Remember the rush of being handed a giant stuffed animal in return for winning a game at your hometown fair? That feeling of victory — and being rewarded for it — doesn’t go away as we get older.
Businesses can replicate that experience through gamification — whether internally to engage and motivate employees, or externally to attract new customers or engage current ones.
McDonald’s Monopoly promotion, Domino’s pizza tracker, airline loyalty programs, and company decorating contests are all examples of gamification. The practice helps create emotional connections between players and business, hooking new customers while keeping existing ones engaged.
The gamification market is projected to reach $62.75B by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of 26.1%. Gamification can include any practices that apply game-based methods such as levels, badges, leaderboards, or points, among others.
Your everyday experiences are more gamified than you might realize, per Bloomsburg University professor Karl Kapp. An Uber ride — where you rate your driver and vice versa — is a gamified experience. Trying to achieve higher scores by being a better driver or a more polite passenger is the result of effective gamification techniques.
Another example: grade school. Getting points for correct answers, leveling up a grade each year, and receiving letter grades are all core gamification concepts.
“Gamification is really about modifying behavior,” says Kapp.
Companies that apply gamification to their business plans do so for the same reason a teacher does in the classroom — to motivate their audience and modify behaviors.
For example, Jim Wexler, whose company Experiences Unlimited specializes in creating custom gamification experiences, worked with AXA Equitable Insurance on a game-based marketing campaign. His team came up with a web-based game called Pass It On, in which players find a better financial future by making important life insurance decisions.
The game was played 455k times, brought in 1.2m site visits from 116k unique visitors, and players spent a total of 23k hours with the brand. The company saw an increase in brand awareness of 37% and an increase in product awareness of 42%.
Games can have different rewards or end goals based on what companies are hoping to accomplish, such as introducing new products, driving email sign-ups, or bringing in new customers with discounts and promotions.
The metaverse will play a large role in the expansion of gamification, with fashion brands like Nike and Adidas already incorporating physical and digital goods into online gaming experiences, says An Coppens, founder of gamification companies My Digital Office App and Gamification Nation.
Nike launched Nikeland within Roblox and bought RTFKT, a NFT studio that produces digital items, like virtual sneakers. Within five months of its launch, Nikeland amassed 7m visitors; RTFKT brought in $11m in seven days alone.
Outside of the metaverse, Coppens works with clients on using games to appeal to different segments of their audiences. She is currently working with a large telecommunications company on a program that will launch daily games to try to catch the attention of new customers.
Coppens’ team builds puzzles, contests, “spin to win,” quizzes, and scrambled images for users to solve. Players are then led to sign up for a mailing list or take part in a loyalty program — whatever the business is hoping to drive sign-ups to.
“The difference between a lot of existing marketing techniques and gamification is that we’re actively encouraging a person to do something that’s important or relevant to them and trigger some kind of curiosity effect,” she says.
Gamification isn’t just for customers — it can also be an effective tool for motivating employees. As companies shift to hybrid or remote work, it’s increasingly crucial to keep employees engaged, productive, and connected.
You can gamify the sales experience by making a competition out of learning about the product and selling it. A leaderboard, where sales professionals can see how their performance stacks up to their peers, can be an effective way to boost productivity.
Gamification can also be used for internal training, including diversity initiatives or employee onboarding. Compared to dry, boring training methods, gamification is effective because of its psychological component.
Rather than simply reading through a slide deck, gamified training helps ensure information will stick for those playing. This could mean anything from watching a video followed by taking a quiz, having a companywide leaderboard where those who complete the training fastest and most accurately win a prize, or using other methods like badges, prizes, and levels to increase employee participation in training.
“There’s intrinsic motivation, where you want to be the best you can be, and there’s extrinsic motivation, where you want a reward,” says Stephen Baer, the chief creative officer at the Game Agency, a software company that builds game-based solutions for education and corporate training.
Employee training, while mandatory, often goes uncompleted. Gamification not only incentivizes workers to complete the training, but also possibly to enjoy it enough to do it more than once.
Studies have shown that 90% of employees are more productive when gamification is used and that 89% state that gamification makes them feel more productive and happier at work. Companies that use gamification could have as much as 147% better performance compared to those that don't.
Kapp says this will play an especially important role in the age of remote work. “When you play a game together, it creates a sense of camaraderie at a very deep level.”
Additionally, work can be a high-stress environment. Games help inject lightheartedness into the day and show employees that their employers care about their well-being.
Coppens and her team are currently developing a product in which employees would each log their satisfaction and happiness levels weekly, and their overall mood would be represented with a flower.
Their manager would receive a bouquet made up of their worker’s flowers, giving them insight into the state of their team. A wilted bouquet would mean a manager would need to schedule check-ins with employees to identify the root of their dissatisfaction.
At its heart, gamification is about tapping into human nature — whether that’s capturing the curiosity of a customer, training a member of the sales team, or taking the pulse of employees. And applying known psychological motivators to the practice is what makes gamification so effective.
“Regardless of motivation, humans crave feedback, and gamification really does lend itself to that,” Baer says. “Whatever your goal is, whatever your motivation, gamification is going to help you achieve it.”
And businesses don’t have to build experiences from scratch to get in on the game. There are many low-code or no-code options that can be implemented quickly and easily for attracting new customers or training employees.
The Game Agency’s Training Arcade offers a host of no-code game options for any type of employee training. Apps like Scavify, a scavenger hunt-based training, or Treehouse, which helps employees build new skills, can come in handy.
But gamification is an effective tool only when a brand knows exactly what it is it wants to communicate.
“Gamification is an amplification of a company’s message,” he says. “Brands first need genuine sound, or else you’re just amplifying noise. What are you selling? What is the benefit to the customer?”