Over the last couple of months, we have been consulting for one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines. My team has been working to chart out an innovation strategy for the group and of the various initiatives we have proposed, gamification is central to driving adoption and eventually spurring engagement with the expected user base. The eventual success of the proposed moonshot which hopes to incentivize users is dependent on how well we are able to gamify aspects of the application to ensure stickiness and drive growth.

With lots of research on gamification techniques, multiple iterations with the design teams on wireframes and product mock-ups, we got the green-light from the client and are now closing-in on the development phase. While the journey has been extremely enriching from a learning perspective and has definitely left us as better innovation enthusiasts, we take a moment to reflect on the purpose of the entire gamification exercise and its potential implications from a digital transformation perspective.

Through this article, I will also highlight some other companies who have used gamification effectively to enhance customer experience and promote better engagement. By using game design elements in non-game contexts the companies listed below look to either increase conversion rates, provide rewards to customers who complete tasks or simply to teach employees.

  • Nike+ campaign – Gamifying the exercise of running by adding a familiar game in a social environment, one of the best gamification campaigns undoubtedly has to be the Nike+ campaign. In a smart business use of gamification, Nike+ used something that users find hard to get motivated for and offered a direct incentive. Using their own version of the Nike+ tag, the app is in a game of virtual ‘tag’, which the users must keep running to avoid being ‘it’.
  • Starbucks game – By using gamification in their marketing campaign, a simple but effective level system with stickers, it supports user loyalty by creating a sense of exclusivity and elevated status. Quite modestly, it triggers emotions that are linked to positive user experience and, as a result, guarantees repeat business.
  • Linkedin – By motivating users to reach 100% profile strength as well as rewarding users with badges, Linkedin is a good example of gamification to encourage users to remain active on the platform.
  • Marriott Hotels – In an internal attempt at gamification, a bespoke digital platform allows hotel staff to sign up in teams to compete against other hotels within their region completing tailor-made challenges, while a leaderboard ranks the best performing teams using a points-based system. After months of development and its initial failure, the roll out in 2015 met with promising results boosting engagement.
  • Freshdesk – a helpdesk software program for customer support centers that aims to improve not only employee productivity but also customer satisfaction. This creates value for the business by reducing costs and for customers by boosting service quality. It has been successful in enhancing workplace productivity because it better aligns the goals of both employees (i.e. having fun at work) and employers (i.e. addressing customer enquiries efficiently and effectively).

So what makes gamification so powerful and why does it tick with users?

  1. Gives users the control – Leading a potential customer towards your desired goal is all part of the user journey. However, human psychology suggests that people like to have control and be masters of their own destiny. Making them seem like they are in the drivers seat is at the very core of gamification.
  2. Reinforcing good behavior – When you complete a level, you get a reward – a new character or power-up for example. So you do it again, and again. It reinforces a habit or behavior.
  3. Sense of achievement – If someone’s on your website or using your app, they’re trying to achieve something. Learning code, managing money, or getting fit, for example. If you can make your users feel like they’ve achieved something, they’re going to come back. Something as simple as saying ‘good job!’ when a user completes a task helps create a milestone, and create a sense of completing a level.
  4. Competition – Its human nature to want to push ourselves further and harder. By using ‘personal bests’ and ‘previous records’, you can convince your users to come back and try again. Again, this is the driving factor behind the popularity of Nike+ app.
  5. Dopamine and addiction – Gamification triggers dopamine rush. Leveling up, gaining a reward, getting feedback or achieving something all gives you that little rush, which gives us the addiction.

In 2012, Gartner predicted that ‘40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations’. Many would agree that the future of gamification in business helps to convert customers into fans, turn work into fun and to make learning joyful. Understandably, while this has enormous potential, the reality is finding the sweet spot- where business and player objectives overlap. While we have seen examples of companies which have effectively used gamification, we are really just scratching the surface. There is a lot more to be explored in this exciting sphere as innovation managers in organizations look to use some of these techniques to advance their business objectives.

Engaging the target audience with meaningful incentives would be key to demonstrating real success and while this might appear easy, perfecting it would take multiple iterations with cross functional design, business and technology teams.