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I like to think of myself as pretty dedicated, but there are few things in my life that I have poured more time into than games. From basketball to board games, I’d almost always rather be playing than anything else.
That’s why, when I think of ways to make my apps engaging, fun, and just addictive enough to bring people back again and again, I think of gamification.
Whether you’re looking to enhance an app you’re designing, boost customer loyalty, or stand out in the marketplace with your core concept, gamification is a powerhouse. It harnesses what gets us excited as humans, and uses it to make a memorable experience.
Not all of us are game designers, and luckily we don’t have to be to bring this tool into our work. I’ve narrowed down some of the best ways to infuse your app with play, and I want to help you take it to the next level.
Wanna play? Let’s jump in!
What Is Gamification?
If you’ve seen Marry Poppins, you remember the song “a spoonful of sugar.” In it, Julie Andrews explains that adding a little bit of fun to mundane activities makes them go by in a flash.
Gamification takes this basic concept and runs with it.
Common game design elements and mechanics like points, badges, leaderboards, and more help engage people and intrinsically motivate them to keep coming back. Apps can apply these tools and apply them to anything from eating healthy to organizing your day to shopping for clothes.
Essentially, if there’s an action you want your users to take, turning it into a bit of a game makes them far more likely to take it - and to continue taking it long-term.
How many apps on your own phone go unused? According to research, it’s probably quite a few. A recent study found that one in four apps are only used once after they’re downloaded.
As important as downloads are, having people actually engage with and use your app regularly is vital to its success. Gamification makes people far more likely to return because it taps into intrinsic motivation.
Where extrinsic motivation requires an outside force to continue, intrinsic motivation uses human psychology to keep people coming back on their own accord. This will lead to a better overall user experience, and waaaaay more loyalty.
Other major advantages of using gamification when designing an app include
- Making your app stand out in the crowd
- Making people more likely to share and talk about your app
- Creating a unique user experience
- Encouraging users to master the app
- Driving engagement
Plus, designing this kind of app is a whole lot of fun!
Key Gamification Techniques
From Grounders to Monopoly to World of Warcraft, there are more games than anyone could ever take stock of, and all of them are unique. However, from the very beginning, there have been core elements that help make a game feel like a game.
Chances are, you won’t use each of these in your app, but even one or two can make a big difference when it comes to enhancing user interaction.
Starting out with a classic, points are a great way to boost engagement and get people to do everything within an app. Each time your user does a desired action or achieves a certain milestone, they are awarded with - you guessed it - a number of points.
For example, a fitness app might offer points for every workout that’s completed. The more intense the workout, the more points you’ll receive.
There’s a lot to be gained from this technique. Users will be able to track their progress and watch as they rack up the number, keeping them coming back again and again.
Points can also operate as an in-app currency. Fun skins, exclusive content, or exciting features can all be unlocked by trading in points. This bakes a sense of achievement and anticipation into every single burst of points.
Badges are virtual achievements or symbols that users earn when they complete specific actions or reach certain milestones within an app. Your app can provide a “scout badge” experience that encourages people to collect every single achievement.
If we apply this technique to a language-learning app, we could give out badges for any number of things including
- Completing a certain number of lessons
- Having a streak of consecutive days
- Getting a high score on a vocab quiz
These “virtual trophies” can give any user a sense of accomplishment and pride, bringing them back again and again to fill out their collection. If you allow them to be displayed on a profile or shared on social media, it can become even more exciting (and double as a form of organic advertising!)
Another fun tip is to include hidden or secret badges that are only awarded when users discover certain easter eggs or complete challenging tasks. This element of surprise and discovery adds an extra layer of excitement and incentivizes users to thoroughly explore the app's features.
Leaderboards tap into our innate sense of competition, ranking users by their achievements within the app. You can have public leaderboards, or allow users to create leaderboards among their friends.
This can be an excellent addition to a referral program because people will jump at the chance to create a ranking of all their friends and win bragging rights for their effort.
A great example of this technique in action is with gaming apps, where leaderboards take win-loss ratios or points earned to showcase top-performing players. If there’s a risk of being kicked out of the top spot, you’ll be motivated to keep learning and improving your skills.
These rankings will also create a sense of community within any app. Users can compare performance, engage in friendly banter, and even form alliances or teams to climb the leaderboard together. Competition and comradery can work together to create a more engaging and immersive experience.
Challenges are specific tasks or goals presented to users within the app, which they need to complete within a certain timeframe or under certain conditions. They can infuse your app with variety and give extra incentives to come back every single day.
If a meditation app wanted to incorporate challenges, it could be designed around specific mindfulness exercises, with the goal shifting each day. Any time someone completes a challenge, they could receive points or a badge, making this a great technique to use in tandem with another from the list.
Having different challenges every day keeps things fresh and new for new and old users alike. One day they might be asked to do breathing exercises three separate times, the next day they might do a ten-minute guided meditation.
This variety and sense of accomplishment make any repetitive tasks within an app feel fun.
Choosing The Perfect Gamification Strategy
All of these strategies add up to a roaring good time, but the last thing you want to do is bite off more than you can chew and end up with a muddled app experience. When you’re deciding exactly which game elements to include in your app or campaign, keep in mind your team’s
- App Niche - An app that focuses on personal reflection likely won’t get as much use out of a leaderboard as one that is more action-based
- Target Audience - If you’re looking to engage with teens, developing a deep storyline or engaging mini-games may be a better strategy than offering discounts and prizes
- Goals - Are you trying to encourage engagement with content or increase user retention? If you don’t define the goal you’re trying to reach, you may end up confusing users
Whatever you end up implementing, you’ll need to find a balance between the gamification elements and the app’s usability. These additions are meant to be an enhancement, not a distraction.
Gamification Success Stories
Descriptions of game elements can start to feel a little airy-fairy, but luckily there are endless real-world examples of gamified apps that have found great success. Let’s take a look at a few!
Habitica is a task manager and habit tracker that allows users to gain points and buy in-game gear for completing their daily tasks. As they level up, users are able to go on adventures and defeat enemies using the power they’ve gained.
One of the most innovative features in the app is the ability to create “adventuring parties” where you and your friends can go on missions together and hold each other accountable.
Not only does this encourage users to keep coming back, it also acts as a kind of referral program. If people want to have peers to adventure with, they have to invite their friends to the app.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mint uses more subtle gaming mechanics to keep people focused on their financial goals. With leaderboards, checklists, and progress bars begging to be filled up, this is an excellent example of balancing gamification with function.
Without making light of finances, Mint uses its gamification to give users a sense of accomplishment and momentum with each successful goal.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, everyone wants to have a little fun. Working gamification into your app design and marketing can have huge benefits for your users, and your bottom line.
So if you want a memorable app that keeps people coming back, grab a spoon full of sugar and get ready to play!
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