Software Development Blogs

Gamification: What It Is and Why It Works

“Stop wasting time playing that game! You’ll rot your brain!” These words are no doubt familiar to gamers of all kinds. The grinding of teeth as one watches their parent return to their fifth hour of television viewing. The heavy hand of the media often reinforced the hypocritical behaviors of these parents. For many years, video games were cast off as child’s play and viewed as a massive waste of time. Negative preconceived notions emerged, claiming how bad video games were for the user. Alas, the veil of ignorance for the uninitiated was bound to dissipate. Near the end of the first decade in the 21st century, public opinion about video games began to change. Researchers began releasing studies to the public. Studies that articulated how certain video games have improved hand eye coordination and problem solving skills in the player. Not to mention quick decision making and the big ethics improvement claim. These changes helped usher in the golden age of video games. As researchers and psychologists peered into the world of video games, so too did enterprising capitalists.

The Game Changer

As brilliant minds began conjuring innovations for gamers like achievements/trophies and sharing content, smartphones were taking over the world. As a result, the prevalence and importance of mobile applications skyrocketed. The seventh generation console technology had yet to arrive at seamless sharing of content. Thus, it was much easier to apply some of the new aspects of abovementioned gaming to mobile game apps, than to do so for consoles.

Due to the initial hardware limitations of the first smartphones, developers designed games with simple mechanics. They made use of the natural sharing capabilities in the devices by implementing them into the games. At this point, a concept that dates back into the 80s began to take the mobile application world by storm. Gamification stepped boldly onto the market.

Gamification is the process of using concepts and mechanics originally developed for games, in a non-gaming context.


By 2010, gamification wasn't commonplace among apps. Today, gamified apps are more prevalent than ever. However, one should not assume that this automatically correlates to success. App development in the current market is saturated with apps that have a gamification design base. As a result, many of the apps churned out are of poor design. Creating an app with gamification in mind requires a specific set of goals and a unique architecture in order to succeed.

One of the primary goals for any ambitious app should be to have a profound amount of stickiness. The amount of times a user returns to an app is defined by the stickiness factor; the stickier the app, the better. Another goal that is rather obvious, but no less important is to understand the current market and design accordingly. It could be necessary to create partitions in your app in order to cater to certain audiences. Additionally, the architecture should be built to seamlessly incorporate game concepts. This means planning ahead of time instead of trying to implement these features later.

Why does gamification work? 

Game mechanics and design features are often meant to evoke emotional responses from the user, or tap into sub-conscious thought processes. In the past, one might attempt to complete certain milestones in a game in order to unlock a new feature (like a character or level). Knowing that there are rewards for completing tasks is a huge motivator for most people. This concept is taken a step further by adding achievements. A user can complete an action on an app and receive a virtual medal or trophy. This may seem silly to some, but the affect it has on most users cannot be denied. Google has even implemented an achievement system into its repertoire of apps. Playing games from the Play Store allows you to ‘level up’. This incentive gives a perceived notion of superiority amongst friends on the leaderboard. Keep in mind that these concepts are applied to non-gaming apps, thus the gamification.

Being rewarded for doing essentially nothing is a staple of gamification. Many apps have adopted the daily reward model. Simply logging in or opening the app would reward the user. Most of these rewards are not tangible, but the user will still feel satisfaction. Whether the reward is experience points, credits, coupons, unlocks or gifts, the resulting response is often the same. Feeling accomplished serves as a motivator for people to continue doing something. On the developers end, the daily reward tactic fosters loyalty from the user. The user then feels accomplished and loyal, which propels them to remain on the daily track in order to maintain a positive image. Many studies have revealed the universal desire for human beings to be perceived as right and genuine. These aspects of gamification appeal to the pathos of the user.

At a more basic level, games are meant to be enjoyable. The ultimate task of any good willed developer attempting to produce a non-game app with game mechanics is to make it fun to some degree. A budgeting or language app is not intrinsically entertaining. There are certainly individuals that enjoy those activities, but the execution of the idea is the important part. The language app Duolingo is a prime example of highly effective, well-executed gamification. Learning a language is an arduous and tedious journey. Repeating a task many times in order to achieve a desired result is the essence of the colloquial term grinding. Grinding is often used in gaming vernacular, and it is seldom positive. Whereas with an app like Duolingo, the grinding aspect is entertaining due to the addition of streak counts, life bars, progress meters, unlockables, daily incentives etc. The app makes the user feel like they are improving. The positive reinforcement is paramount to the stickiness factor.

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Want to read more about use of gamification among different brands and how it helps them achieve ROI into product development and marketing? Please proceed to our previous blog on Mobile Gamification Success Stories.

The amount of apps released with game concepts are only increasing. This is mostly positive for consumers, as it means more entertaining apps, regardless of the apps theme. However, as previously mentioned, many of these apps released have poorly implemented game qualities. Creating an app is a complex endeavor, but there is a proven process to success. Some businesses find there own way, but for others, external help is required. If that is the case, companies like Intersog are an excellent choice. With a robust portfolio and a highly organized, competent team, Intersog can and will provide solutions to any software development issue. Contact us now to learn more!

Miles is a sales and marketing intern at Intersog. He is a student at Pacific Union College in Napa Valley California, studying communication with a pre-law emphasis. In addition to working hard, Miles enjoys playing hard through martial arts and fencing.