Gamification: A Growth Technique With Proven Results

The psychology behind gamification and how you can use it to increase engagement with your users!

Published May 2021Tagged under Design

Gamification is a technique that applies game-like principles to non-gaming activities. It’s designed so your users feel more engaged or motivated while using your product, which will lead to better engagement overall!

What is Gamification?

Ever notice how some apps feel more addicting than others? Like they're almost a video game, even when they're not?

This is a UX tactic called gamification - a technique designed to insert gameplay-like elements such as progression, achievements and obstacles that make a product feel more enjoyable and engaging. It's well known now and used commonly as a growth or conversion tactic in many websites, products and apps as it has a proven track record. But how does it actually work?

The Psychology behind Gamification

Gamification relies on the same principles of behavioural psychology that you've probably encountered before:

  • Classical conditioning: when our actions are accompanied with a pleasurable outcome or reward, we'll associate those behaviours with happiness and want to repeat them. This is why gamifying your app can be so appealing for users as they get points, achievements, etc. which makes it feel more fun to use!
  • Operant conditioning: this theory follows operant behaviour where rewards reinforce certain patterns of behaviour within an individual - like how getting some likes every time you post a photo might make us want to share photos even more because there's incentive involved.
  • Cognitive dissonance: if we're presented two conflicting pieces of information at once (e.g. you're working out but you still see your sweat and hear the music) we'll want to reconcile these feelings by continuing with our workout.
  • The "Ikea effect": when we put in a lot of work ourselves, or feel like it was hard-earned, we'll value that thing more - like how people might enjoy using an app after they've spent time building their profile themselves (for example).
  • Expectancy theory: this is where someone predicts what will happen based on previous experiences or results. For instance, gamified apps are often designed well so users should expect them to be enjoyable because they've been designed well!

It's important for designers not only to understand these theories behind gamification, but also stay up-to-date with the new techniques and strategies that emerge.

How do I implement Gamification?

Here are three gamification tactics you can use on your website:

  • Engaging: gamification can keep users on your site longer. Fun, interactive content and design will encourage them to stay logged in or return frequently.
  • Incentivising: the use of rewards as motivation for completing tasks is a proven technique that incentivises desired behavior with tangible recognition (such as badges). This may increase engagement and conversion rates by giving people something they want - such as achievement, digital products or access to new features - not just money!
  • Unexpectedness: this means adding elements into your product that are unexpected much like you would in a video game. Some examples are surprise levels where you have no idea what's coming next, hidden messages or random events unfolding while the user interacts with it

What are some real examples?

There are are few ways to gamify your app.

Incorporating gamification elements into existing features to increase engagement, such as adding a progress bar or achievement badges that can be collected.

For example, if you have an app for ordering and picking up food, gamifying the process by giving points every time someone orders anything from your service is another way of incentivising people to stay logged in or return frequently.

Or let's say there are two different types of coffee beans you offer on your website: one is more expensive than the other but has double caffeine because it's darker roast. You could provide either some kind of visual indicator (maybe with colours), where dark = more caffeinated; or actually list what milligrams per ounce each type has next to their price.

Or, if you sell clothes and want to gamify the process of finding an outfit for a work-day, then maybe show what outfits are trending in your area or offer some kind of competitive game where people can join a team.

There's no shortage of ways to do this!

What are some bad examples of gamification?

Some bad examples of gamification are offering coupon codes for a limited time or limiting access to your site. The best example is when you offer something that's free but make it difficult to find or use, those tactics will have poor results and annoy users rather than engage them. The challenge for UX Designers is to gamify in a way that's engaging and fun for the user.

Some other examples include:

  • Manipulation: this gamification technique is more like a marketing tactic where the company tricks people into buying something
  • Punishment: this type of gamifying aspect may be seen in video games, but it's not a recommended UX design strategy. This can frustrate and anger users as they feel their time or progress was wasted
  • Novelty factor: some companies create games that are engaging for one day only before getting old to the user
  • Exclusivity: another bad gamification example would be limiting access to certain features based on if someone pays money or has status with your site/product

The best way to avoid these pitfalls? Do research beforehand! There are plenty of articles about what good gamifications looks like so you don't have to go through the trials and tribulations of making your own.