Gamechangers! How gamification can hook your customers

By Laura Straeter
Posted on August 06, 2018

In a world where technology drives the economy, gamification catches on fast. From health and lifestyle apps to educational and financial apps, the game format is particularly popular amongst app and website coders. These apps on our smartphones help us to run a marathon, master the French language and save on our daily expenses. But is gamification always the right tool to pick? Here’s how to be your company’s gatekeeper.

Gamification uses game elements and techniques to motivate people. In essence, this state-of-the-art strategy ‘activates’ your customers, making them more keen to reach a certain goal1. It’s no wonder that businesses use gamification to stimulate and empower their customers to act in a certain way.

Raising your game

But is there a catch? Critics wonder whether gamification actually works2. Is it really as effective as it claims to be? Critics emphasise that ‘playing’ may activate the external but not the intrinsic motivation of customers. They suggest that rewards work as an incentive to encourage desirable behaviour, but as soon as rewards disappear, customer behaviour relapses.

“Is gamification doomed? Not at all, it can even increase customers’ intrinsic motivation.”

Getting the elements right

So is gamification doomed and should businesses change their game? Not necessarily. There are two sides to the story. As long as it's applied in the right way, gamification is a powerful tool. When the game elements are designed with great care, research1 suggests that gamification can even increase customers’ intrinsic motivation.

There are many game elements to consider, but three of them are frequently found in applications developed for businesses: progress indicators, social comparisons and reward systems.

Progress bars are often displayed to indicate the customer’s relative progress. They help to show the larger contribution of a small action. Seeing that you are half-way through your pre-set saving goal after having saved an extra €50 might encourage you to save even more money. Providing customers with continuous feedback and displaying their progress motivates them to reach their goal1.

Making challenges social also helps people to stick to their goal. Customers are sensitive to comparisons with their peers3: knowing that they are underperforming slightly - or are almost the best - will trigger them to work harder. Obviously, for some goals the comparisons shouldn’t be too intimate. After all, we do not want our friends or neighbours to know about the money we saved or the weight we lost.

Highlighting achievements is just as important as the journey itself. When do you reward your customers? Do you hand out virtual medals, badges, gift coupons or even money? Research tells us that verbal rather than monetary rewards, given after a novel and exceptional performance, enhance people’s intrinsic motivation4, 5. Remember that under no circumstances should rewards be handed out for no reason, without clear performance criteria or for a ridiculously simple task.

Are you designing an app and considering to implement some game elements? Then make sure you think about how you craft those elements and, more importantly, whether you want to implement gamification in the first place. Gamification is a powerful tool when applied thoughtfully, but it can backfire if it does not strengthen your purpose. Be at the top of your game!


  1. 1. Zuckerman, O. & Gal-Oz, A. (2014). Deconstructing gamification: Evaluating the effectiveness of continuous measurement, virtual rewards, and social comparison for promoting physical activity.
  2. 2. Deterding, S. (2013). Skill atoms as design lenses for user-centered gameful design. In Proceedings of CHI ’13 workshop “Designing Gamification”.
  3. 3. Buunk. B. P., Collins, R. L., Taylor, W. E., VanYperen, N. W., & Dakof, G. A. (1990). The affective consequences of social comparison: Either direction has its ups and downs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1238-1249.
  4. 4. Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examing the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation, Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.
  5. 5. Eisenberger, R., & Shanock, L. (2003). Rewards, intrinsic motivation, and creativity: A case study of conceptual and methodological isolation. Creativity Research Journal, 15, 121-130.