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Gamification, beyond fancy trophies

When most people hear the term gamification, what come to their minds are probably colourful trophies with fancy icons. This is a rather superficial view that completely overlooks an array of opportunities within the subject.

It is also common that people think gamification will turn something commonplace into a fun game (given the term it is completely understandable), but even that is missing the point.


 Trophies are at the most a tactical implementation of gamification; they are not even necessary to use at all. The idea is not that things like filling timesheets shall suddenly become “fun as a video game”; it is about using techniques from video games to encourage certain behaviour.

 In this post I will highlight 3 techniques you can use in addition to handing out the “Poster of the Month” trophy.

1. Creating habits

Some games are incredibly proficient in establishing habits and thereby building loyalty. The best example is Animal Crossing, Nintendo’s life simulator, where the player does things like planting trees, weeding, digging for fossils and picking seashells. By simply offering X number of fossils per day or N amount of shells, a rhythm is created where the player will return daily for a short round of fossil hunt or a little promenade by the beach.

As the months go, a player spends 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there. Before you know it, several hundred hours have been spent on the game.

2. Chain reactions

Chain reactions are something of a staple in action-puzzle games. Virtually all of King’s most addictive games have it. One move leads to a landslide of points, and the player can sit back and watch colourful explosions and hear happy tunes stacked on each other.

3. Mega Points

What would you choose, 1 point or 1 000 points? The last time I played pinball, I got 10 000 points by just shooting the ball. If you connect this with the fact that the points do not exist, and that it costs nothing extra to give someone 10 000 points instead of 1, it becomes quite obvious that it is a good idea to reward people abundantly for doing what we want them to do.


Here we have, quite deliberately, come to a very important part of gamification. Without a clear idea of what we want our users to do gamification is pointless.

Tactics without strategy is only the noise before defeat, as Tsun Tzu said


Gamification is never more than a tactic you can use to achieve an overarching strategic goal.

To take a concrete example:

A while ago, some students at Cornell University established something many of us have long suspected. With the help of smart algorithms and Amazon’s Virtual Mechanical Turk they ploughed through millions of entries on forums where visitors were allowed to vote up or down comments. The idea with such voting is that bad comments will be voted down and disappear while the good ones are lifted. The overall objective is, hopefully, to improve the quality of comments. However, the results of the study showed that:

  • Negative feedback led to poorer and MORE posts on forums.
  • Positive feedback had no apparent effect on either the quality or quantity.
  • Those who received no feedback at all left the forums in significantly greater extent than those who received feedback.

The actual effects of voting on comments were in other words the exact opposite of what was sought. The quality was lowered.

In the Crowd-learning and Crowd-innovation method that Edumanity uses, feedback is an important part of how ideas get developed and improved. If one accepts the conclusion of the survey hereinabove, it is important to encourage feedback and ensure that it is not perceived as negative.

With that in mind, one can quite easily find uses for the gamification techniques I started with. Here are three quick examples.

  1. Give plenty of points to those who leave feedback, regardless of whether the feedback leads to an idea refined or not. That is, even a short feedback such as “cool idea” has a value.
  2. Establish habits by releasing new ideas at the same time (or times) each day to create a rhythm.
  3. Create chain reactions by giving bonus points every time a feedback leads to further development of an idea or an idea passing a milestone.

There you go, not a trophy in sight as far as the eye can see but plenty of techniques borrowed from the gaming world to get some traction on something that is important to the overall strategy. Then, one should naturally connect points to various leaderboards with prizes for those who rank the highest.


Christopher M. Yi Fredriksson

Concept Developer at 24HR Malmö