In 2021, I wrote an article analyzing how Duolingo uses various gamification principles. Still, after using gamification in gambling and financial products in different ways, I better understood how much impact it can have on digital products and wanted to study the subject deeper. In this article, I’m exploring ways brands use gamification by analyzing more principles and methods.
In “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being” by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, we read that motivation is the main driver for the human tendency toward learning and creativity. Motivation can be internal, driven by the love for the activity, or influenced by external factors. People driven by internal motivation have more interest, excitement, and confidence, which then presents itself as enhanced persistence, and creativity. But in order for internal motivation to function it needs an appropriate environment, which turns out to be the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
A sense of competence and autonomy can be achieved with optimal challenges, appropriate positive feedback, and freedom. Relatedness can be enhanced by providing an environment where a person feels connected and meaningfully involved. While creating an environment for internal motivation to flourish, there is also another type of motivation — Extrinsic motivation, which is driven by external factors: tangible rewards, deadlines, and punishments. In some cases, external motivation can diminish the sense of control and autonomy, but used correctly can actually enhance one’s will to perform, think creatively, and be up to the challenge.
As a sense of competency, autonomy, and relatedness are the main drivers of motivation and are correlated with a person’s mental well-being, it is understandable why playing games can make us feel satisfied, accomplished, and connected and thus motivate us to continue to play.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after Physiological needs and safety and security come “love and belonging”, which represents the human need to connect and belong in the community. The need is the bases for the popularity and interest in social games, which allow users to interact with each other through activities and tasks inside the gamified product.
“Love and belonging” is followed by “self-esteem”, which represents the need for achievement and respect from others. In the gaming world, the need is satisfied by virtual badges, statuses, and places on the leaderboard.
And finally “Self-actualization” can be satisfied by providing challenges, quizzes, or tasks that require creativity and problem-solving skills.
Another theory that can be a foundation for gamification was introduced by Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-American psychologist, who described the “flow state”, the state where a person is completely concentrated on the task, has a balance between the skill and the challenge and has control over the task. In the state, we are engaged, and motivated to continue performing the action and it can be found in the middle of boredom and anxiety. Keeping gamers in the “flow state” can be achieved by using level progressions in games or gamified products.
In my personal observation, we have been subconsciously motivated to do boring or unwanted tasks by them being gamified since childhood. Do you remember eating your meal because it was made into a competition against your sibling? Or because you expected dessert — “the reward” after the meal?
I remember playing games based on the most mundane tasks, like waiting tables in a restaurant, parking a car, and typing on the keyboard, all because of the feeling of level progression, control, gaining points and badges, and competing for the space in the leaderboard among my friends.
In today’s highly competitive environment to engage customers or employees and increase loyalty, businesses need to step up the game and include additional elements of motivation, which can be some of the gamification principles. Let’s explore how brands use those principles in different scenarios.
Game principles used in products
Points are one of the most important aspects of gamification. You use points in nearly every method: you track users’ places in the leaderboard using points, you give out badges or collectible items, level users up, or use redeemable points directly as a currency.
Redeemable points are usable points that can be exchanged or cashed and are a foundation of a virtual economy. In terms of redeemable points, it is very important how these points will be perceived. If the points are too hard to collect, or if the reward is not meaningful, users will lose interest and give up trying to collect them. So it is important to make earning them realistic and provide flexible choices for redeeming them.
One good example of using loyalty redeemable points is from the Bank of Georgia. This point system is so popular in the country that nearly everyone using the app tracks those points. They are collectible on every transaction in every store in the country and are redeemable as actual money or in services or products provided in the company catalog.
Another successful example of gamification in Georgian banking is TBC Bank’s game campaign
The brand combined multiple elements of gamification and created a game to promote its mobile app and increase downloads. Users had to answer questions daily and collect points, they could exchange points for actual money or save them for the final round where they could exchange points for hints.
A lot of people got involved, and social media was flooded with screenshots from the game, asking each other answers to the questions.
The main patterns used in the app were POINTS — which were awarded on the correct answers and users actually could collect more and more for bigger awards, LEADERBOARDS — which showed the fastest players daily, and also the final leaderboard which displayed winners of the whole campaign, LEVEL SYSTEM — players love to progress, increasing the level of the challenge increases interest and motivation in tackling those challenges, with each question difficulty was gradually increasing.
Questions were the same for every user, which created a great environment for socializers to communicate with people via social media, they posted screenshots for help, judged or admired how creative questions were, and also motivated and interested people who haven’t been involved in it yet.
Leaderboard is a quite recognizable pattern for users, at first glance we understand that we are looking at the ranking. It is an example of something very social, but yet competitive.
For a leaderboard to work as a motivator, we need to consider providing clear visual cues including the position of the user, the point value of other users to judge how much effort needs to be put to make progress in positions, and a clear indication of which positions are rewarded or progressed to the next level to create a target for users to aim towards.
Leaderboards work well for Achievers, as they are an integral part of competitive games and are always focused on winning, thus leaderboards increase their motivation to engage and get on top. It also works for socializers, as they care about social interaction. For example, Strava shares your walks and exercises with your friend group and lets you compete with your social circle, which is motivating for socializers to track their exercises and engage with the app.
In iGaming leaderboards are one of the most common methods used for engaging players, they are usually tied to promotions and rewards when you reach certain places in the leaderboard. Leaderboards and tournaments are usually used together and motivate Achievers and Socializers to participate by displaying potential rewards.
Collectibles and progress bars
IGaming is a very competitive and dynamic industry, users have a really low switching cost and a lot of options in terms of platforms, thus alongside leaderboards brands often use collectibles and progress bars, which create an incentive for them to stick with a certain platform and not lose the progress.
Collectibles and progress bars are also often used in education, as a sign of progress and motivator to keep going, and retail — for example, imagine you are drinking coffee every day before work and one day you were asked to download an app and collect points so that you would get a free cup of coffee after every 5 purchases. In this scenario, you are more likely to stick to the same coffee shop to get a reward rather than buy coffee at another one.
Turns out that collecting is one of our most powerful instincts. People often collect things as a hobby — stamps, coins, napkins, toys, etc., we feel personal pleasure and accomplishment in owning things and it can often relieve stress. It can work well for socializers as collectors usually love engaging with fellow collectors and sharing their passion and knowledge.
Some collectibles can be Badges, which are rewarded for a specific achievement. Badges can be a sign of experience, status, ranking, and progress. It can also be a way to encourage social promotion as people love to share their achievements.
Badges have an element of excitement and surprise, which is an important part of game design. For the badge to be worth it or to be shareable it should look great. It should also be distinguishable and each new, higher-level badge, should look more and more “expensive” and impressive.
Badges are often used in fitness and health digital products. Obesity is a big problem in the world, and people are trying to find motivation daily to engage in sports activities. Even when motivated, it is usually hard to see and track the progress of their activities, and that often leads to giving up or developing a pessimistic outlook. So using gamification in fitness products is a great way to help users track progress and keep them motivated.
Using Badges serves as a celebration of their achievements, as an indicator that they are doing great, and as an encouragement to achieve an even better and higher-level badge.
Gamification can add incredible value to all the industries mentioned above as it has a positive impact on motivation, knowledge, engagement, loyalty, and enjoyment. It can help us achieve goals with less mental strain and more feelings of joy and achievement.
Apart for customers, gamification is often used in increasing employee motivation
Lots of companies use bonus systems for their employees, which is one of the principles of gamification. Employees accomplish missions and goals and get rewarded with more pay. Apart from that, some companies even include a virtual economy, where you can collect additional virtual money by doing different tasks in the company, for example referring somebody new or conducting lectures or master classes.
Gamification can increase employee engagement and satisfaction, which leads to a higher employee retention rate and more productivity. Studies show, that increased employee engagement has a positive effect on revenue and company growth.
In order to successfully implement gamification in the organization, it is important to research what type of players we have in the company. The company will not be able to achieve results using only the most popular gaming design elements, because different types of players have different motivations in gaming activities. Also, the reward system and virtual economy should be tailored to your employees. If rewards are not meaningful enough or getting them is way too hard and requires too many recourses, employees simply won't participate.
Researchers are gradually discovering more relationships between our brains and gameplay, they even suggest it can help our mental and physical health. In the meantime, we as product designers, managers, developers, or entrepreneurs can leverage the positive effects of gamification and use it in our products to create aesthetic, dynamic, and delightful experiences.
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- Gamification by Design — Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham
- Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being — Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci University of Rochester
- The Benefits of Playing Video Games — Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels Radboud University Nijmegen
- Gamification types for business needs — Arturs Bernovskis and Deniss Sceulovs, Riga Technical University
- Tailoring gamified virtual learning environments based on gamer types — Wilk Oliveira, Ig Ibert Bittencourt, Julita Vassileva, Federal University of Alagos