What is Gamification?

Gamification is all about motivating the right behaviour through structured play. Successful gamification needs to be a perfect balance of fun and purpose, this inspires participants to complete ordinary tasks to achieve extraordinary results.

Gamification is the process of applying game-related elements and mechanics to non-game contexts and environments.

The application of gamification uses game design and principles to captivate, engage and motivate participants to achieve specific goals. Forward-thinking businesses are using gamification to educate students, incentivise consumers and stimulate employees. Gamification is wide-spread and is transforming our daily lives, we now learn, work, buy, create and think with the help of gamified tactics.

There's a long list of reasons why we use gamification in almost every industry, it applications can implemented at any level of business to serve all kinds of purposes. The 5 main reasons we use gamification is to motivate, engage, challenge, relate and reward.

The 5 main reasons why we use gamification today: motivate, engage, challenge, relate and reward.

Terminology - the difference between:

Gamification vs. Serious games

Serious games also known as applied games are games or game-like systems built with game technology and design principles for a purpose other than pure entertainment. Serious games have added intrinsic value embedded within it’s in-game mechanics, narrative and design. This is what sets them apart from commercial, entertainment video games.

Whilst both gamification and serious games are used to fuel player motivation, the main difference between the two is their structure. Gamification only integrates game-like mechanics like leaderboards, badges and quests into projects whilst serious games are structured as full-scale games that emphasise a serious outcome.

It’s important to note that serious games and gamification are two different concepts and should not be used interchangeably.

I've written a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about serious games, read it here!

Gamification vs. Game-based learning

Game-based learning (GBL) is training that uses elements of a game to teach curriculum in order to acheive learning outcome. GBL is all about transforming the educational objectives into a fun experience.

As previousy mentioned Gamification relies on techniques like points, leaderboards and rewards to drive learning outcomes in non-game contexts.

The fundamental difference between gamification and GBL is the level of integration of game mechanics with educational content. Games elements and educational objectives are balanced in game-based learning, they're fully integrated which usually qualifies GBL to assess the player and grade them on their performance. Whilst gamification is like using only parts of a game, it's implemented to motivate and reward players for completing outcomes.

Gamification vs. Game-based learning

History of gamification

Despite being first coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, the term "gamification" gained widespread usage in 2010, in a more specific sense referring to the incorporation of social/reward aspects of games into software.

Due to the increasing importance of engagement, more research is being poured into learning the ins and outs of gamification and its many applications. Throughout history, gamification has been used to incentivise and reward users in unique ways, it's fascinating to watch it explode in popularity and penetrate new markets.

Here's a brief timeline of the history of gamification spanning the last 50 years:


  • 1970 - Researcher Clark C. Abt wrote his book 'Serious Games', he explores the ways in which games can be used to instruct and inform as well as provide pleasure.
  • 1973 - Hailed as the grandfather of gamfication, Charles Coonradt published 'The Game of Work'. Coonradt noticed the decline of productivity in the US and suggested fun-and-games might be the answer to the problem of employee engagement.
  • 1978 - MUD1 is created by Roy Trubshaw at Essex University. It was the first multi-user Dungeon game, using a text-based interface MUD1 was the beginning of social online gaming.


  • 1981 - AAdvantage, the world’s first frequent flier programme is released by American Airlines. The initiative sought to encourage customer loyalty by offering rewards for frequent patronage
  • 1982 - Organisational theorist Thomas W. Malone writes the article 'What Makes Things Fun to Learn: A Study of Intrinsically Motivating Computer Games'.
  • 1983 - Two brands lay claim to firsts involving frequency programs in the hotel industry. Holiday Inn launched its program in February 1983, followed by Marriott in November of the same year.


  • 1996 - Richard Bartle (MUD1 developer) defines 4 gamer types based on how different people approach playing a game. This model would go on to become a cornerstone of many gamification initiatives.
  • 1999 - More and more people start to recognise the power of ‘fun’. Stephen W. Draper releases a paper suggesting that user enjoyment should be a major requirement of all software design.
  • 1999 - LeapFrog Enterprises introduced the LeapPad, which combined an interactive book with a cartridge and allowed kids to play games and interact with a paper-based book.
In 1996 Richard Bartle defines 4 player types, killers, achievers, socialisers and explorers. The classification originally described players of multiplayer online games, though today it also refers to players of single-player video games.


  • 2002 - Nick Pelling coins the term gamification
  • 2005 - Rajat Paharia founded Bunchball, a platform designed to boost engagement on websites by adding a layer of game mechanics.  It would be another 3 years before they adopt the term ‘gamification’
  • 2008 - Gamification Co. holds the first Gamification Summit in San Francisco.


  • 2012 - 45,000 people enroll in Professor Kevin Werbach's online gamification course.
  • 2014 - 9/10 companies report their gamification efforts are successful.
  • 2016 - Pokemon Go is one of the most successful applications of gamification with over 800 million downloads.

Gamification in 2020: What is gamification going to look like in the future?

Despite academics arguing that gamification has already reached its peak in effectiveness, game developers like Chaos Theory are still exploring the incredible potential gamification can have across a myriad of industries. We've taken inspiration from modern video game design and come up with gamification trends we believe will shape the future of learning and training in the workplace.

Read my Medium article on 6 Gamification Trends that will Transform Training in 2020 & Beyond

5 Types of Gamification Techniques

Over the last two decade gamification techniques have evolved in complexity, with organisations seeking to use gamification to meet any number of business

Gamfication has also made massive strides in the field of personal development, apps that focus on fitness, productivity, time management, and even relaxation have revolutionised the people's lifestyles.

According to a study by TalentLMS, here’s a list of the most common gamified elements staff come across, in order of popularity:

  • 71% mention badges as the most common gamification element.
  • 59% say they’re granted points by an app or software at work.
  • 56% are awarded virtual or physical rewards for accomplishments.
  • 51% put leaderboards fourth.
  • 47% work with levels.
Game & game-like systems categorised by design intent, showing the differences between gameful design, gamification, serious games, and (commercial) games
Here are 5 examples of gamification commonly used across online courses, mobile apps, brand activations and computer programs:


If you're looking to promote healthy competition amongst your players, leaderboards are the ideal choice for motivating competitive players.

Leaderboards are a game element that shows where players are ranked in the system.

There are individualised leaderboards that motivate people to reach their own goals and compete with other individuals, whilst team leaderboards rely on team effort.

Leaderboards are used in gamified systems to:

  • Encourage healthy competition
  • Celebrate the top players and motivate the rest to catch up in rank
  • Satisfy the Achiever and Killer player types
Leaderboards for mobile apps: M&M's: Take Home the Fun (2019), Rash Decisions (2018) and Bleached Az (2019)

Badges & Achievements

The best thing about badges and achievements is that they appeal to all player types.

They are types of in-game rewards within gamified systems that provide the participant with a sense of satisfaction and completion.

Badges act as a simultaneous goal-setting and reward mechanic which drives players to explore and pursue goals. The prospect of receiving badges and achievements keeps players coming back for more and in turn incentivises the right behaviour.

Badges and achievements are used in gamified systems to:

  • Tap into the players extrinsic motivation
  • Motivate the Achiever and Explorer player types
  • Encourage goal-setting
  • Boost replayability
Intrinsic Motivation vs Extrinsic Motivation

Levels & Progression

You can excite your players by implementing well-designed levels that progresses them through the game.

The benefits of a progression system are that you are offering your players a framework and a context for placing and creating long-term goals. Goals that you can set for them, but also ones that they can develop themselves while going through the experience.

Levels are used in gamified systems to:

  • Challenge players
  • Motivate the Achiever and Explorer player types
  • Promote goal-setting
  • Teach skills at a suitable pace
Levels for mobile apps: Rainbow Reef (2018), Duolingo (2011), Owls and Vowels (2017)


Looking to reward your players with exciting and exclusive content? Unlockables are the ultimate motivator in gamification experiences.

Unlockable content refers to items, characters, levels, that are not accessible within a game unless an action is performed or a goal is reached by the player to gain access to it.

Mostly seen as a little bit of extra fun in commercial video games, unlockables can be used in gamification to drive replayability and increase player retention.

Unlockable content is used in gamified systems to:

  • Motivate players to unlock content that will enhance their gameplay
  • Excite the Explorer player types
Unlockable Content: Lifty (2019), Fortnite (2017) and Mario Party (2018)

Virtual Economy

A game economy is a virtual economy that configures all game loops in the game (currencies, time loops, XP, levels, pricing, etc.). Different game economies will structure different players' behaviors within the same game.

Virtual economy is used in gamified systems to:

  • Provide value to the experiences
  • Motivate participants to play until they earn enough
  • Excite all player types
Virtual economy/stories/currencies for mobile apps: Owls and Vowels (2017), Rainbow Reef (2018), Lifty (2019)

How can gamification help you?

Whether it's through exercising with the help of an app, learning a language or participating in a social cause, gamifcation has proven to be the most effective approach to captivate wide range of audiences. Some most innovative digital solutions today are thanks to the advancements in gamification techniques and modern technology.

Need to run your ideas with a gamification expert? I'm here to listen!

Book in a risk-free chat with myself and I can show you how you can smash your goals with gamification today!


Blog Resources

A Brief History of Gamification: The Infographic

A Brief History on Gamification

The History of Gamification: From the very beginning to right now

The History of Gamification - Journey from 1896 to the 21st Century

Bartle taxonomy of player types

Game-Based Learning Vs. Gamification: Do You Know The Difference?

The power of progression in gaming & gamification