Gamification motivates behavioral change

Gamification has been a hot topic for a couple of years now, and there is a simple reason for that heat. Gamification works.

Just as interesting as the fact that it works is uncovering why it works, because that’s a key to understanding what motivates behavioral change.

User experience design incorporates gamification because when used well, gamification principles can help create better experiences, better experiences that can help people achieve the things that matter to them and experiences that can even improve their quality of life.

My favorite quick example of “gamification for good” is provided by financial dashboard Mint.com. Mint incorporates a lot of good design to create a good experience for users, and the way it gamifies the experience provides a useful case study.

Mint.com plots out your financial health like a game plots out player stats. You can give yourself missions, like saving up for a vacation or paying off your student loan, and it tracks your progress in conquering those missions. In Mint these missions are under the goals tab – simply set a new goal, and Mint will track your progress.

mint.com

Image from mint.com

Not only does the game layer provide an extra dose of motivation for those looking to achieve financial goals, it also fits neatly within the psychological requirements for behavioral change. It stimulates fundamental human desires such as the desire for mastery – people naturally want to develop new skills that allow them to control their environment – combined with a simple, visual way to track progress. Lastly, there’s an immediate award for success – you paid off that loan, or got to spend two weeks in Hawaii. Yay!

Mobile provides powerful opportunities for gamification because it begins to integrate the game layer with the real world, blending the relationships between physical space and digital space. Imagine an app that hooks up to any treadmill and compares a user’s fitness stats against their friends, or a game that allows you to win a free burger while you’re inside a McDonald’s, or an app that uses geolocation and game mechanics to help members of a community work together to improve their neighborhood.

If you’re looking to gamify mobile, hitting a few key features will help you get users engaged:

  • Make sure you have a system showing measurable, incremental progress;
  • Make sure that the starting phase is simple enough to adopt quickly, and challenging enough to be interesting, and;
  • Make certain that there’s a reward at the end.

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