Where in Business, Education, and E-Commerce is Gamification Used?
June 2, 2023
Gamification, the use of game mechanics to promote engagement and information retention, is everywhere. It has become the prevalent method, within the app and online platform design, for building audiences and maximizing time onscreen.
In this article, we’ll look a little closer at the different environments in which Gamification is used. We’ll also investigate the history of successful Gamification and why it’s so effective for engaging users.
A Brief History of Gamification
Gamification in education is an ancient concept if you count pass marks, certification, and competing “houses” as game mechanics.
Some of the more modern reward concepts in Gamification, such as badges, collectible tokens, and cards, began in the late 19th century. Here are some of the early precedents of modern loyalty schemes:
- Cigarette manufacturers in the 1870s began to use card “stiffeners” to protect their packets and took the opportunity to create collectible cards featuring sportspeople, movie stars, warships, and more. W.D.& H.O. Wills and John Player & Sons were two of the most popular manufacturers; their cards are still being collected today.
- In 1908, Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scout movement. Key to the popularity of scouting was the chance to compete for achievement badges, awarded for sporting achievements, hobby skills, and learning. The Girl Scouts was founded two years later.
- In 1956, cyberneticists Gordon Pask and Robin McKinnon-Wood patented the first teaching device using Gamification. SAKI (self-adaptive keyboard instructor), measured the average speed of a device operator and then generate suitably difficult exercises to help them gain fluency.
- The first multi-user video game, MUD1, was created in 1978 as a text-based adventure that formed the basis for the later explosion of multi-user dungeon explorer games. This imported the idea of social competition into gaming.
- 1981 saw American Airlines create AAdvantage, the first frequent flier miles rewards program. The nineties saw a huge rise in loyalty rewards programs everywhere, with high-street stores and coffee shops offering freebies and discounts to loyal customers.
- The rise in home computer games from the early 1980s created the potential for educational games which would import competition and gameplay into onscreen learning materials. In 1981 the seminal article Towards a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction was published by psychologist Thomas W. Malone.
- The mid-1990s saw the development and growth of e-commerce, which allowed companies like Amazon and Alibaba to track and measure user engagement and offer discounts and rewards to regular shoppers.
- In 2002, game designer Nick Pelling coined the term “gamification” to cover all the research and discoveries which had been made in the preceding two decades within game mechanics and education.
- From 2003, with the launch of MySpace, and Facebook in 2007, social media began to import gamification strategies into both the code, which maximized time onscreen, and the rewards users could earn on these platforms, including likes and comments.
- 2005 saw the launch of HubSpot, one of the first digital marketing portals, which allowed the tracking of performance metrics and the rewarding of individual achievement in marketing and sales. This became commonplace, with digital leaderboards taking over from blackboards in charting performance in sales offices.
In summary, parallel streams of technology came together over decades to create the game mechanics we see in modern app design, as well as in learning and training platforms.
Why does Gamification work so Effectively?
Gamification is used as a mechanism for maximizing attention and engagement across a bewildering range of use cases. We’ll explore some of them below. First, let’s summarize the benefits of using a gamification strategy.
1: Gamification Makes Learning Fun
Game mechanics can make the process of absorbing knowledge more enjoyable. By breaking up training courses into bite-sized pieces, focus can be maintained. Completion can be incentivized with badges, levels, and certifications.
The delivery of information becomes more engaging with spot quizzes and games that reward successful completion. A higher proportion of training content is absorbed and retained.
2: It Encourages Friendly Competition
Sales departments become more fun places to work with individual achievements rewarded and recognized in real-time. Leaderboards become more sophisticated, with the potential to recognize the most-improved employees or the best newcomers, as well as the highest-earning reps.
Colleagues can cheer one another on, while desirable rewards can be tied to performance across a wider range of metrics.
3: It Provides Performance Metrics
Gamification allows for the recording of many performance metrics, including the time taken to complete training, bonuses earned, and skills acquired. This allows managers to quickly address shortcomings in performance.
An underperforming employee can be supported with additional training or mentorship rather than left to struggle alone.
4: It Rewards Task-Based Excellence
Rather than employees being motivated by their paychecks, they can be encouraged to hit a range of different targets and compete with their own prior performance and colleagues’ achievements.
Badges, kudos, personal celebrations, and points that can be exchanged for gifts or services are all ways that employers can recognize and reward their employees.
5: It Leverages the Dopamine Hit of Success
Gamification works because its strategies are backed up by scientific discoveries about human motivation. The pleasure-producing neurotransmitter dopamine spikes when we are about to achieve success.
Dopamine is a natural wonder drug that allows runners to achieve that last-second sprint for the line and keeps chess players intently focused during a game.
Game mechanics provide regular, small-scale rewards which keep creating miniature (and addictive) dopamine spikes. Much has been written lately about the dangers of social media platforms overdoing this chemical-psychological manipulation.
However, when proportionately used, it can be a helpful way to keep workers and learners on track.
Where Does Gamification Work Most Effectively?
Now that we know why Gamification works and we’ve examined its surprisingly long history, we can begin to look at some of the places where it’s most useful.
In brief, these popular use cases include:
- Education: Making learning and training more engaging.
- Sales: Rewarding competitiveness and performance.
- E-commerce: Creating loyal customers and brand advocates.
- Lifestyle: Building apps that encourage self-improvement.
- Retail: Encouraging regular custom and rewarding loyalty.
These are just five of the most popular environments in which game mechanics can be used. Let’s look more closely at each one.
Online training platforms are big business, and the e-learning sector is ever-expanding. Statista reports that the online education industry will be worth over $166 billion worldwide in 2023 and is expected to swell to more than $238 billion by 2027, a CAGR of 9.37%.
There are a range of reasons for this, including the growth of remote education platforms for adults, a move toward the hybridization of workplaces, and government programs to provide all school children with computers to improve equality of access.
Whether it’s children learning a challenging topic like science or math, adults learning a new language, or employee engagement in CPD, there are a host of game mechanics which can be brought to bear.
Common Game Elements: quizzes, challenges, points, levels, certification.
The competitive worlds of sales and marketing are always looking for innovations to motivate and inspire employees to ever higher achievements. One of the first industries to embrace Gamification, sales teams are among the most ardent users of game mechanics in the workplace.
Obvious examples include the leaderboard and points-based bonus schemes. Other innovations include badges, team celebrations, virtual gongs, and point systems for real-time, automated appreciation.
All these game mechanics serve the same purpose: to keep sales reps keenly competitive and engaged with the challenging task of converting prospects to leads and conversions. In a tough and challenging workplace, they add much-needed entertainment.
Common Game Elements: leaderboards, points, badges, gift tokens, celebrations.
When online selling exploded in the early years of the 21st century, it quickly became apparent that this could be a fantastic medium to build customer loyalty and reward repeat business. Online auction platforms like eBay even made the process of buying goods itself a game, with buyers competing to place winning bids.
Online marketplaces like Amazon sprang up, using gamification strategies like star ratings, reviews, discount offers, and bundles to reward regular customers. Individual brand sites began to create tiered loyalty programs and offer discount codes to engage users.
Common Game Elements: discount codes, auctions, customer loyalty programs, and star ratings.
Thousands of interactive apps have appeared in recent years which gamify almost every conceivable aspect of a user’s lifestyle. They encourage and motivate users to improve themselves by creating game-like environments and a sense of personal competition.
Popular apps for language learning, dieting, exercise, meditation, sleep, financial health, and mental well-being abound. Even dating has been transformed by the revolution of Gamification. Many of these apps build and support communities of users who champion and encourage one another’s achievements.
Here are just a few examples:
- Duolingo (Language)
- Calm (Meditation)
- Strava (Exercise)
- MyFitnessPal (Health)
- Tinder (Dating)
- Plum (Savings)
Common Game Elements: leaderboards, points, target-setting, rewards, celebrations.
Not to be outdone by that young upstart, e-commerce, traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers have upped their gamification game in recent years.
Where once it was enough to offer store card loyalty discounts, now shoppers can subscribe to online communities for advance notification of new products or join tiered online loyalty rewards programs that complement in-store offerings.
Individual products can use Q-codes or barcodes to create augmented reality experiences or link to online discount codes for download. Apps have been built to improve brand awareness and loyalty or to promote a socially aware campaign that improves a brand’s reputation.
Retail is an area of particular growth, with fashion brands making headway in the metaverse. From Gucci to Nike, fashion brands are creating VR catwalks and even fully virtual products. This is taking Gamification to a whole new, and exciting, level.
Common Game Elements: branded apps, discount codes, loyalty programs, and communities.
As we’ve seen, there’s a wide range of game mechanics in use across a host of different sectors and applications. What they all share is their efficacy in building engagement and maximizing attention.
From learning to sales to self-improvement, everything is more fun when the engaging aspects of gameplay can be imported.
In the examples above, we’ve listed some common gamification elements. Let’s now run through a definitive list of common game elements used to implement Gamification in both business and lifestyle applications.
10 Elements of Gamification
Here are ten common game mechanics you’ll find in everything from your sales department to the social media app on your phone.
Perhaps the oldest gamification element on this list, leaderboards were once chalked on blackboards. In the 21st century, they have become increasingly more sophisticated, tracking team and individual performance across a wide range of KPIs.
Modern leaderboards are updated in real-time and customizable for each employee, so reps can see their individual performance, team performance, and corporate performance tracked. A range of performance metrics can be included, and tasks can be tallied and compared with individual and team-wide targets.
Leaderboards must strike a balance between motivating employees and providing sometimes anxiety-provoking feedback. You don’t want those lagging at the bottom of a leaderboard to become disconsolate. By designing these systems to reward in-the-moment achievements, even struggling reps can enjoy episodes of triumph (and then get the support or training they need).
Whether it’s the fellow runners and cyclists in your Strava feed congratulating one another, or your in-house Slack channel providing kudos, communities have become increasingly important.
Just as gamers on Twitch share one another’s gameplay achievements, modern apps and workplace productivity platforms ensure that teams cohere and support one another. Mechanisms to achieve this commonly include verbal, visual, or even audio celebrations, likes, and shares.
Quizzes and Competitions
Particularly important in educational and workplace training apps, regular quizzes and competitions increase engagement, promote knowledge retention, encourage engagement, and reward completion. At the same time, they capture valuable metrics including participation time, learning quality, and completion scores.
These metrics can be used both to improve the training materials themselves and to spot gaps in the education of students and trainees. Quizzes can also be fun, as they leverage our natural competitiveness and desire for the rewards of achievement. Pass marks and grades are an almost universal component of such games.
Points and Badges
When employees or learners achieve a task, they are often rewarded with points or badges, which contribute to a pleasurable feeling of success.
Points can usually be exchanged for gifts, discounts, or favors, while badges serve as public markers of success, which can be shared on individual profiles or on public forums.
At the end of a challenging training course, certificates serve two main purposes. Firstly, they reward the participant and indicate a level of experience and knowledge. Secondly, they serve as proof of achievement which tells stakeholders that an individual can be trusted at a particular task.
Salesforce is a good example of using certification; they have a range of certificates available in specialist areas so that Salesforce users can demonstrate proficiency.
Discounts and Rewards
Whether it’s online discounts or in-store loyalty schemes, most businesses now stimulate repeat business with some sort of reward system. Consumers love collecting air miles, or supermarket purchase points, which can later be exchanged for goods and services.
Even high street banks have begun offering cash rewards for transaction volume, particularly when customers use their banking apps, thus reducing their operating budgets for high street premises and telephone banking.
Some eLearning apps and training platforms have begun developing miniature games which promote key points of learning. These are developed from in-person training methods where groups break into teams to solve a puzzle. After all, if a strategy has worked in person, the chances are it will translate online.
A good example is the UK’s Resuscitation Council’s training app, which creates virtual lifesaving experiences to instill good practice in CPR.
Kudos and Celebration
Whether automated, directed by managers towards their staff, or encouraged between employees, there’s little as motivating as a “well done” or “thank you.”
It’s a simple intervention that many gamification platforms have taken to take their employee feedback and engagement to the next level with customizable memes, emojis, messages, songs, and virtual gong strikes.
As well as those infamous leaderboards, employees or app users can often track their performance over time, to ensure they are hitting their goals or KPIs.
Exercise and diet apps do this just as assiduously as workplace sales platforms. Such tools work well for individuals whose competitiveness is most often inwardly directed.
Levels and Tiers
Whether it’s the tiers of exclusivity of a luxury brand’s loyalty program or levels of certified experts, this game mechanic leverages our desire to ascend in excellence. The cost of entry to each tier can be an expenditure, physical activity, or achievement, but the aim is the same – to reward ambition and adherence.
Gamification is Here to Stay
We hope our history and exploration of the many ways companies implement gamification have been helpful and instructive.
Spinify has created a range of gamification tools to optimize your workplace or learning environment by rewarding performance and achievement. Why not take a look at our product today, or book a free demo?
Put those insights into practice.
Set your team up for success by improving their performance through gamification.
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