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  • Writer's pictureMarcilio Bezerra

The Dos and Don'ts of Gamification

Updated: Jan 24

Gamification Do and Don't

The term “gamification” refers to the increasingly popular trend where game-based elements are applied to non-game contexts to engage and motivate users. This has proven so successful that countless businesses have already begun incorporating its techniques into their digital products and services.

However, not all of them have managed to get it right. Unfortunately, many organizations out there, despite their best efforts, have failed in implementing gamification.

But how exactly can gamification be done correctly?

1. DO understand what behaviors you want to drive

Adding game elements in a non-game product doesn’t guarantee a company’s goals will be immediately achieved. Companies must align their gamification strategies with their objectives, which can only be done if the brand understands what user behaviors they want to drive.

For instance, if the company’s goal is to keep people coming back and logging onto their website, they might consider giving points or a reward to those who do so. This leaves the customer with a positive and accomplished feeling that they’ll soon associate with the brand’s product or service.

2. DON’T add gamification for the sake of it

Gamification isn’t restricted to a particular industry. This fact, combined with its incredible benefits, makes it easy to see why more and more companies are seeking to incorporate its techniques into their digital products. This doesn’t always mean that their business will be well-suited for it, though.


Unfortunately, several brands are falling into the trap of including gamification strategies simply for the sake of it; however, every element – whether it be points or badges – should be meaningful. Besides providing value to the end-user, it should also drive their behavior, pushing them to perform whatever action the company wants to encourage.

3. DO choose appropriate game elements

There are countless gamification techniques to choose from; however, some are more appropriate for certain industries and objectives than others. For instance, while loyalty programs and reward cards help restaurants increase their customer base, they are far from helpful for digital products geared towards e-learning.

Rather than think about what game elements are prevalent, brands should instead consider which ones are relevant to the industry they’re in and the goals they wish to achieve. Keeping this in mind while conceptualizing the gamification program will help prevent a significant mismatch between the design and intended purpose.

4. DON’T rely too much on leaderboards

As one of the most popular game elements in the industry, leaderboards are used by various brands, from language learning mobile apps to platforms focused on health and fitness. This is undoubtedly an effective technique, but implementing it wrong can backfire, causing an unhealthy focus on competition and demotivating those who perceive themselves as “weak.”

To use leaderboards correctly, companies must have a comprehensive understanding of who their users are, which will then help them determine whether this game element will meet their needs. If not, they should consider alternative strategies that mimic its principles without unfairly elevating or shaming anybody. 

5. DO pay attention to negative consequences

Gamification involves incentivizing or rewarding a particular act, which is why its techniques can change an individual’s real-life behavior. However, this can sometimes affect them negatively, so keeping an eye out for these unintended consequences is a must. For instance, users may try to cheat or game the system to obtain more points. There’s also a risk of them becoming addicted to receiving rewards, which could lead to excessive and even addictive behavior.

This explains why numerous gamification techniques involve stop points, which have proven instrumental in mitigating unintended negative consequences. An example of this would be the “Hearts” system implemented by Duolingo to pace the entire learning process.

6. DON’T over-complicate things

With all the different game elements available at their fingertips, brands are often tempted to create elaborate designs filled with various badges, dimensions, and even customizable avatars. However, these bells and whistles aren’t necessary for gamification to fulfill its purpose.

“If you can explain your mechanics as simple actions or rules with defined outcomes, then perhaps you will see delight or blissful productivity as a consequence,” explained game designer and TechCrunch contributor Tadhg Kelly. “If you can’t, all the levels and badges in the world won’t save you.”

7. DO measure the game element’s effects

Contrary to a widely held belief, incorporating gamification techniques into a non-game product doesn’t stop at designing and implementing the elements. Instead, these, along with their effects on the user’s actions, must be tracked and analyzed to gauge how successful they were in changing their behavior.

To measure the effectiveness of a gamification program, businesses must consider its levels of adoption, engagement, and productivity. This will give them insight into which elements are working and which ones fail to produce the intended behaviors, ultimately allowing them to improve the system.

8. DON’T introduce too many rewards

 For many companies, rewards are the focal point of their gamification program. While this element is undoubtedly a tremendous positive motivator that can lead to accomplishments, too much of it can backfire and result in negative consequences. More specifically, if users are rewarded for every “good” action they do, then the entire system becomes monotonous, resulting in them losing interest.

Prevent this by simplifying the entire system – not every behavior has to be rewarded. Sometimes, choosing a mere two or three can increase the game element’s chances of success.

9. DO set a time range for the intended behavioral change

The success of a gamification program hinges on its projected duration. For instance, a marketing campaign that lasts a few months will need different game elements than a program geared towards increasing employee participation at a professional conference.

Likewise, gamifying customer loyalty that will last for many years is significantly different from attempting to encourage short-term changes in their behavior.

Besides helping companies identify the most appropriate game elements, a clearly defined time range will also help them know which factors need to be measured and analyzed. This will lead to accomplishing their goals much faster.

10. DON’T ignore social integration

Our relationships with others drive our behavior, making it wrong to focus solely on the individual when designing a gamification program. Integrating social components into the game elements becomes vitally important. In addition to increasing user engagement levels, it will also help facilitate changes in their action.

As inherently social creatures, people feel their best whenever an opportunity to show off their accomplishments presents itself. They also thrive on being part of a community, regardless of its size. Companies shouldn’t ignore the value that social integration brings in a gamification program. 

Final Thoughts

All these factors must be considered when designing a gamification program, no matter what kind of product it is. Companies need to know how to make use of game elements correctly and what pitfalls to avoid.

Gamification Engagement Strategy Design

Marcílio Bezerra

CDO, Lead Gamification Architect



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