Gamification — are you missing it in your strategy?

reference image from

First off lets get something out of the way — gamification is not games.

It is also not about theory or history of games. And it is not (shudder!) about creating games — this last part is what many a CEO will ask of their Digital Managers. I know, I have been asked it!

Now with that done, let’s talk about what is gamification

If I have to put it in one sentence,

Gamification is a set of techniques of applying the psychologies that drives successful games to everyday business and non business solutions.

Now we know games are probably the most successful of activities invented by humans. Think of a game that you loved, whether as a 90’s kid furiously mashing the buttons trying to make Mario jump right or as a millennial playing Halo or Assassins Creed.

And then think of the insane amount of hours that you dedicated to make something move on screen again and again for days on end. And ask yourself — what made me do that? What made me addicted?

The answer to that is what the practice of Gamification is all about.

Gamification is the study of what makes a game addictive and more importantly pleasurable (addiction has to be pleasurable after all!) and applying the findings to solve everyday problems.

The principles of gamification is being used for a wide number of applications. For example, today gamification techniques are being applied from solving traffic violations to de-addiction programmes.

There is a whole theory of psychology of gamification that I will not get into in this post e.g — Flow theory, Fiero etc. For those interested in learning more about the historical emergence of Gamification, I would suggest the extraordinary book — “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal. Goodreads link here

However, for now, we will stick to gamification for business, specifically to how it helps you and me, the digital guerrillas.

Since I will be simplifying a lot of the concepts to cater to the relevance of the post here, If you want to get a more applied understanding and context of Gamification, I would suggest the very useful course that is taken by Prof Kevin Werbach on Coursera. Here is the link if you are interested. I took it as well :).

Here is my proud certificate (apologies for the small glory trip :))

Right then,

Gamification at its very basic, consists of the following elements.

  • A gamification system has to be fun (yeah fun!) and voluntary, otherwise the user (player in gamified parlance, though I will be using the word user for this post to avoid confusion), will not want to keep ‘playing’. There are multiple theories and varieties of fun but the underlying fact remains that for a gamified system to work, the user would want to complete a task voluntarily and derive some pleasure from it
  • A gamified system basic structure consists of — Engagement (the system has to be fun and engaging, see above), Choices (there should be a variety of things I should be able to do), Progression (I should feel that I am getting somewhere and I am getting feedback on my progress), Social (Can i interact with others and can I benchmark against them?), Habit (What makes me come back and again — what creates my habit?)
  • PBL triad. PBL stands for Points, Badges and Leaderboards. This is the classical gamification techniques, used quite effectively in all sorts of games — remember monopoly?. PBL triad takes care of the basic requirements of a gamified system and ticks mostly all the above points. However this is just the first starting block over which more sophisticated systems are built in. For the next level, check out the Pyramid of Gamification elements, here and here
  • Finally the design rules for gamification consists of User journey and Balance. User journey takes care of Onboarding (the introduction to the system), Scaffolding (handholding through initial levels till the user can navigate on their own — difficulty level is one simple example), Pathways to Mastery (providing a sense of completion at multiple steps — Quests etc are an example)
  • Dopamine — the most important chemical important for gamification. Secreted when we are excited, we get a ‘hit’ when we are anticipating excitement (the zombie around the corner?!). The more we do this, the better (to a limit of course, the trick is to avoid dopamine fatigue)

So, let’s do understand by examples how it helps us digital guerrillas.

There are some gamification elements in all the below screenshots

Facebook is a completely gamified system but lets just focus on the humble notification bar. The ping sound and the numbers accumulating on this icon is the perfect storm for dopamine going nuts in our system. The expectation is what makes it inevitable that we click on this icon

The All star profile is a sense of completion. The progress bar that is present as we complete the profile is the path to mastery. LinkedIn also provides onboarding and scaffolding to ensure that you complete your profile. Remember those helpful suggestions by LinkedIn?

The Fitbit dashboard is a great example of an effective PBL triad (on steroids). The social angle and competition which complements the actual wearable adds to the gamified element

A simple feedback gives a sense of completion and sets of a small dopamine (as you start anticipating the next time you are doing the workout)

Just a small number of examples. Look around the activities you do with your gadgets, the websites you browse, the way we work and play. Chances are, gamification is already at work there

How is the above useful?

The principles of gamification is already embedded in our lives, in the stuff we do to keep ourselves updated, keep fit, motivate ourselves and so on.

Understanding why a certain element and a feature in a particular app makes us behave in a certain way, at a subconscious level, is of immense value to us as digital guerrillas and indeed as marketers in general (while also raising the philosophical question of the concept of free will!!).

Weaving these principles into our work will give us a theoretical and practical framework to create useful and effective campaigns, user interfaces etc.

Combining the learning of gamification with the UI/UX design principles will help us make effective websites.

Using these principles with the theory of human motivations will help us to create better softwares and campaigns for HR departments.

If nothing else, atleatst the next time you get addicted to the next PC or console game, you can identify the elements which addicted you the most :)

And does it cost anything extra to incorporate these elements in your digital strategy? Nope.

Perfect for a digital guerilla, no? :)



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