What is gamification and what are the benefits?

It seems that in the past few years every company that has an app or is looking into including one into their business strategy has only one word in mind – gamification.

The competition for mobile user’s attention is high. Everyone is looking at gamification as the one quick and easy fix to improve their sales. Not surprising when we consider that the gamification market is expected to grow to $11.1 billion by 2020 (Markets and Markets).

In this article, I will go through some of the benefits of gamification, how we can use it to engage our customers and increase retention and finally give you a few good examples of apps that are using it.

What Is Gamification?

Now, let’s start with the basics – what is gamification?

It is a common term that gained in popularity in 2010. It refers to applying fun and engaging elements found in games to non-leisure contexts. The goal is to entice users to complete specific tasks, with the purpose of increasing user retention within your product or service.

Before we dive into the subject, there is one core principle to explain – the psychological drive behind games.

Emotional Activities

Games satisfy a basic need for self-fulfillment, they motivate us intrinsically. Games can generate the flow effect in their participants, which is the feeling of full immersion and involvement in an activity. It is this particular effect we are interested in applying to our apps.

In addition, we, humans need to have goals. We want to feel valued, we are competitive and have a need for dominance and fame. This is where gamification comes in.

With gamification, we can trick ourselves into being more productive and having fun while completing challenges. ?

Gamification can be an easy way of improving an already existing app since it encourages users to complete tasks that are boring, uninteresting or repetitive and to keep them engaged. Ultimately, the goal is to get them to come back and use your app. This makes for a great option when you want to mix acquisition with retention and ensure sustainable growth.

There is also an “evil” side to gamification worth mentioning. Where some companies using it actually try to tap into a hybrid of gambling addiction and video game addiction. They do that in order to increase profit, using the most useful aspects of the two. Applying them to their own apps to keep users coming back for more.

Benefits of Gamification

There is a whole range of benefits gamification can bring to the table. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:

  • Increases user retention. Applying gamification makes the user experience more enjoyable. It works as a powerful tool for engaging them and promotes regular app usage
  • Increases user acquisition through word of mouth and social sharing
  • Relatively cheap to implement 
  • Increases brand loyalty and awareness. It keeps users interested in the brand by ensuring positive app-experience, improves app and brand acceptance in general
  • Feeds into the user’s sense of developmental growth and accomplishment
  • Makes gathering of accurate user-data easier, supplying businesses with high-quality insights

Gamification Elements in Apps

There is a whole host of gamification elements in use today. Most are so common that we really don’t see them for what they really are. We go by unnoticed as gaming aspects.

The most obvious are the likes, that feed into the user’s vanity, sense of accomplishment, importance and competitiveness. But there are also the progress bars that keep us completing tasks until we hit that 100%. Our brains are hardwired to desire the feeling of progress.

Other examples are levels, badges, challenges, achievements, and leaderboards. The latter being a particularly effective game mechanic where you rank users based on criteria influenced by their behavior. It is a highly effective method of motivating users through social comparison and competition amongst peers.

Example of gamification element: badge.
Example of gamification element: badge.

Of course, the goal here is not to cram as many of these elements in as possible. Choosing the right elements that enhance the overall experience will make all the difference between a success and a flop.

Gamification As Way to Hook Users and Increase Engagement

Time to get into the specific how-to’s of creating a habit-forming app.

Remind Users of Uncompleted Tasks

Here you can use progress bars. Or show them the badges they have yet to receive, achievements to get or challenges to complete.

This tactic works because our brains have an innate desire to complete what is still unfinished. Incompleteness causes tension and stress so they will keep a task in their memory until it is completed.

This is also a good tactic if you are interested in increasing your brand awareness!

Accomplishments Should Be Rewarded

The reward depends on the time and effort invested.

It needs to be something that the user will find valuable and satisfying. Their motivation increases when they know they will get something in return for their time and effort.

Make It Easy for Users to Share Their Accomplishments

Social sharing is a very effective tool for increasing competitiveness among the current user base. But also for pulling in new users.

Boost retention by giving users quick wins early on. Give them a reward early on, but make sure it is not meaningless. Something like “Here is your reward for installing our app!” would not work.

There Is No Fun Without a Challenge

Easy is boring and a challenge makes things exciting.

Making the tasks repetitive and boring will cause the user to go into an automated state. It is safe to say that they will stop using the app soon after.

Increasing the difficulty of reaching the goal slightly will add an important aspect, keeping your user on their toes and giving them a sense of proudness for their accomplishment when they reach their goal. ?

Keep your users in the Flow – the challenge needs to be equal to their current capabilities. Start small and build up on challenges, but don’t make them too easy!

Make Users Feel Like They Are in Control

Give them a freedom of choice and never force anything on them.

Yet, add a sense of urgency – because users need to feel urged. They need to feel that they have to act right now!

You can use notifications to remind them of expiring tasks or offer one-time only achievements and challenges.

Make Your Users Feel Optimistic

Your users have to feel optimistic about being able to finish their goal. As an example, this you do by setting the users in the middle of the leaderboards, letting them create or join teams, setting up leaderboards just for friends or by creating separate leaderboards where they can transition between each other based on their activity level.

Choose Collaboration Instead of Competition

Sometimes using competitiveness is not the way to go, in these cases, a much better strategy is to use collaboration. Have users work together towards a certain goal (making it more achievable and making them feel a part of something bigger).

This tactic is useful when you have tasks that are aiming towards the greater good. For example, saving the environment or improving the community.

Biggest Mistakes When Implementing Gamification

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when considering gamification.

  • Using punishment – some apps got away with this one and with huge success, but it is usually a good idea to stay away from punishments as they can be very demotivating
  • No goals or rewards without value. Nothing to strive for can make the whole experience pointless.
  • Unreachable goals. Users need to feel optimistic that they can accomplish the tasks. If they see from the start that it is unobtainable, they will not be motivated enough even to start. An example of this is placing the new user at the end of huge leaderboards where there is no chance of ever reaching the first place.
  • And the biggest of them all – using gamification because everyone is doing it. Gamify to solve a problem and because it’s the right solution. The critical difference between success and fail could be a simple answer to the question “Why?”.
Users must feel the sense of progress in the gamification context
Users must feel the sense of progress in the gamification context

How to Choose the Right Reward for Your User?

Rewards are the most common element of gamification where things go wrong.

Badges, stars, trophies and even physical rewards can all be used to reward the user, make them feel accomplished and give them a sensation of a win. But before we decide which to use we need to know our target. What motivates them? What will make them want to come back for more?

The question of “What does the user consider valuable?” is very much psychological and ties in with our core drives.

Financial rewards, status, recognition, entertainment, doing something good for the community or planet can all be regarded as currency in this case.

And once we have this figured out, the next step is to find the balance between the value of this currency and the amount of labor put in to get it.

Badges are the one reward being abused the most. They have a high risk of being arbitrary, making them less effective.

Just imagine a scenario where the user is offered a badge if it takes the bus on an early Saturday morning. It’s more of a something to avoid rather than something you would look forward to, right?

Similarly, getting a badge for just opening an app could have a similar effect, leaving the user confused and not caring.

App Gamification Examples

The following are a few nice examples of apps that use gamification so you could get a feel of how it is used in practice.

Nike+ Run Club

Nike+ Run Club is a free exercise app that offers run tracking, training and a gamified experience to keep you active. It integrates Apple Music and Spotify into the interface, so you can make custom run playlists and offers a My Coach feature that lets you tailor your workout experience based on your fitness level. Nike used gamification in several features.

One of them are leaderboards for different time frames that display the top runners for bragging rights. This adds a level of competition to your daily run that can keep you motivated and give a sense of accomplishment.

Nike+ Run Club expanded beyond being a simple running app into growing a community of people that push each other to live healthier lifestyles. It is the perfect example of how creating a gamified app can increase brand awareness and loyalty and lead to a controlling share of the market.

This is a great example of successful and gamified mobile app development for anyone to inspire from.


Feedier is a feedback gathering application for businesses, that makes the gathering of feedback more enjoyable for your customers. It helps build relationships with the customers by providing a communication platform – after the survey, you can engage with them one-on-one, and you can even set up public boards for gathering feedback and produce valuable insights.

The app uses gamification to encourage customers to finish their survey by offering dynamic, interactive interfaces with animations and rankings, helping you increase the number of responses.

These engage the users better than your everyday, boring survey. Also, there is an option of rewarding them, making them feel valued.

You define your own rewards program that incentivize your audience’s efforts. The rewards can be anything from vouchers and tickets to ebooks.

Feedier uses gamification to encourage customers to finish their survey by offering dynamic, interactive interfaces with incentives and rankings, helping you increase the number of responses. ?

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Morningscore is an SEO tool designed to measure the SEO value of your organic traffic by comparing it to similar traffic bought in Google AdWords and showing you how much you have saved. Sometimes SEO progress can be hard to track. This is where Morningscore comes in and helps identify that progress with great precision. With it, you can track your Google rank, see valuable data on your keywords, backlinks, traffic and keep a close eye on how your competition is doing in their SEO activities.

Its clean and elegant user interface makes complex data easy to understand by avoiding clutter and data overload. Morningscore’s fun space theme includes a gamified feature called “Missions.” The users get mission suggestions and by completing them increase their Morningscore and improve their website. It sets a positive spin on an improvements list and presents the tasks as something to strive for instead of something that you are lacking.


SmartyPig is a financial app that serves as a budgeting tool. It lets you create online savings accounts that are each marked by a goal and decide how much and how often you want to contribute to them from your paycheck. It works as a piggy bank you can use to save up for your vacation, your dream house or an emergency fund.

The “save-then-spend” mentality makes it easier to handle your money intelligently and gain interest on your saving instead of losing money on credit card interest. Additionally, SmartyPig uses gamification which makes goals seem more attainable. Each goal has a progress bar that makes it easier for the user to keep track of the saving and stay motivated.

Epic Win

Everyone needs a bit of motivation when it comes to doing their chores and Epic Win does a nice job with this by turning tedious tasks into a game.

It’s a productivity app with a role-playing spin, a gamified to-do list that makes completing your chores more fun and appealing. Each new chore is categorized under strength, stamina, intellect, spirit or social and the app assigns it a certain amount of Experience Points (XP). The list displays reminders for overdue tasks, allows you to assign time-sensitive tasks to specific days, set up repeating tasks and more. 


I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and may you have luck in your gamification endeavors. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments, and share this article to the world.

If you want to get your gamified surveys off the ground with respondents contest, build-in survey incentives management, and much more, head over to Feedier.com, and create your account for free. 

About the authors

Martin has worked as a marketing and business consultant for both small and large businesses. While he’s had several ventures of his own, he’s currently in charge of marketing for a Danish SaaS startup called Morningscore.

In collaboration with Marina Dolcic, Online Marketing @Morningscore. Marina is fascinated with the field of online marketing. She is currently working at Morningscore on SEO, SMM, market research and content development and improvement, while finishing her studies in Digital concept development.

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