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Gamification is the application of game mechanics and dynamics to solve problems and to drive participation by engaging the audience. Gamification is typically applied to non-game activities to make them more fun and to change people’s behavior. In a sense, it is the process of turning something that is normally mundane or routine into a game in order to increase engagement.[1]

The concepts of gamification are supported by psychological theories such as Fogg’s Behaviour Model, Self deterministic theory, and the overlearning theory. Large corporations such as SAP, IBM, Deloitte and Microsoft have implemented gamification into their businesses to promote engagement and to motivate employees.[2]
[3] Some companies also use gamification for marketing, building brand loyalty and increasing consumer engagement.[4]


Game Mechanics and Dynamics


Game mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and controls that are used to “gamify” an activity. They are the elements that make a game, a game. A technical definiton of game mechanics are systems that facilitate and encourage users to explore and learn the properties of their possibility space through the use of feedback mechanisms.[5]

Game mechanics can be expressed in a feedback loop.[6]
Game feedback loop

Examples of game mechanics:

  • Points
  • Levels
  • Challenges
  • Virtual goods
  • Leaderboards
  • Gifts & charity

Game mechanics can be applied to websites or applications to make a game out of an activity. Combining them or using them together can create a highly motivational user experience around an existing website or application to drive user engagement.


The relationship between game mechanics and game desires

Game dynamics are the resulting benefits that a human feels as a direct result of game mechanics. They are essentially fundamental human needs and desires. The compelling, motivational aspect of games and its resulting desire and motivations are game dynamics. Combined together, it is what drives a compelling, engaging user experience.[7]

Game dynamics include:

  • Rewards
  • Status
  • Achievement
  • Self-expression
  • Competition
  • Altruism

This graph shows how game mechanics can have an impact on game dynamics. The green dot signifies the primary human desires that each game mechanic fulfills and the blue dots represents other areas that it fulfills.[7]

Development of Gamification

As the definition of gamification remains unclear and debatable, it is difficult to pinpoint the starting point of this concept. Indeed, there has been customer loyalty program for many years. Air Miles, one of the largest loyalty rewards programs in the world, and others like it are important precursors. They reward customers who spend money on partner merchants with points, which can be redeemed physical prizes. Many "gamified" modern businesses have tried to move beyond physical goods, and capture the customers' competitiveness as a low-cost driver of motivation. Instead, virtual rewards are given.

Why Gamification?

The fundamental purpose of gamification is to drive user engagement. The reasons for, and contexts behind, this drive for consumer engagement can be multi-faceted. An online business might need a mechanism to drive web traffic to its content pages for advertising revenue. A corporation might perceive a need to increase inter-departmental communication and collaboration. An individual might want to push their own engagement in an activity that they might otherwise find distasteful or avoid.

Gamification has seen such a significant adoption because it can be easily and very flexibly applied to a variety of problems facing individuals, companies, organizations and groups. It allows them to overcome a lack of user involvement, and help to develop a positive feedback loop of engagement, reward, and recognition.

We can use a framework of engagement, reward, and recognition to analyze how and why gamification works.


  • Points and Levels: Awarding points for desirable behaviours and actions that the users engage in feeds the human desire for completion and recognition. The virtual, and arguably meaningless, points add a visual and easily understood progress meter toward the next level or stage.
  • Quests: Quests are optional activities that users can do that ask them to engage in a specific set of actions. These often push the boundaries of the user's engagement level and are used to push their envelope and reward them for exceeding their baseline comfort level. It is important that these quests be designed correctly; asking a user to move too quickly will result in resistance and disengagement, and asking too little would not stretch the envelope at all.


  • Badges: Badges are visual recognitions of some action or achievement that the user has earned. They are often used to track levels of participation as well as shown off as a status symbol.
  • Virtal Currency and Rewards: Users can often use their earned points to purchase virtual goods that they can then display to others users.


Gamification should be designed to allow users to portray a curated and self-created virtual persona of themselves. By showing off badges, virtual purchases and allowing personalization and custom content, users can be driven to engage by providing them the opportunity to create a virtual avatar of themselves though their gamified activities.

Motivational Theories

Gamification`s effectiveness in changing behaviour is rooted in its application as it relates to human psychology. The following theories act as the groundwork for our examination of gamification`s psychological effects.

Fogg's Behaviour Model

Dr. B.J. Fogg's Behaviour Model

Dr. B.J. Fogg is a professor at Stanford University who has done groundbreaking research on the effect that computers can have on human thinking and behaviour. While relatively young, his work has attracted much attention, and very recently, the World Economic Forum has adopted Fogg`s model as their analytical framework for behaviour change. [8]

Core Factors within Fogg's Model

The Model is based on the assumption that behavous results from the convergence of three factors:[9]

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

Motivation is a product of three Core Motivators:

  • Pleasure/pain
  • Hope/fear
  • Social acceptance/rejection.

Ability, similarly, is a product of six simplicity factors:[10]

  • Time
  • Physical Effort
  • Money
  • Brain-cycles
  • Social deviance
  • Non-routine

Triggers come in three types:[11]

  • A facilitator signal reduces a negative ability factor
  • A spark draws attention to a core motivator
  • A signal is a temporal trigger for a behaviour.

Unique to Fogg's Behaviour Model is the idea of trade-offs between the three factors. A low motivation might be offset by a strong trigger, or a low ability can be overcome if the motivation is sufficiently high. Where gamification come into play is in increasing motivation and providing appropriate triggers. Ability is considered somewhat extrinsic, in that it depends on the individual rather than on the gamification techniques being used.

Gamification techniques can increase motivation by providing rewards and recognition, and provide triggers though quests and leveling mechanics.

Self-Detemination Theory

Self-Determination Theory is a macro level theory of intrinsic human motivation, based on the assumption that behaviour is self-determined and self-motivated. Extrinsic factos are considered only so far as they affect the intrinsic motivation of an individual and their importance is minimized. It states that instrinsic motivation, and by extension, human behaviour results from three integral needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.[12]

Gamification really attempts to influence all three internal needs. Gamification techniques feed the displaying mastery aspect of competence often by tying in social media and Web 2.0 functionality into the gamified activity.[13]Some examples include the facilitation of sharing, displaying of badges, points and achievements, and being rewarded for involving friends and colleagues into the activity. Autonomy is increased by providing rewards for the desired behaviour, therefore, reinforcing the intrinsic motivation. Lastly, relatedness ties into the social sharing aspect of gamification.

The three integral needs of human beings


Competence refers to the ability to deal with one's surroundings, succeed against challanges, achieve mastery over a subject and be able to display that expertise.


Autonomy is the desire to be the main causal agent in one's life and be able to act on one's own volition.


Relatedness is the universal desire to interact, connect with and care for other human beings.

"Flow" Framework

Mihaly's Skill v. Challenge Matrix

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was involved in research about what makes human beings happy and content. He came to the conclusion that generally people were most happy when they could be in a state that Mihaly called 'flow.' Flow is characterized as a state of full immersion, engagement, fulfillment and expression of skill.[15]

While it may still be a stretch to suggest that gamification can help one achieve the state of 'flow,' Mihaly developed a robust matrix we can use to critique gamification that details the challenge level of an activity versus the actor's skill, and its impact on the psyche of the individual.[16]

If we take challenge as a proxy for uncertainty (i.e. the increasing chance of failure), skill as a proxy for certainty, and the increasing possibility of success, then 'flow' becomes an insightful way to consider the gamification phenomenon. Gamification can be a way to provide structure, lower uncertainty, and lower the challenge of an activity by providing small incremental goals, and a support and reward system. This helps to move the participant down from the anxiety and worry quadrants. Inversely, it can act as a way to increase the challenge of an activity by providing extrinsic goals that push users outside their comfort zones, and out of the boredom and relaxation regions.

For more information, take some time to listen to Mihaly himself speak about his theory on TED - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow[17]. He expounds on the basics and background of his theory and delves in an interesting discussion and dialogue regarding what makes life worth living and the limits of materialism as a way to achieve happiness.

Industry Examples


In an effort to encourage drivers to save fuel and actually achieve the estimated fuel consumption fuels, car manufacturers have embedded games in cars oriented towards fuel economy. Examples include hybrid vehicles such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Insight, and the Nissan Leaf.

The games used by the different manufacturers all function similarly, centralizing around the theme of growing leaves or flowers to symbolize the degree of fuel efficiency. The systems take into consideration a range of factors such as smoothness, amount of throttle input and the average speed, and provide instant feedback. High scores are saved and comparisons can be made at the end of each trip.

Honda has created a flash game based on its Honda Eco Assist system.


Many video games, in particular role-playing games, allows the player to control an avatar that gradually gains experience, unlock weapons, and earn recognition for completing certain quests or stages of the game. In an attempt to replicate this for real-world fitness training, Fitocracy allows the user to "level-up" certain skills by doing different exercises.

Badge rewarded for checking into the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards


Miso is a social platform for followers of TV shows. Combining features from other social media, it enables users to follow TV shows and other fans for the latest news, discussion and gossips. Discovering new friends and connecting with other fans is an important element as the creators of Miso understand that even amongst a circle of friends, taste in TV shows can differ.

The most interesting feature, however, is similar to Foursquare but with a TV focus. Users can check-in to shows that are being broadcasted. With frequent check-ins, users earn badges and points that are displayed in your public profile. Examples include checking into certain shows a number of times or large-scale events such as the US Open. These badges and points attempts to inspire competition amongst fans and friends on who is the biggest fan.



Nike currently produces a tracking device that, when paired with an Apple iPod/iPhone, relays real-time health and performance information to athletes. With Nike+, these statistics are tracked online to reward the user with achievements, insights, exercise suggestions, as well as more challenges to push the user to reach further milestones. When milestones are reached, virtual rewards are given. An example is Lance Armstrong saying congratulations. Nike+ also features an 'alter ego' for the user to compete with, and social networking options with other Nike+ users.

Workplace Applications

While gamification has shown itself to be gaining rapid popularity, particularly in the area of social networking, business applications are also being explored, developed and adopted by various organizations. Gamification can be used by organizations both internally, mainly to encourage employee motivation in various tasks that are traditionally boring, and externally as promotion and consumer loyalty tactics.


Internal applications of gamification focus mainly on increasing employee motivation for tasks that are traditionally boring or disliked by employees. Rewarding employees through points or badges for completing menial jobs/tasks or meeting deadlines can create motivation. Such motivation can then be enhanced by adding a competitive aspect to the task. Leaderboards, for example, enable employees or ‘players’ to view one another’s scores, achievements and standings, encouraging competition and potentially motivating performance.

Microsoft made excellent use of leaderboards to encourage their staff to participate in pre-beta testing. By posting a leaderboard with the names of employees and their progress in testing the pre beta programs, Microsoft put a competitive spin on a boring task and was able to quadruple employee participation in pre-beta testing.

Watch from the 17-minute mark to learn about Microsoft Beta1 but the entire video is relevant to gamification[1]

Organizations can also use virtual rewards, such as points and badges, to encourage employees to view tasks such as training, data entry and brainstorming as fun, rather than work. Deloitte uses game techniques to encourage employees and clients to participate in their Deloitte Leadership Academy.[2] The training programs are designed to follow a game structure, where employees are rewarded badges for completing training ‘levels’ and after collecting enough badges they are able to unlock higher levels and more complex training programs.

Gamification has been used by various other companies in a number of ways:


SAP has designed a game modeled after a golf.[2] Employees are challenged to get their golf ball in the hole, which is assigned as a challenge to employees. When an employee completes one of the challenges, such as achieving a sales lead, they score a point and other employees are able to view the progress of their peers. Additionally, SAP turned gamification itself into a game. Employees are challenged to brainstorm ideas for turning various business practises into games. The employees are then rewarded for their ideas. In this situation, SAP was effectively able to have their employees develop the games for their gamification efforts and turn boring processes, such as invoicing, into a game. The main benefit of this tactic is that the employees were able to make the processes they personally found boring into a fun activity.


IBM utilizes game dynamics to overcome the challenges of having a geographically dispersed workforce.[2] By using gamification to create a virtual city with various business scenarios, IBM provides their employees with a way to stay connected and engaged with each other.


L’Oreal has recently launched a virtual game as a recruitment strategy. Potential recruits are encouraged to play the game for a chance to win a trip to Paris and possible recruitment by L’Oreal, depending on the player’s success in the game. The game is designed based on a product launch and players are given information and data which they must use in making decisions about the methods for launching a new product. Players are also tested on their knowledge and assessed on situational scenarios to earn points. As players progress through the various levels, questions become harder and more points are given for correct answers.

Implementation Pitfalls

When implementing game dynamics in the workplace there are a number of factors that organizations must be aware of and guard against. Gamification can create a negative effect if employees are rewarded for the wrong or undesired behaviours or do not know why they are being rewarded. It is important to ensure that games are properly designed to reward desired behaviours and are not handing out points or badges meaninglessly. Furthermore, it is critical that employees know why there are being rewarded so that they can continue the desired behaviour in the future. Ensuring the employee is aware of why they are being rewarded is often easily accomplished by immediate feedback/rewards so that employees are able to recognize and make the connection between the desired behaviour and the reward.


External uses of gamification usually focus on marketing and promotion strategies. Game dynamics can be integrated into marketing campaigns to increase consumer engagement and loyalty by creating a stronger relationship with customers.


Playboy Logo

Playboy used gamification techniques to attract a younger demographic and engage their customers. They created an app where women were able to post their photos and then be voted on. Women who received the most votes earned points and the winner was crowned Ms. Social. The campaign by Playboy was very successful, increasing revenues by 60% and resulting in 85% re-engagement by customers.

"The Office"

The popular comedy TV show “The Office” also employed gamification techniques as a method of keeping their viewers engaged with the show year-round, not just when the season is airing. By creating an virtual office online, the show was able to establish an interactive destination for the fans where they could create a character and participate in their own version of 'The Office'. Fans were able to login and apply to work at the office. From there, they could participate in various challenges to receive points and promotions. The game also featured a shop were players were able to trade their points for virtual items to decorate their office, such as office supplies, lamps and pictures.

Wendy's Logo


Wendy’s fast food chain used gamification to create awareness in support of a new product launch. They created a fry-for-all game where participants could win free fries and other prizes. Participants of the game posted a virtual box of fries to their account and when a fry was picked by the person’s friend, both of them would be entered to win the sweepstakes. When the box is emptied, the coupon for free fries was unlocked and the person was encouraged to go to the next level to unlock more prizes with a bigger box. Progress was posted to Facebook and it became a viral marketing campaign.

Gamification of BUS 466

Gamification can be applied to BUS 466 in a number of ways:

  • Award points to students for reading articles
  • Badges can be given if students show a strong aptitude in an area
    • For example: Yammer Expert, Professional Blogger etc
  • Students can level up by acquiring knowledge in specific areas
    • For example, read an article on social media and you can level up, earn a badge on social media and you level up again
  • Leader boards should be used to show the progress of students

One of the greatest foreseeable challenges with incorporating gamification into BUS 466 will be how to motivate students to participate. While it is possible to make it a class requirement, it would be more effective for students to participate by their own choice. The game would need to be relevant and interesting to the students while still aligning with course material. Perhaps developing the game like a reality TV show would attract students. For example, during the first week, students could create a character that would then face challenges throughout the semester. Sometimes the challenges would require specific knowledge, where an article would be provided for students to read. Students may have to answer questions about a topic covered in class to continue with the game and progress forward. There could also be group challenges where the students would act as a team in an assignment to earn a badge. The game could also be altered that students could earn points which then could be redeemed for virtual goods to help them in the game. Students could use points to buy a dictionary with keywords, or they could use points to buy a phone to phone a friend, etc.


There are numerous criticisms against gamification and its effectiveness as a strategy. Critics of gamification often claim that it is simply a new word for an old technique. These critics are labelling gamification as a fad term that simply describing an already existing process and technique for marketing campaigns.[3]

Overjustification and Replacement

Other critics of gamification focus more on the damaging effects of gamifying processes and marketing strategies. The first criticism claims that by providing extrinsic rewards for completing tasks, we are destroying intrinsic motivation.[3] Essentially this criticism is stating that by giving someone a reward for something that already makes them happy, we will kill their internal happiness and replace it with a need for external rewards. The problem with this is that if a person does not receive an award for the activity, their own motivation for completing the activity will be reduced because they no longer have the internal desire to complete the task. For example, if there is a child who likes to play the piano and you start giving them a reward for playing, the child will come to expect the reward and will only play if they are guaranteed the reward. The child no longer plays the piano for their own enjoyment and instead is driven purely by external rewards. To overcome this challenge, we need to ensure that external benefits are well aligned with internal benefits so that people will continue performing the desired task.

Cost of Ownership

Gamification is also criticized based on its cost. Gamification is an ongoing cost but due to its virtual nature, it is often assumed to be inexpensive. However, maintaining a virtual world and economy requires continuous innovation which is often quite expensive. Customers will get bored without constant updates to the games, activities and rewards, and such continuous creative effort can be a drain on a company’s resources.[3] Companies such as Badgeville and Bunchball have developed and grown by providing consulting services to companies wishing to gamify an aspect of their business.


Finally, addiction and compulsion of games is a key criticism of using gamification. Since gamification in organizations is relatively new, the long-term effects are only beginning to be understood. Games, however, are recognized as one of the most powerful sources of non-coercive influence in the world and are frequently designed with addiction in mind.[3] For example, there are laws that govern games such as gambling in order to protect the public from the potentially harmful effects. In its current stage, the addiction levels concerning gamification are dependent upon the ethical and moral codes of the operator and people have to hope that operators do not begin to abuse gamification.

External Links


  1. Gamification Applications
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wall Street Journal
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Criticisms of Gamification
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