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How to Decide Whether Gamification is Right for Your Website


Let’s take a refreshed look at the term “gamification”; where it stems from, how it’s been used in web design over the years, and whether or not it’s appropriate for your website.

Gamification and Motivation

The term gamification is commonly used nowadays; it refers to the application of game design principles, used in both game and non-game applications. “Gamifying” an application aims to motivate users by presenting them with metrics, tasks or novel goals to work towards.

Google trends chart of Gamification
Google Trends would suggest that the term “gamification” has only been of interest since early 2011

The relevance of gamification and how it’s structured is based around the business or product and its users–just like any other good UX strategy, in fact.

  • Businesses see gamification as a way to increase engagement, but often don’t know if it’s relevant.
  • Users may see it as a novelty; an antidote to the mundane. An underlying motivation may be building prestige or working towards self-actualisation when other basic needs are met.

Based on these assumptions I’ll look at a few motivations and how they may correspond to existing products in the market. I’ll demonstrate how patterns emerge in products and how we can predict whether your idea will be a good fit for gamification.

What Product Type is Yours?

I like to categorize products, websites and apps into one of three areas: 

  1. Task-based: which cover basic needs, usually limited in scope/features.
  2. Esteem-driven: which give users a platform to show their expertise, skill or knowledge in a given area.
  3. Aspirational: which help users reach their self-actualisation needs within the realms of creativity and personal development.

1. Tasked-Based Products

Task-based products tend to be limited in scope and do one thing really well. Products that fall within this first category aren’t usually appropriate for gamification. I’ve listed a few below:

  • Shazam: an app to find the name of that song you like in a bar, cafe etc
  • Whatsapp: a way to message loved ones through the internet 
  • Willy Weather: use BOM data to determine the weather (for surfing, sailing etc.)
  • Sheets: a spreadsheet tool
  • Evernote: a note capturing tool
  • Keep: a way to jot down notes
  • Snapseed: a way to edit photos
  • goMoney: internet banking

Unsurprisingly, none of these examples use gamification (as far as I know).  Gamification in these cases might add noise to the interface, lending a poor user experience. It might dilute the features, preventing these apps from no longer “doing one thing” really well. Alternatively, the tone and brand identity of these products might not be a good fit for gamification.

Case in Point: Freelancer.com

Freelancer is one example of a task-based application that did use gamification as a way to try and engage users. For all the reasons listed above it didn’t work out.

Freelancer.com.au effectively connects two parties: businesses looking to contract workers and freelancers looking to supplement their income. The platform used gamification throughout; everything from posting jobs to completing projects and other arbitrary milestones.

Gamification didn’t work out for Freelancer because it wasn’t relevant to the product. As I mentioned earlier, a task-based application should aim to do one thing really well and then get out of the users’ way. Freelancer also featured an exaggerated gaming look and feel, rather than a straightforward metrics dashboard, which wasn’t a good fit for the brand identity.

2. Esteem-Driven Products

Esteem-driven applications are platforms that give users credibility or prestige based on their skills, knowledge or abilities. Gamification has great relevance here; with gamification you can give users context, helping them make judgements about the credibility of other users on the platform. Here are some examples:

  • Stack Overflow: developer Q&A, one of the Stack Exchange communities.
  • Yahoo Answers: a site where people can anonymously ask questions.
  • Quora: similar to Yahoo Answers, though arguably more credible.
  • UX Exchange: Q&A specifically geared towards UX questions.
  • Pokemon Go: an augmented reality game.
  • UX/Stack Exchange

Case in Point: Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange is a collection of communities (such as aforementioned Stack Overflow) for people to ask and answer very specific questions which may not be solvable through other means.

Gamification is present in the form of points for answering questions. Engagement is highly encouraged: a user’s reputation increases when others vote up questions, answers and edits. A higher reputation will earn more privileges, and so it continues.

Stack Exchange Leagues
Stack Exchange Leagues

This model works. Well. Stack Exchange is an application that fits within a credibility/prestige category of product. Clear rewards and visual cues help the best content rise to the top, aiding the credibility of the platform overall.

3. Aspirational Products

Aspirational products are those which involve creative activities and achieving one’s full potential. Gamification can help make intangible goals more achievable, realistic, specific and measurable. A few examples of these type of apps include: 

  • Audible: an audiobook app
  • Duolingo: a language learning app
  • Memrise: another language learning app
  • Aware: a meditation app

Case in Point: Audible

Audible is a platform for buying and reading audiobooks, both fiction and non-fiction. It uses gamification as a novelty aspect when somebody does something random, like listening to three books in one day. 

Some of audibles badges
Some of audible’s badges

This novel approach of showing badges makes people aware of the gamified engine, whilst triggering their curiosity. There are tabs for metrics like the number of books read in a month, and hours per week (which are incidentally capped at 11). This type of motivation can create greater engagement and loyalty within the user base–they have been given specific goals related to the app.


Gamification is a popular concept, but how it can be put into practical application is less well known. The best way to understand whether gamification will be a good fit for your product is to think about the category types. Use the categories we’ve discussed as a good way to remember and help make a decision: is the app task-based, esteem-driven, or aspirational?


  • Always focus on your key features first. Less is more. Gamification shouldn’t be a crutch for a weak product or poor market fit.
  • Think about how gamification gives users structure to their intangible goals. Use it as an opportunity to make key activities they undertake specific and measurable.
  • Think about human motivation and needs when planning out your gamification structure.

Further Reading

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