Gamification grew from a mix of interacting trends and traditions in interaction design and games. Gamification describes those features of an interactive system that aim to motivate and engage end-users through the use of game elements and mechanics. The two common definitions of gamification in academic research are by Deterding et al.1 and Huotari and Hamari2. The former defines gamification as “use of game design elements in non-game contexts”, whereas the latter defines gamification as a “process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user’s overall value creation.” The key differences are Deterding et al.’s1 definition explains how to operationalise gamification (how to apply) and prioritises the game design elements. Huotari and Hamari2 is a process description incorporating more than just the system or methods and suggests that the focus should be on the user experience, whatever form the final product might take. Gamification is a process of enriching artefacts with game-design elements in order to positively influence users’1,2.

The levels of game design elements outlined in Deterding et al.1 are presented in the table below.

Level Description Example
Game interface design elements Common, successful interaction design components and design solutions for a known problem in a context, including prototypical implementations Badge, leaderboard, level
Game design patterns and mechanics Commonly reoccurring parts of the design of a game that concern gameplay Time constraint, limited resources, turns
Game design principles and heuristics Evaluative guidelines to approach a design problem or analyze a given design solution Enduring play, clear goals, variety of game styles
Game models Conceptual models of the components of games or game experience Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics framework (MDA); challenge, fantasy, curiosity; game design atoms
Game design methods Game design-specific practices and processes Playtesting, play-centric design, value conscious game design

Game conditions presented in previous literature as summarised by Huotari and Hamari2.
Systemic conditions refer to how a game is constructed and experiential conditions describe the human involvement in the game. The levels of abstractions outline common features of games.

Level of abstraction Systemic conditions Experiential conditions
1st level (common to all games) Games as systems Requirement of player/user voluntary involvement
2nd level (characteristic of games but not necessary in all games) Conflicting goals Rules Variable and uncertain outcomes Hedonic pleasure Mastery/achievement Relatedness Suspense Competence Flow and Immersion
3rd level (unique to games)

The most common features used in gamified applications–points, badges and leaderboards–are not sufficient in themselves to create a game-like experience. They are in fact only used for interaction and feedback. We should target gamification towards increasing intrinsic motivation generated through three points: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Gamification shouldn’t be reduced to just applying game elements and interactive features, it requires an understanding of users’ needs, social styles, their level of expertise and manner of engagement in the task. User behaviour should be the core driving force for a gamified system. Prioritising elements such as points, badges and leaderboards can undermine the complex series of cognitive, emotional, and social affordances that make games intrinsically motivating and enjoyable to play3. The design and adjustment of gamified services is thus a complex task that exceeds applying simple point systems, leaderboards and badges4.

Although primarily concentrated in education/training, sustainability and healthcare/wellness, gamification is widespread across different domains. Interest in gamification has grown because technology is increasingly harnessed for motivating and supporting people toward various individually and collectively beneficial behaviours5. Many of the studies on gamification aim to test the effect of the particular features implemented, but rarely do this well. Beyond investigating the effects and benefits, there is still lack of understanding on the predictors of why people use gamified services. An extensive amount of literature is primarily descriptive quantitative studies, which do not offer inferences regarding the data and the effect of the gamification (if any at all). There is perhaps a need for more objective quantitative studies, and qualitative studies that delve into users’ understanding of the topic or the system(s) being investigated. The common criticisms of gamification research in the literature include:

  • The lack of a theoretical framework and constructs.
  • Failure to use validated constructs which hinders the development of the field and the understanding of these gamified elements.
  • Failure to test the most effective gamification features
  • The lack of (appropriate) objective measures/research
  • A one-size fits all approach that doesn’t consider individual differences (although research in this area is growing).

  1. Deterding, Sebastian, Dan Dixon, Rilla Khaled, and Lennart Nacke. 2011. “From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining ‘Gamification.’” In Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference on Envisioning Future Media Environments - MindTrek ’11, 9. Tampere, Finland: ACM Press. 

  2. Huotari, Kai, and Juho Hamari. 2017. “A Definition for Gamification: Anchoring Gamification in the Service Marketing Literature.” Electronic Markets 27 (1): 21–31. 

  3. Cheng, Vanessa Wan Sze, Tracey A Davenport, Daniel Johnson, Kellie Vella, Jo Mitchell, and Ian B Hickie. 2018. “An App That Incorporates Gamification, Mini-Games, and Social Connection to Improve Men’s Mental Health and Well-Being (MindMax): Participatory Design Process.” JMIR Mental Health 5 (4): e11068. 

  4. Blohm, Ivo, and Jan Marco Leimeister. 2013. “Gamification: Design of IT-Based Enhancing Services for Motivational Support and Behavioral Change.” Business & Information Systems Engineering 5 (4): 275–78. 

  5. Hamari, Juho, and Jonna Koivisto. 2015. “Why Do People Use Gamification Services?” International Journal of Information Management 35 (4): 419–31.