We’re long past the point where gaming is considered a niche culture.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, over 226 million people in the United States played video games of some kind in 2020. That’s more than two thirds of the entire population of the country. Some of these might be the prototypical hardcore gamer playing online via a console or PC, while others take a few minutes per day to indulge in a free-to-play mobile game on their phones.
Is it any wonder, then, that aspects of gaming have seeped into so many other areas of life? Leading companies from around the world, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with gaming as a part of their business models, are incorporating aspects of video games into their products and services, using game design best practices and UX to drive profits and stickiness among consumers.
Let’s look at the definition of gamification and explore some of its uses in products and apps you might use every day, from basic design homages to full-on games complete with badges, rules, and objectives.
The Definition of Gamification
Gamification means applying gaming principles and framework to traditionally non-gaming mediums.
You may have been responsible for gamification without even realizing you were doing it. Have you ever struggled to get your kids to do their chores, so you gave them more clearly defined objectives complete with a concrete reward once they had accomplished the task? You gamified their experience!
Have you ever had a coach, employer or teacher offer rewards for getting through certain tasks associated with your training? What about when you were a little kid, did you have a library program that would pay you in free pizza and stickers when you checked out a certain number of books?
Gamification at the corporate level just takes these ideas to the next logical step. Knowing how people respond to certain stimuli historically associated with gaming, such as bells, notifications, badges, confetti, and other effects that tickle that sweet spot in our brains, you can design programs that tap into these teaching methods and visual and aural cues.
There is a dark side to this, however, one that mobile gaming is certainly no stranger to. You may have encountered a free-to-play game that offers upgrades in the form of premium currency, unique costumes, extra lives, and so much more. And wouldn’t you know it, you got so close to beating that one level, so is it really so bad to pay 99 cents to finally get past it?
This form of dark UX has staked out its place in numerous games, particularly in the guise of loot boxes, and you can see it at work within gamified apps and services too. If you’ve ever been about to check out an online cart and seen a counter limiting your time, or been told there’s only a few items left at this price, you’re being gamified in a negative way designed to separate you from your money.
But it’s certainly not all bad! In fact, gamification can not only help companies improve their revenue and customer retention targets, but it can help consumers become more fulfilled, educated, and entertained.
Here are a few examples of how industries are approaching gamification.
One area where it’s easy to see gamification on display is within education.
Apps like Babbel, DuoLingo, and Rosetta Stone take the concept of gaming and apply it to linguistics. When you have goals to reach and can turn studying language into a game, you have a better chance of having that information stick with you.
And it isn’t just linguistics. Any type of educational subject could potentially be improved by applying gaming best practices. Whether that be teaching history through virtual tours that let you visit different ancient sites (something which the Assassin’s Creed games have done), or using sprite-based games to teach math (Number Munchers, anyone?), gaming has many applications for education.
And who can forget Oregon Trail? It taught an entire generation what dysentery is.
Apps that track and reward healthy habits are increasingly common, both among healthcare providers and insurance companies.
It’s in these providers’ and insurers’ best interest to keep you healthy, and gamification is one way that can be accomplished. If a patient must stick to a specific diet, or you want them to stay active, one way to do that would be to have them use an app or an online tool that rewards different activities, such as eating healthy or taking a certain number of steps. By completing these, that individual could receive badges, notifications, and even price discounts to really increase the dopamine hit.
This can also apply to persons recovering from a surgical procedure or going through physical therapy. The act of goal-setting can become a game that gives an individual something to aspire to.
These types of programs are in place within some of the biggest insurers and healthcare providers around the country, and they’re growing more and more common each year.
Retirement and stocks are additional areas where gamification is happening, with apps like Robin Hood and others turning the once-out-of-reach hobby of stock trading (and the more pedestrian practice of saving money) into a game.
Gamification is only just starting to take off in the finance space, with some traditional brokers and wealth managers hesitant to jump all the way in. There’s a reason for this. You’re dealing with real-world dollars, and a lot of them. Turning this into a game runs the risk of getting a lot of well-meaning people into financial trouble.
In fact, this is something that the Securities and Exchange Commission is currently looking into. So yes, gamification has reached Wall Street, but all those looking to get involved should proceed with caution and make sure they don’t cross the line from “fun way to make retirement more interesting” to “glorified casino.”
Retail & Hospitality
Do you use a loyalty app? Congratulations, you’ve been gamified!
Have you ever noticed how many fast-food chains are willing to give you free food just for downloading their apps and creating an account? There’s a reason they’re doing so. When you have the app on your phone, the restaurant is acquiring data about you — the food you like, demographic information, location details, and more. They can then use this to serve up offers and keep you coming back again and again and again.
They can also use gamified systems that encourage you to use their loyalty apps more than you otherwise would. Starbucks is probably the current leader in this. Multiple times per year, they’ll run promotions that reward purchases with “game plays” in which you can play a short, fun little game with the chance to win free coffee for a year, an all-expenses paid trip, and plenty more. They are literally gamifying the experience of getting a cup of coffee, and making a lot of money as a result.
And though they may be the leader, they’re certainly not alone. Restaurants and retail spaces of all kinds have realized that, if they can get you into their app regularly, they can earn more money off of you as a consumer. And gamification is how a lot of them get you to stick around.
Get in the Game
Gamification has influenced companies around the world to rethink their apps, products and services. And the strides being made will only grow more sophisticated over time.
If there’s an aspect of your business that you think could be gamified, then let’s talk. We can show you how UX/UI best practices, combined with gamification and other programming strategies, can help you reach more users and get them more involved with your products once they’re there.