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Who started gamification?

Gamification is using techniques from real-life games to engage users and make a product or service more addictive.

Many senior executives use gamification in nongaming contexts because most existing products are boring, and clients are losing interest too soon. But, people can spend hours playing addictive video games and spend precious resources, money, and time.

Gamification takes game elements, like points, badges, and achievements, to reward loyal customers, train recruits, and amplify the working experience. Big corporations, educational institutions, and universities use it to engage more profits and learn skills and management.

But gamification wouldn’t be what it is today without years of evolution. The reason why gamification history is so important is that early success can help define its future. You can see how the early stages of gamification took shape and influenced users.

Here, you can learn more about its brief history, such as when gamification started, when the term was first invented, and some of the first examples of gamification.

What is the history of gamification?

Gamification is a relatively new concept. It gained widespread usage in the 21st century as a powerful engagement tool. But gamification has been around for quite some time.

The fact is: you don’t need mobile phones or computers to gamify a process. Many gamification initiatives use a basic mechanic to boost engagement and user enjoyment. Anything can be gamified if it uses game mechanics, such as:

  • Rewards
  • Challenge
  • Motivation
  • Achievement
  • Story
  • Punishment

The “gamification” process applies these tools to something else. It is a complex system of rewards and incentives designed to keep people engaged as much as possible. The idea is to get people to do things that would be beneficial, often for a financial benefit.

For example, create a points system, user ranking, leaderboards, and a way to earn badges. The gamification efforts work when you make the mechanics more game-like. This is why we can see “gamification” even back in the 1900s.

In 1908, boy scouts awarded members with badges to emphasize their achievements. Whenever boy scouts acted based on the principles of the organization or were attending special events, they would get rewarded.

But it wasn’t until online gaming gained momentum that we started seeing the evolution of gamification. As technology improved, gamification was slowly gaining recognition as a powerful tool for enhancing any business strategy.

Gamification timeline

To know when gamification started, look at the timeline below. The list offers a detailed perspective of the history of gamification. Meaning you can see how applying gamification has evolved throughout the years.

S&H Green Stamps (1896) – Stamps were distributed as a part of a rewards program designed to encourage customer loyalty.

The Boy Scout movement (1908) – Boy scouts were provided a series of obstacles they would have to overcome to earn rewards. They were recognized for every achievement, ongoing commitment, and involvement.

The birth of social video games (1970s) – Sega and Atari introduced arcade games. They were the first social video games. People would flock to arcade centers, gas stations, and restaurants to play the games and earn high scores.

The Game of Work (1973) – Written by Charles Coonradt, the book talks about how fun and games can tackle the problem of reduced employee engagement. Coonradt noticed plummeting productivity as sales in recreation and sports equipment were increasing. He suggested that game mechanics can promote satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.

Multi-user dungeon game (1979) – Gamification takes on a creative approach by combining programming, role-playing, and interactive fiction to inspire users to keep playing. Although its text-based interface was unappealing compared to modern standards, it sparked great interest in online social gaming.

What Makes Things Fun to Learn (1981) – Thomas W. Malone at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study of intrinsically motivating computer games. This is the first time a gaming initiative has been recognized academically. Computer games showcased inherent abilities to stimulate engagement. He outlined how gaming mechanics can be added to different areas, especially education.

AAdvantage (1981) – American Airlines released the first frequent flier program, a critical factor in promoting customer loyalty.

Gaming trends spread to millions (1990s) – By the 90s, about 30% of American households had a Nintendo home console. Many games were awarding users with points, badges, and achievements.

Who plays MUAs (Multi-User Adventures) paper (1996) – Richard Bartle published a paper explaining why different people play games. He divided game players into different categories: achiever, explorer, socializer, and killer. These categories can determine how the game experience affects its audience. They can be further used in a modern gamification platform.

Serious Games Initiative (SGI) (2002) – The Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars founded SGI to use games to promote user engagement. Many organizations felt that the word “game” undermined the quality of educational products. So, they preferred the term “Serious Games” for impact games, educational games, immersive learning simulations, digital game-based learning, alternative purpose games, etc.

When was the term gamification invented?

Wondering who coined gamification? Nick Pelling coined the term “gamification” in 2002. But, in the second half of 2010, the term saw widespread adoption. Nick Pelling is a game designer tasked with creating a game like a user interface for vending machines and ATMs.

This British-born inventor and programmer are best known as the creator of the 1984 game Frak. Pelling saw the potential and practicality of in-game mechanics as tools for industry and business. So, he decided to implement his knowledge of games elsewhere.

As games became increasingly popular, articles started to emerge, outlining the countless uses of gamification. The gamification history helped this concept become a catalyst – a powerful marketing and social tool that can be used in the workplace.

From an employer’s standpoint, it can motivate and engage employees. It can be used for designing enjoyable user interfaces, boosting enthusiasm, and creating excitement.  

Gamification in education

It is hard to pinpoint who invented gamification in education. But, many believe that gamification was first used to educate young children in the scout movement in the 1900s. This youth movement aimed to shape children and cultivate character with active educational methods.

Although scouting was mainly used to train boys, it quickly became popular among young girls. In 1910, feminine units were formed, often including domestic education programs.

When was the first modern gamification platform created?

In 2005, Rajat Pahari released and created the first example of modern gamification – Bunchball. Bunchball is a cloud-based platform designed to help organizations and businesses use gamification’s power entirely. 

The platform uses game mechanics, such as leaderboards, badges, points, and missions, and incorporates them into the work environment.  

In 2007, some people used gamification in the home. Kevan Davis developed a web app called Chore Wars that gamified daily chores. It used a collaborative RGP-style system, where users get to work through different quests to protect their homes, like defeating the Sink Rat that hides in the sink.

When was the first gamification summit held?

The first-ever gamification summit was held in San Francisco in 2011. At the summit, M2 Research CEO Wanda Meloni uncovered the first analysis of the Gamification Market, showcasing the potential of gamification becoming a billion-dollar market.

Summits in San Francisco are drawing thousands of attendees from around the world. This created the perfect opportunity for the impact of gamification and computer games to reach a wide range of audience.

The lowdown

Gamification is now a common feature of software design. It is used in many commercial electronic devices as an excellent engagement tool. Many other senior executives are already considering making gamification an essential requirement in their workplace.

But, for gamification to be such a popular feature of software design, it had to start from somewhere. The gamification history spans years. Nick Pelling was the one who started gamification and coined the term back in 2002. But gamification was used long before that.

Some of the first records of gamification were seen in 1896 with the S&H Green Stamps. Followed by the boy scouting movement in 1908. As time passed, experts noticed great potential in in-game mechanics and a game-based learning environment.

Eventually, gamification gained massive attention in a more specific sense, referring to the usage of rewards or social elements of games in software

Spinify can help!

Some people believe that gamification is ahead of its time. But gamification and a game-based learning environment are here to stay.

When you look at the brief history of this concept, you can see that gamification is bound to evolve. It is versatile, practical, and creative for engaging and motivating users. If you are looking to gamify your workspace, Spinify can help.

We can implement a competition and incentive approach that blends perfectly with motivation psychology and gamification. You can use this tool in your existing platform to help your team succeed and grow. 

We have valuable insight into the gamification industry. We can help you reach your targets through meaningful engagement strategies and different concepts. Book a demo today and see how Spinify can help skyrocket your team’s performance.
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Put those insights into practice.

Set your team up for success by improving their performance through gamification.


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