Gamification of Apps for User Engagement

Gamification of Apps for User Engagement

It doesn’t come as a surprise that most people love playing games. Whether it is a small child or a serious adult, the idea of getting a reward is something that all of us are instinctively attracted to. Besides, if you take a look at the number of apps the current market is offering, it is obvious why app designers and developers are trying to bring in something exciting that will provoke the emotions of users while building an app. To stay competitive in an overflowing market, the app should not only perform its functions at its core, but it should also give the users an unforgettable and pleasant experience that will make them want to open the app again and again. Gamification is the add-on that helps to create such an experience. In this article, we will explore what gamification is and how it is employed in modern development companies.

What is gamification?

Playing a game is easy – you do some actions to get the reward or move to the next level. Gamification in app development is a process when one brings game principles and ideas into non-game environments. These principles then make users feel joy and satisfaction because they have been rewarded for something. On the cognitive level, these feelings arise in users when a particular app increases their engagement and eventually the desire to use the application on a regular basis. In other words, the goal of gamification is to engage with people and inspire them to collaborate, share and interact.

In addition, a gamification is an effective tool usually applied to solve certain problems. Here’s a list of some issues where gamification can come in handy:

  • Learner engagement in workplace training
  • Sales team performance
  • Performance at the gym
  • Organizational productivity
  • Knowledge retention
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Recruitment issues
  • Customer retention

Core drives in gamification

A leading gamification expert Yu-kai Chou is convinced that real gamification takes place when we tap into our core human drives. He believes that the latter are key to bringing “fun & engagement” into almost any task. These 8 universal core drives include:

  1. Meaning – the desire to feel that our actions have a purpose;
  2. Accomplishment – the drive to achieve and overcome challenges;
  3. Empowerment – the desire to choose one’s own direction and try a variety of solutions to a problem;
  4. Ownership – the desire to own things and have possession;
  5. Social Influence – the drive to interact with, help, learn from, and compete with others;
  6. Scarcity – the drive of wanting things you can’t have;
  7. Unpredictability – the drive of wanting to know what will happen next;
  8. Avoidance – the drive to avoid pain or negative consequences.

The application that contains these drives in its gamified parts has more chances to be a top choice of the users. Obviously, the business owners might not be aware of all the nuances of gamification processes; thus, it is better to delegate this type of work to a professional team.

How does gamification work?

Gamification works by giving users concrete directives and feedback with the help of game mechanics and principles. Added to the apps, they help to lead users to the desired results and hence to accomplish business goals and objectives.

A comprehensive gamification experience taps into a participant’s emotions and feelings. It shows off the best activities an audience can perform that make an impact on mutually shared goals. As employees or customers interact with a gamified app, they receive instant feedback on performance and are guided through the next steps towards new achievements.

How to gamify an app

The app gamification consists of creating the design elements associated with games and building a gamified workflow of the app itself. Let’s examine these two components separately.

Design elements in gamification

The typical design elements used in gamified interfaces are the following:

  • Badges. These are a visual representation of users’ achievements, which indicate their performance within the app. For example, some language learning apps introduce badges based on the tasks that the user has completed in the app.
  • Levels. These are the typical parts of the game world. With each level, the complexity of the game increases, motivating the user to get to the next level.
  • Performance charts. These graphs show all the user’s progress throughout the app usage. This is a great indicator showing how one performed in comparison with their previous results.
  • Points. These are basic rewards that the users get for their accomplishments as they progress within the game.  
  • Scoreboards. These are competition lists with player rankings that help to define who performs better. In other words, the scoreboard shows the performance in relation to the performance of others. 
  • In-game currency. This is the means of “payment” inside the app. The user might get the coins as a reward for some accomplishments that could be spent for in-app benefits.

One can add these elements with specialized gamification software: Amazon GameCircle, Apple’s Game Center, or Google Game Services. But it is better to entrust this work to mobile app gamification specialists to ensure the most efficient outcomes.

Gamified workflow

In addition to all design elements that bring gamification to the mobile app, one should also think about the gamified flow for the users inside the app. Here’s how it can be achieved:

  • Remember about the problem that needs to be solved with gamification. Users will only use your app if it helps to solve the issue they come with. If the process of settling this problem is gamified, it will make the app even better, the conversion will be higher, and the users will become more satisfied. Don’t forget to align the internal flows with the business goals.
  • Add social elements. People are social creatures. We need to be a part of the community to feel happy. Use this feature and make your users engage with each other inside the app. The gamified app should be designed in a way that encourages and rewards social networking.
  • Simpler is better. Gamification is all about fun and simplicity so that the user intuitively understands at which stage they currently are and what they should do next. Don’t make things complicated. The task here is to walk the user through each step smoothly and transparently. 
  • Give rewards for the small achievements. Instead of promising one “fat” reward at the end, break it down into smaller chunks and offer small rewards upon the completion of each part. It increases user satisfaction and makes your app benefit from it.

Together these two components form a solid basis for app gamification. It’s better to delegate such types of projects to the teams that provide game development services since they know all the ins and outs of how to make users attracted to the app by adding game elements.

Gamification examples in mobile apps

Gamification is now added to many apps from various industry sectors such as e-learning, healthcare, productivity, finance among others. Let’s take a look at the examples of apps that have successfully implemented gamification for user engagement.

Gamification in education


Duolingo helps users learn a foreign language for free: German, Chinese, Italian, Korean, Spanish, and so many more. It has a set of gaming interactions that allow users to track their progress, get rewards for their achievement, and practice their language skills. Duolingo uses the following gamification features:

  • Internal currency — lingots — a user can earn them for completing various tasks inside the app.
  • Social interaction — a user can collaborate with friends invited via Facebook.
  • Competitiveness — a user can vote on the best translation provided by other users.
  • Badges – a user is rewarded for all achievements and gets a badge every time he or she has completed a particular task.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is an educational platform where users can learn almost everything ranging from math, coding to arts among other subjects for free. The majority of its lessons have an interactive form of communication with the user. Here’s how the app gamifies the learning process:

  • Skill tree. The subjects that you learn at Khan Academy are organized as a visual constellation, so the user can clearly see their learning path.
  • Badges. The app offers a huge selection of badges that are themed as planets and celestial bodies. There are the following categories: Meteorite, Moon, Earth, Sun, Black Hole, and Challenge Patches. Badges under each category have the corresponding funny names: Mad Scientist or Geek of the Week.
  • Progress dashboard and points. The app shows progress as a galactically themed achievement system and awards energy points for the completion of levels and getting badges. 


Tinycards is a gamified educational app that uses flashcards to help the user learn new things. It has a set of cards, and when you progress, you earn additional points. Playing exciting games, people can easily assess and track their results.

Gamification in productivity apps


Todoist is a productivity app that helps users to complete all types of tasks, from minor daily chores to major work projects. The app uses gamification to prompt users to fulfil their tasks in the following way:

  • Point-based reward system. For each completed task, the app rewards the user with karma points. There are even negative karma “rewards” for missed deadlines.
  • Levels. A certain number of karma points unlocks the next levels.
  • Social engagement features. Users can share their karma scores with their friends on social media.


Forest application uses tree planting as the key gamification concept. It helps you stay focused on your tasks without distractions. While you are working on a task, you “plant a seed” that may grow into a mighty tree. Or may not — if you interrupt the activity, the tree will wither. The more focused you are, the more trees you can grow, and eventually they can turn into a forest.

Challenge Timer

Challenge Timer uses the Pomodoro method, which breaks large projects into tiny parts encouraging users to finish tasks during a specific period. When they are completed, the task is ticked off as “achieved,” which gives the user a good feeling.

Gamification in healthcare apps


Fitbit is a wearable fitness tracker that is connected to an app. It has the following gamification features:

  • Badges. When the user completes a certain activity, e.g. walks a certain number of steps throughout the use of the app, they get a badge and are motivated to complete even more tasks to get more badges.
  • Social engagement. You can find your friends who are also using Fitbit and compete with them in various challenges.
  • Original challenges. With Fitbit, you can virtually walk around the city of your choice. In addition to a huge number of steps made per day the user also gets a chance to virtually explore the city he or she has never been to.


Fitocracy is a fitness app that uses gamification to motivate users to achieve their fitness goals. It accesses user health data and then creates customized workouts and nutrition plans. Using the app, people are constantly rewarded with points and badges for their achievements. In-app quests and competitions with friends are another great way to gain new users and keep them engaged.

Even with all the great examples above, this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the great gamification uses. Gamification is here to stay to change the world of mobile app development. However, it is important not to overdo it by adding too many game elements and thus disguising the real value of your product. Remember to keep the balance.

Disadvantages of gamification

Gamification is successful because it applies the same human psychology that causes people to enjoy winning and fear losing at games. However, it may also have some disadvantages.

Choosing the right game mechanisms and principles can be challenging. Since these are what users will focus on, it is important that the gamified elements of the app actually encourage the desired users’ behaviors. Otherwise, poorly designed gamification can distract users from real priorities. And if the business goal is not achieved, it results in the waste of time and money.

Besides, games can also be quite addictive. According to Statista, the global digital media market has consistently been growing in 2021, with gaming accounting for the biggest share of market revenues. It raises possible risks when using gamification for commercial purposes because gamification in apps can easily be seen as a manipulative or exploitative tool that can raise ethical issues in society.

Final thoughts

Gamification refers to the use of game elements in non-game settings with the aim to increase user engagement by turning a dull routine into a fun experience. It has already found its way in a wide variety of industries, such as productivity, healthcare, or education, and it seems to work perfectly because the human brain is constantly seeking new challenges.

The next few years promise huge advances in mobile technology, including the widespread availability of 5G in major urban areas. App creators should look for new ways to use this cutting-edge technology to gamify their app offerings. Vendors can  achieve their business goals more easily if they embrace gamification and find unique strategies of incorporating the play into their apps.