Gamification User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of applying typical elements of gameplay to non-gaming contexts. It is typically implemented by designers to increase user engagement with a product or service. Gaming elements such as rewards and competition have the ability to drive—and even change—user behavior, which is useful for contexts that support learning, productivity, and health and safety.

Gamification takes the virtual goal of achievement in a traditional game (e.g., slaying the dragon, saving the princess, or escaping from the island) and makes it a goal in real life. This can be anything from taking out the garbage more often, to eating an apple a day, to closing more business deals. Rewards and competition are often utilized to motivate users to reach those goals. For example, gamified websites or applications often feature locked badges as rewards, and ranking boards to introduce a competitive element.

In order for gamification to work optimally, sufficient intrinsic motivation and challenge must feature in the task(s). Otherwise, the gaming elements might not be enough to effect change in the user’s behavior. In such an event, the designer/s concerned might then need to increase the difficulty via additional rules so as to achieve the level and type of challenge suited to the user’s ability.

Successful gamification of non-gaming contexts also requires a seamless integration of gaming elements into the daily activities of users. Without this seamless integration, engaging in the gameplay becomes a conscious activity—one users will find difficult to incorporate into their daily workflows. Consider the ease of use and lack of conscious direction needed with wearable devices such as step-tracking watches. The lack of seamless integration can make use a chore, thus preventing users from engaging with the product or service long-term, which is needed in order for gamification to change behavior sustainably.

Literature on Gamification

Here’s the entire UX literature on Gamification by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

Player-Centred Design: Moving Beyond User-Centred Design for Gamification

Player-Centred Design: Moving Beyond User-Centred Design for Gamification

We’ve all come to think in terms of user-centred design over the years. It’s a critical component of UX design, and it helps us focus on what really matters when developing products. However, user-centred design is not enough for gamification. Here, we introduce the concept of player-centred design, which takes the idea of user-centred design to the next level.

What was the first computer game you ever played? If you’re starting to enter middle age, it’s likely to have been something like Space Invaders or Pacman. How do those games stack up next to modern classics such as Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft? There’s a huge difference between them, isn’t there? Space Invaders may have seemed incredible when it was released in 1978; today, it looks kind of… well, basic and uninteresting. We won’t be uncharitable, as it’s hardly fair to compare something that came so much later, but the principle is true all the same.

Coping with Change

Game play has changed, too, from ‘move left, move right and fire’ to being able to carry out incredibly complex actions. Indeed, what hasn’t changed is certainly the adrenalin rush players can feel. In the late ‘70s, that would have translated to the dread (yes, still a form of entertainment) a player would have felt on seeing the last invader of a screen speed up and strafe rockets in ultra-dangerous motions (if you’ve never played Space Invaders, you need to give it a go). Hold that thought—now transpose it upon any game you may have played in the early 21st century. The principles of entertainment and satisfaction, of “Yes!” on clearing a skill level and “Oh, sh*t!” on not making it are common to these games. Still, the differences are powerful, so we have to cope with a whole different set of dimensions in the 21st century.

Author/Copyright holder: petsasjim1. Copyright terms and licence: Fair Use.

Pacman was one of the earliest popular computer games, and while it’s still fun, today’s games are far more complex and engaging. That said, why not go retro for a moment and see what these games have in common—or maybe that should be, feel what they share. If you’re thinking the “Yes!” feeling on clearing a level and the “Oh, sh*t!” sensation on getting killed, you’ve got a hole in one.

Player-Centred Design

Let’s kick off this topic by remembering that in any game, a fair degree of work is involved. From that, in the gamification of a work process, getting the user to want to take part in that work is vital.

"Games give us unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle."
— Jane McGonigal, American game designer and author

Player-centred design builds on and extends user-centred design to a whole new level; it is a process that Janaki Kumar and Mario Herger coined in their book, Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software. We can use user-centred design to develop applications as much as we can to develop games. Player-centred design acknowledges that a game is to be played and looks at the key ingredients of making a game work for the player. You can see those elements on the diagram at the very start.

Yes, player-centred design is a powerful ally; still, you need to place it as a process into the context of your organization. It’s not meant to be a rigid framework for you to adhere to at all costs; rather, it’s been developed to enable you to adapt the framework to your people and your business. Missions, mechanics and motivations can vary widely; therefore, it’s vital to ensure that they match the organizational and individual player needs you’re targeting for them to be successful.

Author/Copyright holder: BagoGames. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

This scene from Farcry shows just how much games were to evolve since Pacman. Incidentally, they can only get ‘realler’.

Player-centred design is also an iterative process. That means developing something, trialing it with players, and then amending it until it hits the sweet spot where players really appreciate a specific feature. That’s why monitoring, measuring and managing are a key part of the framework. That’s why these three ‘m’s must be centremost in your mind when you sit down to apply this powerful tool in your own work.

The final part of player-centred design is balancing legal and ethical considerations and business requirements with keeping the whole thing fun. Gamification needs to meet all those requirements in order for you to make a success of the process via what end result you present to your end user.

User-centred design uses the yardsticks of efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction to evaluate designs. Player-centred design adds engagement to this list. While user-centred design asks the question, “Can the user use the product efficiently, effectively and satisfactorily?”, player-centred design asks, “Do they want to use it in the first place?”.

Take a classic example in the workplace: getting employees to complete e-learning modules. Bear in mind that these are often geared towards satisfying company requirements (such as covering their backs vis-à-vis legislation regarding disability, gender equality, etc.) as opposed to offering staff members vocation-specific advancement. Organisations frequently approach designers when they want us to crank out the finest e-learning guides to a wide range of topics, such as ethics, diversity and data security protocols, perhaps without realising how golden an opportunity we might have there—that is, we can actually make those workers want to complete their e-learning!

Traditionally, getting workers to read S.O.P.s (Standard Operating Procedures) has been like pulling teeth for most Western organisations. If you can remember working in the previous century, you may well recall these—a printout of clauses in semi-legalese that you had sign off at the bottom so as to show you understood that, for example, standing beneath a forklift’s prongs while it’s lifting down a palette would be an exceptionally poor idea. With the advent of the internet, e-learning would make the whole process electronic. After all, what better opportunity is there for you as a designer than to work player-centred design into an otherwise dead and dry piece an employee would probably only pretend to read? If you can produce, say, a design for an e-learning module on diversity that encourages users to learn more about cultures by whetting their appetites to learn and enjoy the experience, you’re thinking player-centred—congratulations. They could move around a virtual globe, say, picking up ‘passport’ points, the idea being that while they’re learning all about cultural diversity, they’re enjoying the experience and feeling empowered. Hopefully, they’ll have forgotten that the organisation actually had the power over them to make them take the e-learning. Such is the magic a skillfully devised player-centred design can work.

Author/Copyright holder: Sergey Galyonkin. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

As you can see, when people truly embrace gaming, they’re prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to participate.

Kumar and Herger offer sound advice for us as we ponder these questions: “Gamification is about thoughtful introduction of gamification techniques that engage your users. Gamification is not about manipulating your users, but about motivating them. Ultimately, it is about good design — and good design treats the user with respect.” Here, we can cast our minds back to one of the most fundamental points about fun: you can never force or trick someone into having it; people will either have fun as a natural reaction to what you provide… or they won’t. And if they make fun of it, then that can be rather worrying.

The Take Away

Player-centred design is an extension of the idea of user-centred design. It applies uniquely to gamification design within systems which traditionally do not contain game elements. It looks at the users and asks the key question, “Do they want to use this in the first instance?”. It allows you to adapt gamification to the needs of your users and ensure that the results of the exercise support the business reasons for gamification. If you can weave player-centred design into the exact context of your audience’s organisation, you will travel a long way in starting to deliver a piece that not only gets results but one that also is popular.

References & Where to Learn More

Janaki Mythily Kumar and Mario Herger, Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software, The Interaction Design Foundation, 2014

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Janaki Kumar and Mario Herger. Copyright terms and licence: CC-Att-ND

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Learn more about Gamification

Take a deep dive into Gamification with our course Gamification – Creating Addictive User Experiences .

Gamification, the process of adding game-like elements to real-world or productive activities, is a growing market. By making a product or service fit into the lives of users, and doing so in an engaging manner, gamification promises to create unique, competition-beating experiences that deliver immense value. In fact, Markets and Markets estimates that $11.1 billion will be spent on gamification efforts by 2020.

Venture capitalists, industry analysts, and academics alike see gamification as an industry with huge growth potential. It is transforming business models by creating new ways to ensure longer-term engagement, extending relationships, and driving customer and employee loyalty. As it’s a young industry, it should be easier to get a foot in the door with gamification companies. With demand for experienced designers far outstripping supply, businesses are going to be keen to take a chance on less-experienced but well-qualified designers.

This course is designed to give you the confidence and skills to undertake gamification design projects. It contains all you need to know about player-centered design and the skills that enable it. It has been developed by Janaki Kumar of SAP, one of the world’s foremost authorities on gamification in an enterprise context.

All literature

Chapter 11: Curated List of Research techniques

Ch 11: Chapter 11: Curated List of Research techniques

Since this book is intended for both designers and non-designers, we offer you a brief description of a curated list of research techniques. Our objective is not to turn our readers into expert user researchers, since we strongly recommend including a professional user experience researcher as part of the enterprise gamification team. We introdu...

Book chapter
Chapter 5: Motivation

Ch 5: Chapter 5: Motivation

"Gamification is 75% Psychology and 25% Technology." — Gabe Zichermann   Understanding human motivation is an important aspect of Gamification. This chapter will provide a sampling of motivational concepts relevant to gamification 5.1 The Platinum Rule You may have heard of the Golden Rule that says, &...

Book chapter
Chapter 1: Mixing Work and Play

Ch 1: Chapter 1: Mixing Work and Play

"The opposite of play is not work, it is depression" — Brian Sutton-Smith Humans have an innate enjoyment of play, and games have been part of human civilization since the very beginning. Gamification attempts to incorporate game elements into non-game environments. In this book, we examine the application of these elements into business softw...

Book chapter
Chapter 6: Mechanics

Ch 6: Chapter 6: Mechanics

"Game Mechanics are constructs of rules and feedback loops intended to produce enjoyable gameplay. They are the building blocks that can be applied and combined to gamify any non-game context." — The Gamification WIKI Mechanics are the most visible part of gamification and tend to be the primary focus of most gamification projects. We like...

Book chapter
Chapter 2: Player Centered Design

Ch 2: Chapter 2: Player Centered Design

"Games give us unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle." — Jane McGonigal   When starting to implement gamification into your enterprise software, it may be difficult to know where to begin. It is tempting to jump straight to mechanics and start thinking about points, badges, and leaderboards. Instead, we ...

Book chapter
Chapter 3: Player

Ch 3: Chapter 3: Player

"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play." — Friedrich Nietzsche 3.1 Know your PlayerKnowing your target audience is important to the success of any design endeavor, and gamification is no exception. It is helpful to know if you are trying to engage a twenty-five-year-old male call center agent or a forty-five-year-old female fi...

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Chapter 9: Enterprise Gamification Examples

Ch 9: Chapter 9: Enterprise Gamification Examples

"Gamification is as important as social and mobile." — Bing Gordon, partner at Kleiner Perkins Gamification is still an emerging concept in the enterprise, so we do not have access to longitudinal studies on its effectiveness. The following examples are to provide inspiration for your own gamification endeavors. 9.1 Personal SustainabilityIn...

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Ch 0: Introduction

This book covers the intersection of enterprise software and gamification. Enterprise software refers to software that businesses use to run their day-to-day activities such as finance, sales, human resources, manufacturing, shipping, and procurement. It is typically purchased by companies as off-the-shelf software, customized and configured ...

Book chapter
Chapter 4: Mission

Ch 4: Chapter 4: Mission

"Begin with the end in mind""Seek first to understand, then to be understood" — Stephen Covey   Mission refers to the goal of your gamification activity. It has to be identified with care, since it determines the ultimate success or failure of your efforts. In this chapter we will discuss the aspects to co...

Book chapter
Chapter 7: Manage, Monitor and Measure

Ch 7: Chapter 7: Manage, Monitor and Measure

"Gamification is not a's a program that gets invested in for the long-term. Those that understand that see the most impactful and meaningful results."." — Kris Duggan, Founder of gamification platform Badgeville 7.1 Creating a sustainable gamification strategy We recommend thinking of gamif...

Book chapter
Chapter 8: Legal and Ethical Considerations

Ch 8: Chapter 8: Legal and Ethical Considerations

"If you use the power of games to give people an opportunity to do something they want to do, then you're doing good. If you're using the power of games to get people to do something you want them to do, then you're doing evil." — Jane McGonigal   When gamification enters the enterprise, the laws and ...

Book chapter
Chapter 10: Leveling Up

Ch 10: Chapter 10: Leveling Up

"Live and learn. Live to learn." — Chinese saying 10.1 Gurus There are a number of gamification and game design experts who regularly contribute to the community via blog posts, videos, slides, interviews and tweets. We recommend you subscribe to them to continue your ongoing education and to be inspired. Here is...

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