The term 'gamification' refers to taking game elements and applying them to non-game scenarios. When applied intentionally, it can be used to transform a business and make it a global phenomenon. It relies on very real and scientifically-proven methods of forming behaviours and has direct impact on people’s lives.

We all use heavily gamified products every day. It’s our social platforms, content experiences (eg. Netflix, Youtube) and online shopping. We spend a lot of time on these, according to Digital 2020, up to 7 hours a day on average. Beyond that, it will be any experience that involves points, badges and leaderboards. Our gyms and coffee shops are also applying gamification.

Like any other technology, gamification, is intention-neutral. We can use it for morally good things, evil things and neutral things, too. Most gamification we come in contact with today is pretty neutral. Just like in gambling, it’s a powerful toolkit to ‘hook’ people’s attention for some specific purpose. Typically to make money. Gamification makes social platforms money through directing our eyes at advertising. It makes Netflix money through making customers stay for longer. It makes Amazon money by suggesting new ways to spend your money, while making it all seem like a really urgent deal.

Introduction of small gamified behaviours can lead to huge impact and deploying gamification on millions of people comes with a big responsibility. That makes a lot of us uncomfortable as we don't look at consequences of gamification neraly enough, or at all.

If gamification is so powerufl at forming new behaviours, can you use it for good? If so, should you? You can absolutely use gamification for good, and if you have a product that intends to make your customers lives better, you definitely should. Here’s why:

Gamification is a baseline.

If your product or service requires user to pay any attention, and it most likely does, then you are competing for attention with other products. Your potential customers already use all of their 24 hours in the day. You don’t just compete with your direct competitors, but also with other things people spend time on. And they most likely spend time on heavily-gamified digital platforms, like YouTube, Facebook or Netflix.

It provides your customers with structure and guidance.

Whether it’s learning piano, a new language, regular yoga practice or taking better care of ourselves, there’s already many great gamified apps that provide the much needed structure and guidance for creating positive behaviours. Setting out on going through major changes can be daunting. Doing it with a professional can be expensive. A gamified app is in the middle.

It’s a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.

Through seeing what others are doing with this toolkit, we are only beginning to learn the full power of gamification. It’s immense.

A resource is only defined by our ability to use it. There are no resources without resourcefulness. – Paul Zane Pilzer

A gamified experience has the opportunity to help people stick with something for the long-term. Something they’ve always dreamed about, but didn’t know how to start. To learn a new language or skill. To drop habits that aren’t serving them. To transform their diet and health. That and many more things no-one has even thought of yet!

New mindset, new possibilities.

Now imagine all the new value that can be created when we shift the mindset from maximising our metrics, to maximising benefit to our customers’ lives.

Instead of thinking “what can I do, so that people stick around for two more minutes”, think “what can I do, so that I improve my customers’ lives even more?”. In the attention economy we equate time with value as a default. But is that always true? Sometimes value is in time not spent - ie. when we do something to save users time. To distinguish this, you have to really know where value lies in your product.

It’s a simple shift, and it’s absolutely fundamental to using gamification for good. It allows us to maximise value and create a win/win for both the business and the customer.

Getting started with gamification

Read up
There are many great intention-neutral resources about gamification. The best of them is Hooked by Nir Eyal, who is very aware of the power and potential side effects of using this toolkit. After that, I highly recommend Leyla Acaroglou’s Unschool course on using gamification for good.

Identify real value
Next, examine your product and really hone in on what exactly hooks people to use it or pay for it. The more you know, with more confidence, the better. If you don’t have a product yet, think about elements of your idea that are meant to provide value. You’ll need to test those and verify if they really provide as much value as you thought when you launch. Or is it more than you thought? Your ideas about what is ‘real value’ are the assumptions you’ll be testing and refining in stage

Build on real value through a structured process
Product success, like any success, is based largely on factors we don’t control. We can either resist or embrace this. If we resist it, we will focus on all of those things we can’t control. Market conditions, pandemics, competitors, Netflix releasing a new series and so on.

If we embrace it, we can focus on what we do control and what will have an impact on results. The more structured and rigorous we are, the less we leave to chance. Boundaries and structures free us up to be more creative and happier, especially when daunted by the size of our project. This ‘freedom within the structure’ is a foundation many creatives rely on throughout their careers. Self imposed deadlines or Dr. Seuss’ famous ‘use only 50 words to write a whole book’ challenge are just some of many examples.