Increasing Engagement Using Product Gamification

What is gamification and how can we use it in product design? Through different gamification examples, learn how it can improve the user experience and user engagement of your product.

7 min
March 16, 2018
Billy Sweetman
Head of Design

Using gamification in apps to increase user engagement

A few years ago, gamification was just starting to form as a buzzword. Other industries started to look at games like Farmville and Candy Crush and see what they could learn and implement into their products. Product teams were trying to figure out how to get the same level of engagement and screen time as these games for better or worse.

In this article, we'll discuss how you can apply gamification techniques to increase user engagement. From loyalty programs to reward based learning, we'll walk through different gamification examples to give you the inspiration you need to improve the user experience.

What is product gamification?

Gamification is taking aspects of your product and adding game like elements to it.

Let’s take a mission and reward system, which is very prevalent in games. In product design we may use the same system by giving the user a task, then rewarded them when they complete it.

Asana Task Complete Reward

Asana does this in a unique way, missions are your to do list. Complete enough of them and get a flying unicorn or some other cryptozoological creature to fly across your screen. This small element helps make the experience more delightful and adds some humor to what could be a boring group of tasks. This at its core is gamification.

The user’s journey - gamification in UX

When users first pick a product, they have a limited understanding of how to interact with it. They are unaware of the micro-interactions the product team carefully developed or the countless hours of user testing that resulted in carefully crafted feedback loops. Even the best apps can go unused if their target audience isn’t motivated to dig into the meat of the app.

While first time users likely understand UX patterns prevalent in popular products like: lower tab navigations menus, hamburger menus, modals, and multi-card on-boarding flows, familiarity and usefulness isn’t always enough to keep a fickle or frustrated user coming back for more.

This is where gamification helps, especially with new UX paradigms. It achieves this by driving users back to the app to “win” while simultaneously becoming more and more useful or embedded in a user’s life. So how do we take these gamification principles and apply them to different areas of our products?

Gamification for the onboarding process

Zelda Old Man Meme

Creating a good first impression

First impressions are everything. Humans make their first impression of another person after only 3 seconds. This “complete” conclusion phenomenon happens in in the digital world as well. In fact, the drop off of users completely abandoning a product is so problematic there are entire industries dedicated to keeping people “in the funnel”.

Products need great solutions for these first time users experiences. Some current solutions that have been widely adopted are multi-card onboarding flows or creative empty states. A great example of using a products core functionality to onboarded a user is the tutorial cards within Google Keep. It uses the actual cards to teach users how their product works.

Google Keep Onboarding

So, when you’re tackling the onboarding process for new users, what are some gamification methods we can use and questions we should ask ourselves so they can develop a firm understanding of our products?

Consider these questions within product onboarding

  • Can I educate my users by having them experience the actual process?
  • Can we simulate the core feature as a “fake” interaction and create a consequence-less playground for our user?
  • Can we create empty states with text explaining how the product works, provoking the user to click on them?
  • Can we limit the functionality of a users to certain parts of the app until they’ve completed the mission we’ve assigned?
  • Can we be explain what we need by a short video or a tool tip?

Onboarding is something that seems like a no brainer and there are multitude of ways to go about implementing it. A newer initiative is creating bots and conversational user interfaces that can help make these first time experiences better, artificial guides that seem human enough to illuminate the path ahead for a new user but still let them discover on their own.

Creating linear flows going through the actual product is probably one of our favorite ways to educate users. Give them a single task and don’t let them continue until they’ve completed said task. Now this will create some additional overhead but will keep your users focused and help them learn along the way. This is a easy example of a linear mission, with the reward being access to the rest of the app. UX planet has a great article on Missions and Challenges.

Keeping users engaged

In the midst of the journey

When users commit to a product or platform, the education aspect of gamification might shift focus to keeping users engaged. Understanding your users’ behaviors and emotions will help you implement a gamification strategy that will increase their loyalty.

For example, you can give users challenges to partake. When challenges are completed, users are rewarded with some sort of achievement or badge. A reward or a badge can be represented in various forms. Think about Facebook’s birthday or friendship videos. Users are awarded these badges for not only being a friend on the platform but also staying on their platform.

Facebook friends day video

What to consider to increase user engagement

Questions within this stage of your product

  • Can we reward a user for a desired behavior?
  • Can we issue challenges to users if they’ve been away from the product?
  • Can we use a leaderboard to incentivize continued engagement?
  • Can we leverage decaying of their status to bring them back?
  • Can we have larger tasks break down into smaller ones giving out rewards more often?

Badges, rewards, and leaderboards pull at our natural urge to be at the top. These metrics ca n get used in a multitude of ways to keep users engaged. They also can take any task and break it into smaller and more manageable tasks. When it comes to leaderboards, most statistic screens for personal analytics either are or have a leaderboard of some sort. Even if you’re competing with yourself to see how you are performing.

Snapchat streak & Duolingo gold cover

Many popular apps like Snapchat, Duolingo, and Airbnb have some form of these elements within them. Completing that lesson to have that gold cover on Duolingo, keeping your streak alive on Snapchat, or eagerly awaiting you first review on Airbnb are ways those applications create that experience. All of these features keep users engaged using elements of gamification.
was or your best run.

User who is coming back

I’m coming back from another adventure

When a user abandons a product, getting them back can be really difficult. If they do comeback, there are methods in gamification that can help ease the transition back into the product. Try going back to a software you haven’t used in years; interface items take a while to get familiar with, if they’re the same, shortcuts are half remembered, and iconography seems like a different language.

Blizzard Hearthstone Welcome Quest

How can we avoid this and possibility to lose someone who is interested in coming back but might be overwhelmed? Peter Knudson wrote a really interesting article on how the Blizzard Mobile Game Hearthstone handles it. We’re not going to summarize it here because it’s a super valuable read.

How do we add gamification in app design?

  • Can we keep track of a user’s level of expertise and what they might of learned, then offer up information and re-education?
  • Can we add more information to the screen when needed in the form of option information bubbles based on time away from the app?
  • Can we limit the functionality or resources in the product until they’ve completed a certain task?
  • Can we issue some missions to get them back into the product and reward them once they’ve completed it?

Duolingo gamification example

Duolingo uses a technique called gamification based learning. Duolingo handles this is by the decay of a user’s “Gold Status” for each lesson. When someone jumps back into Duolingo again, their ranking is the same. However, all of the previous lessons gold status has decayed away. This pulls at most users’ needs to be completionist and helps retrain skills they might have lost in their absence by asking the user to retake these lessons.

Curious to dive deeper in how gamification based learning would work with an education app? Check out this great video with Scott Hebert.

Gamify your user experience

There are no silver bullets here.

However, illustrating a few scenarios, possible solutions, and critical questions at each phase of a users journey can help you see what gamification elements can fit into your product. Gamification is a powerful tool and if used correctly it can help keep people engaged with your product, teach them new things about it, and most importantly give them some fun.

Gamification resources

Hero photo by Rebecca Oliver on Unsplash.

Actionable UX audit kit

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  • UX Audit Template for Figma
  • UX Audit Report Template for Figma
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