Gamification: What is? Why it matters and why you should apply it

Attract. Engage. Educate. Reward.

Gamification Strategy Concept. Closeup Landing Page on Laptop Screen on Background of Meeting Room in Modern Office. Blurred Image with Selective focus. 3D Illustration.

Gamification is a new field, a new concept, and, in many ways, it’s misunderstood. There is a tremendous amount of confusion about just what gamification means, how it relates to different other game related concepts and so it’s important to clear that up and put gamification in context.

What Gamification is not

The easiest way to do it is by first looking at what gamification is not, then exploring what gamification means, why it matters and why you should apply it.

First point, gamification is not all about turning everything into a game. Games are designed systematically, artistically for the purpose of being fun. Most of the time, there’s a lot of engineering involved, a lot of algorithms, a lot of technology along with an artistic experiential side of game design techniques.

Secondly, gamification should be distinguished from Game theory.  Game theory has indeed a deep relationship to games but it’s something different. Game theory is the study of strategic decision-making, using mathematical models.

Similarly, it’s often thought about as just points, badges and leaderboards, avatars, social graphs… or as being purely about marketing.

What is Gamification ?

So, let’s look now at what gamification means, why organizations are applying it and why it matters.

First, gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. That means you’re still in the real world, you’re still at your normal job or on a website because you want to buy a product.

Gamification is about learning from games, understanding what makes the games successful, understanding what makes the games engaging; and then taking some of those techniques, and thoughtfully applying them to non-game contexts. So, circumstances where something involves some combination of game elements and game design, for a purpose other than playing the game, that’s gamification.

There are lots of examples of companies and other organizations that are successfully applying game mechanics and other lessons from games to address complex business problems.

Secondly, gamification teaches us a lot about design. Gamification says: let’s make the experience better – by learning from games, by finding elements from games that can enhance people’s experience, by finding the meaningful core of these experiences, by making them more rewarding and by creating greater motivation, without pulling people out of the real world. However, it turns out that doing gamification well, doing gamification ethically, doing gamification in a way that fits in with the ultimate long term business objectives, requires a certain level of understanding about game design, its different techniques and components as well as the pros and cons of different forms of gamification.

Finally, when we get into gamification, we’re getting very quickly into psychology. By trying to answer questions such as “What is that allows games to support sophisticated kinds of thinking and learning”, “What is about games, that makes them so addictive and engaging?” – gamification teaches us things about the way our minds work. To understand how to design things that are effectively gamified, we need to understand, for example, motivation. What is that makes someone want to do something? What are the different kinds of motivation? And what are the different techniques that can be used to help people achieve their goals?

This last concept is probably the most important in explaining why gamification is such a powerful tool and such a hot business concept.

 Why it matters? And why you should apply it

There are many different areas where motivation is important and gamification can be the one to provide that motivation.  It can encourage people to participate when they otherwise might not. It can get people to do things that either they really want to do, or maybe they’re not so sure they want to do.

There are three main categories, three main areas, broadly speaking, where gamification adds value. These are external, internal, and behaviour change context.

The first one is external to the firm or the organization. Typically, these are applications of gamification for customers or for potential customers within a marketing and sales context.

Verizon Insider

Gamification Use: Customer Loyalty and Engagement

Verizon Wireless ramped up customer engagement with some gamification tricks in Verizon Insider, a community hub where users can get exclusive offers, participate in online and real-world events, and engage with the community through writing reviews and other interactions to earn points. By getting personal, more interactive and rewarding, Verizon is amplifying brand recognition and loyalty.

verizon insider gamification


Gamification Use: Employee Wellness, Cost Reduction

Keas is an employee wellness platform used by enterprises to maintain lower group health insurance costs and maintain low expenses related to events such as unnecessary sick days.

Keas uses gamification within its platform, enabling employees from client companies to log into their personal dashboard to view stats and earn awards for achievements such as completing tasks or support co-workers for getting closer towards their goals.

Keas gamification


The third category is behaviour change.  For example, you know you should go to the gym more, but it’s hard. Motivation through gamification can potentially change that behaviour, and transform this practice into a habit.


Gamification Use: Behavior Change, Brand Visibility, Customer Loyalty

Nike has launched a campaign called NikeFuel as part of its vast Nike+ community. In NikeFuel, users compete against each other in the daily amount of physical activity. An app on their smartphone would note all activities performed by users and transcribe them into points. Nike also made sure that its customers are engaged and motivated enough to repeat tasks with growing excitement. After reaching a certain level, NikeFuel unlocks special trophies and rewards. All of this generates lots of motivation for Nike’s customers – not only to keep doing sports, but to share their results on social media and increase brand’s visibility.

Nike gamification

In fact, Nike +’s concept has been so successful that the main framework was built upon and expanded by many other businesses. A good example is that of Zombies, Run!, a game where instead of competing with your mates, you are running ahead of a flesh-eating army of zombies.

zombie run gamification


Gamification Use: Behaviour Change, Environmental Awareness, Learning, Customers Loyalty

Recyclebank rewards users for actions that are good for the environment, such as learning how to cut back on water consumption or purchasing greener products – specifically, those with the Recyclebank logo. Users earn points while learning about greener living practices and pledging to follow them, and exchange their points for rewards.

Recycle-bank gamification

U.S. Army

Gamification Use: Recruitment

The U.S. Army is no stranger to using games and for more than a decade the America’s Army has turned its knowledge and experience of training games into a powerful recruiting tool. Thus, the use of gamification helped the U.S. Army to attract millions of potential new recruits and promote awareness of the U.S. armed forces.

gamification US ARMY

To conclude, gamification is about learning, it’s about about learning from game design but also about fields like psychology, management, marketing and economics. It’s a way to understand things about the psychology of motivation, the human behaviour, whether that’s in a workplace context, a marketing context, a crowd sourcing context or a behaviour change context. Gamification is learning deep things about what makes people act in a certain way and design patterns to activate those aspects of human behaviour.

Finally, gamification means putting yourself in the shoes of a game designer. And the goal of a game designer is to create a sense of play for a specific purpose: to get people playing and to keep them playing.

We need to remember that gamification  is fundamentally about fun and about creating an immersive, captivating, inspiring, easy and rewarding experience for your current and potential customers. This also involves creating meaning; and meaning doesn’t necessarily mean financial benefit. It means something that your customers care about, something they think of as being valuable.

So, if you need to think like a game designer, you need to think of your customers or users as players. This means that the first thing you stay up at night thinking about should be: “How do I get people in?” and secondly, once they’re in, “How do I keep them there?”.  Which is the same question as “How do I create an experience that will genuinely engage them for an extended period of time? “ .

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