Gamification: here comes a new challenger

Over the past few years, marketing segmentation has come on leaps and bounds, whether it’s building separate social audience clusters or sites adapting user journeys based on behavior. But, despite these ongoing improvements to content personalization, there’s still so often something missing… a hook or perhaps a different perspective altogether.

In this article, we’ll look at what gamification means for you and your business as well as delving into some of the best examples around and why they work so well.

What is gamification?

Gamification simply means using game mechanics, designs, and architecture techniques to engage with a range of users. Progression is heavily featured to ensure users are consistently motivated to achieve goals that ultimately benefit both the user and the provider.

Gamification doesn’t necessarily mean playing games. Simply put, it’s a guided ‘points system’ that encourages you towards certain behaviors that are mutually beneficial. It’s important that the system isn’t so complicated that it only caters to the super techy, as such broad appeal is often a must.

Traditional gamers are often an elitist bunch, we thrive on challenges so much that they can define us (or our avatars). Games have easily outstripped Hollywood in terms of revenue-grabbing entertainment, as the toggle graph below clearly shows.

Why is it so effective?

In a nutshell, it works by adding an additional layer of cumulative bonus to the common process of purchases or actions that would have otherwise been undertaken regardless of any additional reward. Gamification also speaks to the very human desires of competition, status, achievement and social interaction.

The Octalysis model

You may have seen this model floating around since 2003 from Yu-kai Chou ( but it’s so important in understanding why gamification works that it deserves a read-through. I’ve done my best to summarize it for you. Firstly, if you find people claiming to be experts, or licensed members of Octalysis. Bear in mind that models should always be open to interpretation and that as a business, you should strive to be the experts on your customers, their behavior and how to change it.

The model starts with eight core components:


Elitism: being part of something unique to you or a collective that you want to belong to.

Beginners luck: the ease at which rewards can be obtained immediately on starting.

Free lunch: everyone can see meaning in free stuff.

Progression: whether it’s your career, black box score or swimming badge; admit it, you love to progress.

Samaritan: if your decisions or purchases help real people (outside of the game/process), the feel-good factor can be immense and provides justification for time spent/increased cost.

Eco warrior: helping the world is ‘on trend’ and has never been more important. If your points can correlate with trees planted or plastic recycled, you’ll be more inclined to continue.

Social influence

Friending: finding and developing friendships with like-minded individuals (potentially behind the digital safety of your device) can be easy and rewarding.

Social gifting: that feel-good factor where you’ve been able to provide your friends or kin with something of value.

Group progress: helping movements progress as a collective can be extremely rewarding, especially if it has an impact outside of your social circle.

Brag factor: getting one over on your colleagues or friends gives a good chance to brag.

Digital water cooler: not all businesses have a water cooler. Social networks allow people to lower their guards and have a good natter.

Conformity: while there are plenty of us who like to break moulds, conformity offers a sense of belonging and community.

Tutelage: teaching others is a great avenue for ‘feel-good’ vibes.


Random rewards: Most people are natural gamblers and if you could win a prize of £50 or a random prize of £10, £30 or £100, rest assured most people would select the latter.

Sudden (unexpected) rewards: everyone loves surprises.

Seasonal bonuses: without overdoing it, latch onto trending events that are relevant to your audience or your product.


Rightful heritage: giving a user something (for free) making them feel like it’s theirs and threatening to take it away unless a desired action is performed.

Evanescent opportunities: requests for immediate action to win exclusive rewards or unlock a special power.

Status quo sloth: coercing users into changing actions into habits. Habitual behavior is difficult to break and requires effort, encouraging it can help drive brand/app loyalty.

FOMO: fear of missing out, making users think that by not performing an action they are minimizing their experience v the vast majority of other users.

Sunk cost prison: After investing time in a game, your decision to quit will confirm that niggling suspicion that it’s been a big waste of time.


Lack of abundance: avoid providing users with everything they need, we’ll chase what’s out of reach but get quickly fed up of what’s easily to hand.

Appointment dynamics: use time to coerce users into certain behaviors at certain times, seasonal events and prizes can be a great way to achieve this.

Torture breaks: cooldowns and diminishing returns can prevent users from abusing and/or getting obsessed with your service, it also prevents them getting ‘burnt out’.

Oren Klaff’s ‘Pitch Anything’ references scarcity and prizing in an interesting way:

  • We chase that which moves away from us
  • We want what we cannot have
  • We only place value on things that are difficult to obtain.


Stuff: acquisition of physical or digital assets or products.

Potential avatar: ownership of a digital avatar and their wellbeing.

Personalized experience: something that is owned and cherished if it provides value.

Interaction: if your gamification provides users with the opportunity to interact with their treasured belongings (such as phones) it can strengthen the gamification experience.


Unlocks: allow users to unlock new things and levels of progression.

Real-time influence: show users that their actions are having an actual impact on the elements of life or the digital world you said that they would.

Instant feedback: giving users a review feature helps them to feel listened to and valued.

Time locked boosts: providing double points for certain periods of time can help users to feel ‘super powered’ for a short period of time.


Status: because we all know being level 10 makes you way cooler than those level 6 scrubs.

Leaderboard: seeing how you stack up against other… competitors.

High fives: getting congratulations outside of the expected rewards is often encouraging.

‘Boss’ fights or large milestones: pushes to achieve harder tasks in fixed time frames can act as focus points.

You may find that you’re already using a gamification process within your current customer journey. According to Bitcatcha, which does website speed tests, over 50% of startups integrated gaming elements into their future plans, and over 70% of major businesses used gamification to encourage participation in 2016.

Some key examples of gamification are:

Nike Fuel and Nike Running Club

One the most popular exercise apps out there, NRC pits you against your friends and yourself. Constantly feeding you with your success as the App’s key reward system.

Monopoly: McDonalds

Nothing says western culture more than the two core pillars of our society, gluttony and wealth. McDonalds have teamed up with Hasbro to entice and incentivize the consumption of fries and burgers.

Nissan Carwings

The Nissan Leaf comes with this neat quirk where you can connect your mobile via an app and not only work to improve the vehicle’s efficiency but also rank yourself against other Leaf owners.

Code Combat

Here is a great example of knowing your audience. There is a gross crossover in the two fields of traditional RPG gaming and ‘coding nerds’: this educational platform is one of the best.

TOM’s Shoes (humanity hero)

Progression and free stuff is all well and good but imagine if you could see the impact your purchase had on another culture, one far less fortunate: Toms is a great example of this with their one for one campaign

Operational improvements

Gamification can be used to help managers who are looking to introduce a more fun and motivating system that promotes not just the completion of tasks (some likely mundane) but also an eagerness and competitive drive to increase your employees desire to ‘get stuff done’.

Bluewolf : A business approach to gamification.

Chorewars : Rank up your character by completing household chores.

Habitica : Similar to the above, but with pixel art .

Theemailgame : Earn points by keeping your inbox clean and tidy.

If you want to use gamification (or elements of) within your business, be it internally or externally simply make sure you consider as many points within the octalysis model as possible with a focus on free stuff, wider impact and social elements for end users; or for managers, proof of achievement, competition and end rewards.

Stuart Shaw is head of Search and Data at Zazzle Media.

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