App Gamification 101: What is Gamification and How Can It Help?

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March 3, 2020

There are many ways you can gamify applications, from morale-boosting mechanics and reward systems to countdowns for executing xyz percent of a task.

Pacman to Super Mario – Mortal Kombat or Dota – whatever genre is your cup of tea – the bigger question is, who doesn’t like a bit of gaming in their life?

I mean, gaming makes everything better, right? And if you ask Starbucks – whose app is a stroke of genius when it comes to gamification elements – the answer is a booming yes!

For those of you who can’t kick-start your day without Starbucks, ‘My Starbucks Rewards’, is no less than a blessing: you get a gold star every time you pay for your coffee using the app. What’s more, having five gold stars beget you a ‘green’ status that is you are entitled to free refills. Upon acquiring 30 stars, you get a ‘gold’ membership, and let’s be honest who doesn’t want a gold membership?

See what Starbucks did there?
They understand their consumers and so they empathize but there’s more to it. Let’s get down to it with our next-in-the-series article on gamification, starting with the basics.

What is Gamification?

Well, it is really an unsung hero that adds value to your non-gaming app through game-play elements to increase user engagement. Leaderboards, badges curiosity, or mystery boxes are some of the actively used gamification elements.

There are many ways you can gamify applications, from morale-boosting mechanics and reward systems to countdowns for executing XYZ percent of a task. The ultimate goal, in the end, is to take the monotony out of everyday tasks or activities and excite the users into actively participating and attaining their daily goals. The use of an appropriate gamification mechanism actually helps boost user engagement.

Simply put, a gamified app uses gaming features to engage users because users easily lose interest after using an application a couple of times. 9,999 in 10,000 mobile applications in the app stores are jilted after a one-time use. Another research indicates that an average mobile app is prone to losing around 77% of its Daily Active Users (DAUs) within three days of its installation.

So you see, in the end, it all boils down to user engagement. The one factor that can either make or break your mobile application.

But what’s the science behind it?

Science Behind Gamification

What is it about gamification that makes people want to interact with a gamified application?


‘Dopamine’ is what makes us want to interact with a gamified app longer because everybody loves that feeling of accomplishment. Besides, when people invest time, effort, emotions, or money in something, they are most likely to value the outcomes all the more.

However, there’s more to gamification than ‘dopamine’ here.

People like to be the masters of their own destinies

Psychology tells us that people like to be in control. It is all a part of the user journey – leading a prospective user towards your ultimate desired outcome.

Psychology also adds that people do not like being pushed or dragged to their eventual destination either. They like to be the masters of their own destiny and gamification makes it seem like they’re in the driving seat. And that’s the core of gamification.

Other health benefits: Games make us smarter

It isn’t just a fashion statement; gamification also endorses health benefits. It is a well-known fact that gaming makes us smarter. According to a study published in Nature, playing games can potentially increase your brain’s gray matter volume.

Numerous studies have shown, the more gray matter there is in certain parts of the brain, the more intelligent a person is.

That’s enough scientific evidence supporting how gamification endorses health.

Off to the Elements, We Go Next

Now that we know the psychology behind gamification and that it isn’t just a gimmick, let us give you a walkthrough of some gamification elements.

On-boarding / Tutorials

Manuals are boring. So, give people a nice tutorial or introduction to the mechanics of your application.

Loss Aversion

e all dread ‘losing’ deep down. Fear of losing points, possessions, achievements, or progress etc. is a powerful user engagement tactic.


Add a theme. From your company values to vampires and elves, it can be anything. Add a bit of fantasy if you may, just make sure your users can make sense of it.

Curiosity / Mystery Box

Not everything needs to be entirely explained. Adding a bit of mystery may encourage people.

Time Pressure

Limiting the span of time users have to execute things can get them focused on the issue. Also, it can help them make decisions.


Allow people to think about what they’re doing and how it impacts the game’s outcomes.


Unlike performance charts, scoreboards will show the throughput of a user within a certain time span – day, week, or month – kind of like Google Fit except that the scoreboard will show the user’s performance in comparison to that of others.

In-game currency

Or “payment” for game-related perks such as additional lives. The players can be given this currency in the form of a reward for accomplishing something. It could be a daily bonus.


Another powerful user engagement tactic. If the user gets it wrong, what are some consequences that he or she may have to face? Do they lose a point or life they have earned? Do they start over?

Guilds / Teams

Close-knit teams or guilds: small groups are a lot more effective than big ones. While it is recommended you create platforms for collaboration, it is suggested you add team-based competitions to engage users.

Social Network

People like to connect and be social, so they can share their achievements or ideas with people of the same mindset etc. Add more fun to the game-play by allowing people to play with each other.

Social Discovery

Allowing users to find other users on the basis of interests and status could help people get started.


I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of competition with rewards. People feel more engaged when they have something to fight for.


A visual representation of achievements. For instance, my pedometer app gives me a badge based on the number of steps I have walked throughout the day or the week. Honestly, it feels awesome and I am tempted to set a higher goal.


Ah! What’s a game world without levels? Increase complexity with each level and introduce tougher challenges to your users. Everyone likes a good challenge.

Fixed Reward Schedule

Reward people based on defined actions and events. Of course with activity followed by leveling up and progression. Use it for on-boarding or to celebrate milestone events.

Random Rewards

Amaze and thrill users with unintended rewards. This will keep them on their toes, and perhaps cheer them up too!

Social Status

The status will offer people wider exposure, providing opportunities to build new relationships. It helps people feel good as well. Feedback features like leaderboards and certificates can be used.

Social Pressure

People really don’t enjoy the idea of being left out or be the odd one out. This can be used in a social setting to inspire people to be just like their peers by participating etc.


Give room to your Free-Spirited to wander around and discover. If you are building virtual worlds, give them something more to discover.

Branching Choices

Let the users choose the course and destiny. Through various trajectories in learning sensitive narratives. Understand that to be successful and valued, decisions have to be real or at least sound real.

Easter Eggs

Easter eggs are an interesting way of rewarding people for just looking around. For others, the more complicated they think, the more exciting it is!

Unlockable / Rare Content

Offer unlockable and rare content for free to your users to add to the feeling of self-expression and value.

Creativity Tools

People enjoy playing gods in games. Allow your users to design their own content for personal gain, enjoyment, or other people’s support ( like teaching resources, rates, equipment, FAQ, etc).


Offer people the ability to tailor each experience to their needs. Let them express themselves from avatars to the settings etc.


Looking after other people can be quite rewarding too. Build administrator, moderator, and curator positions etc. Let users take on a parental role.


Exposure to more features and capabilities within a system can give people more ways to support and contribute for others. It helps to make them feel appreciated as well.

Collect & Trade

People seem to love to collect things. Give them away to collect things from your program and let them trade. This helps add meaning and teach them to respect one another.

Gifting / Sharing

Allow other people to gift or exchange things to help them accomplish their goals. The opportunity for reciprocity, though a form of altruism, can be a good motivator.

Points / Experience Points (XP)

Points and XP are mechanisms for feedback – an award based on results, or appropriate behavior. Can help track performance, and also be used as a means of discovering new items.

Be as Subtle as You Can Be

While gamification is not just a gimmick, infusing gamification in your application wouldn’t increase the user engagement of your application by a giant leap.

Understanding your consumers and determining the task or motive is the key to getting gamification right, as is acknowledging that motivations may differ as per the player, task, and the objective.

Likewise, gamification mechanics have to accommodate the targeted users. Thus, when deciding to integrate a badge, leaderboard, relationship-based approach, or point system, etc., you need to take into consideration the perspective of the users/players to improve the experience. A successful application is the one that will oversee both aspects of increasing engagement: pleasurable activity as well as the design.

Gamification after all is an experience that is carefully “woven” into a subsisting system to increase user engagement. It is not a feature that you just slip in however or wherever you please.

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