Gamification is the application of game-design elements in non-game contexts. These include websites, learning systems, social networks, and business activities.
The goal of gamification is to improve user engagement, fun, and good behaviour by applying game dynamics to common tasks.
But why the concept of gamification is gaining traction? What are its current applications, and what should we expect in the future?
In the first part of the article, we will clarify the notion of gamification with respect to other game-related terms. We will also investigate the roots of gamification and its structural components, i.e., game mechanics and game dynamics.
Finally, we will explore how gamification applies to our day-to-day life in digital and physical spaces.
Let’s dive in.
What gamification is not
Games, serious games, gamification, gamified activities: similar words carrying different meanings. Before jumping into the world of gamification, some clarity is necessary.
Games are collaborative or competitive fictitious activities played following preset rules. They usually have an end-goal, elements that trigger action, and an entertainment purpose.
Serious games are games that refer to real-life issues. They aim at meaningful results. Serious games have, for instance, education and training goals. Players may learn new competencies to use outside the game, in their “real life.”
On the contrary, gamification does not focus on knowledge or skill acquisition. The purpose of gamification is to increase user engagement.
Gamified activities are common tasks that have been “transformed” into game-like missions through gamification. Therefore, they display some elements and dynamics of gameplay.
At the root of gamification
An early working term – “gamification” – appeared in 2008 in a blog post by Brett Terrill. He described the concept as “taking game mechanics and applying [them] to other web properties to increase engagement.” By 2010, the term was widely known in the industry in its current form – “gamification.”
Gamified systems are based on values like participation, engagement, fun, and good behaviour. These values result from the application of concepts such as game mechanics, game dynamics, and game strategies.
What are game mechanics?
Game mechanics may be defined as the “backbone” of gamification – the building blocks of gamified activities.
Game mechanics are the elements and the rewards that make up a gameplay, and create an engaging experience. These become “gamified elements” in common activities that have gone through a gamification process. Non-game environments shall therefore implement such mechanics to exploit the benefits of gamification.
Gamified elements include actions, processes, visuals, and control mechanisms such as:
- Badges (visual representations of achievements)
- Leaderboards (ranking of users)
- Digital awards
What are game dynamics?
Game dynamics are emotions, behaviours, and desires that develop within the framework of game mechanics. Game dynamics trigger participants’ intrinsic motivation to perform and are used to foster engagement.
Most popular game dynamics include:
- Competition: participants perform at their best when exposed to peer pressure. Leaderboards ranking participants’ performances may leverage competitive attitude;
- Cooperation: participants gather together to work at a given task. Productive cooperation may be achieved by asking participants to complete team missions;
- Community: users see what other participants are doing – typically on a newsfeed. They feel part of a larger group and strive for others’ feedback or approval. That leads people to further engage with each other and eventually with the gamified activity. Community dynamics are at the heart of social networks.
- Collection: participants are rewarded when completing a task. Such reward comes in the form of points, badges, surprises, etc. That also means users were able to unlock a new mission. They will then feel compelled to continue playing in order to earn additional rewards.
What makes gamification appealing
Among others, some aspects of gamification make this practice increasingly appealing for companies, brands, and institutions at large.
Gamified systems rely on the idea of gamefulness. The term refers to the entertainment dimension of games and gameplay. The more an activity is perceived as amusing, the more it is “played.”
That may be particularly relevant in educational or training environments. Enterprises could as well integrate gamefulness in their offering to make it more attractive for their clients.
Gamefulness may also be a key factor to boost employees’ productivity in the workplace. For instance, some companies are already using game-based techniques to make team meetings less tedious.
The motivational component of gamification is strictly connected to game mechanics underlying gamified systems.
The idea is to define rules, set goals, and provide rewards to create new challenges. That keeps people engaged and motivated to get tasks done, being these working or leisure activities.
Another aspect that makes gamification so attractive both for businesses and employees relates to people’s interests.
People get easily involved in projects or topics they fancy. Moreover, people remain motivated and are more productive when working on subjects they genuinely care about. The same holds when learning new skills or tackling tricky assignments.
Making sure that participants can nurture their passions, and enjoy the process is therefore a winning strategy.
Applications and benefits of gamification
In recent years, gamification has been a buzzword on the web. At the same time, it has produced some spillover effects in the offline world.
Fields as diverse as politics, education, and services have seen gamification applications grow in popularity. That is because gamification steers human attitudes and behaviours towards positive outcomes.
When applied to business environments, gamified elements can be implemented in different situations to drive participation:
- Business services;
- Online community;
- Content portal;
- Marketing campaign
What follows are some of the most interesting applications of gamification that got traction in recent years.
Brands are increasingly using gamified systems in marketing campaigns for a wide range of purposes:
- Making users or clients interact more with their products or services;
- Raising brand awareness among non-users, thus increasing traffic and interactions;
- Collecting useful data and insights on (perspective) consumer preferences and desires.
“Social Web” is an umbrella term referring to technologies and applications developed to foster social integration. These include software, websites, and online activities, such as online shopping or research. Social Web main goal is to get people involved both in social interactions and content creation.
Examples of Social Web applications are collaborative Wikis and social networks. On these platforms, users exchange text, images, and videos as a means of communicating.
The Social Web displays some game mechanics: getting approval or expressing oneself makes people willing to participate in those processes. The more rewarding the Social Web, e.g., through attractive feedback or access to valuable content, the higher user engagement.
In order to be effective in the workplace, gamification must motivate employees to pursue specific actions or activities. A greater employee engagement will then drive the company’s performance.
Corporations need to tap into their employees’ intrinsic motivators. Enterprises may analyze their employees’ interests and aspirations and allow them to self-define their future work.
Such a tailored approach would boost employees’ satisfaction and productivity, as well as their loyalty to the company. That will eventually benefit the overall company in terms of business results and reputation.
Gamification is changing the way people make a purchase, work, and interact with one another. Like any other innovative technology, gamification has its pitfalls and controversial aspects. What are the unintended consequences of gamification at work? What about data privacy? Are there ethical implications of gamification? All these aspects will be further discussed in future articles.
By Nadia Musumeci Creativity, accuracy, and passion
Nadia is a copywriter and content writer. She offers copywriting, ghostwriting, and blogging services to businesses of all sizes. Nadia worked in public affairs, publishing, and the beauty industry. When she is not busy freelance writing or working on her blog, she is sunbathing in a park nearby. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
E. Llagostera, 2012. On Gamification and Persuasion
M. Meder, T. Plumbaum, E.W. De Luca, S. Albayrak, 2011. Gamification: A Semantic Approach for User Driven Knowledge Conservation
K. Huotari, J. Hamari, 2014. Defining Gamification – A Service Marketing Perspective