The Power of Gamification: Transforming Users into Loyal Fans

An Article By Ayana Campbell Smith // 9.23.2019

Gamification is more than a passing fad. Since first being coined in 2002, it has grown in popularity as an excellent means of building positive brand associations while motivating users to action in an attention-deficient world. By catering to an innate psychological desire for status and achievement, gamified experiences hook users and draw them in.

Although its name might imply the contrary, gamification is not reserved for adolescents. The basic principles employed by gamified experiences appeal to a variety of audiences and industries. As it becomes more deeply ingrained within our culture, gamification continues to provide a wealth of benefits for the products and services that recognize its impact.

From the classroom to the workplace to the local coffee shop down the street, gamification works to create more loyal, engaged, and overall satisfied user bases.

What is Gamification?

Not to be mistaken with game design, gamification refers to the incorporation of game mechanics into non-game activities. This is achieved through the use of points, levels, missions, badges, leaderboards, unlocks, events feeds, notifications, quizzes, and progress tracking. Examples can be found all around, but given its ubiquitous nature users may fail to notice just how often they come into contact with gamification (and how their behavior is shaped by it).

Our digitally connected world is sprinkled with numerous reminders of the gamified experiences we partake in each day. Here are a few examples you might be familiar with: 

  • Apple Watch’s friendly nudge as we close our move rings for exercise and calories burned.
  • Starbucks rewarding us with their unique brand of currency each time we make a purchase.
  • Duolingo’s reminders to continue our language lessons so our daily streak isn’t lost.

At every turn, these reminders beckon users to abandon what they’re doing in the current moment and turn their attention toward a specific product or service. With this sort of power to command attention, it’s no wonder companies are flocking to incorporate gamification into their products.

The Benefits of Gamification

The real-life examples above offer a small glimpse into what gamification looks like in everyday life. When done correctly, gamified experiences promote a symbiotic relationship between product creators and their users in which both parties reap the benefits.

The Allure of Gratifying Experiences Draw Users In

Gamified experiences draw users in by appealing to the innate human desire for achievement and recognition. Those familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will know that esteem, both for oneself and from others, ranks pretty high among the influences that motivate human behavior. In fact, it is one of two psychological human needs placed directly above basic needs such as food, shelter, warmth, and safety.

If the goal is to motivate users toward using a product or service, a good starting point is to provide an experience that appeals to their esteem. Gamified experiences offer the perfect opportunity to scratch this figurative itch by making users feel good and rewarding them for positive behaviors.

Gamification Increases Loyalty and Engagement Among Users

In the digital age, consumer loyalty is measured in ways far more sophisticated than the paper punch cards of old. Heck, even those have gone digital.

We’ve already acknowledged the ability of gamified experiences to draw users into a product or service, but real engagement comes with repeated use. Gamification provides the feel-good sensation that keeps users coming back for more, and when done well, ensures users will continually choose your product over other competitors’ offerings. That’s the real moneymaker.

Gamification Requires the Correct Approach

Gamification is all about building positive brand associations and motivating users toward a desired action. Getting to this end goal requires the correct approach. When creating gamified experiences, no matter the audience or industry, there are important steps to be taken in order to ensure the effort is a success. 

Incentivize Point-Earning and Achievement-Gaining

Earning points and badges is a commonly used game mechanic that excels in appealing to the human desire for achievement. However, simply incorporating these mechanics into your experience isn’t enough to keep users engaged in the long term. You see, the act of earning can only retain its appeal for a short period of time, and those points and badges that brought so much joy in the beginning may quickly lose their luster. Users need something more meaningful if they are to stay properly engaged.

To combat potential loss of interest, you must properly incentivize these acts by assigning meaningful value to the items being earned. Earning purely for the sake of earning only satisfies in the short term. Make the effort worthwhile by giving users larger goals with tangible rewards to work toward. Does earning a certain amount of points grant access to previously locked levels or privileges? Could gaining a specific achievement or badge bestow a coveted title? Never underestimate the lengths users will go in the pursuit of bragging rights. These are the types of incentives that keep users engaged.

Use Friendly Competition as a Means of Motivation

Group competition is a great source of motivation for those involved. Through gamified experiences, safe environments for friendly competition among friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers can be created. Points and badges appeal to esteem by satiating the intrinsic desire for dignity, achievement, and mastery. Competition, on the other hand, satisfies our psychological longing for reputation or respect from others.

Within the context of digital products, friendly competition can be promoted through a variety of methods. Leaderboards, for example, are great for showing users how their skills and accomplishments stack up among their peers. Allowing for the formation of teams prompts large swaths of users to action by offering a common goal that, once achieved, everyone can benefit from. The most important thing to remember is that achievements are magnified within the context of a group and this level of exposure is what will keep users coming back again and again.

The personal fitness industry is a perfect case study for how competition boosts the effectiveness of gamified experiences. Through the use of connected devices like the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Peloton bike, and apps including Nike Run Club and MapMyFitness, users are consistently motivated to get up, get out, and get moving! The industry’s ability to make activities commonly thought of as unenjoyable feel fun and worthwhile is a true testament to the power of gamification.

Strike a Balance Between Structure and Autonomy

Control leads to compliance. Autonomy leads to engagement

Daniel Pink

When creating gamified experiences, it is important to offer users structure while still promoting a sense of autonomy. Although having a clear path to mastery is both useful and strongly encouraged, users who are forced to comply with a set path may be left feeling frustrated by a perceived lack of control. This in turn leads to loss of interest and decreased engagement with the platform. To keep users satisfied on all fronts, striking a balance between providing structure and allowing for self-exploration should be a top priority. 

The language learning app Duolingo illustrates this necessary balance perfectly. Within each learning experience, a clear path to mastery is outlined yet the door for discovery is still left open. By giving users the ability to skip ahead, look back at past lessons, and even dive into learning a completely different language altogether, Duolingo succeeds in keeping its user base actively engaged.

Through the incorporation of gamified experiences, products succeed in providing the feel good emotions that keeps users loyal, engaged, and consistently coming back for more.