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How to Boost App User Engagement With Gamification

9th Sep 2016
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You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and you see a post from one of your fitness enthusiast friends. It tells you that your friend has gone on a run with Nike, and it encourages you to like the post to give them encouragement along the way. No big deal. You like the post on move on. That’s a shame, because you’ve just casually scrolled past something huge. Your friend is a member of the Nike+ Run Club. This is Nike’s hugely successful effort to boost engagement and sales through gamification. Members of the run club challenge themselves and one another to meet certain goals, and engage in competitions to see who covers the most miles and makes the most progress.

So, what is gamification? First of all, it isn’t turning your app into a video game. Essentially, it is harnessing the elements that video games use to get and keep players interested in order to get and keep customers engaged in your app. Let’s take a look at the psychology behind gamification and a few ways that you can capitalize on that in order to increase app engagement.

Gaming Psychology

People are naturally competitive. They seek rewards. They want to know how they are doing in relationship to other people. They want to identify themselves with other people who have the same interests. They enjoy receiving rewards, and enjoy relating themselves to characters. Finally, they enjoy overcoming challenges and receiving encouragement and recognition for doing so.

Setting Timers

One of the most effective ways to get people to complete a task is to turn it into a race. This isn’t just a technique that works with kids doing chores. It also works with adults. For example, if your app requires that users fill out a form, put a timer on the page. Even better, make it seem even more pressing by using a graphic that makes it seem as if the page will self destruct if they don’t complete the task in time. You can also use push notifications to remind users of their progress towards accomplishing certain tasks within a limited time frame. Let’s say that you want users to explore all areas of your app. Throw out the challenge that they do so within five days of downloading your app. Then, remind them of their progress and what they have left to do as the clock winds down.

Making And Recruiting Friends

Find ways to allow and encourage app users to reach out to other users and to recruit their friends to join them. The more connections made the better. Just be sure to provide them with means to connect with one another, share rewards, challenge one another, or work together to achieve goals. Then, be sure that they have the means to share on social media.

How important is this? Think about Pokemon Go! This highly addictive game begins with users selecting one of three teams to join. This creates an automatic sense of loyalty and engagement. Speaking of addiction, as an app developer, it is your responsibility to encourage safe use, self discipline, and encourage users not to engage in any harmful behaviors related to gaming.

Rewards And Acknowledgement

When people play video games, they are frequently rewarded. They earn badges, gain points, achieve new ranks, and unlock new levels. All of these things can be applied to your app. Even something as simple as elevating a user’s status to super user is an example of using gamification. As app users complete more tasks or spend more time in your app, you can dole out points to be used towards rewards, send them notifications congratulating them on their achievements, or even give them new opportunities to customize their app experience. You can provide lots of incentive by giving users a path to unlock premium features.

Creating Avatars

I want to be the hat! I get to be the dog! I’m not playing unless I get to be Spiderman! People enjoy associating themselves with well-known characters, icons, or simply creating personas that have characteristics they associate with themselves or that they wish they had. That’s why many video games begin with allowing people to create, select, or customize their character or avatar. You can allow users to create avatars when they create their user profiles on their app. Then, as they engage with your app and with other app users, they can do so as that character or avatar. Then, you can give them opportunities to upgrade their avatars as part of the rewards that you offer them.


So, you’ve given users a way to connect with one another, and to get their friends on board. You’ve allowed them to create fun avatars that appeal to their sense of fantasy. You’ve even provided a system for rewarding users for using  your app, sharing with others, and accomplishing certain tasks. So, what’s next? The answer to that is competition. Create leaderboards to let users know how they are performing in comparison to other users. Even better, let them know when they are beating their friends or when their friends are beating them. You’ll be surprised at the things you can get people to do by capitalizing on their sense of competitiveness.

Have a Gamification Plan

Gamification won’t be effective for you unless you have a plan in place. As you add elements of gamification to your app, have an objective in mind for each one. What do you want to accomplish? What is the benefit that you will gain from adding this to your app? Simply adding random games or rewards isn’t going to increase engagement beyond the random user occasionally interacting with one of your games or challenges.

Encourage Feedback

Ask users what they think. Invite them to submit ideas for new challenges, and to let you know what elements aren’t fun or inviting for them. Employ lots of user testing. Finally, don’t simply add gamification to your app and then forget about it. Add new avatars, find new ways for users to customize their experience, connect your app to social media, and hand out new challenges and rewards.

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