Gamify your way to the top

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

It's something you've probably heard of recently, but still a new market trend. Gamification is now the next big thing for businesses, and seeing all the big enterprises adopting it means it won't fade away any time soon. But what is Gamification, exactly, and how can it be applied for tech businesses to maximize user engagement and retention?

Gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.

As stated above, Gamification is not about pushing games to consumers or trying to put your marketing inside a game. It is about improving your (non-game) product through concrete elements and strategies that can be usually found in games. It is about giving goals to users and teasing them to reach them and achieve some kind of success within the set boundaries. It is about exploring human psychology, making your costumers feel that they «won». While the biggest winner is your business.

So, how exactly do we need to do to successfully gamify our tech business and make sure our costumers remain engaged?

As with most things in life, the answer is a bit more disappointing than what you might expect: it depends. There is no one-size-fits-all when we're talking about ways to improve users' engagement through the use of game elements and mechanics. It depends on the company's goals, on the product and mainly on the context. There are, however, some well known elements that might or might not suit your business. All in all, what is used (and how) and what isn't must be up to you to decide based on your context.

Badges

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about gamification. Badges are small rewards for proactive participation that have no real value outside your website or business. Their value is intrinsic to the user, that feels rewarded for his actions and feels a desire for collections, thus making a voluntary effort to keep interacting to win other badges. Foursquare is one of the best examples of how badges can have such a strong effect on a userbase. Sometimes, trophies are also used, just to include some diversity.

Rewards

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

Rewards are actually a broader element, in which badges are included. The main idea is to compensate good user behaviour, returning some value back. That value can be simply intrinsic to the user, like with badges, or might have real value, like free gifts in exchange for big achievements or repeated participation. Big rewards tend to drive more people to join, but come at a bigger price, so you must make sure the trade-off is worth it. One example is the notable experiment done by Volkswagen trying to prevent speeding cars, by giving lottery tickets as a reward to good drivers, instead of punishing the bad ones.

Points

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

Aka Karma Points, XP, etc. You probably remember working for a better score when playing videogames. Here, the goal is exactly the same: making users working for a better score by using every chance they can to earn points. Karma points are typically used to promote helpful behaviour, like in forums or Q&A services. XP means eXperience Points, used in games to show how much a character has learnt and how strong it is, and are typically used to promote service usage. A small number of points is given for small tasks, and bigger point rewards are given on more meaningful interactions and on special occasions, to keeps users hooked. A points system also ensures there's also an excuse for an user to come back to your website.

Coins

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

This one is very similar to points. Just as users get rewarded with points for interacting with your system, they may also be rewarded virtual coins, which, just like badges, have no real value outside the system. However, while points are a measure for user progress and commitment, coins are used as rewards that can be exchanged for goods. Those goods may be virtual, such as new avatars, special service items and so on, or may be real, although that second option is not very common. A coins system and a service market to use them is also a very good starting point to further monetise your service, by letting the power users buy more coins with real money, or by making some of the items be redeemable only with cash. The image shows a screenshot of Lockerz, a marketplace for physical goods that can be bought with coins, called PTZ, or cash.

Levels

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

Bringing user levels to a service is just as it sounds: users are ranked based on their level, which is stated on their profile, and in order to get to the next level, users must complete the desired goals. This element can play well with many of the others: users might level up by reaching a certain amount of points; some badges might be related to the levels a user reached; certain items for sale might require a certain user level to be redeemable, and so on.

Leaderboards

Web Design: Gamify your way to the top

Usually a good addition when already using a points system. By showing ranks of the top users, it's easier to encourage competition and make users try harder to get more points in order to rank higher. These ranks can be by country, by city, monthly, weekly, or simply a worldwide all-time top. Leaderboards, badges and points are by far the most used techniques when gamifying a service, and can be seen almost everywhere nowadays. The great challenge is to know if you should really use it, and how.

These are the main game elements that are being pushed to services' websites to provide richer and more engaging experiences to users. Usually, not every single one of them is used, as the goal is to set an addictive environment, and not really a cluttered one with redundant or useless elements. Other elements, probably not so related to games, include social interaction with friends, to further encourage competition between users.

These elements and techniques are now being used by the biggest companies in the world, with great examples from Nike, Samsung and others, and, as traditional marketing seems to be fading away, Gamification will grow even more and be a bigger part of our lives. Understanding these concepts and mastering how to apply them to each situation will definitely be extremely valuable not only now, but also in the future.

9 comments

Mike
I'd always seen in the games XP, and never thought that it means experience points. Nice post. Thanks.
ricardolopes
Thank you. XP points are really one of those things we're so used to see, we don't really put much thought in it.
dvaruh
The only thing that I would like to notice that sometimes businesses or services use Points or Leaderboards without any purpose or rules.
ricardolopes
Unfortunately that's very true. Game elements are a valuable addition to most products, but not to all, and not every single one of them. Knowing the game elements available for use is easy, knowing which ones to use and how to actually use them is the difficult part.
hhsaez
Great article! Have you heard about the Gamification online course in Coursera.org? I guess is not too late to signup if you haven't done so. Here's the url: www.coursera.org/course/gamification
Mike
Excellent! Thanks for the link! I'll try to sign up.
Sm1ne
Thanks!
ricardolopes
Yes, I've been studying aspects of Gamification for around a year, and that online course was, of course, a must-have for me.
While you're at it, there are many other interesting courses in that website, so you'll definitely find lots of valuable content there!
jviaches
Gamification is a great way to keep users coming back to you source (web site, program or else). But the key, at my opinion is use it wisely.

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