Honestly, this is the first time selecting the topic has been a little bit of a struggle. It could have been grouping or Gestalt, but where’s the fun in that!
Let’s talk about gamification and how that can be utilised to enhance user experience.
Originally coined in the noughties, it’s still relevant as a design technique to incentivise users to complete what they might consider boring and mundane tasks.
What is gamification?
At some point, we’ve all had to do things we didn’t want to, or found no fun in. Back in the day it was homework. Now it’s things for the home, or tasks to do for work.
The process of gamification is not about turning all products into games. It’s more a mechanism by which designers simulate facets from gaming and use them in non-gaming products or services.
This integration of enjoyable elements taps into human emotions and motivations so users have more enjoyable experiences. Essentially, designers try and inject some fun!
Benefits of gamification
Using gamification can be particularly helpful when users do not have an affiliation with, or have no desire to complete, specific tasks. These tasks may be perceived as tedious or yield little value to the specific individual completing them.
By instilling a fun factor can encourage and incentivise the user, helping to mask or even eradicate negative emotions associated with those tasks.
Gamification can help businesses across all sectors, but especially in marketing, sales and customer service.
The most successful gamification techniques can even change users' habits to the point they actively crave to perform well in what was once a tedious task.
Using gamification to create challenges, and reward when successful, can increase the following:
How to get gamification right for your experience
1. Know your users and their goals
Motivations will vary depending on the type of user and their objectives.
Would a challenge-based activity reward or demotivate? Do personal challenges create competition within teams?
Are time-based activities a way of improving productivity or do they run the risk of reducing quality?
Knowing your users and their personal goals, will also help you to set your own goals for the ‘game’. When you users are successful in achieving these goals it will create a sense of achievement, a powerful ingredient for having fun.
It’s also important to set your own goals and to think about what you’re trying to achieve from the gamification aspect.
Is it full employee participation, an increase in engagement, or increase in quality or productivity? Bear this in mind when designing how the ‘game’ works.
2. Be aware of the context
Context is incredibly important when balancing the requirement to inject fun into an experience, while remembering there is an inherent need to complete a task.
Take driving as an example. Encouraging drivers to apply a more sedate style to their driving and encourage them to be more economical is fine, as long as it doesn’t become problematic and endanger the safety of themselves or others.
Equally, techniques used for experiences between friends and family, won’t necessarily succeed when applied to work colleagues.
Administering rules for the ‘game’ provides boundaries and helps the user understand how to ‘play’. The simpler these rules are for the user to understand, the more engaged they are likely to be.
The most successful gamification techniques transform negative emotions of an experience into positive.
The design of a product or service looking to user gamification should consider these aspects:
Control - people desire being in control and hate being forced to do things they don’t want to. Such feelings induce resistance and/or abandonment. By using subtle design techniques and cues, it is possible to provide people the autonomy to act on their own decisions and be in control.
Relevance - the more users feel like an experience has been designed specifically for them, the more relevant it is. Allowing customisation to make experiences more personal, increases the affinity the user has for it.
Proficiency - no-one likes to feel incompetent. Such feelings can be invoked when overwhelmed with too much or complicated information. Providing simple, easily understood copy in conjunction with beautiful and emotive iconography, can serve to put the user at ease and in control. Using progressive disclosure  to draw prominence to key functionality, and hide other content, is a classic technique to help achieve this.
Motivation is a strong emotion to play on. When people are motivated, they have a strong desire to do something and do it well.
Psychology suggests that creating motivation can come from one of two sources:
Internally - from within us, driven from a sense of curiosity, pride, love and joy or fuelled from a desire to achieve something. You do it because you want to.
Externally - is received from someone or something else and can come in various forms such as praise, qualifications or indeed be monetary. You do it because you are getting something from it.
Internal motivation has been shown to be especially effective for more creative and innovative tasks.
External motivation is powerful for more repetitive work, especially in a team environment, to drive competition when there would be no personal goal otherwise .
Internal motivation also lasts much longer than external motivation and has the capacity to produce euphoria after a victory.
Winning is certainly the best form of internal motivation. It may be a personal victory and does not necessarily need to be in competition with others.
5. Create a personal journey
Games begin at an easy level and get progressively more difficult. This process promotes initial interactions to be soft and intuitive, while offering challenges as the ‘player’ gets more experienced.
That first stage of using your product or service should create a feeling that the user is more of a ‘player’ and setting off on a personal journey.
The onboarding experience should act as an introduction to the product to help the user learn the basics and make mistakes without repercussion.
As the ‘player’ becomes more skilled, then more difficult tasks are revealed; a technique known as ‘scaffolding’.
By not revealing all of the features and tasks within a product at once, reduces the potential for the ‘player’ to be overwhelmed and abandon the task.
6. Demonstrate success
Providing feedback to the user as to how successful they are, allows them to understand how well they are doing and also how they can improve. The feedback should correlate to the goals that have been set for them.
Demonstrating progress using countdowns or task completion rates, allows the user to see how successful they have been.
It also makes it clear what they have left to do in order to reach their next goal, maintaining the motivation to see the task through to completion.
Adding animation to the interaction will not only enhance the experience, but also reiterates the feeling of getting closer to task completion.
They are particularly useful in onboarding or form-filling experiences where users need to add more information.
There are many people who have a dissatisfaction with leaving items incomplete when presented in this way and are compelled to finish the task.
LinkedIn also uses a star icon at the end of the progress to celebrate success.
LinkedIn also provide feedback on how many people have viewed your profile, in several forms, and compare over time to encourage engagement.
Leaderboards provide the opportunity for people to compete with others and drive each other on. Stimulating competitiveness within people can be a way to increase their motivation.
Becoming the leader, and then staying there, is an incredibly powerful motivator to maintain engagement.
Leaderboards are an accessible metric to help players understand who is performing the best and/or having the most impact and improvement.
‘Players’ can be connected via several mechanisms: work, socially, geographically or contextually.
Care should be taken that leaderboards do not become divisive. Setting personal goals within the landscape, and also ensuring that focus is given to all ‘players’, will help mitigate any negative effects.
Time is something to consider. Don’t run the leaderboard for longer than necessary. Being permanently at the bottom can be demotivating for a lot of people. Think about using leaderboards as a temporary measure or resetting periodically.
Dashboards are good for businesses in particular, and allow decision makers to make strategic judgements based on data that is presented to them.
They can be used to present key information on a certain ‘player’, or set of ‘players’.
Showing what to track in the dashboard is key and it should be linked to your goals for setting up the ‘game’.
Whether it is attendance, sales or client retention, the spin should be positive. Rather than sickness, track presence. Flag up projection completion rates and praise received from customers too.
LinkedIn have a personalised dashboard to demonstrate how well your profile is performing.
Land Rover have a dashboard style mechanism to indicate how well a driver is performing relative to specific performance criteria, giving feedback in gaming style scores and traffic light visuals.
7. Provide incentives
Rewards are something we can offer in exchange for the time and effort people put in when interacting with a product or service. There are a range of ‘virtual’ rewards that can be presented to say thank you and make the user feel special.
Badges and levels
Tripadvisor uses a badge system to encourage people to contribute reviews. The more reviews a contributor makes, the more badges they receive.
Integrated within that is a level system, so contributors can aspire to reach higher targets. When a contributor reaches higher levels, they acquire a greater status as someone to trust.
Badges and levels that are locked to the user, are displayed to demonstrate what else they can receive. This is another clever strategy to get users to come back.
Remaining targets should be attainable to motivate the user to return. If targets are perceived to be out of reach, this can demotivate and reduce engagement.
As levels are completed, rewards such as badges, stickers, coins, or trophies, help users feel positive and special and they will seek to repeat that feeling and come back for more.
Give as you Live are a charity and also have levels and badges to encourage people to contribute and donate to help others.
Duolingo is a language learning application that uses several gamification techniques to motivate people to improve their linguistic skills.
As well as badges and levels, they also use achievements, such as streaks for a number of days using the application, points accrued and number of words learned.
All of these are positive reinforcements to maintain engagement and motivation.
While I may just be looking to refresh my German skills, their record streak is 2000 days, over 5 ½ years of continuous learning!
Achievements that are personal are powerful; they pull on a user’s intrinsic motivation to want to do better and keep performing. Personalising targets and allowing users to revise them periodically, will help push them on even more.
The Samsung Health app I used when preparing for the Edinburgh marathon helped me do just that, and pushed me so that I ended up beating my PB from the previous year. As well as the statistics, there are also visual elements of trophies to celebrate success.
Sometimes, when constraints are put on the ‘player’, it can have a surprisingly positive effect. Creating a deadline as an example, can generate a sense of urgency or motivation to complete a task and to do it there and then.
Time-based deadlines are used in purchase processes for tickets to events to ensure reservation. Seeing the countdown timer serves to increase this sense of urgency.
Letting the user know there is a risk if they do not complete the task is also effective, such as displaying expiration times.
For example, if a user doesn’t buy the tickets immediately, then they will be released to other people. This strategy increases the urgency level and uses the risk vs reward game.
8. Be careful and avoid the drawbacks
It’s not all plain sailing. It’s very easy to get it wrong and there are some difficulties that need to be considered.
Motivation, not manipulation - Gamification uses motivational techniques to perform serious or tedious tasks by helping the user have more fun than normal. It should not be used as a coercive or manipulative technique to get people to do things they do not want to.
It’s not a game - While trying to incorporate fun elements into an experience, it should be considered that creating an actual game is not desired either. The objective is to encourage people to complete serious, mundane tasks. If the balance of gaming elements is tipped too far, you run the risk of that objective not being achieved.
9. Make it OK to fail, but help to improve
Gaming, specifically where competition is a factor, will produce winners and also losers.
How the latter category is handled is critical so demotivation does not become an issue.
Helpful techniques include the following:
Present performance data that it is accurate but positive i.e. they outperformed X% of other ‘players’ in the same group
Be informative and supportive so ‘players’ know how to improve i.e. by doing better at X, you could have been in the top X%
Ultimately, the aim is to keep people engaged and motivated, so be positive while also getting them to improve their performance. This will ultimately help you fulfil your goals too.
10. Integrate from the outset
To achieve the best user experience, gamification should be designed into the system from the outset.
Even if not implemented as part of the minimum viable product, it should be a consideration rather than being shoehorned in later as an afterthought.
11. Test, Test, Test
Once you’re happy with your design, ensure you test it before you release it! See what works and what doesn’t. How is the user engagement affected and are there any consequences that you hadn’t foreseen?
Use goal-driven tasks to see if and where users struggle and why. Figure out what remedial actions you can take to counteract these problems.
Listen to whether the correct functionality is there to address users’ needs. Iterate and re-test as appropriate until you and your users are happy.
Gamification is a design process that, if successful, has managed to integrate fun elements to increase user engagement and satisfaction while meeting the object of the product / service design.
It should be a carefully considered approach, taking into account the type of user and context of the product. When applied well, it can be an effective method of getting people engaged and using products and services.
Think about your users’ motivations and also what you want to get out of it before deciding on the techniques to be applied.
Where possible, integrate from the very beginning and avoid it being a bolt-on feature of the product at the very end.
 Pink, D. H (2009). DRiVE. Riverhead Books.
Get in touch with the author
Managing Director at UXcentric
07854 781 908