What is Gamification?

The process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.

Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. Gamification taps into the basic desires and needs of the users impulses which revolve around the idea of Status and Achievement.

The research company Gartner predicts that by 2015, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay, or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.


Gamification techniques strive to leverage people's natural desires for Competition, Achievement, Status, Altruism, Community Collaboration, and many more.

Businesses can use Gamification to drive desired user behaviors that are advantageous to their brand. One common technique of Gamification is to increase engagement by rewarding users who accomplish desired tasks.

Rewards such as Badges and Points are used to elevate Status by showcasing the talents, expertise, and accomplishments of users.

Competition is another technique that can be used in gamification. The desire to appear on the leaderboard drives players to complete more tasks, in turn fueling deeper engagement.


The oldest example of gamification are Frequent Flyer Programs that airline companies offer as a part of their customer loyalty programs.

Gamification was a term that was first coined in 2003 by Nick Pelling, but did not gain popularity until 2010. The term gamification began to gather interest and a following in 2010 when companies such as Badgeville started using it to describe their behavior platforms. Gartner spurred the popularity of gamification by saying that "More than 50 Percent of Organizations that Manage Information Processes Will Gamify Those Processes" and also added Gamification to their hype cycle. In 2011, more companies started developing gamification platforms as they became more popular.

A gamification infographic by Devan Brown @devan_brown2

Broccoli Example

Take broccoli consumption. There are a lot of children in the world that consider broccoli to be a real problem. In fact, 70% of us have a gene that makes it taste bitter. This genetic adaptation (found on gene Htas2r38) is likely linked to the fact that cruciferous vegetables (which include broccoli and cabbage, among others) historically blocked the uptake of iodine to the thyroid. Thus, in environments with low amounts of natural iodine, our perception of bitterness in these vegetables actually once protected us.
It took about 10,000 years to domesticate these vegetables so they became safe to eat. However, statistics show that it takes the average child 12 years to go from hating broccoli to loving it. And research shows that if you possess the Htas2r38 gene, you still perceive the bitterness—even into adulthood. So what has changed? Certainly not the broccoli-eating taste buds. Yet something is different, and that difference lies in perception. The palate changes, and bitter is no longer bad.
But what if we wanted to change kids’ minds about eating broccoli in fewer than a dozen years? We could certainly force them to eat the vegetable, but they would be likely to strongly dislike or rebel against the order. We could try to convince them to like it using facts, reasoning against their taste buds, or with social proof—“Mikey likes it”—but these methods are unreliable.
The two workable approaches—used by parents for generations—are to make a game out of it (e.g., the “airplane” landing) or to slather the broccoli with cheese sauce. Approach #1 tends to stop working after a while—there are only so many airplanes a child will consent to land. And approach #2 tends to produce a love of cheese sauce, and outweighs the health benefits of getting the kid to eat broccoli in the first place.
The obvious solution is to combine the two ideas. Make eating the broccoli both more fun (with a little game) and more rewarding (with a little cheese sauce, or dessert afterwards). The interplay among challenge, achievement, and reward not only allows you to train children to eat their broccoli, but it releases dopamine in the brain, intrinsically reinforcing the action as biologically positive.

In other words, by turning the experience into a game—including some reward for achievement—we can produce unprecedented behavior change. And when we amplify this loop with social proof and feedback, the sky’s the limit for viral growth. Heck, your kids might even show their friends how to turn broccoli into dopamine and chocolate cake (for dessert, and only after they eat their veggies) if you’re lucky…and good.

Or, consider a surprisingly similar but business-related challenge: professional service marketplaces. There are numerous online sites—including major sites like oDesk (http://odesk.com) and specialized ones like Behance (http://behance.com)—that help marketers connect with skilled developers, and where competition for customers and the best practitioners can be fierce. Once the novelty of marketplaces wears off, how do the respective parties decide to choose one over the other? How do the markets ensure loyalty and engagement among their fickle and price-conscious users?

One such marketplace, DevHub (www.devhub.com), thinks it’s found the answer: gamification. By deploying some of the basic tenets of the discipline—and with the judicious use of game mechanics such as points, badges, levels, challenges, and rewards—DevHub has quickly differentiated itself as a market leader. The company has raised various engagement metrics, such as time on site, by as much as 20% over pre gamified levels. With a clear emphasis on making things more fun and rewarding, DevHub has broken the dour cycle of quoting, bidding, coding, and follow-up necessary to run a successful web project.

Make no mistake, the core work is unchanged, and nothing has fundamentally shifted in the mechanics of designing a website. Only the perceptions of DevHub’s users have been altered—for the better. Understanding our potential to experience the same things in two ways is the first step to understanding the power of gamification.


Chetan Sundarde

What's hurts more, the pain of hard work or the pain of regret?

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