Why you need to be aware of gamification

Roisin Mc Cormack
Feb 12, 2015 · 8 min read

You can’t beat a definition to get a blog post off to the right start! So, just to clarify, what am I talking about when I say ‘gamification’?

Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. Gamification taps into the basic desires and needs of the users impulses which revolve around the idea of Status and Achievement — Badgeville

The purpose of this post is not to go through the basics of what gamification is and the history behind it: there are plenty of posts that have already done a great job of that! (Check out this post by Dani Fankhauser or good ole’ Wikipedia if you’d like to brush up). As a concept that is becoming increasingly recognised for its potential when applied and executed correctly, gamification is something that I think we all need to be aware of. It’s also becoming valuable for understanding user behaviours in mobile apps.

In this post I give more justification and evidence on the benefits of gamification, show you some examples and pointers on how to incorporate it into your own product and finally give some predictions for why I think we can expect to see and hear at lot more about this tool in the future.

Hey, look at that! You’ve already unlocked level 2 ☺

Incorporating ‘game tactics’, when done properly, can do just some of the following for your product:

· Increase conversion rates

· Improve retention rates

· Increase session times (time spent in app)

· Encourage word of mouth advertising

· Increase referrals and brand loyalty

· Provide additional value to the user

· Increase engagement and interaction

· Encourages users to become ‘creators’ of original content

Not to mention, gamification can make your product more fun and increase levels of enjoyment for users. Let’s look at some real-life examples to see how some companies and products are using it ☺

(Woohoo! Level 3!!!)

There are lots of different ways you can incorporate gamification into your product or service. Let’s take a look at a few real-life examples:

These are a well-established tool for driving your users to up their levels of activity, engagement and contribution. It’s a simple system, that when used in the correct context, really works. Foursquare are pretty much ‘king of the badges’ (they went so far with it, they even gave users virtual trophy cases!).

Other community-based forums like Yelp or Reddit also use badges to acknowledge a user’s status or level of involvement in the community.

Yelp’s Elite programme

(See also Codecademy and Treehouse for other great examples of companies using badges)

Fitocracy are killing it with the points approach in my opinion but saying that, their entire product is built on gamification techniques; points are just one element. If you haven’t come across these guys already, check out their promo video to see what I mean (they’ve been a long time ‘community crush’ of mine).

(Leave a comment on this post and I’ll give you 10 points…)

Desk.com achievements table

Most forms of gamification are based on achieving a specific goal in some shape or form but some companies also use blatant ‘achievement tables‘’ as a way of drawing even more attention to a user’s milestones in the app. More importantly, these tables highlight the actions that are left to complete, prompting a user to ‘get all the boxes ticked’. CRM tool, Desk.com does exactly that (shown in this image).

These summarized tables can be a very nice touch, especially for super users who have been using your product for a long time and might forget about past achievements. Scrolling back through them also brings feelings of nostalgia and seriously increase love and loyalty toward your brand.

Challenges manifest themselves in many different shapes and forms. Traditionally in the app world, games like Candy Crush revolve entirely around the concept of levels and stages with a new challenge for each. For businesses like these, gamification is critical to the business model where revenue relies on users paying to unlock bonus features and rewards.

A new phase of interactive challenges are bringing new opportunities to the table. People are rethinking the classic platform for setting a challenge, and more importantly how someone goes about achieving their goal. Kickstarter which is enjoying fantastic growth is the perfect example of this.

Example of a Kickstarter project, Qmote showing the main goals (backers, pledges, time left etc.)

Do you think it doesn’t bother me that every time I check my LinkedIn page, I see this on the right hand side? Just innocently sitting there with the tiniest, little bit of white space, in an otherwise complete and lovely circle.


And guess what?! The evil LinkedIn overlords know very well that it drives me crazy (only joking guys!). A serious amount of work and thought went into this extremely clever feature: every element of it is designed around gamification, to drive users to complete actions and contribute to the platform. And, I can’t deny it, it feels great when that bar moves up just a little bit closer to perfection ☺

The basic concept of rewarding someone for completing a certain action is as old as time and has manifested itself in countless forms. Some new, interesting trends show people thinking way outside the box when it comes to this classic theory.

Taylor Swift’s recent interactive music video for blank space is a great example of an innovative new take on the reward structure. An accompanying interactive app was released with the song that allowed fans to move through the music video, interact with other fans and collect exclusive content:

Users can also pick up 41 secret objects that are semi-hidden in the rooms that show never-before-seen photos of Swift. User’s win the “game” by collecting them all — Sourced from TechTimes, 12th November 2014

More and more mobile companies are also recognising the value of the reward system and are doing a stellar job at executing it to their users, check out Kiip, Session-M and p4rc for some inspiration.

There are plenty of other ways of incorporating gamification into your product, these are just a few practical and fun examples! Hopefully they will help to get your creativity going and get you thinking on how you could tailor the perfect ‘gamified’ feature for your very own product or service.

This leads me on to some basic tips and pointers to help you incorporate gamification into your product. Here at Soundwave we’ve been brainstorming and looking into this very thing ourselves. We noticed our ‘cataloguing’ feature was one of the favourites amongst users. This feature allows you to connect your music players to Soundwave and then every time you play a song it gets catalogued by the app. This keeps all of your music listening in one place and users can view the number of overall plays they have on their Soundwave profile.

When users hit milestones, for example, tracking 1,000 plays on Soundwave, we congratulate them with pop-up messages etc. We speak to our community on a daily basis and are always gathering feedback: it quickly became clear that users really loved this element of the app and wanted more of it. We’re currently looking into this, here’s a sneak peek on something we cooked up, the ‘milestones’ tab:

From our own research with our community and looking into how other companies are using gamification successfully, there are a few basics tips that you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t just add something for the sake of it, it needs to be a natural fit for your product
  • Talk to your users/customers (whatever you call those fantastic people that actually care about what you’re doing!)
  • Test it out with some of your top users first; if they’re not jumping out of their seats with excitement then the majority definitely won’t be!
  • Make it visible; remember that status lies at the heart of what makes gamification tick
  • Simplicity and great design are key to the best gamification techniques
  • Know what value it’s going to add for your users

(Read this far? You know what this means right?! You’re now a platinum blog post reader and my new favourite person☺)

In recent years more and more industries have added gamification as a very worthwhile tool to their armoury. Gamification techniques are being more commonly applied in marketing, business and everyday life as outlined in Jennifer Van Grove’s Mashable post. It even has it’s very own annual convention now!

Other institutions such as schools and workplaces have been subconsciously using gamification techniques for decades (the star-sticker board in school and the employee of the month schemes suddenly make a lot more sense right?). Recently things seem to be stepping up a notch particularly with using gamification in the field of education.

We recently conducted hundreds of hours of research with teens here at Soundwave and the findings also reinforced our assumption that gamification techniques work. On Snapchat, teens were extremely aware of who their ‘top 3' friends on it were. As this is a visible status that their friends can also see they would sometimes send snaps with the sole purpose of changing this top 3 board. Apart from this, their sheer obsession with numbers of likes and followers was pretty overwhelming (you can check out the full post here). Taking all of this into account, it’s no surprise Snapchat’s recent removal of the top 3 feature received a huge amount of backlash.

As mentioned at the very beginning of this post, I think gamification has been around for a very long time, the only difference is that now people are becoming more aware of it’s official (and slightly annoying) term! When companies do realise the benefits and possibilities that using gamification can bring it can never be a bad thing (hence my inspiration for this post!).

Thanks so much for reading, if you enjoyed it please feel free to share and recommend. If you’d like to connect or know more about me, feel free to politely stalk me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

(Don’t forget to comment and get your 10 points ☺)

Soundwave Stories

Soundwave is a mobile music-discovery startup founded in 2012. Soundwave tracks what songs people are listening to on their smartphones and where in real time. Download free on iPhone: iphone.soundwave.com and Android: android.soundwave.com

    Roisin Mc Cormack

    Written by

    Marketing Manager @DesignProLtd

    Soundwave Stories

    Soundwave is a mobile music-discovery startup founded in 2012. Soundwave tracks what songs people are listening to on their smartphones and where in real time. Download free on iPhone: iphone.soundwave.com and Android: android.soundwave.com

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