The Science and Psychology Behind Gamification

The Scientific World
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Gamification has become an increasingly popular strategy for businesses looking to engage customers and drive acquisition. Let's understand the science and psychology behind gamification.
Gamification benefits

The Science and Psychology Behind Gamification

In the last decade, gamification has become a buzzword to a staple in many marketing departments. While there are many ways to incorporate game mechanics into a product or program, the underlying concept remains the same: make it fun.

The term “Gamification” was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling and gained popularity after it was used in a 2008 article by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter on the Wharton School website. Gamification has become an increasingly popular strategy for designing engaging user experiences, particularly in mobile apps, marketing campaigns, and websites.


Why Gamification Works for Employee Engagement

A gamification expert explains that the practice works for several reasons:


  • Gamification is a fun way to drive employee engagement. A sense of play is a critical aspect of most video games, especially those designed for business use. By offering similar rewards and incentives, companies can build an environment where employees feel like they're playing a game, which makes work far more enjoyable.
  • Points encourage employees to compete with each other for prizes. One of the main advantages of gamification is that it drives competition between employees, enabling them to perform better at their jobs. This can be applied internally within departments and across businesses within a larger organization. Points are also the perfect tool for creating an environment where employees want to collaborate rather than compete with each other.


If you make your employees feel engaged, they will engage with your business. If we can get employees to think about their jobs as something fun and not just a way to pay the bills, they will be more productive and creative at work.


The Science Behind Gamification and Why It Works

"The science behind gamification is really simple," says Strozzi-Heckler. "It's operant conditioning in action." Operant conditioning is when a behavior is modified by providing positive reinforcement for desired actions or removing negative reinforcement for unwanted actions. It's a form of learning based on consequences (like getting a gold star when you complete your homework or losing points when you lose at Candy Crush).

 

The concept behind it is simple: to make a non-game activity engaging enough to be considered a game, encouraging repeat participation by making it fun. These days, we are successfully gamifying our world. If you shop at Whole Foods Market®, you'll notice that each cashier is given a rating based on customer feedback and a comment section allowing shoppers to connect with their cashiers and discuss their store experience directly. If you buy something from Amazon®, you're encouraged to rate your transaction with an overall star rating and leave comments. You may have even gamified your life by assigning points for completing tasks like exercising or eating healthy food. But why does this work? Why do we like to be rewarded for doing what we already know is good for us? And why do we respond so positively when others reward us for our hard work?

 

One of the most famous examples of gamification is Fitbit, which uses badges and competitions to motivate its users to get up and move around. The competition encourages users to work harder to beat their friends' scores. The reward element keeps them returning for more: all that walking adds up, and it's satisfying when you earn enough badges and hit your goals.


The Psychology Behind Gamification and Why It Works

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been doing everything we can think of to entertain themselves and keep themselves occupied. The earliest forms of art, music, and storytelling were likely invented because they were fun to do—it’s unlikely that cave dwellers sat around debating the importance of art for the betterment of society. Even in our modern age, people still do things for entertainment. But even though we do these activities because they’re fun, our brains don’t necessarily realize how much fun we’re having.

 

One way to trick your brain into thinking something is more fun than it is is by attaching a reward. This is why you might be more willing to do something when you know there will be a treat at the end, like a piece of candy or a new video game level; now your brain thinks it’s getting some reward for acting that it otherwise doesn’t feel is worth its time. When you gamify tasks by setting goals and giving rewards for achieving them, you can make even mundane tasks seem more fun because your brain has been tricked into thinking that it’s getting a reward for doing something.

 

There Are Two Significant Types of Motivation That Drive Behavior

  • Intrinsic motivation: People act out of interest in an activity or because they find it personally satisfying. This type of motivation is driven by aspects of the action, like its inherent challenges or opportunities for growth. While intrinsic motivation can be difficult to measure, it can also be the most powerful driver of behavior change.
  • Extrinsic motivation: People perform an activity because they have been rewarded for doing so in the past (or expect to be rewarded) or because they fear punishment for not doing so (or expect to avoid punishment). This type of motivation is easy to measure but can often be less effective at driving long-term behavior change than intrinsic motivation.


Final Thoughts

It may seem like a new concept, but harnessing the power of gamification has been around long before Foursquare. Gamification is more than simply adding status and badges to your app. The key to success with gamification lies in the motivation and how it affects your target user. Ultimately, gamification is simply taking advantage of human nature and isn’t any magic trick that will propel your company to the top of the charts overnight.

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