Strategy & Business Development

Gamification – make it fun

What mechanisms comes into play, when an CEO can make 80 % of his employees exercise regularly or when drivers slow down 22 % at a certain stretch due to a single regulation? The surprising results are achieved by making doing the right thing fun. This method is called gamification.

What is gamification?

Gabe Zichermann, who has written multiple books about gamification such as “The Gamification Revolution” from 2013, defines gamification as “The process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems”.  And what does this mean? Gamification is when you apply elements from games in contexts that, initially, has nothing to do with games with the purpose of engaging the users (your customers or employees) in conducting a specific action. For instance in the examples mentioned above, with upholding the speed limits or exercising regularly. In short, to use the best mechanisms known from games and competitions in making a certain action or action-pattern fun.

For many people gamification is about developing an app or a website containing a game or add game-elements to an existing service. But this is a far too narrow-minded approach, which is also quite expensive and ineffective. Gamification does not have to be expensive or digital. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

Motivate your employees

A good example of successful gamification is from the company Next Jump, where CEO Charlie Kim wanted the company’s employees to exercise regularly. For some time he tries to motivate them using different approaches. For instance he opened a free gym connected to every office of the company and offered prizes for the ones who trained the most. None of this had the desired effect, though.

It was not until he turned exercising into a competition that the results appeared. And how does he do this? First he introduces rankings and visible scoreboards, so the employees can keep score on who exercises the most. Then, he makes the eployees’ work teams their training teams. Now they are earning points together and share a place on the score board.

These approaches turned exercise into a social activity and a competition. The result: 80 % of employees are exercising regularly.

Slow down

The very idea of a speed trap is enough to frustrate most drivers. But imagine if a part of the money raised from the “speed sinners” were used in a lottery for those who obey the speed limits? Would that make you lift your foot off the pedal?

The idea was that it should be fun to obey the rules. And it seems to be working. In Sweden an experiment with the “speed lottery” meant a 20 % speed reduction. A fun example where a single well-executed idea has a measurable effect on our behavioral patterns.

Make them come back

On social media the use of gamification is common. On Facebook we see the hunt for “likes”, where we see the hunt is a way of engaging the users. Facebook gives you feedback (“Jack Johnson and 10 others likes this”) that is meant to engage you further by either posting more content for others to “like” or by “liking” your friends' content.

On many discussion forums you will find gamification used to boost the involvement of the users. Notice how many places that lets you “win” trophies, labels, badges or points as a result of how much and how you participate. Here, it is our desire for status and prestige that is being used. And especially status and prestige are some of the most important things you have to offer your users.

The reward hierarchy

According to Zichermann there are basically four things, four rewards, that you can offer your customers, users or employees:




Despite what we might think, it is not the free gifts that motivates the most. No, Zichermann claims, generally we prefer status, so that we can show others that we are better, wiser or able to do more than them.

To describe how this works, Zichermann uses this example:

Imagine this: Every morning, when you pass your favorite café on your way to work, your favorite coffee is ready. You walk past the line, pay and smile at the other customers on your way out, the coffee is the same as the other customers', the price is the same – but you get the VIP-treatment and jump the line.

And then the question arises: What would you prefer? The VIP-treatment as mentioned above, where you jump the line, or free coffee?

Rationally you ought to choose the free coffee. Economically it is the sane choice, but it's a little bit more special, cooler, to be able to smile superiorly at the entire line of people every morning, when you walk pass them. We are not rational beings. That's why rankings and moderator-roles are so efficient,

Besides the fact that status is the most important and the most efficient thing you have to offer your customers, it is, most conveniently, also the cheapest thing to give away. Keep the hierarchy mentioned above in the back of your mind before planning your next game.

As shown, there are many possibilities of use and a lot of potential with gamification. But you have to be aware that it must be done properly. It is rarely enough to just add trophies and high-scores to an existing service. In order for it to work the game must be interesting.

Remember: not everything that is a game is fun.


Six typical instruments

1. Where in the spectrum of competition are your users?
All competitions are in a place on a continuum that stretches from absolute cooperation to absolute conflict. Put in another way: From strong social motives to a strong egocentric drive. What type of competition appeals to your users?

2. Level-sorting
To make it clear to the users how they are doing, it's important to give them a scale from which they can rate themselves. This can be done by simple numeration or by giving different levels different names. For instance beginner, experienced, super user, expert.

3. Labels and marks
Provides the users with the ability to identify certain members within the group. For instance moderator, elite user, expert.

4. Points
In some groups the users want tangible measures of how they are doing. This can be implemented with a points system, for instance, by showing the user that he has achieved 25 points out of a possible 100.

5. Trophies
In some groups the members like to collect and display trophies that represent different achievements and goals. This could be helping 10 other users or winning a certain amount of competitions.

6. Rankings and scoreboards
In very competitive groups it could be a good idea to establish actual rankings that shows who is doing best.