The pro’s guide to gamification

This article first appeared in issue 228 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Gamification, the technique of applying game mechanics outside of games themselves, had a good 2011. Tech research company Gartner added it to its ‘hype cycle’ together with ‘The Internet of Things’ and ‘Big Data’. The Oxford Dictionary nearly made it its Word of the Year 2011 (it opted instead for ‘squeezed middle’).

So what does it mean? Gamification is about influencing the behaviour of your website users, visitors and customers by applying game mechanics and treating them like ‘players’. For example, if you have a video content site, you might challenge visitors to watch five videos in a row and reward them if they do so.

If you did, you’d be ‘gamifying’ your website. You’d have taken a game mechanic – offering a ‘reward’ in return for a ‘challenge’ – and used it to motivate your visitors to do more on your site.

The reason this works, and is worth doing, is that game designers have known for ages what makes us tick and how to use that to influence our behaviour.

As human beings, we actually like to be given clear goals, to be able to monitor our progress towards achieving them and to get a reward for completing them.

Challenges and rewards are just one game mechanic you can use to deepen engagement with your site. This is gamification.

Gamification is using game mechanics outside of games. It’s not making the world more like a game. So it’s not:

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