Level up! You've unlocked the gamification ability.

Gamification? Most people have probably heard this term so I won't bore you with the Oxford dictionary definition - but simply it’s; 'applying gaming methods to encourage engagement'.

Whilst the name seems pretty modern it's not exactly a new practice, ever claim a free coffee on your 8th visit? Or perhaps you've tried your luck at lunch wishing for Mayfair but instead ended up with a free apple pie? Elements of gaming are found everywhere and according to reports (this one and that one), it’s managed to develop beyond a trend and interestingly made up the marketing strategy of more than 50% of start-ups with a predicted market value of $22.9B by 2022. Wowsers.


Right, so what is gamification?

Popular Apps like Duolingo, Strava and M1M0 have capitalised on it by introducing elements like Leaderboards, Streaks and Achievements into the user experience, but there are many more techniques a brand can leverage.

With Microsoft's ExpertZone, the team have helped develop some of these mechanisms to encourage growth, engagement and affiliation on the new platform. The use of countdowns, level ranks, completion bonuses - heck - even the humble progression bar all work together to create a more immersive and rewarding experience for the user.

And it works because it taps into some of our instinctive human desires; status, happiness and curiosity.


Action is reward.

As a digital designer, my job is to create slick, easy to use and engaging experiences for users. In terms of a website; enabling users to reach their objective with minimal friction. Do a good job and the reward is more work (and money hopefully)! Real-life gamification right there!

Thinking bigger than myself though, if you've had a wander through Leeds high street recently you may have spotted those yellow recycling bins dotted around a few key places. Installed in collaboration with 'Leeds By Example', the campaign has almost doubled the amount of recycling in the city centre (from 17 to 32%) through the use of reward machines, bold messaging and highly engaging bins. Okay, great but how? Through creative communication, the public is 'challenged' to recycle their waste. The game is using these new bins and the goal? Less mess. A great example of using gamification to solve real-world problems. Now imagine there were leaderboards to award those who were the tidiest.


On the web this could be 'search for a solution, find an answer, apply to a problem, rave about it'. Making that hook fun, easy and interesting is a sure-fire way of getting return visits.


In gaming, this is referred to as the 'Sequence of Play' or 'Game loop'. It's what forms the progression a user might take. 'Explore the area, fight monsters, earn XP, level up'. On the web this could be 'search for a solution, find an answer, apply to a problem, rave about it'. Making that hook fun, easy and interesting is a sure-fire way of getting return visits.

But before we start adding quests and leaderboards to our designs we need to consider the user, the commercial objective and remember that gamification should only be used to improve that experience.


Learning made fun.

Dzień dobry Duo! Having a gander through the top free apps on the App store you'll discover a familiar theme. Gamification and education tend to be a powerfully potent pairing and popular language learning app, Duolingo, is one of the finest examples.

'There's no way one can learn a language on just Saturdays or Sundays. We need to get people to do it every day or every other day for languages to stick'.


According to the Product Habits blog, Duolingo currently has over 25 million monthly active users, which I think is partly due to the addictive nature of the app. Gina Gotthilf at Duolingo said, 'There's no way one can learn a language on just Saturdays or Sundays. We need to get people to do it every day or every other day for languages to stick'.

Which brings me to one of the most important features of Duolingo - streaks. According to the team, they tested everything from setting streak goals, the timing of push notifications and the copy in those reminders. And it's due to this system that the user retention is so great. An ingenious hook designed to help their users form habits, making learning a new language fun, exciting and memorable.


It's not just for education.

Areas outside of education have also benefited from gamification and many platforms utilise those features to help entice and motivate its user base. Back in the day, I used Kobo over Kindle for its achievement system, a particular feature which spurred me on to read different genres and subjects. Or more recently, fitness apps like Strava and Garmin which use social leaderboards, GPS tracked data, challenges and badges, all of which inspire users to run more, cycle more and even motivated me to obtain my first 10k medal.

I've also broken down a couple of other examples to show that with a little creativity and a strategic approach to users' objectives that it's possible to apply gamification principles to unique and purposeful experiences.


Amped | Guitar learning app
  • Progressive pathways tailored to user (questing/skill trees)
  • Use of AR to autotune the notes you play (meaning & status)
  • Incentives to encourage users habitually (weekly milestones)
  • 3-star rating systems to encourage mastery (XP/levelling)
  • Unlocking new content and developing skills (achievements)
Habitca | Life admin platform
  • Setting up daily to-dos and daily tasks (quests & milestones)
  • Positive recurrent habits which award points (XP/levelling)
  • Multi-user ability to enable whole family (party support)
  • Customising avatar with unlockable equipment (narrative)
  • Rewards for levelling and completing tasks (achievements)
Achievement unlocked!

Simply adding quests, leaderboards or achievements is not enough to engage with users. As we've found with the newest version of ExpertZone, users are more receptive when the elements align with their core experience. The more content they engage with, the better equipped they are when talking about Microsoft products - which is reflected in their EZ profile with skill ranks and achievements. This, in turn, translates to real-world rewards and progression in their career.

Gamification works when it's part of the strategy. It works best when it actively helps and rewards users in reaching their objectives. Whether that's learning to speak a new language, boosting their career, helping them to learn an instrument or simply improving their health, enabling users to 'level up' will keep them coming back time and time again.



📝 Prescient and Strategic Intelligence 

📝 Leeds By Example