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Most of us love to play games. Whether it’s a sports game like baseball that we play in a stadium or a digital computer game, games have the potential to become a vital part of our lives. But games also have implications beyond the realm of pure entertainment: they can influence user behavior and help businesses reach critical milestones.
Gamification is the technique of using elements of game design in contexts not related to gaming. The term “gamification” has become a buzzword in recent years. Today, many startups and companies are introducing gamification into their products to influence user behavior. Gamification helps achieve a crucial business goal: it gets people to make the decisions that businesses want them to make.
Why are companies introducing gamification?
User emotions play a huge role in how users think and experience products. A positive emotional response from using a product is likely to lead to better user satisfaction. Gamification works because it engages users emotionally (it triggers users’ emotions and feelings). Well-designed gamification triggers dopamine; it makes people happy and excited when they interact with a product. These sentiments motivate users to continue using the products and have a positive impact on user retention rates. Users return to the product to receive a new portion of positive emotions.
Related: How Gamification Engages Customers and Employees
The psychology of gamification
Psychology is present in any activity that influences user behavior, and gamification is no exception. When gamification naturally creeps into a product, it doesn’t force users to make a decision – it guides them to it. Users don’t think they need to perform routine tasks, but rather think they are playing a game where the tasks are a natural part of the product experience.
Here are four psychological engines that can help you create good gamification.
Nir Eyal, investor and behavioral economist, developed a methodology called Hook Model. The model describes the creation of habitual behaviors through a four-phase loop cycle that consists of a trigger, action, reward, and ongoing investment. Basically, the Hook Model is all about creating a user habit. However, it is only possible to create such a habit when the user receives a valuable reward. It is therefore important to understand what drives customer behavior and what is important to them.
A simple example of a cycle of usual behavior can be seen in many coffee chains. Customers receive a new stamp every time they purchase coffee from a particular chain. Customers know they will receive free coffee when they collect a certain number of stamps, so they become loyal to this channel.
In digital products, it is possible to use similar mechanisms – adding loyalty points in products that users can redeem for discounts or introducing a different membership level for different numbers of completed tasks (e.g. bronze , silver and gold) which will give users rewards (i.e. 5%, 10%, 15% off).
Related: 3 Secret Reasons Your Brand Needs A Rewards Program
2. Sense of accomplishment
The feeling of accomplishment is one of the most powerful psychological factors in human behavior. The Zeigarnik Effect, named after Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, claims that people remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. By gracefully reminding a user that they still have a task in progress, you motivate them to complete that task.
A good example of the Zeigarnik effect in digital products is a progress bar that visualizes the user’s progress in a task they have started. For example, it could be progress in learning a new skill or a new language. Learning a new language is a huge task. By breaking it down into steps, showing users their progress towards the goal, and adding playful intent, you motivate them to complete the task.
Another example is the introduction of achievement milestones in product design. For example, a product might have a system of levels that users go through (start with level one and move up to level 10). When each next level is more difficult than the last, it motivates users to work even harder towards the next goal. Whenever users reach the next level, they experience a positive sense of accomplishment which creates a positive habit of using a product.
3. Competitive spirit
Humans are competitive by nature – competition is ingrained in our DNA. Competition with other people can increase our motivation and improve our productivity. Psychologists often call competition an “extrinsic incentive” because the motivation to accomplish a particular task is external rather than internal. In other words, when people see how other people behave in specific activities, it motivates them to work harder for better results, but as soon as the competition is over they might stop doing it.
The leaderboards are a good example of this real world pilot. Ranking helps us determine who is performing best in a specific activity. But it is possible to embed rankings in digital products to motivate users to perform particular tasks. For example, by entering a ranking in a fitness tracker app, you encourage users to improve their training results. This technique can lead users to master a particular exercise. As the players master the game and achieve better results, they also receive positive feedback from the community.
Related: The Gamification Used By Some Employers To Recruit Candidates
Gamification is also rooted in social influence. People need to see the results of their work so that they can share it with those around them. It is possible to motivate users to perform particular tasks by giving them a badge, a visual representation of achievements, which they can show to their friends and family. Badges become virtual status symbols as they indicate how users performed particular activities.
4. Social bond
Humans are social animals and we like to be part of special communities. This psychological aspect translates well into gamification. User engagement can be improved if you can make users feel like part of a community when they interact with your product. In digital products, it is possible to develop social relationships by adding membership to particular groups in exchange for certain activities. For example, users must complete X activities before receiving an invitation to the top members area.
Gamification is a powerful tool that, when used correctly, can have an extremely positive impact on a business’s bottom line. Psychological factors such as reward, sense of accomplishment, competitive spirit, and social relationships can help you create a more engaging user experience. When people feel good about interacting with your product, they’re more likely to be motivated to use it over and over again.
But like any other design technique, the real magic of gamification is in the detail. When designing a new product and want to introduce gamification, you should always start by identifying the primary readers (activities that users want to perform using your product). Only after that, you need to introduce game elements that will reinforce these activities. If you achieve this goal, you will create an experience that feels natural to you.