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Gaming the (UX) System

Whether you love it or hate it, Gamification is a UX design trend that swept the world. Is it a dark design pattern? Is it a helpful tool to entice users to use your platform?

Whatever your opinion, Gamification is a thing, and it's a very interesting topic of discussion. I've always been interested in the little ways you can add elements of game play into your sites. It doesn't have to be anything big, but little aspects of it can really make your site shine.

But let's start from the beginning.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification refers to the act of inserting game mechanics into non-game technologies (in the case we're talking about, the web and all it's glory). No, this doesn't include web games or browser games. Though I guess you could technically work those into the definition...

Gamification is usually used to make the experience fun for customers, and is a very user-centered approach to design. This can be great fun, and draw users to your site. It can also be used for nefarious purposes, utilizing addictive properties to keep users coming back because they've become (usually unhealthily) addicted.

But we'll touch on that a bit later. Let's cover some examples now:

  • Challenges - humans are always looking for a challenge, and always wanting to complete challenges (no matter how small). This can draw people into interacting with your site, which is always a plus!
  • Points - who doesn't like seeing a number climbing up as you gain points? It makes the users feel accomplished and is a great metric to determine engagement.
  • Badges/Stickers - Visual forms of congratulations are always welcome, and add a pretty visual for your users. Gotta collect them all! (See- Dev's badges!)
  • Leaderboards - Healthy competition is never a bad thing, and striving to become the leader is a fun challenge! Also, all the more engagement (do you see the trend yet?)
  • Lots more, but these are the main ones, and I'll go off the wall if I list more.

Did you catch the trend? Gamification is all about engagement. If you want to increase engagement on your site/app, this is absolutely something you should consider. Yes, it's also about providing a good user experience, but when you're thinking about marketing and hard facts, engagement is where it's at.

Why does it work? Well, completing goals brings satisfaction, no matter how small the task. Competition is a great way to get more people in the mix. Points systems/badges give people something to work towards. It drags people in and hooks them, getting them to come back for more.

And this can be used in good and bad ways. I think we've gotten a jist of the good, but how are people using it nefariously?

The Issues

People commonly using gamification for marketing and to sell products/services. While this isn't inherently bad, it's not for the good of the user. It really depends on how you use the marketing aspects, and if you're being tricky or deceitful.

This is mostly why it's been giving a bad reputation. You can google the word Gamification and get 100s of articles about how it's a dark design pattern, how it isn't good for anything, etc. etc. And while I agree, some people use it in bad ways, there are perfectly legitimate ways to go about adding it.

Some things to do to avoid this:

  • don't include difficulty levels - this is fine in games, but not on websites/apps.
  • don't make it a requirement - some people don't want to play, and that's okay.
  • don't spam - nobody wants spam. Bad publicity is still bad.

Avoid the bad! Focus on the good!

The Pros

But what is the good we should be focusing on? Don't you worry, pet, Auntie Sharkie has you covered.

  • Rapid Feedback - you get to provide the user with instant pass/fail answers, leaving them satisfied and knowing where they stand.
  • Freedom to fail - let the users know it's okay to fail and that they can try again. People learn and have better experiences when they can explore and try different things.
  • Storytelling - one things games are great at is telling a story, and we learn and have a better experience when a good story is involved.

Basically, focus on the experience for the user, and appreciate how they learn and grow within the website. How the interact with the content, and how they react to those interactions.

How to Implement

So we have a good (or semi-decent) understanding of what Gamification is, but how do we actually make it work? Well, that's not easy to cover, but I can cover some helpful tips and tricks to adding it to your site!

Don't Compromise Integrity - if you're just adding it to benefit yourself, you're doing it wrong. Do it for the user, to make the site a more fun place for the user to visit. This will ensure your success so much more than just doing it for yourself. BUT - do think of yourself a bit as well. Make sure it's fun for the user and for you.

Always make it be a good experience - if it's bad, it'll just be a massive hindrance to your website, and users will never visit. A bad user experience is bad - don't do it.

Location - a not very thought of element - use location to your advantage! Let the customers feel like you know them, and give them a more personal experience.

Always Provide Feedback - let the users know if they did something wrong! Or if they did something right! They need to know you are there to help them through any difficult/frustrating times, and congratulations are always welcome.

Gamification Enhances The Content - it doesn't create it. Make sure you have good content before you even consider adding gameplay elements. Always, always have good content.

Personal And Fun - users are people! Treat them as such! This can be as simple as using their names to say hi.

Easter Eggs - I love easter eggs so much. They're fun little hidden elements of a website that you have to do something fun to unlock (i.e. Konami Code, my personal favourite). It's always so satisfactory to find something hidden on a website.

And that's a handful of helpful things! At least, I hope it is. You can take them or leave them, but now it's time for the fun part: examples!

Gamification in Shopping

Social E-commerce is on the rise, and China has already had a chance to try it out! Take a peek at Pinduoduo, a company that, within 5 years, became a 57 billion dollar company with an active user base of 585 million users. That's not a little growth. It's actually quite a big growth. It's actually the biggest growth in Chinese commerce.

Pinduoduo uses things like team prices, in-app games and credits to hook users and get more sales. You get credits for daily check-ins, playing games, and other fun things that have people coming back for more. There's also a feature called the price chop, where you can choose a product you want for free, share the link around, and if the link gets enough clicks you get a discount/possibly a free product! It's all about engagement, and in some ways addiction.

Now this is an interesting one. Is it a dark design pattern? Maybe. Does it work? It very much does! You don't think of online shopping would be as addicting as a game, for example, but this makes it so, and is obviously profitable. As of now, I haven't heard of anyone else doing anything like this, and have a feeling we haven't seen the last of it yet.

Gamification in Education

Education is always in a constant struggle to hook students interest while also teaching them valuable information. This is why gamification is such a big element in educational apps - from points systems to badges to progress bars, you'll find elements of it all over the online learning space.

This is because it entices students to learn. The majority of students say it made them more productive when learning with gameplay elements than without. And this is part of hooking the user - you want them to want to learn, and have fun while doing it.

A massive example of this is Duolingo, the language learning app that feels like a game to use. It includes multiple different gameplay elements, that all work together to get people learning new languages!

Gamification in Exercise

While not as prominent of an example, Nike has a running app that includes small gamification elements like a voice saying "You're almost at your goal, keep it up!" This motivates you to reach your goal and makes the user excited to complete their next goal.

It's not blatantly obvious, but it is gamification. Just a bit more secretive, and not in your face.

Gamification in Real Life

Urinal Fly

Have you heard of the urinal fly? I highly suggest checking it out.

The entire premise of it is that people will try to hit the fly with their pee as they pee into the urinal, thus decreasing the chance of missing the urinal. Yup, that's literally what it's for.

And it works!

It's been proven to decrease spillage! According to the above linked website, it keeps bathrooms 85% cleaner, because people have a target to hit and god damn it they're going to hit that target.

This, my dear friends, is gamification in it's fullest. It makes peeing into a urinal a game, for the purpose of keeping the bathroom cleaner. It's fun for the user, it's beneficial for the owner... win-win!

Danish Gas Station F24

I can't find the link for this anywhere, which I find absolutely devastating, but at some Danish gas stations you can play a game to win money off your gas!

Whose going to say no? I mean, gas is expensive enough as it is, I would love to win some money off my fill-up from time to time. It also makes the process of stopping for gas more fun, which is always a bonus.

But if you don't want to play, you don't have to. Spoil-sports.


Gamification is everywhere. From real life products to online experiences, you could pick out multiple elements as having something similar to games.

Whether you like or dislike this trend, it's an interesting concept to look into. I've always been intrigued by it, and will continue to enjoy seeing how it develops.

Top comments (1)

ilyamarkin profile image
Ilya Markin

Cool article! I like how you presented the information in a very simple and clear way, which is especially valuable for those who are new to this topic.
I recommend reading this post "gamification in ux". Here is more about the elements of gamification and the features of their implementation in UX design.