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Gamification and user engagement

Wikipedia defines gamification as ‘the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems’. They also say that it is used to ‘improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality, timeliness and learning’.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the first of these claims, and look at ways in which you can use gamification tools and techniques to improve user experience and hold a user’s interest whilst visiting your website. Here’s how to do it.

Focus on incentives

People like to be successful. So introducing elements that provide positive reinforcement and that reward certain actions work well for particular audiences. Some websites use points or badges for sharing links, reading articles, leaving comments or completing surveys. It has been shown that rewards based on contribution or on influence upon others are particularly compelling and especially so when points can be converted to real-life gifts.


Making your users feel a sense of achievement is one way of encouraging them to spend longer on your site and return more frequently. By collecting items, ticking off tasks or counting down to completion, your users can accomplish small goals in order to reach a larger goal. This doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, simply showing the text ‘Step 1 of 7’ encourages users to complete all seven steps in a task. Careful pacing is essential here so that your users neither reach the end goal too quickly, nor get bored because things are taking too long.

Social integration

Allowing interaction with social media, web, TV or radio shows can become a compelling reason for users to visit your site and also help increase brand recognition. Interactions in real-time with other, real-life users has greater authenticity and promotes spontaneity, and is set to become more important with the increased use of location-based interactivity.

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Personalisation and privilege

As well as the feeling of success, people also like to feel as though they are special. As well as feedback and personalisation (tailoring the site to include a user’s name or remember their regular shopping list, for example), adding a separate part of the website which is only accessible by certain users (high-scorers, if you will) adds an incentive for other users to strive towards.


Whilst it might be unfashionable in some circles, we all like a bit of competition now and then. Overtly gamified sites might go as far as including ranks and public leaderboards (think of Klout’s influence ratings), but if this is a step too far, including elements of competition on a private basis, such as skill levels, can still improve interaction and user engagement.


Of course, one of the main reasons that people play games is that they are fun. So make sure you inject a bit of humour into your site, whether it’s through content, visuals, user interface or by hiding ‘Easter Eggs’ on your 404 page. Surprise your users, in the nicest possible way, of course!

Gamification shouldn’t be seen as an added extra applied to a website after its initial design, but instead needs to be part of the design process from the outset. As with all web design, the most important factor to bear in mind is your audience; considering their needs and not forgetting about the content and purpose of the site itself will ensure that gamification is used just the right amount (it’s easy to get carried away and overdo it!).

Remember that the rules of the ‘game’ need to be clear and that it shouldn’t be a requirement to ‘play’. Incentives need to be tailored to your target audience too, because what will appeal to one audience might not appeal to another. So think about what will make your users feel successful, motivated, special and happy. 

And then do that. 

Game on!