Gamification is one of the most prevalent buzzwords in business nowadays. It is utilised by applications such as ZombieRun and Duolingo to motivate user engagement for example. In ZombieRun you progress the story and build your base, by going on runs or walks in real life. In Duolingo you win badges and compete on leaderboards with other users, by learning a language of your choice. But gamification is not just used to engage consumers, it is also used to motivate employees. A lot of companies motivate their sales force to sell more through badges and leaderboards for example. Gamification is everywhere, according to Gartner, by 2020 up to 80% of companies will be using gamification in one way or another (Burke, 2012).

But how does gamification motivate consumers to engage more and motivate employees to be more effective? What can companies do to make sure that their gamification strategy is more likely to be successful? Before answering those questions, we first need to understand exactly what gamification is.  Gamification refers to the use of elements, characteristic of game environments, to motivate behavior (Deterding, Khaled, Nacke, & Dixon, 2011). It does so by increasing the likelihood that individuals experience responses typical of games, within otherwise “serious” activities (Huotari & Hamari, 2017). Even though gamification uses game elements, it is not a game (of which the goal usually is enjoyment and not motivating other behavior). But gamification is also more than just a loyalty program (which does not imbue game typical experiences to users). Gamification uses elements found in games to motivate a behavior by increasing the likelihood that users experience responses typical of games.

How does gamification motivate behavior?

So, to understand how gamification motivates, we must understand the game elements which are used, and the type experiences they elicit. Game elements are the building blocks of gamification (Deterding, Khaled, Nacke, & Dixon, 2011; Werbach & Hunter, 2012). We list the most commonly used game elements in the figure below (Agogué, Levillain, & Hooge, 2015; Antin & Churchill, 2011; Hamari & Eranti, 2011; Landers, Bauer, & Callan, 2017; Sailer, Hense, Mayr, & Mandl, 2017; Werbach & Hunter, 2012). Each of them can help elicit different, game typical, responses. We now turn to discussing the different, game typical responses, that gamification uses to engage users. These are based on the concept of motivational affordances (interactions between actors (gamification users) and objects (game elements) that increase the motivation for users to engage) (Zhang, 2008).


Leaderboards rank players according to their relative success based on pre-defined criteria. They are competitive indicators of progress relating to the players performance.


Badges are virtual representation of achievements. They can highlight accomplishments, act as status symbols, symbolize membership of a group, and act as goal setting mechanisms.

Progress bars

Progress bars measure performance of users against a pre-set goal or against previous performance by the same user.


Levels are similar to progress bars in that they determine pre-set goals to achieve and provide users feedback on their progress. The difference between progress bars and levels is that progress bars are continuous at showing progression towards a goal whereas levels are intermediate sub-goals showing stepwise progression towards a goal.

Virtual environments

Virtual environments are simulations of reality or fantasy environments, that induce immersive experiences within which users make decisions and develop strategies to achieve goals.


Are visual representations of players within the game. They can be simple pictures or more complex 3D models.


Narratives help to contextualize activities and characters in the game, adding meaning. They can act as analogies for real world settings or create fantasy worlds.

Autonomy and the Self:

Gamification should be designed to give users the choice on how to express themselves and make decisions. Users should feel autonomy when engaging with gamification. Avatars can be used to give users the chance to express themselves. The more avatars can be personalised, the better for motivating engagement, because the more they lend themselves to self-expression. Badges also can help users express themselves, and importantly give users autonomy in deciding what they want to accomplish. Gamification should give users the autonomy to pursue different badges, which will help users to express themselves. For example, getting the Mayor badge on Foursquare for their favourite coffee shop.

Competence and Achievement:

Competence and the need to have an optimal challenge are key motivators for engagement in gamification as well. Gamification should foster feelings of achievement and competence. Badges, leaderboard, levels, and progress bars are all game elements which can be used to facilitate feelings of competence and achievement in gamification for the users. Badges are signifiers of achievement. Leaderboards allow users to compare themselves against each other. Levels and progress bars allow users to track their own progress over time. The game elements allow gamification to foster feelings of achievement and competence differently, more comparatively through leaderboards for example or more individually through progress bars and levels. It is important that each gamification user feels optimally challenged, hence a one size fits all approach is unlikely to be as effective as a mixed approach.


Beyond the needs for achievement and self-expression, gamification can be made more effective by imbuing users with feelings of social belonging.  As a game element, teams can be used to foster the social bonds players feel for example. The cooperation can also be induced more organically, such as through a shared virtual platform. Regardless of how cooperation is implemented, it can have a positive impact on player engagement because players are more motivated if they feel that they engaging together with users.

Leadership and Followership

People are motivated to seek power through leadership. Leaders also inspire those around them. Both leaderboards and teams can imbue gamification users with feelings of leadership and followership. Leaderboards directly create a distinction between users at the top (leaders) and users towards the bottom (followers). Team dynamics also often lead to team leaders, and those users which take control. As mentioned above, good leaders also help motivate followers to engage more. Hence it is important for gamification to give users the chance to develop as leaders. It is important here to stress that competition and cooperation are both important within gamification. Gamification is most effective when both the possibilities exits for players to compete and collaborate.

Emotion and Affect

Induced emotions and affect are motivational factors typically found in video games. Gamification can also make use of emotion and affect through virtual environments and narratives to engage users. Both virtual environments and narratives imbue a sense of immersion in gamification, adding an extra layer of meaning. They can replicate reality or create a new fantasy world, which gamification players can enjoy. As such, narratives and virtual environments can add a stimulating layer over gamification to increase user engagement. Importantly, both virtual environments and narratives are typically not performance relevant. Avatars (as part of a virtual environment) can also be used to be help build an immersive experience.

What to consider when implementing gamification?

So far, we have discussed how game elements are used in gamification to engage users. But user engagement is not usually the end goal of gamification. Instead gamification wants to motivate a desired target behavior such as learning a language, increasing sales, or more physical activity.

When implementing gamification to motivate these desired target behavior, there are various aspects that need to be considered. Here we discuss three key implementation criteria.

Player choice

First and foremost, it is important that gamification is implemented with the approval of the players. Players should have the active choice to engage with the gamification. It should not be the default option, or an imposed choice. If players feel they have a lack of choice, they are more likely to try and reimpose control by undermining the gamification through misbehavior and cheating  (Woodcock & Johnson, 2017). Therefore, to make sure that gamification is successful and does not get undermined, players need to be given an active choice in whether or not they want to participate.

Player playfulness

A second important consideration to make when implementing gamification is how appropriate gamification will feel to the players. Playfulness manifests itself as a personality trait as “the predisposition to frame (or reframe) a situation in such a way as to provide oneself (and possibly others) with amusement, humor, and/or entertainment” (p. 955, Barnett, 2007). Younger people and more experienced video game players react more favorably toward gamification than older people and less frequent players (Bittner & Shipper, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2014). Playful individuals are more fun-seeking (Shen, Chick, & Zinn, 2014) and are also more likely to be younger (e.g., Clarke & Basilio, 2018). Therefore, it seems that gamification is more effective at engaging more playful individuals. Hence, when implementing gamification, companies should consider to what extent their intended targets are typically going to be inherently more or less playful.

Implementation duration

The third and final consideration companies need to make when implementing gamification is the duration. Research shows that the impact of gamification on motivating behavior is unlikely to last past the implementation stage (Jones, Madden, & Wengreen, 2014). When implementing gamification therefore, companies should consider the behavior they want to motivate and consider whether it is a long- or short-term change they want to achieve. Arguably, gamification is better designed to motivate short-term changes in behavior.


To conclude, we have discussed how game elements can be used to motivate user engagement, by imbuing users with experiences typical of games. We have linked game experiences with the most appropriate game elements for imbuing them. Furthermore, we have highlighted key contingencies when implementing gamification, that companies need to take into consideration.

Do you need more guidance or an expert opinion on how use gamification to motivate your team or to increase the desirability of your product? We are happy to help – send us a message to have a chat!


  1. Burke, 2012
  2. Deterding, Khaled, Nacke, & Dixon, 2011; Werbach & Hunter, 2012
  3. Huotari & Hamari, 2017
  4. Agogué, Levillain, & Hooge, 2015; Antin & Churchill, 2011; Hamari & Eranti, 2011; Landers, Bauer, & Callan, 2017; Sailer, Hense, Mayr, & Mandl, 2017; Werbach & Hunter, 2012
  5. Zhang, 2008
  6. p. 955, Barnett, 2007
  7. Bittner & Shipper, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2014
  8. Shen, Chick, & Zinn, 2014
  9. Jones, Madden, & Wengreen, 2014

Scrypt.Media guides emerging tech projects on their way to change the world. We bring the revolutionary ideas of our customers to life through the refinement of strategy, communication and usability. We help our customers navigate the difficulties of early stage organization, development and funding. In doing so, we help them to focus on the important thing – changing the world.