Guide to Gamification Design

Ellen Gregory

Most people require some level of challenge in their lives to stay motivated. Whether you’re challenging yourself, a friend, or completing tasks to win some sort of reward, winning feels satisfying when we’ve been sufficiently challenged. Take video games, for instance, video games get a bad rap for being extremely addictive, and mind-numbing, but the hard-work that goes into completing a difficult game is often minimized. But wait, what does this have to do with design, what is gamification design, and how does this all relate to how to implement gamification design? Gamification is a technique used by designers to enhance user engagement. How? By adding gameplay elements in non-gaming settings.

Gamification is notorious for being difficult to implement well, as gameplay elements can appear completely out of sync, distracting, and may even deter users that don’t respond well to it. The key is understanding your users, and identifying the motivations, which will vary according to the task, objective and player. Keep reading to get a better understanding of gamification design, and how to implement gamification design.

Motivate users with gamification design
Gamification design inserts gameplay elements in non-gaming settings to motivate users.What is gamification design?


Gamification is often mistaken with the game design. However, gamification design is a technique where designers insert gameplay elements in non-gaming settings. Why? Gamification design increases user engagement because it feels more like a game. Seamlessly including a few relevant elements, such as leaderboards and badges, into an existing system allows designers to tap into the same benefits of playing a game. Ultimately, it is widely used in design because it is such an effective way to help to solve many problems in UX. 

In the past, we’ve covered topics like Measuring the Success of Your User Experience Design, Design Thinking and Optimize your Design with Usability Design. All of these have the same goal in common - creating the ultimate UX experience and enhancing engagement. Whether it’s a product, a service, an app, or a website, you’re always designing and developing with your user in mind. So when we’re asking ourselves, what is gamification design, and why is it important, consider how much enjoyment people get out of interacting with games. That is the crux of successfully learning how to implement gamification design. 

What is gamification design?
Gamification design has skyrocketed as a top way to increase user engagement


As a 21st-century UX phenomenon, gamification design has skyrocketed as one of the most powerful tools for designers to increase user engagement. To start with, injecting fun elements into your application or system immediately incentivizes users to achieve goals. Users enjoy challenges, whether challenging themselves, working to win awards, or competing with others. 

When designers are trying to understand how to implement gamification design effectively, it’s not uncommon for them to assume it’s all about the points or badges a user receives. In actuality, the reward is only satisfying if it the grind and the effort the user puts in. Games bring us satisfaction because they are hard work that provides us with a reward. It turns out that nothing makes us happy than hard work. We all like to be challenged, especially if we are rewarded. So, if you want to encourage the users to interact more with your application, you can add the game element such as a challenge. 

The fundamentals of gamification design

There’s no special formula or one size fits all for designing gamification design. It all comes down to understanding your users and identifying the objective are key to successfully implementing gamification design. It’s also important to have a good handle on the motivations, that will vary according to the task, objective and player, and choosing gamification mechanics that suit the user base. 

Consider what kind of game element is best according to your user, whether that’s a leaderboard, points system, relationship-based approach, badges, etc. The end goal a seamless and simple user experience design, so the mechanics used need to enhance the experience from the users’ point of view. The most important thing to keep in mind is our perceived notions and ideas about what we think is a good user’s experience isn’t the point. 

The user

People do things for a reason, so we need to first understand why they do what they do. Who is your user? Define a user portfolio or persona according to a specific demographic, including age, where they live, career, marital status, etc. to help understand likely user types. Define their personality, traits, and interests. Are they creative? Outgoing? Environmentally conscious? And finally, what motivates them? Well defined and useful personas take time to develop, and they may evolve and change over time as your business or users grow. 

Define your gamification design user.
People do things for a reason, so we need to first understand why they do what they do.


The design then requires measurement to monitor its effectiveness in bolstering user engagement. A successful project is one that covers both aspects of increasing engagement through pleasurable activity and satisfying the bigger picture – the original purpose for the design. Overall, gamification is an experience designers “weave” carefully into an existing system, not a feature they insert.

The power of play

It’s not usual for people to dismiss play as a distraction, or a waste of time. This just simply isn’t the case as when you look up the definition of fun and play, the opposite is “boring”. Apply this to the role of design. As a designer, wouldn’t you say a products and services that are considered boring, would be a failed attempt? Alternatively, adding play into our lives in any capacity provides a sense of being valued, helps lead a more balanced life, increases engagement, collaboration, focus, creativity, and ultimately improves performance. 

Effective gamification design
Effective gamification design provides users’ with a sense of accomplishment.


Intrinsic motivation and purpose

Every application or experience has to present them with some sort of motivation to engage, or to give them purpose because they are engaging in something that is bigger than themselves. When users feel that they are making progress, developing skills, or overcoming challenges, it provides them with a sense of accomplishment. Earning a trophy is only satisfying if it is the result of successfully overcoming a challenge. At the end of the day, you’re designing for a human. So every element used needs to optimize and motivate people’s feelings in order to make tasks a fun and engaging experience. Take a look at the Octalysis framework, the core drives that can applied to your gamification design, and examples of how popular apps, services, products and websites have effectively used these drives to improve their gamification designs. 

How to implement gamification design

As you now know, gamification design adds an element of fun to a website or application. Users are attracted to the interactive process because it’s fun, challenging, and provides a competitive spirit similar to video games. These elements not only enhance engagement, but they also encourage users to return to the website or app. Implementing gamification appropriately, and peppering in relevant game mechanics can be an extremely valuable tool for UX designers that are seeking ways to increase user engagement or even conversion rates. But how? 

Let’s take the example of how Happn, a dating app, used gamification design to increase engagement in the article 4 fundamentals of Gamification. The popular dating app in France that connects people based on who they have crossed paths with found people were passively browsing, and not actively liking potential dates. As a way to increase engagement, they introduced the mini in-app game, CrushTime, to motivate users. The game is simple, fun, and keeps users coming back for more. Basically, In each round a user is shown four people, but only one of the people has a crush on that user. The users challenge is to correctly guess who’s the crush. 

how to implement gamification design
Curiosity and excitement motivate users’ to continue to perform various tasks.


Game elements set clear tasks that lead to awards when they successfully accomplish the tasks. The curiosity and excitement motivate users’ to perform various tasks and to spend more time on the app or website. When a clear goal is attached to a task, it provides users’ with a sense of purpose, motivation, and a reward to look forward to. Challenging the user to try something that’s incrementally harder than the previous task provides that sense of progress, challenge, and reward. 

What to avoid when learning how to implement gamification design

Manipulation 

Gamification can get a bad rap for enticing users through trickery. This is absolutely not what gamification design is meant to be. It is about motivating users by enabling them to have fun.

Designing a game 

The purpose is to incentivize users to complete tasks that are in line with the application’s mission. Overdoing game features defeats the purpose, and can actually deter or confuse users.

Superficial 

Creating good gamification design requires a deeper level than just flashy game elements. If it is subpar, gamification will not save the application or website from being subpar. 

gamification design balance
Strike a careful balance between the “fun factor” and the tone of the subject matter.


Test your gamification design

Creating a powerful gamification design isn’t easy, so fail fast, and iterate often. It is well-known to be incredibly difficult to master, as designers must strike a careful balance between the “fun factor” and the tone of the subject matter. It takes time to appropriately tailor and capture the right game-like elements and rewards that’ll suit the users.

The degree of gamification depends on the nature of the application, service, website or product. Before diving into gamification design, carefully consider your audience. While trophy-like awards may be suitable for one type of app, it won’t be appropriate for a corporate environment that requires more subtle approaches. 

Nevertheless, we believe that the time you take investing in a great gamification design is well worth it. Don’t underestimate the power of gamification design. With careful attention to how to implement gamification design effectively, you will have the key to mastering gamification design. 

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