Have you ever tried to set your own record time while working on a boring task? Tried to beat your previous commute time? Do more in a half-an-hour session, or reward yourself after finishing a project?
While even these simple ways of using gamification in life can bring tangible results, professional gamified products can go much further.
After suffering a debilitating concussion in 2009, game designer Jane McGonigal was desperately striving to get her normal life back. She couldn’t think clearly. Couldn’t work, or even get out of bed. This might have lasted forever if not for a magic potion she “cooked up” on her own – a resilience-building game. Today, SuperBetter has been played by more than half a million people.
What is gamification?
Gamification means that you turn a task into a game to motivate yourself to finish it. In other words, you apply the fun and addictive elements developed by game designers to real-world activities.
Take, for instance, learning a foreign language. With a gamified app like MindSnacks or DuoLingo giving you points and taking you to new levels depending on your learning progress, you may be able to tackle the motivation crisis that’s so typical when it comes to improving one’s command of a foreign language.
Why and how does it work?
As you get points and other rewards, achieve new levels with new challenges, see your name on a scoreboard, and explore new quests, your brain becomes excited and releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway (the reward pathway – highlighted in dark blue), which creates higher motivation and makes us chase after a reward.
In his book Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, one of the world’s most known gamification experts, Yu-kai Chou, points out the following factors (“core drives”) that make games and gamified tasks incredibly attractive.
- Epic meaning and calling.
Games make you believe you’re taking part in something bigger than yourself by giving you a mission (to save the world, for instance).
- Development and accomplishment.
We’re wired to love a challenge. If the challenge is followed by a reward, it generates a sense of accomplishment that is often missing in many “real life” tasks. The sense of getting closer to your goal and achieving it can be provided by breaking your challenge into stages and showing your progress (points, gems, levels and more).
- Empowerment of creativity and feedback.
As creative beings, humans are inspired by chances to bring their imagination to life. One of the simplest examples can be a variety of customizable visual themes in a game.
- Ownership and possession.
Virtual goods and money appeal to our intrinsic desire to accumulate wealth.
- Social influence and relatedness or envy.
Human beings have a need to connect and compare themselves with others. Games appeal to this need by, for example, allowing players to invite friends, create group quests, use mentors, and to earn social treasures.
- Scarcity and impatience.
We want things we can’t have. We’re wired to intuitively seek anything that is scarce or fading in availability.
- Unpredictability and curiosity.
Variable rewards motivate a player to move forward and seek new rewards, mostly to satisfy her curiosity (this is exactly how slot machine gambling works).
One more way to appeal to this drive is by using the so-called Glowing Choice technique. Whenever a player may feel doubt about the next Desired Action, a certain character or object is highlighted with a glowing exclamation point or question mark, so as to make the player continue.
- Loss and avoidance.
Dying, injuring your character, losing coins or the number of lives are some of the ways to appeal to a player’s fear of loss.
Become the game master of your life
Have you ever felt that whatever hard you try, you can’t get closer to your personal goals? Have you ever longed for a motivational boost while performing a routine task? For inspiration and support from your friends?
Even if you have a (generally) creative job, parts of it can be snooze-inspiring. Here are a few ways to turn even the most boring things in your life into a game.
Gamify your life without special apps
- Attach rewards to your to-do list
Whenever you tick an item off a checklist, your brain gets a dose of dopamine. To get more of this mechanism, indulge yourself with custom rewards for fulfilling one or several tasks. For instance, reward yourself with an additional break, a walk or a movie after performing five routine tasks on your to-do list.
- Use surprise rewards
Write down rewards on pieces of paper, then use dice to choose a reward – whether it is the completion of an art project or a shopping trip – whenever you tick off a major task from your to-do list.
- Engage in time-based challenges
One of the most popular techniques of this type is the Pomodoro technique, which involves breaking your working time into smaller sessions. Try comparing the results of each session (for instance, the number of pages read or the length of the text written). In this way, you start competing with yourself. Setting a time limit is a proven way to help your mind achieve the state of flow (or, at least, do the daily household chores faster).
- Make a deal with your friend
Add a social accountability aspect. For instance, you may share with each other a list of five major tasks you want to accomplish by 7 pm (from morning exercises to getting groceries or paying electricity bills). At 7 pm, you exchange messages and say whether there’s anything you’ve not finished. For every unfinished task your friend is punished (with five pull-ups, for instance).
Top-10 gamified personal productivity apps
There are a lot of productivity apps, but only a few consistently use gamification. Here’s a list of mobile apps specially designed to boost your performance and mood and keep you motivated and productive through the use of game mechanisms.
Do It Now (RPG To-Do List)
The structure of the task planner resembles that of a classic RPG. Having created your virtual character, you make a list of the most boring tasks and move forward to performing them in real life. While doing so, you upgrade your virtual character’s skills and features, and level up. In this way, the app helps you to track your real-life progress.
Also, after finishing a task on your list, you get some “gold,” which can be used to buy rewards (for instance, “Watch a movie”).
Habitica/HabitRPG (Boosts General Productivity)
A player is provided with a task system including Habits (things you wish to do more often or stop doing), Dailies (daily goals), and To-Dos (tasks that only need to be done once). But, more importantly, the process of fulfilling your tasks is turned into an addictive game, as it lets you level up your custom avatar, earn a mount for your character or some gold you can spend on new equipment, abilities or custom rewards.
Whenever you miss doing a task, you are penalized (for instance, by a reduction in your character’s health). The app lets you invite friends to battle monsters together.
The downside of Habitica is that it doesn’t let you break a challenge into smaller stages, so it’s not suitable for larger projects.
MindSnacks (Language Learning Apps)
Each of the seven languages included in MindSnacks is provided with a series of games. For instance, the Galactic game helps you master the ever-important usage of tones within the Mandarin dialect. Even boring tasks such as practicing verb conjugations and learning word genders in German are turned into a game.
In another popular language learning app, DuoLingo, you get points and lose a life depending on your progress, but this app is not as heavily gamified as MindSnacks.
SuperBetter (App for Tracking a Single Difficult Goal)
SuperBetter is designed to help people fight depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress. The range of potential goals is very diverse, from improving a skill to strengthening a relationship. The app may be useful when you’re looking for a new job, going through a divorce, or surviving a loss of a loved one.
SuperBetter teaches a player to stay positive and resilient in spite of any obstacle. There is a choice of pre-loaded adventures, and the opportunity to add your own goals. The obstacles you may meet in real life are visualized in the form of “bad guys,” while your daily efforts take the form of quests, for which you get rewards and power-ups.
There is a social component that enables you to invite your friends, “Allies,” who can cheer you on through the built-in comment feature.
Fitocracy (Workout Fitness Log)
You get points and badges for getting fit, exercising, and paying attention to what you eat. Fitocracy use a system of levels and improves your status as you reach your real-life fitness goals. In addition to this, you’re immersed in the community of like-minded people.
One more thing often used by those who decide to lead a healthier lifestyle is an activity tracker, a wearable technology device that tracks one’s sleep, the number of steps walked and records other fitness-related data. The degree of gamification varies by brand (Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Basis Watch). For instance, Nike+ FuelBand (which is, by the way, out of production) gave you points.
Some studies, though, claim people who use activity trackers actually lose weight more slowly than those who don’t use them.
This app, based on the Pomodoro technique, aims at helping you concentrate while working. It breaks working sessions into smaller sprints and lets you have a short break at the end of each sprint. Gamification is used in the way your statistics are displayed: the system gives you a rank (how about “Unrepentant Slacker,” to start with?) and sends humorous messages.
LifeRPG (Task List Based on a Mission-Oriented Approach)
Having chosen your goals (missions), you then break them down into smaller sub-missions and create custom rewards. You also have a chance to assign skills to your mission and watch them level up. You can sort missions by your energy level, date or even search for the plan you’ve most or least recently worked on.
EpicWin (RPG-Style To-Do List)
One more to-do list performed in the RPG style. With every task that you tick off your list, your virtual character gets better. You improve stats, gain coins, and more from one level to another.
You can schedule repeated tasks and assign events to specific days, use reminders or just set the most difficult tasks to “someday.”
Life Strategy (Life Managing App)
The app puts the emphasis on life management. Its mission is to help the player answer the question “Who Am I?” and learn how each task he fulfills affects his personal growth.
The player can set goals in different areas of life and set deadlines for them. In addition to a built-in task manager and a habit-builder, Life Strategy suggests useful categories such as “Life lessons” so that the user can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Thirty – Get Inspired (Habit-Building App)
Thirty helps you to keep trying new things, build good habits or break bad ones. Having set a goal (a month without sugar, for instance), you create a 30-day challenge within the app and record your success every day. While doing so, you connect with your friends by
- sharing with them whether you’ve actually completed your daily challenge
- taking a photo as evidence or recording a video with all the details
How can a business benefit from gamification?
Up to a 40% improvement in employees’ learning productivity, new customers, easier and fun ways of growing leaders are just a few possible outcomes of gamification. The ways a business may use gamification vary depending on the type and size of the company.
- Smaller startups, for instance, may be interested in product gamification. This means that new features are added to the product to make using it addictive. As the result, customers want to keep playing.
For instance, as an app developer, you may want to add badges, points, or other rewards to make the user’s experience more fun. Nike+FuelBand’s point system is an example of product gamification.
- So-called marketing gamification typically attracts mid-size companies. Gamified experiences are developed for potential new clients or to increase loyalty among existing clients. The experiences make them actively engage with the brand or its products.
Take, for instance, the Starbucks Reward Card, which enables you to collect stars and later exchange them for free cups of coffee and other gifts.
A classic example of marketing gamification is the Coca-Cola’s Chock! Chock! Chock! campaign. In Hong Kong, young people who downloaded a free Coca-Cola app could win discounts and prizes by shaking their phones in front of the TV when the brand’s spot is broadcast. After just one day, the Chock app hit the number-one download spot in China. A month later, it had been downloaded 380,007 times.
- Larger companies typically put an emphasis on workplace gamification.
Some of the possible benefits are associated with creating fun and effortless ways of training employees and/or helping them grow into leaders. One examples of such a game is Fligby. The list of companies using it includes Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Tesa, UniCredit Group, and Otpband.
Fligby is a simulation of a small company. A player becomes the General Manager of a vineyard in California called “Turul Winery.” Her aim is to turn it into a highly profitable winery and a good place to work. Along the way, the player goes through a number of sensitive situations and answers 150 questions. When in doubt, she may turn to an online library containing a lot of background material.
Another popular goal in workplace gamification is to motivate employees to use certain technologies or tools.The Verint company, which specializes in actionable intelligence solutions, used gamification to encourage salespeople to leverage the company’s CRM system, make timely entries, and on the whole, execute tasks in the CRM system more consistently. As a result, the three behavioral factors most relevant for the project grew by 300% on average, so it was impossible to deny that desirable changes in employee behavior had taken place.
Microsoft used workplace gamification for its Consumer Support Services, which included its global network of support centers and thousands of agents. The multi-faceted project had several goals, from boosting agents’ performance and business outcomes to providing better training and knowledge retention.
What other aims do companies pursue with gamification? Plenty – such as getting more customers to interact with their website or download their content, enhancing employee loyalty and creating close-knit teams, motivating employees to perform monotonous routines, improving employee health, reducing absenteeism, health or travel costs and more.
It goes without saying that modern gamification platforms still have certain constraints. For instance, you can easily cheat in many of them. You can’t rely on them to develop your social skills, your ability to use gestures or body language in an effective way, which can be crucial in real-life tasks.
Yet, there is every possibility that a new generation of gamified productivity apps capable of solving such issues will appear soon. The gamification landscape keeps changing. Stay tuned!