Gamification Overview

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Gamification: the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage users to participate in non-game activities in your website, service, or community.

Understanding how and why gamification works, the areas it is most effective, and what the limits are will help you determine the best approach. These topics will be discussed throughout this blog post.

Gamification provides a direct benefit to the site owner and a more indirect benefit to the site user. For the site owner, gamification can be utilized to keep users on the site longer, consuming more information, contributing more content and returning more often. For site users, gamification can contribute to the sense of satisfaction those users might feel when interacting with the site. Their loyalty might be rewarded, their opinions highlighted, and/or their participation and expertise acknowledged. Gamification, when thoughtfully applied, can be a very valuable tool to increase engagement and improve brand loyalty.

According to author and public speaker Gabe Zickermann, a simple mnemonic can sum up the right rewards that gamification hopes to produce: SAPS.

S – Status rewards offer users an opportunity to level up against others e.g. badges, titles.
A – Access rewards give users something they couldn’t otherwise get, e.g. backstage passes
P – Power rewards give users control over others, like a forum moderator or team leader role.
S – Stuff rewards give users free things, cash or discounts. Try to minimize these.

The business community is beginning to realize the power it has to improve customer engagement and brand loyalty, and incent employees and partners to perform at high levels. And the concept solves problems outside the business world as well, in areas such as:

  • Health & Wellness: healthcare cost containment
  • Education: e-learning, corporate and vocational training, online testing
  • Public Policy & Government: education reform, climate change, welfare reform

Let’s now look at two areas where gamification is making strides.

Gamification in Business

Performance in the workplace can be highly influenced by gamification. Employees strive for instant feedback, transparency on how they are doing, and goal setting, both short and long term. Here are 3 of the foundational concepts from a white paper  [PDF download] at

Instant Feedback – In a game, anytime you take an action, you receive instant feedback. Positive feedback reinforces good behavior, strategy and tactics, while negative feedback enables you to learn quickly and adjust. Applying this to the workplace, let’s look at the performance review process. The current state of painful once-a-year performance review isn’t going to cut it. Businesses need systems and processes that enable fast and meaningful feedback, accelerating employees’ growth and learning.

Transparency – Games are full of statistics – players can always see exactly where they stand and where everyone else stands. Progress can be tracked and communicated in real-time; both in the moment and over longer time periods. In the workplace the number one question employees have is “How am I doing?” They simply don’t know. They don’t understand how performance is being measured, or their performance specifically, individually and relative to their peers. Businesses need the ability to capture this data and make it available to employees in an easily digestible format.

Goal Setting – The purpose of most games is to have a goal and to strive for it, such as “saving the princess” or getting the best time, often with smaller goals that provide small wins along the way, like “get to the next level”. In the workplace, accomplishments in meaningful work, however small, is critical in keeping people highly engaged. With management often focused on the long-term goals, the opportunity to provide small wins and a daily sense of progress is often overlooked. Businesses need a way to structure work as a series of small wins to keep people motivated and on the path toward long-term success.

Gamification in Education

Gamification is used in education to make learning more fun and social. In an educational setting, gamification techniques can be used to recognize students for completing tasks, moving to the next level in a series of assignments, or for achieving high scores on those assignments. When an element of public recognition is added – like a leader board on the course website – it tends to encourage competition among students. In a recent blog post, game designer and Cengage Learning author Jeannie Novak proposed the notion of “gamifying” the classroom – adding rewards and competition — as a first step for educators who are interested in adding serious gameplay to the classroom environment.

Gamification has become an area of great interest and debate in the education community. A recent Future of the Internet report on gamification from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project presents the views and expectations of education and business professionals in the area of gamification, including a discussion of the word “gamification” itself. In a paper by researchers at Columbia University, the authors present arguments on both sides of the gamification, pointing to evidence that students are more engaged and likely to complete assignments if they are “in competition” with other students. Others point to the dangers of using extrinsic rewards to motivate learning and studying, instead of relying upon intrinsic rewards.

One thing is clear: we can expect to see more examples of gamification in education, particularly in online courses, as educators continue to explore the possibilities.

Also check out the following:  Gamification Wiki, Codecademy, Scratch

Gamification Platforms

Businesses and tech-savvy educators who are interested in adding sophisticated gamification elements to their courses can take advantage of commercial or open-source gamification platforms. These include:

DNN Social

The Gamification features in DNN Social enable you to reward interaction through point awards, special privileges, badging, and recognition based on activity and contribution, with leader boards that show users’ points and rankings. Creating a community is just the beginning – gamification features of DNN Social also ensure that community stays active and engaged.

Google’s Userinfuser

Userinfuser is an open source platform that provides customizable gamification elements designed to increase user interaction on websites. The project involves badging, points, live notifications, and leader boards. Additionally, the platform provides analytics to track user participation.

Mozilla Open Badges

Learning today happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. But it’s often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen outside of school. Mozilla’s Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web — through a shared infrastructure that’s free and open to all. The result: helping people of all ages learn and display 21st century skills, unlock career and educational opportunities, and find new life pathways.

Badge OS

BadgeOS is a plugin to WordPress that allows your site’s users to complete tasks, demonstrate achievement, and earn badges. You define the Achievement types, organize your requirements any way you like, and choose from a range of options to determine whether each task or requirement has been achieved.

More on Gamification

Resources and more information on gamification:

— Todd Horn,

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Todd Horn

Todd Horn

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Comments 1

  1. David

    Very interesting Todd. Even though this wasn’t an on line game. Agile techniques such as test driven development and simulating Scrum and Kansan in the form a game as opposed to traditional class room lab/lecture has been effective. Thanks, David

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