Harnessing Gamification in Your Next Product

In 2004, Dennis Crowley ran a graduate thesis experiment at NYU. His idea: turn the streets of Manhatten into a game of Pac-Man. Four people dressed as ghosts chased around one dressed as Pac-Man, each paired with someone calling the shots in a control room. This fun experiment eventually inspired Foursquare, an app to discover new locations with your friends that quickly ballooned to 60 million registered users by utilizing the power of gamification.

Gamification is everywhere and Foursquared is far from the only example of its power to grow and retain a user base. Even massive apps like FitBit and Audible with completely unrelated services have introduced gamification to keep users coming back every day.

There’s no doubt that these little pieces of daily gratification are valuable to people. By turning life into more of a game, people get caught up in the simple fun of the experience and the potential for a reward.


These achievements and milestones may seem pointless, but they really do work to motivate people and keep them engaged with various products and activities. Businesses and developers recognize this—”Over 70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies surveyed in 2013 said they planned to use gamification for marketing and customer retention.”

The power of gamification is proven by science. These little rewards, no matter how ridiculous, can increase your natural dopamine levels and aid motivation and learning. They quite literally make us happier and more focused and these are elements that you should seriously consider integrating into your next product.

So how exactly is it done? Well the answer depends on the kind of app you’re building. Not every app is suited for milestone achievements and rewards for progress, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve been left out of the cold. Just as there are many different types of games; there are also countless ways that gamification can be retooled and reemployed.

The traditional model is usually progress driven. Fitness apps, reading apps, anything that may not be appealing in its own right, but can have the joy of it boosted by rewards and celebration.


There’s no reason why progress-driven design should be limited to those particular arenas. Any kind of productivity app can incorporate the same ideas. Even something like Trello uses a minor form of Gamification. Simply checking things off a list is a small way of feeling that sense of reward. Another app, Productivity Challenge Timer, breaks down work into manageable chunks that you can track as you work through them.

Some gamification apps are even designed to stop you from doing things—specifically distracting tasks like checking your email or your Facebook. An app called Forest will plant a seed whenever you begin a task and if you can stay concentrated on it for 30 minutes, it will grow into a tree.

The versatility of gamification is only limited by your thinking and your ability to design new ways for it to suit your product. No matter how you make it work, the power of gamification is proven and it’s something you should seriously consider incorporating in your next product—whatever it might be.

— ZK

Ed Lynes13p5Comment