation can also come in the form of example text. Consider a broad question that asks: “Tell us about yourself”, where the user is left wondering: “in what context?” Provide guidance with embedded motivation, e.g., “My greatest professional achievement is…”, or “In the office, I thrive when I am surrounded by…”.

Step 3: Rewards and celebration

In our article on a scientific approach to UX design with Myers-Briggs (MBTI), we can see that some users love feedback on their work. Think of the user as a glass of water, slowly being drained as they their valuable energy into a task. You can easily fill them back up (making them feel great again) with micro rewards and feedback on their work.

Crafting reward statements

  • Consider your audience demographics:
    • What are the age groups?
    • What are their interests
    • Can we spot any common pain points where motivational statements would be helpful?
    • Are there any common motivators that would encourage active participation?
  • What do your users unconsciously desire, within the contexts of why they’re engaging with your content, and try to appeal to that side of them rather than tackling the actual problem at hand e.g.: for a user creating an email campaign::
    • create reward statements with success in view, e.g., “nice work, you’re almost there!”,
    • use relatable language:
      • speak from a familiar persona,
      • use familiar phrases,
      • be genuine and avoid patronising or obvious statements,
    • cheer users on in areas where you expect abandonment – in our example, hitting send on an email campaign to thousands of customers is a high pressure task with no undo button:
      • if everything has been checked over, encourage your users with a reassuring statement, e.g.: “Everything looks great!”, or “You’re all set!”,
  • Say something worth saying (instead of simply stating the obvious).

Points and rewards

Game mechanics of challenge and reward work hand in hand. You may just want to share statistics with the user in a dashboard. If you want to encourage active participation, you may want to share accolades with others in the community. Consider the following when crafting your challenge / reward system:

  • how points are earned:
    • through a purchase,
    • through active participation, or
    • through referrals,
  • when users receive points:
    • purchases:
      • immediately after purchase, or
      • after the return period has expired,
    • in a user forum like Stack Overflow:
      • when posting a question,
      • when responding to questions, or
      • up or downvoting on others’ contributions,
    • in a training system:
      • after logging in,
      • after completing a course or module, or
      • after gaining a certification.
    • through referrals, when the referred user:
      • completes a purchase,
      • completes registration, or
      • contributes to the community,
  • what achievements you share with the community in a way that encourages others to participate by:
    • sharing point levels or amounts,
    • creating achievement badges (most responses, most active, best response, etc.),
  • optionally, how users can spend their points:
    • e-commerce platforms points can be redeemed as:
      • gift rewards, or
      • cash or store credit,
    • in community platforms points can be used for:
      • digital upgrades to the user’s profile, which is popular in gaming platforms like Steam.

Step 4. Aftercare and continuing the journey

Aftercare is pivotal to rewarding your users for completing big tasks. If you encourage them throughout their journey without providing reassurance at the end, they may you can leave your users feeling empty and lost.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp covers this topic from the perspective of a choreographer, and although not directly related to gamification, she describes the emptiness creatives experience after completing big projects, similar to how users feel after completing tasks that are daunting to them.

After a task is completed, consider:

  • the user’s return on investment (ROI) – what do they get out of it, and
  • their motive so we can continue their UX journey with a logical next step.

Aftercare examples

For online orders

  • thank them for their order, e.g., “Thank you! Your order has been successfully received”,
  • manage their expectation, e.g., “Your order will be packed and shipped in the next 48 hours. A tracking number will be sent to the email you provided.”
  • provide logical next steps, e.g., “view order status” or “Did you know that for every order you get rewards points? Click here to view your rewards.”

When configuring email campaigns:

  • praise them for completing the email send, e.g., “Nice work!”,
  • manage their fears, e.g., “Everything is running smoothly.”,
  • provide logical next steps, e.g., “To view how your email’s performance, check out the campaign dashboard.”

Gamification examples

Stack Overflow and MailChimp provide great examples of gamification.

Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow is a community forum where users can ask or answer questions, and is one of the most popular sites in the Stack Exchange ecosystem. Their product tour provides a nice overview of how the platform works, and covers a lot of the gamification make their platforms so popular.

StackExchange screenshot showing profile overview

Profile overview

Each user has a profile summary which is sort of a satellite view of the Stack Exchange world, showing which communities they belongs to, where they’ve contributed, and highlights the contributions that the community found most beneficial.

StackExchange screenshot showing rank

How you rank in the community

Users can see how they rank amongst other contributors and will see changes in rank as they contribute to any of the platforms.

StackExchange screenshot showing reputation

Reputation

Reputation is an important metric, allowing users to see how their contributions impacted the greater community, which spans across the entire Stack Exchange platform.

MailChimp

Mailchimp is an all-in-one marketing platform that helps you manage and talk to your clients, customers, and other interested parties.

MailChimp Encouragement

Encouragement for big or scary tasks

Nothing is scarier than the thought of sending an email to tens of thousands of customers. If you’ve inadvertently missed anything during your multiple checks and reviews, once the email is sent, there is no undo button and no going back.

To help users follow through, MailChimp encourages them with a kind and gentle: “This is your moment of glory.”

MailChimp Encouragement

Encouraging statements

Ensuring good account standing is important. MailChimp rewards users for being good citizens with some words of encouragement: “Keep up the good work!”

MailChimp High Five Celebration

Celebrations for task success

Celebrating a user getting across the finish line is important. This is a great example of the aftercare that gives users words of encouragement, informs them of what just happened, and also provides a mini celebration for completing your daunting task with “High Fives!”

Conclusion

It’s important to note that the success of gamification depends on thoughtful design, clear objectives, and a deep understanding of the target audience.

When implemented well, gamification can be a powerful tool in growing your business.

Last updated 4 Mar 2024

About the Author: Stephan

With 20 years of industry experience as a UX specialist, designer and developer, I enjoy teaching and sharing insights about UX, accessibility and best practices for e-commerce and the web.

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