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Gamifying Your App to Boost User Engagement

March 16, 2016


Engagement is key to user experience. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the extent of engagement is what makes or breaks an app. In turn, it also determines how popular, profitable, or well-accepted your app is going to be.

But let’s face it – people don’t enjoy every app out there, at least not for a prolonged period anyway. Even the thought of using an app about money management or exercising could make them choke on their morning espresso. But irrespective of how boring they sound, these apps do add value to their lives. You just have to find a way to make these things interesting. No matter what the core offering of your app is, you should be able to create excitement around it.

That’s where gamification comes in – to motivate your app users to engage with your app and earn rewards for accomplishing milestones. Now, wouldn’t it excite you if you got a badge every time you paid off a debt or cleared your loan? Wouldn’t it be a matter of pride if you could show off your rewards to your friends on losing 10 pounds?

The Science behind Gamification

Games are major dopamine releasers. Dopamine or the ‘happy hormone’ is a chemical released by neurons in our brain when we experience pleasure. Irrespective of the magnitude of that pleasure, dopamine is released when you are happy, excited, recognized, earn cash, get rewarded, and win something.

Anything that can trigger a sense of achievement in people is a good thing. Take competitions for example – it is basic human nature to compare ourselves with others. If we can beat someone’s score or outdo our opponents, it brings us satisfaction. Gamification works because it deploys elements that build our self esteem, that make us feel good about ourselves.

Bring Gamification into anything ordinary (a non-gaming app) and you have a way to make any experience pleasurable.

Boring becomes Better

Motivation to do “anything” centers around rewards, recognition, and a sense of achievement. That’s exactly what ‘Gamification’ intends to bring to app usage. Gamification is the idea of rewarding users with points, positions on a leaderboard, or some form of recognition to mark completed tasks or any form of engagement for a determined period of time.

Simple games like trivia challenges can boost user engagement. A travel app with a quiz asking its users to guess their celebrity’s favorite holiday destination will drive more people to use it. If you have a media app, you can generate a buzz by incorporating photos or even video challenges. Something as simple as – ‘Upload the funniest moment of your day and win a prize’ can make your users open your app more than twice a day.

Not just virtual rewards but you can even use real incentives like discounts and limited time offers to attract users. It serves the twin purpose of driving engagement and increasing revenue. An ecommerce app user can walk away with discount coupons (which can be redeemed on a purchase through your app) after virtually dressing up a doll. Boring becomes better with Gamification. If your app is remotely utilitarian or interesting, Gamification takes it even further.

Examples of Successfully Gamified Apps

Gamification not only increases re-engagement with existing users but also helps in attracting new ones. More and more people – old and young alike, are enjoying games and apps that provide a game-like experience. Gamification helps push engagement levels up. That’s very good for your app. Here are examples of a few gamified apps:

  • Starbucks – They gamified their mobile app to encourage people to buy more coffee and recorded a drastic increase in their earnings. The idea was simple – buy more coffee and earn more rewards to fill up your virtual coffee cup. This visual element of fun was enough to motivate people to accomplish the goal.
  • Nike – Exercising can be boring but Nike decided to make it fun and worth their while by gamifying their app. If the user shirks off his inertia and logs his physical activity, he earns what they call ‘NikeFuel.’ The more the fuel, the better their chances of earning trophies and surprise gifts. Needless to say, a lot of people were able to achieve their fitness goals and the brand could re-engage their users
  • Fitocracy – Another fitness app that turned the tedious business of tracking fitness into a fun game. Its subscribers could compete with other users using the app to earn reward points by completing their set exercise goals. They could also challenge someone to a duel. Gamification introduced competitiveness in its users which in turn helped them burn more calories.

If you want to know of more such examples, here is a list of the top ten gamified productivity apps.

Understand the Psychology of your Users

In order for you to make gamification work for your app, you need to understand the psychology of your users. People are incredibly motivated when they are in charge. Decision-making, leadership, taking action, and being responsible or accountable are all ways modern management theories use to keep motivation levels up for businesses.

Freedom also helps keep the motivation up. Getting to choose things is one of the ways you can make all of this come about. That is why before gamifying your app, it is important to consider a few questions like – What parts of your app can involve your users? Can their feedback be implemented upon? Are your users being heard? Do you do Surveys?

Spend more time on anything and that brings in skills to help gain a sense of competence. The more competent people feel, the more motivated they are to do something. As an app developer, this is where the focus on UX/UI and ease of use with a great interface kicks in. The simpler the app is to use; the more competent users feel. This makes them more motivated to use it more and they even come to depend on it.

Proceed with caution

As fun as gamification sounds, not everyone can use it as it is intended to. Unless you are an expert at gamification and have applied game principles successfully, do not attempt it on your app because it requires advanced planning, coding and technical expertise.

A thorough evaluation of the content or the context being considered for gamification is necessary. You should be able to judge whether a certain app is appropriate for introducing game like elements and this judgement only comes with experience. Tread with caution while gamifying apps that contain sensitive content.

Gamification of enterprise apps need to factor in a lot of considerations – nature of business or service, the physical surroundings where the app is likely to be used, the outcomes expected, etc. It would be a total disaster to gamify apps in the healthcare sector without proper planning because it could lead to the hospital staff ironically being more unproductive.

It is best to approach a professional app development company who has a good track record of gamifying apps and leverages their experience to understand your audience better.

Want to build a gamified version of your mobile app and re-engage your audience?

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