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User Experience Report: Does The Application of Game Elements Result In Improved User Engagement?

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Whilst games have been around for Millennia (attested as early as 2600 BC), their mechanics have only recently been applied to non-gaming activities. The biggest reason for this is video games immense popularity across all age groups. Companies are curious whether the elements that make games fun or appealing (such as levelling up, rewards and leaderboards) can be applied to non-gaming applications, as well as increasing engagement

Gamification has real potential of improving user experience over numerous applications, but this has to be done with care.

Ender Wiggin facing the Battle Room in the movie ‘Ender’s Game’

For example, in Ender’s Game – a science-fiction classic recently turned into a movie – the main character ‘Ender’ gradually learns military strategies and tactics in order to defeat an alien invader through the use of gamification. Despite being fictitious, past military generals such as Napoléon Bonaparte were big fans of chess, which is of course a classic strategy game.

This begs the question; can gamification be applied to any type of application successfully? To find out, we’ve tested a number of different ‘gamified’ applications.

What is Gamification?

Gamification, simply put, refers to the addition of game mechanics to non-game applications. Usually this is aimed at increasing user engagement.

Several large companies (BadgeVille, Bunchball, BigDoor and Gigya) now offer gamification services to big brands and companies to increase customer loyalty or employee productivity. Pepsi for instance, made use of a social media platform created by Gigya to get people more excited about X-Factor in 2011. This platform had typical game features such as social ranking and caps in order to engage more users.

Pepsi Sound Off, a gamified social network developed by Gigya to promote‘The X Factor’ TV show.

Because gamification has the potential to make non-game applications fun and more engaging, its effect on user experience can be huge. It is for these reasons that we conducted a Usabilla Visual Survey to discover what the effects are on UX of a diverse group of gamified applications.

The Test Setup

For this study, we set up a Usabilla Visual Survey in which we showed pages of four different gamified websites, and two different gamified mobile applications to a group of 50 participants.

The applications we tested each covered a different type of activity:

  1. HabitRPG (Doing Chores) was created to make doing your chores more fun.
  2. Toshl (Personal Finance) helps you doing your finances by presenting your data in a playful manner.
  3. Duolingo (Learning a Language) teaches you a new language with the use of level progression and rewards
  4. Nike+ (Running) makes running more enjoyable by supplying you with fun statistics.
  5. Officevibe (Office Dynamics) spices up the office dynamics by introducing fun activities.
  6. Volkswagen SmileDrive (Driving) enhances your driving experience by recording the route you’ve taken and providing you with details about your driving.

Even though they all make use of gamification, the applications we tested look very different from each other.

We were interested whether participants would acknowledge that applying the game mechanics and features described above would make an activity more fun, or whether they would contribute to a more engaging user experience.

11 Questions were asked across these applications in order to get a full overview of how their gamification features helped, or inhibited, the user.

See below for our full report on Responsive Web Design, or download it here:


61% of participants were at least somewhat familiar with gamification

Most participants were rather well versed in gamification with 57% able to produce an example. Overall women were slightly more familiar with gamification than men.

People appreciate game elements (ie. Badges) when they are well designed

Participants praised the badges of Duolingo and Officevibe highly, because of appealing design and visuals. Other game mechanics, such as progress or experience bars were also praised when well designed.

People don’t appreciate game elements that are unrecognizable

Nike+ makes use of achievements (badges) that were ignored because people didn’t know their meaning. Volkswagen’s SmileDrive makes use of a ‘smilescore’, which was often interpreted as a score gained for driving with a smile (which it wasn’t of course).

The reason for implementing game mechanics needs to make sense

For example, Volkswagen’s SmileDrive didn’t appeal to participants because they didn’t understood how the inclusion of game elements enhanced their drive.

With the correct resources, it’s worth going the extra mile and incorporating more complex game elements, which require more time to develop

Some of the typical game mechanics (e.g. progression, leaderboards) that Nike+ employs appealed to our participants, but others were simply ignored. Zombies, Run! which is also a running application, creates an immersive story-driven application instead. This results in more motivated users via a different technique.

Apply social elements in addition to game mechanics to further increase UX

Duolingo offers the ability to let friends follow you so they can keep track of your progress in a way similar to Twitter or Facebook. This instantly appeals to people, because they want their friends to know how they are doing.

Gamification elements should be used in the correct context and add something

In Toshl, the application’s focus is on personal finance; but distracting placement of various visuals meant users were unable to perform even basic but crucial tasks.

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