What is Gamification?

In the tech world, gamification is a technique used to integrate game mechanics into a non-game environment, such as in an app or website. For example, LinkedIn uses gamification on their site by showing a progress bar for people to see how far they’ve come along in completing their profile.

In mobile apps, some good examples of gamification would be features like leaderboards, challenges, quests, badges or rewards. People are naturally drawn to experiences that reward them. It’s also a good way to get players to come back to your app because the repetition of acknowledgment is addictive.

The ultimate goal of gamification is to build “sticky” apps that people will keep coming back to.

Generally speaking, people tend to like a little competition so using a tool like a leaderboard is a fantastic way for players to see how they’re doing compared to others. A little competition is proven to have an effect on memory and attention span.

Now that we know what gamification is, let’s dive into the do’s and don’t’s when building for mobile…


Do: Keep it Simple

Gamification Keep It Simple


There’s nothing worse than being absolutely overwhelmed by a leaderboard. Don’t bombard the audience with a bunch of confusing levels and awards to achieve right off the bat. Ease them into it and keep it very simple, especially at the beginning. This is especially crucial for apps that focus on simplicity like language apps.

The Duolingo app is a great example of simplicity in gamification. Once you’ve met your daily goal (which you can adjust yourself), a screen with a little owl pops up to let you know how many days in a row you hit that goal.

Simple and adorable!

Don’t: Gamify Something That Has Intrinsic Value

Before we get into this one, here’s a quick description of intrinsic value vs. extrinsic value (when it comes to gamification):

Intrinsic value: The feeling an app gives you; whether that’s the fun of playing, a sense of accomplishment, etc.
Extrinsic value: An acknowledged reward that’s given to a player. IE: levels, coins, power-ups, vanity items, leaderboard standings, trophies, experience points, etc.


So, there’s no need to add gamification to a feature of the app that’s purpose is already fulfilled: intrinsic satisfaction.


Do: Reward Users Quickly

 Gamification Reward Users Quickly


Try out a Level One Completed trophy! Or take a page from the book of Audible (see what I did there?) and show your audience that they’re a newbie now but after a certain amount of time/effort, they’ll reach the next level. Get that audience reeled in right from the start so they know what’s to come. Positive reinforcement starts working on the human brain from infancy so take full advantage.

This is an easy tactic to use right from the beginning that will hook users into the app and leave them wanting more.

Gamification triggers a dopamine rush. Think of that feeling you got at the end of a Super Mario level and the little flag displayed at the top of the castle.

It’s the same thing.

Don’t: Try to Fix Your App with Gamification


This is not a makeover tool. If the service your app is providing is broken or pointless, there’s no use in trying to gamify it. What’s the purpose or goal behind adding these game mechanics?

Fix the core problems first then use gamification as a tool to enhance what’s great about it!


Do: Set Goals & Show Progress

 Gamification Set Goals Show Progress


The Starbucks app has a very simple ‘progress circle’ that does exactly that. When the customer is close to receiving their free item, they have a visual that shows them exactly how much more they need to spend in order to hit that goal.

It’s the same way that the United Way uses the thermometer as a visual in fundraising efforts. If you see that that red line is approaching the top to hit the goal, chances are you’d be more likely to contribute a donation, right?

It feels like you’re making a difference!

Do: Make it Easy to Share Accomplishments

 Gamification Make It Easy to Share Accomplishments


The Fitbit app makes it very easy to brag about, I mean, share your workout accomplishments on social media. This is not only great for advertising an app but it can be habit forming for users since the positive reinforcement from their online friends is addictive.

Don’t: Give Up!


If you try a game design that doesn’t work, just try another one! That’s the beauty of technology, you can experiment all day long until something sticks. As a designer, you need to gather feedback (from metrics or playtesting), evaluate why it didn’t work, put together a new design, and try again.


Eventually, you will find what works although you have to be prepared that that might mean dropping the feature.


If you’re learning about building for mobile and enjoyed this post, you should check out The Ultimate Guide to ASO (App Store Optimization) next!