Essential Guide to Gamification Design in 2023 (+ Examples!)
Gamification design isn’t turning a user interface into a game. 🎮
Instead, it’s a powerful tool that converts a product from a function-focused design into a human-focused one.
Gamification in education boosts learner engagement and knowledge retention.
And for firing up employees to complete tedious tasks or training.
Gamification is also incorporated into inbound marketing strategies to engage customers and inspire loyalty.
So, what is gamification in UX design?
We’ll unpack it all and give you some gamification examples to enhance user experience with a kick-ass product.
What is Gamification?
Think of gamification as a form of “non-fiction gaming.”
Whether your goal is employee engagement in the workplace or student engagement in the classroom, gamification is the application of game mechanics to transform tedious processes and daily activities into awesome user experiences.
Gamification in UX design combines a user-centric attitude with a sophisticated game design.
Designers weave gamification elements into productive activities to motivate users to perform expected actions.
While providing a meaningful user experience.
Insert fun features like leaderboards and badges into an existing system, and you'll evoke a user’s intrinsic motivation.
Which will drive user engagement.
Let’s say you want to learn something new. For example, it could be how to set up a dashboard in Excel.
So, which one of these learning options appeals more?
Option A: Read through a wordy step-by-step guide.
Or, option B: Navigate a series of mini video lessons and receive a badge for each completed assignment and corresponding quiz or exercise.
Option B, right?
Yeah. It’s a no-brainer.
All the cool kids are using gamification to motivate and engage.
And your role as a dynamic designer is to get on the bandwagon to inspire users by triggering positive emotions.
If you don’t, all you’ll be bringing to the table is a dull and unmemorable experience.
Or a cringe-worthy negative one.
Essential Components of Gamification
Games are voluntary and engaging activities based on rules, goals, and achievements.
And at the same time, it ties into intrinsic motivation, which gives a purpose to the player.
No doubt you’ve already seen gamification UX examples in real-world systems such as financial applications, digital banking systems, medical apps, language-learning apps, etc.
So, let’s look at the primary gamification design principles.
The game must have clear big-picture goals.
Why are your users here? What’s the point of the task?
So when users achieve them, they’ll feel like they’ve accomplished something when they win.
Which is an essential game element of enjoyment.
No games are without their rules.
And the most effective ones are easy to understand and carry out, requiring minimal or no user input.
Take loyalty programs such as Starbucks, for example. Users consume, earn points, and can exchange points for tangible products.
Feedback is fundamental to every interactive system. And users want to see how well they are progressing and how they can improve.
Feedback can be displayed in the form of a progress bar, new level, encouragement message, per-level greetings, or animations.
The user has invested time and effort following the game’s rules, so you need to pony up some rewards!
Rewards can be virtual badges, points, trophies, coins, leaderboards, stickers, avatars, or cash money.
User engagement is at the core of any design philosophy.
And to kindle that engagement, designers must be aware of the two types of motivation — intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation comes from curiosity, pride, or a sense of achievement.
Extrinsic motivation comes from something tangible that we want to achieve, like money, good grades, or praise.
Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful in a mobile app that prioritizes engagement.
After winning something, the rush a user experiences is considered the ultimate intrinsic motivator.
6. Freedom of Choice
A system will be fun for users when they voluntarily participate and follow the rules to reach their goals.
Not when they’re forced into it.
So, give ‘em options.
7. Freedom to Fail
The thrill of potential failure keeps players coming back for more.
As long as users can fail without fear of punishment.
So, find a way to inject just enough peril to ensure the user stays engaged but doesn’t get frustrated.
Essential Game Mechanics of Gamification Design
A UX designer must consider six core aspects:
1. Badges and Stickers
Incorporate badges and stickers to reward users for completing set challenges or collecting points.
Let's look at Duolingo, the language learning app, for example.
Duolingo awards users badges for reaching new levels, spending lingots, and following friends.
Players seeing their names up in lights is a mammoth motivator.
After all, it’s only human nature to desire a little healthy competition to win some sweet rewards.
Or bragging rights.
But, designers must be careful when applying this game element.
A leaderboard can negatively impact some users, as it may leave them feeling demotivated when the competition kicks their ass.
This gamification technique turns dull tasks into exciting activities.
Challenges compel users to step out of their comfort zone and empower them to reach new heights.
Take the productivity app, Habitica, for example. Habitica creates an exciting gamified experience to make hitting your goals more fun.
Loads of games use a point system to gauge a player’s success in conquering challenges, motivating them to do particular tasks.
They’re often used in gamified apps such as language learning, productivity, time management, task managers, and education.
For instance, the Memrise language learning app awards points for learning and reviewing words.
This game mechanic makes people feel like real players on an adventure.
Designers can apply the “scaffolding” method to introduce new features as the user gains experience.
For example, CoinBase allows users to earn crypto by learning about crypto and completing a short quiz at the end.
Constraints, limitations, and deadlines don’t sound like fun, right?
But, adding countdowns to complete a task within a given time ramps up the excitement level and inspires productivity.
The 8 Core Drives of Gamification
Gamification pioneer Yu-kai Chou created the Octalysis Gamification Framework.
This framework classifies eight human motivation triggers or “Core Drivers” that motivate users to perform or complete certain activities.
Core Drive 1 — Epic Meaning and Calling
CD 1 focuses on users’ belief that they are doing something greater than themselves or something they were “chosen” to do.
For example, Free Rice is a trivia-based website that supports the UN World Food Program.
The UN donates 10 grains of rice to people in need for every correctly answered question.
Core Drive 2 — Development and Accomplishment
CD 2 targets users’ need to progress, develop skills, and overcome challenges.
Remember LinkedIn’s early days?
Poor visual feedback of progress achieved failed to encourage people to complete their user profiles.
So what happened after LinkedIn implemented a profile progress bar?
It increased its profile completion rates by a whopping 60%.
Core Drive 3 — Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback
CD 3 relates to providing users with a platform that fosters exploration and creative expression.
Users must feel free to try new options or combinations and create unique content.
They want to see the results of their creativity, receive instant feedback, respond in turn, and be rewarded for doing so.
For example, in Minecraft’s “Active Citizen,” users follow the stories of four Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
The game empowers players to achieve peace through actions, big and small.
Core Drive 4 — Ownership and Possession
CD 4 boosts user motivation because people feel like they own something. When users feel ownership, they strive to improve, protect, and personalize.
For example, Farmville inspires players to develop their land to increase the value of their assets.
As a result, players are motivated by a sense of ownership of their digital farms.
Core Drive 5 — Social Influence and Relatedness
CD 5 incorporates social elements that inspire people to do something according to what others do, think, or say.
So, basically the basis of every social media platform.
When users see a friend who nails a particular skill or owns something extraordinary, players feel driven to aspire to the same.
Social Influence and Relatedness also refer to a feeling of being lured to people, places, or events that users can relate to.
So, if a user sees a product that reminds them of their childhood or an old friend, nostalgia can drive them to buy it.
Core Drive 6 — Scarcity and Impatience
CD 6 relates to wanting something simply because you can’t have it.
Or it’s difficult to get it.
Did you know that Facebook was only available to Harvard students in its early days?
Its scarcity caused impatience among other university students who wanted to access the platform.
Then, Facebook opened up to a few other prestigious schools and eventually all colleges.
When it finally opened up to the masses, people flooded in to join due to its exclusivity.
Core Drive 7 — Unpredictability and Curiosity
CD 7 relates to our desire to discover what will happen next.
Unpredictability and Curiosity is usually the driving force behind gambling addiction.
As a result, companies running a sweepstake or lottery program often utilize this Drive.
Take a captivating TV series, for example.
Cliffhangers foster a sense of anticipation that appeals to the audience’s inquisitiveness and longing to find out what will happen next week.
Core Drive 8 — Loss and Avoidance
CD 8 harnesses a user’s FOMO and the feeling that the opportunity will be lost if they don’t act immediately.
Black Friday is the perfect example. The one-day-a-year event motivates people to act with an inflated sense of urgency to avoid missing out on limited deals.
The Octalysis Framework
The Octalysis framework is a gamification design framework that explains why a product is yawn-worthy or hella fun.
The primary focus of Octalysis is to optimize human motivation.
White Hat vs. Black Hat
Within the Octalysis framework, the top Core Drives in the octagon are positive motivators — or “White Hat Gamification.”
While the bottom Core Drives are negative motivators — or “Black Hat Gamification.”
White Hat gamification techniques empower the user with a feeling of control, but the downside is that they fail to incite a sense of urgency.
Conversely, Black Hat techniques will instill a sense of urgency and call to action. But ultimately, users can end up feeling as though they lack control.
Neither White Hat nor Black Hat Core Drives are inherently good or bad. Instead, each has its own role and balances the other.
Take Minecraft, for example.
Minecraft has achieved long-lasting engagement by allowing players the freedom of creative expression.
And this creative freedom is balanced with scenarios that demand urgency.
Consider the lack of safe places to set up camp in Minecraft’s first night of survival mode. Couple that with the constant threat of zombie and spider attacks.
Aye, Dios Mio — the pressure!
If White Hat and Black Hat techniques aren’t well balanced, users can get quickly burn out by the ongoing threat.
Which can lead them to up and quit.
A good gamified system doesn’t need to include all the Core Drives. But the Drives that are in place, need to kick butt.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
The most widely used motivational theory in gamification is the self-determination theory. It classifies motivators as extrinsic and intrinsic ones, which we discussed earlier.
Extrinsic motivation inspires action, but intrinsic motivation retains the desired behavior.
So, you need to design a gamified experience that hits that juicy sweet spot — a blend of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
Real-World Examples of Gamification Design
Here are three successfully implemented gamification design examples from Fitbit, Waze, and Duolingo.
Reach 10,000 steps each day.
Just walk. As Fitbit records steps automatically, no specific input from users is needed.
Feedback is displayed by way of a progress circle and a step counter, indicating how many more steps the user must take to reach their daily goal.
The steps act as currency to build leaderboards and rank users. Then, Fitbit rewards users with badges and trophies.
Besides rewards, users feel intrinsically motivated to do something for their physical well-being.
Give and receive help from other Waze community members.
The more Wazers the platform attracts leads to an increase in user-generated content and, ultimately, more advertisers.
Users are requested to report incidents. To do so, they must select from one of eleven reports (and sub-reports) and send it on the spot.
Users receive likes and comments for their reports, which convert to points, raising the user’s level.
The more points, the further users can transcend the five levels. Waze also offers achievements and displays overall rankings.
Users feel good when they help others. As they’re part of a community, they feel accepted, important and helpful, which is a powerful intrinsic motivator to contribute.
To learn a new language.
Do the online lessons and practice without time constraints.
Duolingo indicates users’ progress with visual elements like progress bars and circles, weekly analytics, and chapter levels.
Duolingo highlights streaks and offers badges for notable achievements. In addition, some smaller rewards like crowns, encouragement messages, or progress quizzes are also provided.
Learning a new language helps users with professional development, making new friends, and discovering exciting new cultures.
With over 500 million users worldwide, they’re clearly doing something right.
Ready to Level Up Your Gamification?
UX gamification separates good UX from great UX.
As a gamification designer, your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to grab and hold users’ attention.
And entice them to sign up, purchase, download, or perform another call to action.
So, focus on your product’s primary goal, then correctly apply applicable Core Drives to add meaning and value to the products you create.
And don’t forget to identify how you can provide users with a super-fun experience.
Which is the whole point of gamification, right?
Nail it, and your users will enjoy an entertaining, engaging, and epic experience.
We here at Xperiencify are experts in the gamification game (see what we did there?) and can help you out with all of your gamification design needs.
Kirsty Wilson is a certified content marketer and experienced margarita drinker. She specialises in Digital Marketing, Landing Page Copy, and adding a touch of Aussie humour to lifestyle and travel blogs. Currently creating a whirlwind of chaos in Mexico, she documents her solo travels to inspire other Gen-X women to have a go! View her other epic publications here.