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Gamification 101: All You Need To Know

Welcome to gamification 101! This is a blog post that’s dedicated to giving you a high-level overview of gamification—a powerful practice that creates habits, connections, and much more.

Questions you’ll find answers to here:

  • What is gamification and how does it work?
  • What are some stand-out examples of gamification?
  • What kind of unique benefits can gamification add to the workplace?
  • What’s in store for the future of gamification?

Reading this will help you:

  • Understand the psychology behind and methodology in gamification.
  • See more of the benefits gamified experiences can have long term.
  • Decide if it’s a good tactic to bring into your company.
  • Get some ideas based on creative gamification.

What is gamification? 

Gamification is the process of bringing game elements into non-game contexts. It’s usually used to describe gaming-like experiences in digital spaces. Just think of your favorite app’s progress bar, or even performance motivation systems at your company. 

While gamification has become a buzzword over recent years, the idea isn’t new. Humankind has been trying to make boring and even unpleasant tasks fun for a long time. Perhaps you recall your teachers using a star sticker chart at school to encourage good behavior. And remember Snow White’s famous song, “Whistle While You Work?” 

When used effectively, gamification encourages habit development, whether that’s engaging with an app, performing better in a job, or buying more of a product. Here’s everything you need to know about gamification, how it works, and its applications in the workplace. 

How does gamification work?

Game elements, especially rewards, can trigger dopamine production, activating your brain’s pleasure center when you win. Gaming experiences also support deep human motivators, like social connection, purpose, and mastery. 

In fact, gamification is considered to be human-centered design, meaning it taps into basic human drives. According to researcher, Yu-Kai Chou, core drivers of gamification also include curiosity and fear of loss.

Let’s start with game structures. There are two elements of game structures that applied gamification seeks to reproduce. The first is mechanics. These include:

  • Points, which provide feedback to the player. They can be gained or lost.
  • Avatars empower players to take on an identity.
  • Levels challenge players and provide the impetus for rewards or penalties. 
  • Missions are like chapters in a story. Each one moves the narrative, or goal, along.
  • Leaderboards can be powerful motivators and appeal to competitive natures—everyone can see the score.
  • Badges give social status and recognition for accomplishments.
  • Progress bars or tracking help players orient themselves in the game.
  • Teammates up the stakes by bringing in an audience to victory or defeat. Team members introduce collaboration and competition.

The second structure is dynamics, or how the player’s emotions are engaged within the game. These factors seek to pull in basic human drives with factors like:

  • Community
  • Achievement
  • Recognition 
  • Status

When playing a game with friends, one of the foundational rules is a level playing field because it creates fairness. It’s the same when gamifying an experience. Everyone should know the rules, what the goal is, and how to win. 

Another important aspect is narrative. In games, we are used to classic storylines, like saving Princess Peach in the Mario series. It’s this goal that motivates us to fight Bowser and his minions. Stories create buy-in to the game’s goal and encourage gamefield exploration. Strong narratives likewise inspire dedication to goal achievement while engaging curiosity.

Last but not least, game aesthetics drive a fun experience. Successful gamification often replicates movies and video games with:

  • Illustrations
  • Bright colors
  • Videos
  • Sound effects 
  • Animation

Examples of gamification

Learning and education 

  • Duolingo focuses on gamifying its learning programs to help users become multilingual. Game design principles—like unlocking new levels, rewarding progression, and racing against the clock—have made Duolingo super successful.
  • The New York City Department of Education created a school called Quest to Learn Center RD around game-based learning to make education more fun and interesting to kids.
  • Kahoot started as a website for gamifying learning in classrooms, but it’s become popular in remote working environments as well. Kahoot functions like a real-time gamemaster, creating a game pin so anyone can join a specific quiz or multiple choice game.

Loyalty and advertising 

  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage program was the world’s first frequent flyer points program. The airline started it in 1981, offering free miles whenever a customer flew with American. The miles accumulated, resulting in free flights. The program was obviously very successful, as it drove customer loyalty to only fly with them. Today, customers expect mileage programs for their airline of choice—thanks to American.
  • Starbucks rewards program lives within the coffee giant’s incredibly popular app. It’s simple: Order more items for points, which go towards free drinks, add-ons, food, or even merchandise. For extra points, buy certain items, head to Starbucks on specific days, and play themed in-app games—like this Earth Month one.
  • Brands often recreate game structures in popular mobile app games like Candy Crush to promote their products and services. They use social leaderboards and rewards, which are advertised via Facebook’s Top 10 games.

Employee performance 

  • Zombie Sales Apocalypse is an interactive sales training tool. Based on academic research, the game aims to help sales people build up their sales skills by selling the antidote to a zombie virus—using their organization’s sales model, of course. 
  • Cisco: Cisco successfully gamified a global social media training program by replacing 46 overwhelming courses with three basic levels of certification: Specialist, Strategist, and Master. The certifications were awarded for team challenges, promoting collaboration and competition.
  • Novartis, a global pharmaceutical company, created a virtual campus to help reps learn about company products. Employees moved through each campus building, where they were given weekly challenges and learning cadences, based on their roles and knowledge levels. As they completed curricula, they gained points toward the level needed to gain certifications. They were also rewarded with points and badges for sharing on social media with colleagues. The results: 37% improvement in key performance indicators (KPIs), 15% better professional perception vs. competitors based on in-region doctor surveys, and 78% more posts on sales training channels than any other. 

Health and well-being

  • FitBit gamifies exercise, nutrition and water tracking with social challenges and badges for milestones like distance traveled. 
  • Pokemon Go rewards exercise with gameplay advances and discoveries. Plus, there are game features, like hatching eggs and earning certain prestige badges, that you can only get from walking. Pokemon has such a large fanbase, the mobile app game inspired players all over the world to get out and move in their quests to catch ‘em all.
  • Headspace is a meditation app that helps users level-up their meditation mastery by showing progress. The meditations are about 10 minutes long each, which encourages more bite-sized content consumption so that progress isn’t overwhelming. 

Public life

Benefits of gamification in the workplace

We can’t give a complete overview of gamification without discussing it’s rise in popularity in the workplace. Gamification at work means motivating employees to excel in their roles by offering game-like incentives. It should be used as a long-term strategy vs. a one-and-done event to achieve sustained objectives, like:

  • Improve employee retention by increasing their connection to their peers and the company.
  • Drive employees to learn by alternatively rewarding and challenging them.
  • Motivate employees to continually increase performance by tapping into their core drivers.
  • Encourage process optimization by including it in gamified experiences.
  • Create powerful organizational habits by identifying disengagement and using  gamification as a solution
  • Introduce tracking and reporting to give executive insight into performance.

The future of gamification

Gamification will rise in importance as the world continues working from home and many companies make remote work permanent. Businesses will look to incorporate it to build team spirit and engagement, and as a way to drive self-management and accountability. Other specific gamification trends we can look forward to in 2024 and beyond include gamification AI and using gamification to boost pre-boarding processes (and reduce first-day ghosting).

Corporate eLearning may deepen and spread.

Historically, corporate compliance programs have been gamified more thoroughly than other areas of business—but that’s changing. Training materials for other business units, like HR and sales, may get gamified at a faster rate in the world of remote work.

Focus will shift from external to internal motivators.

While rewards like cash and gift cards offer immediate engagement results, experts don’t think they’re as sustainable as internal motivators. In the learning space, for example, progress bars and leaderboards can only go so far. Users will need to genuinely enjoy learning new things in order to keep returning to the gamified learning experience long term. 

A huge factor in understanding how to successfully motivate people goes back to what drives them. For instance, is resolution to conflict in a narrative more compelling than social prestige for your player? Find out by getting to know your audience or player type. 

Onboarding experiences are about to get more gamified. 

Harvard Business Review found that 69% of new employees are likely to stay with the company for over 3 years when they have a positive onboarding experience. Now there is also a remote factor that’s here to stay, so onboarding is gaining even more scrutiny and attention from employers. 

Gamified onboarding experiences may look more like team-based interactions, and focus more on connecting the new employee to their peers than in years past. Smaller amounts of engaging content, served up with 24/7 feedback enabled, could likewise rise in popularity.

Final thoughts

Just a word of caution about getting gamification right. When systems are over-gamified, it can create a distraction. And when gamification includes too much social visibility or is over-managed, you may run the risk of making employees feel like big brother is watching them. This can cause anxiety and unhealthy peer-to-peer competition, so be confident you’re gamifying the right things in the right ways.

For more on gamification, download this guide. If you are getting started with gamifying your enterprise workflow, we invite you to download this buyer’s guide, which includes a free evaluation checklist.

For over a decade, Centrical has partnered with organizations across the globe to boost employee motivation, engagement, and performance by leveraging advanced gamification. Learn more about us by visiting our website and reading our case studies. We also invite you to watch out platform in action with a quick preview, and to request your personalized overview today!

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