Gamification in User Experience: What You Need to Know (Part I)

Video games have become extremely popular because of how cleverly they use emotional triggers to engage players. As games can be incredibly addictive, user experience (UX) designers have started exploring the addictive potential of gaming for their own work. Their explorations have turned gamification into “one of the most exciting UX design trends in recent years”. Gamification, understood as “the use of game-design elements and mechanisms in non-game contexts”, shows the brand’s commitment to address user preference for fun and exciting brand experiences. As a result, gamification has successfully been incorporated into many mobile apps and software products. 

Gamification elements in UX design

UX designers use various gamification elements to create exciting and interesting mobile and web experiences. These elements also help increase user engagement, build brand loyalty and retain users. It should be noted that when UX designers are gamifying products / services, they do not seek to turn them into games. On the contrary, they carefully select and balance various game-design elements and mechanisms to increase the level of user excitement and interest.

There are 6 main gamification elements used in UX design:

1. Badges and stickers. When users complete a challenge and collect a certain amount of points, they are awarded badges and stickers. There are 2 main benefits of using them: (1) they increase user satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment as well as (2) encourage creative experimentations with product / service design.

2. Leaderboards. What makes a challenge even more interesting is competition. The possibility of becoming the leader can motivate users to work on the challenge more eagerly, while competition can make mobile app or web experiences more exciting and adventurous. Ranking users according to the amount of badges or stickers that they have collected can either increase user enthusiasm or, on the contrary, demotivate them if they rank too low. Therefore, leaderboards should be applied carefully.   

3. Challenges. They could be defined as time-limited tasks that, once accomplished, result in rewards. Most people perceive challenges as opportunities to try themselves and see their limits. They help people reach new heights by forcing them to step out of their comfort zone as well as engage them in an adventurous activity. In the context of mobile and web UX, challenges motivate users to explore new experiences and find out more about products / services.

4. Points. Many games use the point system to measure the player’s progress. They can see how much they have already done and how much is ahead. Earning points encourages them to complete tasks. The point system is also beneficial to companies as they can use it to estimate user engagement with their mobile apps or websites. 

5. Journey. It means onboarding users step by step by turning their experience with a product / service into a personal journey. As the journey continues, it is recommended disclosing product / service features progressively. That helps avoid mistakes, and increases the pleasure of using a product / service. 

6. Constraints. By limiting the time to complete certain tasks, companies can add intrigue and tension to motivate user interaction with the brand. Time constraints act as a strong motivator to react faster, take action as well as speed up the completion of tasks. In fact, many users need clear deadlines to get inspired and become more productive. 

The psychology behind gamification

The power of gamification to influence user behaviour and trigger a positive user experience raises a simple question: Why does gamification work? User psychology suggests several compelling reasons:

1. User control. Leading potential customers towards a desired goal can in fact discourage them from undertaking the journey. In general, people do not like to be forced to reach the destination. They like to feel that they are in control of the process. They should be given the freedom to undertake any adventure that they want.

2. Reinforcing good behaviour. When you are training a dog, you reward it with a treat for good behaviour. The same applies to gamification: when you complete a level, you are rewarded. The reward motivates you to complete the next level again and again, thus forming your habit.

3. A sense of achievement. One of the most powerful drivers of human behaviour is achievement. Whatever we do, we aim to achieve something. If app or website users feel that they have achieved something, they are going to come back.

4. Competing with ourselves. Competitiveness is an integral part of human nature. Most people want to push their limits and work harder. Using notifications of personal bests and previous records, you can encourage users to come back and try again.

5. Competing with others. In a well-designed gamification experience, competitiveness motivates people to perform better. Competitions can significantly boost user engagement.

6. Collaboration. People have a strong sense of community. If users feel as if they are part of a team or community, they are more likely to become loyal to products / services, and have a positive user experience.  

Read Gamification in User Experience: What You Need to Know (Part II).

References:  Sofia Quintero, | Dana Kachan, | Michael Burmester, | tubik, | Kindra Cooper, | | Ben Brown, | Adam Fard,