How Gamification in Apps Can Increase User Engagement

Through my work leading a UX and UI design agency, I partner with companies to identify and develop creative solutions that drive user engagement and retention. In recent years, gamification has become more popular and clients often approach me to ask how they can add gamification elements to their mobile apps.

Gamification can help increase user engagement, but only when designed effectively and with specific goals in mind—and it isn’t always the right solution for every app. I’m here to help you figure out if gamification is the right solution based on your business needs and long-term strategy.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this piece to help you learn more about gamification in apps:

What is gamification?

Gamification involves adding game-like elements into nongame environments, such as a website, app, or learning platform, to increase user participation and engagement. The intention is to make environments that are often technical and complicated more user-friendly and fun. Examples of game-like elements include points, leaderboards, badges, and competitions.

Gamification encourages consumers, business customers, and others to collaborate, share, and interact with the platform or app and with each other.

Benefits of embracing gamification strategies

Adding gamification to your app can offer several benefits that will help drive user engagement, retention, and revenue.

Top benefits include:

  • Creating a positive first impression. Engaging users as soon as they download an app is important to overall retention. In fact, a report from AppsFlyer found that one out of every two apps is uninstalled within 30 days of downloading. By adding gamification features, you can hook users right away with a positive first impression.
  • Simplifying complex or routine actions and processes. Many users download certain apps out of necessity, such as a mobile banking app to manage finances or a healthcare app to track medications. Game-like elements can make processes that would otherwise be complicated or mundane easy and fun—increasing the likelihood of users sticking with your app instead of turning to a competitor.
  • Building a habit or attachment. Adding challenges, points, leaderboards, streaks, personalized messages, and related features creates a sense of accomplishment and competition, encouraging continued use of an app. From a business standpoint, this can lead to increased customer loyalty, retention, and lifetime value (LTV) from each user.
  • Driving an increase in paid customers. Many apps take a freemium approach, in which a basic version of the app is free and users can pay more for additional features. When users form an attachment with games built into an app, they may be more likely to upgrade to a paid version of the app, which drives increased LTV and revenue.
  • Increasing brand awareness and adoption. Apps that include gamification often encourage users to share their progress on social media or with their friends and family. This can increase brand awareness and get others excited to download and start using the app.

Why user engagement is important

While gamification isn’t always the right fit for every app or business model, if your team doesn’t have a strategy in place to increase user engagement—either through gamification or another approach—it can have a negative impact on your long-term business success. Risks of decreased engagement include:

  • Lost customers and market share. If tasks or processes in your app are too complicated or disengaging, users may uninstall the app or turn to competitors that offer similar features, leading to lost market share.
  • Decreased usage. A challenging learning curve or boring processes will make customers likely to stop using the app soon after downloading. While they may not delete the app or move to a competitor, decreased usage can have a negative impact on your revenue, as free versions are often supported by ads based on active monthly users and engagement.
  • Decline in paying customers. You may not lose customers entirely, but if they don’t form a habit or attachment to the app, they may not see the value in using a paid version long-term and downgrade to a free version of your app.
  • Negative reviews. Customers who have a frustrating experience with an app are more likely to leave negative reviews or discourage their friends and family from using the app.

Examples of gamification in mobile apps

Some apps are more well-known for their gamification elements than others, but I’ll start with an example from one of my clients in the healthcare space.

My team brainstormed with the client about several potential gamelike elements to add to the healthcare app, including:

  • Points for taking medications on time, counting steps, and other activities
  • A ranking or leaderboard to encourage competition with family members or friends
  • Challenges, such as skipping dessert for a week
  • Quizzes on health-related topics
  • Levels and badges to encourage users to continue earning points
  • Options to exchange points for a gift certificate to a store or charity
  • A raffle for users who achieve goals 21 days in a row or reach certain levels, with prizes like a fitness watch, smart scale, and personal training sessions


The ideas above are just a few of many generated during the initial brainstorming phase. In addition to brainstorming, I always aim to discuss goals with clients up front so gamification has the most impact and supports the best possible user experience.

While these examples come from experiences with my clients, some well-known apps stand out as true winners in gamification. A few apps that have seen success with gamification include:

Duolingo

Duolingo

Duolingo is a language learning app with more than 50 million monthly active users, offering bite-sized lessons that feel more like a game than a textbook. Users can choose from more than 30 languages and spend just a few minutes learning to progress each day. In addition to options for users to learn on their own, Duolingo for Schools is also available for teachers to make language lessons fun and personalized.

Gamification features include:

  • Leaderboards featuring users from all over the world to drive friendly competition, continued learning, and rising through the ranks
  • Streaks that encourage users to learn every day and the option to spend points on streak freezes to stay on track
  • Friendly daily reminders from an in-app owl mascot, Duo
  • Personalized levels and learning modules for users to track their progress

Fitbit

Fitbit

Fitbit produces wireless-enabled activity trackers, pedometers, smartwatches, and smart scales, all of which are connected to an app with a user-friendly dashboard. Depending on the device, Fitbit products track a wide range of health metrics, including steps, physical activity, weight, sleep health, heart rate, and more. The app has more than 100 million registered users and offers several gamification features to help users reach their health goals and compete with friends and family

Gamification features include:

  • Badges for reaching certain milestones or achieving goals
  • Challenges and leaderboards for friends and family to motivate one another to move more
  • Interactive options to send messages or cheers to family and friends
  • Weekly progress reports to compare health and fitness to previous weeks
  • Nudges to encourage users to move when they’re close to their hourly or daily activity goal

Monobank

Monobank

Monobank is the first mobile-only banking app in Ukraine and has more than 6.5 million users. The bank offers a variety of services including free money transfers, bill pay, credit cards, and cash back. Monobank also makes it easy to donate to and directly support the Ukrainian Army during the war with Russia using any currency, which helps individuals avoid scammers or fake organizations that may be soliciting donations.

Gamification features include:

  • Shake to pay, enabling users standing near one another to shake their phones and easily transfer funds
  • Rewards, points, badges, miles, and cash back for using in different cities and countries, splitting costs, and spending in certain categories
  • Interactive cat mascot in the app that humanizes the brand and makes it easily recognizable, with retailers and other points of sale that accept Monobank posting stickers featuring the cat

Best practices to incorporate gamification

Now that you understand the benefits and have seen some real-world examples of successful gamification, you may be eager to add game-like elements to your app or website. Below, I’ve shared some best practices learned through my experience working on UX and UI projects with a diverse set of clients.

Be strategic about your goals

In the past, some clients have approached me asking for gamification features to be added to their app or website without specific goals in mind. I always advise clients to avoid adding gamification simply to say an app has game-like elements and instead be more strategic about taking overall business and user engagement objectives into consideration.

Ask the following questions as you determine whether gamification is the right fit for your business:

  • What are your overall strategic business goals?
  • What is the purpose of your app or website?
  • Who is your target audience or end user?
  • What are some existing frustrations or roadblocks in your user experience?
  • How can gamification improve user engagement, starting with initial interactions and throughout their time using your app or website?
  • How can you strike the right balance by adding game-like features without overcomplicating the user experience?
  • What is your timeline and budget for adding gamification elements?
  • Are there any technical restraints or requirements to keep in mind?

Complete competitive research

Analyzing the competitive landscape can help your business understand what your competitors are doing well, where they’re falling behind, and how your offerings can stand out from a user engagement standpoint. Once you have a grasp on what your competitors have to offer, you can more effectively determine whether investing in gamification may be worthwhile.

Here are some steps to take when doing competitive research:

  • Identify your top competitors
  • Assess competitors’ market share
  • Read reviews to understand common benefits and customer frustrations
  • Reach out to competitors’ customers for direct feedback
  • Download competitors’ apps or visiting their websites to see the user experience firsthand
  • Make a list of what seems to be working and areas for improvement, if competitors have gamification features

Partner with a creative design team or agency

While your team may have an initial list of ideas for adding gamification to your app or website, partnering with an experienced UX and UI professional or agency can help set up the project for success.

An expert design team can work with you to brainstorm ideas and manage the technical side of incorporating gamification elements. They can also share initial prototypes so you can see what the gamification features might look like and share any feedback before the project moves to development.

Consider requesting bids from a few different designers or agencies to get a better idea of which options are available and which approach best aligns with your budget and goals. When requesting bids, make sure to share a detailed project overview and ask all agencies to submit the same information in a similar format, so it will be easier for your team to compare bids.

Get started with gamification

When done right, incorporating gamification into your mobile app can have a significant, positive impact on user engagement. Taking a strategic approach to gamification and keeping best practices in mind can help drive success.

I help businesses bring their ideas to life and drive user engagement through UX and UI design, with a primary focus on management platforms and mobile applications. If you’re looking for an experienced partner to help incorporate gamification into your app, or for any other UX/UI projects, send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss your specific business needs in detail.

This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the independent freelancer listed as the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
Article Author
Author
Bohdan H.
Top Rated Plus
Software AI Design Expert
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Software design expert

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