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Gamification can completely transform engagement and retention but many brands are suspicious of it because they fear diluting their ‘message.’ Proper gamification goes several layers beneath the skin to utilize what makes games compelling on a psychological basis, without resorting to crude bolt-on mechanics that taint brand image.

We believe that there are 5 central pillars of gamification: achievement, competition, cooperation, customization, and collection. Read on to find out how, and why, these individual elements are so important.


The best way to build allegiance to a brand, product, or app is to incentivize the expression of loyalty. Rewarding users for repeated/extended use is extremely effective in improving retention. Milestone achievements also give people things to work towards without every individual task being explicitly ‘rewarding.’ Start by making sure that no task is thankless, even if by edging users just 1% closer to a goal or reward.

Achievements dashboard in Waze


Beyond personal satisfaction, a user’s sense of achievement is hugely impacted by prestige in a wider context – competition. Many apps have harnessed the constant alternation between pride in occupying pole position and irritation at being knocked off it. Take Strava, for example. By breaking down long individual journeys into smaller segments, Strava’s developers have found a way to pit huge numbers of people against each other in endless combinations. You’re unlikely to derive much of a buzz from being the fastest cyclist between your own house and workplace, but hundreds of unique journeys contain that hotly-contested high street sprint. Jockeying with rival users for top spot keeps people logging in day after day.

Performance Leaderboard in Strava


If competition marks one side of the social coin, cooperation – manifested most obviously in clans and alliances – marks the equal opposite. These mechanics are driven by universal principles of human sociability. As with any kind of aggregated team total, such as ‘kilometers run’ or ‘money raised’, contributing towards collective goals plays on instincts towards achievement and a tribal sort of competition. Developers can capitalize on this by offering status items as reward for reaching certain milestones. Better still, sociability can be utilized hugely effectively in User Acquisition (UA) too. Encouraging users to invite their friends to join them in-app is an extremely effective UA strategy and one that is used – to great effect – by many of the world’s most recognizable service apps. Users brought in by some kind of viral mechanism are themselves 10x more likely to invite further people through the same mechanism.

Viral invite mechanism in Uber


In Free-to-Play (F2P) games, it is not power-ups or extra lives that drive publishers’ economies. Customization is, by far, the greatest revenue source in F2P. Fortnite alone generates $300m+ every month from an economy based entirely on cosmetic vanity items. Curating a unique image for an avatar or profile improves engagement in two key ways. Firstly, the process of acquiring status-associated items is rewarding in both a personal and a prestigious sense. Secondly, there is a sense of loss linked to abandoning an image (and therefore account) assembled through great effort or considerable spend. Without customization and personalization mechanics to use, users are much less likely to become attached to an in-app version of themselves or the app that hosts it.

Customized player skin in Fortnite


Most humans are completionist by nature and strategically awarding collectible items as part of a game/app’s core loop is an extremely effective engagement strategy. The prospect of earning the final item of a set can motivate users to perform even the most mundane of tasks, several times over. Completionism can be rewarding in a literal sense (with further items) or simply by feeding back into a sense of achievement and prestige. Both keep users on board when boredom or lack of incentive could otherwise lead to abandonment.

Collection/Reward mechanic in 4 Pics 1 Word


As we can see from the examples cited above, it is not anything exclusive to the gaming industry that makes games so successful. In fact, it is game developers’ understanding of ubiquitous and overlapping human behaviors that keeps users engaged in the long term. People of all industries can utilize these principles to improve their own customer engagement. In tech, gamification is a synonym for optimization.

If you have any questions, about the contents of this piece or anything else, contact us at [email protected] and we’ll connect you to the relevant person.

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