What Is Gamification? How Can It Help My Business?

7 minute read

February 21, 2020

What Is Gamification? How Can It Help My Business?

But let’s not make things more complicated than they need to be. Here’s an easier way to think of it.

Gamification simply means to “game-ify” something. In order to “game-ify” something, all you need to do is sprinkle in some game elements. These game elements are used to make the thing that’s being “game-ified” more interesting, fun, appealing, exciting and engaging – making it more like a game.

So, essentially, gamification basically means that you’re making something more like a game.

To this, you might be wondering how do you do this, and why would you want to? Good question. Let me explain.

How To Use Gamification: Common Gamification Elements

So as we’ve discussed, gamification is about making something that’s traditionally non-game related into more of a game. There are a number of different game mechanics that are used to make this happen.

Here are some of the most common game elements used in gamification:

  • Ability to earn points: Points are earned through a rewards system. Users are encouraged to exhibit the behaviour necessary to earn these points.

  • Ability to earn badges: Badges are usually earned by completing specific actions. This encourages users to do specific things in order to earn a badge.

  • Leaderboard: A leaderboard allows users to shine. A leaderboard brings out the competitive nature of users and encourages users to compete for a chance to be featured on it.

  • Ability to level up/ rank: Leveling up is similar to hitting a milestone. Users are rewarded by being able to reach a new level based on defined actions or events. Users with higher levels show that they have more experience than others

Pidgeot levels up!

  • Ability to select an avatar and username: Providing users with the ability to select their own avatar and username allows them the opportunity to customize their experience. Users enjoy being able to add their unique personality into their avatar.

  • Ability to earn rewards: Rewards are another aspect of gamification that provides incentive to participate; this is why people love it. While these rewards could be a badge or a spot on the leaderboard, it’s common for top-tier rewards to be real-life items that are given to the user. People love rewards!

Gamification can literally be used anywhere, digital, non-digital, and across all industries. We’ll touch on that later – but first, why should you use gamification?

Why You Should Use Gamification: Reasons Why Gamification Works

Gamification is used to drive participation, loyalty, and most importantly, engagement. Generally speaking, the rewards of gamification can be either extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic rewards refer to actual prizes, such as ranks, items, and badges, whereas intrinsic rewards refer to the internal feeling of reward when you do something just for the sake of doing it.

To truly understand why gamification is used and why it works, we really need to dig a bit deeper. We have to look at human psychology. What is it that actually motivates people?

Well, if you look at the most prominent discourse on human psychology, you’ll find the answer. Building on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, David McClelland further identified three human motivators that fuel all behaviour, which he outlined in his 1961 book, “The Achieving Society.

These motivators are defined as:

  1. The need for achievement

  2. The need for affiliation

  3. The need for power

When you take these three human motivators into consideration, it becomes clear why gamification works and why it should be used.

Let’s take a look at the feelings and emotions that gamification evokes in its users:

  • Achievement: Gamification creates a sense of achievement for its users. This is done through the use of badges, the ability to level up/ gain rank and through earning rewards.

  • Recognition: When users are able to gain rank, and earn badges, they feel recognized and valued. This is further amplified when the leaderboard element is added because it provides another way for users to be recognized.

  • Status: The feeling of status is an important one. A higher rank correlates with more experience and therefore a more notable status. When gamification elements are applied, a users status is usually something that can be seen by everyone, and is a way to show-off, so to speak.

  • Belonging: As a participant, there’s an enhanced sense of belonging. Gamification therefore creates the idea that even if users are of a different rank or status, they are all part of one larger social group; they’re all “members.”

  • Progression: Gamification provides users with a sense of progression. With more points and experience, users are able to progress up the achievement ladder.

  • Competition: One of the most predominant elements of gamification is that it creates a sense of competition. People love competition and they love winning even more.

  • Goal Setting: With a number of different ranks, achievements and badges available, users can set personal goals for themselves. For instance, they may be looking to earn specific badges or level-up to get a new title.

  • Self-Expression: Gamification can provide users with the ability to add their own personal touch to their experience. This happens, for example, when users have the ability to customize their avatars.

  • Collaboration: Gamification can provide the opportunity for members of the group to interact with each other, share tips on how to earn specific badges, and discuss the product, services or company of the larger social group.

The feelings and emotions that gamification works to evokes can all be categorized under one of McClelland’s human motivators. As a result, there are essentially three pillars of gamification, which illustrates how and why gamification is able to increase participation, loyalty and engagement.

The Three Pillars of Gamification - Participation, Loyalty and Engagement

It’s no wonder why gamification works; everything that gamification stands for compliments the three motivators that drive human behavior. Gamification increases participation because of the human need for achievement, it increases loyalty because of the human need for affiliation and it increases engagement because of the human need for power.

3 Examples of Gamification

Gamification can be applied to and incorporated into any business practice to increase participation, loyalty and engagement. I’d like to show you some examples of businesses who have done this extremely well.

1. Duolingo

Duolingo is a freemium language-learning platform that includes a number of different gamification elements in its learning strategy.

Duolingo has over 200 million subscribers, and their gamification strategy focuses mostly around user participation. In essence, going back to the three pillars of gamification, this means that Duolingo’s gamification strategy mostly focuses on the human need for achievement.

This is made very clear in the design:Duolingo gamification

  • Users can level-up

  • Users can see the progression they’ve made, and how close they are to leveling up

  • Users can set achievable goals for themselves

Duolingo does an excellent job at framing this educational learning platform as a “challenge,” or a “game.” This is made even more clear in the reminder emails users receive where the CTA is “begin the challenge!”

2. McDonalds

Okay, I wanted to give you an example of gamification used in a non-digital way, so let’s take a look at McDonalds. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the McDonald’s Monopoly challenge – it’s been going on for decades.

This is a classic example of gamification.

With this gamification strategy, McDonald’s makes buying their food part of a “game.” This strategy has increased their sales during this time, and provides a sense of competition for customers around the globe!

McDonald’s offers free food and beverages as incentives to “play” in addition to offering larger prizes which just ups the competition.

Well done McDonalds!

3. Deloitte

Deloitte provides an excellent example of gamification done right in the workplace to keep executives engaged. They introduced elements of gamification into their learning system to encourage engagement:

Deloitte’s strategy mostly includes the following gamification elements:

  • Rank and reward

  • Achievements and challenges

  • Leaderboard

Most of the incentives used to participate in this program play to the human need of power. There are a number of different challenges that executives can do, and they’re rewarded with an elevated status. Further, they can also be featured on the leadership board.  

Gamification in Online Community Forums

One of the best ways to incorporate gamification in your business is through an online community forum. This is because a community provides the perfect environment for all three pillars of gamification to be showcased.

You might have noticed that in the examples above, none of them incorporate all three pillars of gamification. Some take bits and pieces of each to make their program or product successful, which is great.

What’s even better, however, is when you can use all of these gamification strategies at once.

This is where community comes in.King Community Forum uses Participation, Loyalty and Engagement

Community itself, works to increase customer engagement and brand loyalty through encouraging community participation.

Built around a brand, community provides a space for members to engage with each other about the brand, share ideas and ask questions. I would argue that all businesses need a support community anyway, and applying gamification to something that’s already necessary is a huge benefit. It’s like a 2 for 1!

Check out the King Candy Crush Saga Community for an excellent example of community gamification done right.King Community Forum profile information

The Candy Crush Saga forum is not only beautiful to look at – it works to increase participation, loyalty and engagement, all at once.

It includes all three pillars of gamification and supports all three human motivators.

Concluding Thought

Now that you know what gamification is, I am confident that you can see that value that it can bring to your business, especially if employed through a community forum.

No business is too big or too small to get themselves a community and start using gamification to increase participation, drive loyalty and facilitate engagement. If you want to learn more about how to use gamification in your community forum, check out our guide, found below!

Strategic Community Gamification


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Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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