Are you game? a how-to to gamification and your business

Updated: Jan 18

Gamification. Have you heard about it? Are you thinking along the lines of Mortal Combat, Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft for example? Are you wondering what they have to do with your business in the accommodation, retail, or safety sectors? In this article, you’ll be able to discover what gamification is, how it can foster engagement in your brand, how to implement it and how you can avoid potentially losing the trust your stakeholders (both internal and external) have in you.

So what is it?

What is gamification in a business context? It’s using “game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems” (Kapp, 2012, p. 125 in Alsawaier, 2017, p. 56). It’s getting your current and potential customers to feel compelled to play right now with each other and be challenged while doing so. All of which will result in them connecting with your brand, your product and/or your service.

Figure 1 Conceptual model of gamification & self-brand connection (Berger, Schlager, Sprott & Herrmann, 2018, p.657)

Interactivity & Challenge

These important dimensions revolve around the idea that for gamification endeavors to be successful they need to provide just the right amount of challenge to users. What I mean by that is that if the gamification experience is too hard, for example, it’s too hard to move through levels or too hard to unlock rewards then users’ will quickly tire of the gamification experience. The most likely result then will be that they will unfollow, unlike or remove the app from their device and will let others know that they’ve done this. If on the other hand, the gamification experience is too simple it means that the player will complete it too quickly, get bored and completely disengage from the experience. The results, of course, will be the same. That is negative and counter to what your business is trying to achieve by creating this gamified experience in the first place.

Emotional, Cognitive and Active Brand Engagement

Like with any experience or activity we engage our brain and emotions. When we are dealing with a brand and filter our activity through our emotions we tend to “focus on symbolic benefits, on the social desirability of the brand and its self-expressive value, that will satisfy our high-level needs and engage them in additional meaningful ways” (Hwang and Kandampully, 2012; Keller, 2012; in Fernandes & Moreira, 2018, p.277). If we feel strongly about our experience with the brand we will develop a strong attachment or loyalty to the brand. We will develop an attachment to the brand that goes beyond mere functional benefits (Pawle & Cooper, 2006 in Fernandes & Moreira, 2018, p.277). If on the other hand, we engage solely our brains we will have a tendency to value the brand for its functional benefits “such as efficiency or reliability and inherent characteristics of brand attributes (e.g. price, design, and quality)”( Fernandes & Moreira, 2018, p.277). The experience is judged positive, for example, because if it resulted in savings, a discount, a gift or freebie that would not have been offered if it weren’t for participation in the gamification experience. Either one of these can lead to a desire to actively seek out the gamification experience because we don’t want to miss out. Oftentimes you will find that the experience has conditions and time limits involved in participation.


So, how do you go about developing a gamification experience? The development process involves three stages: determining the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics of the gamification experience or MDA.

Figure 2: The MDA framework and the 20 Cs of meaningful enterprise gamification (Ruhi, 2015,p. 8)


The mechanics of gamification define who the users are, what elements the users’ have at their disposal and how each feature of the gamification experience connects with others. The mechanics of the gamification inform users on what they can and cannot do or achieve in the gamification experience and how other users’ or objects can or cannot affect them.

From a designer perspective: - Objects, rules, and algorithms that need to be developed - Features and functions of the platform (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)

From a user perspective: - Features and functions that give context in regard to how to use objects within the gamification experience - Features that enable carrying out those activities (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)


Dynamics is a flow-on from the above and relates to what happens once users’ start participating in the gamification experience according to these rules. Depending on the choices made by users’ different consequences may arise. For example, points or badges may be lost, virtual goods exchanged, or in-game tokens gifted to other users.

From a designer perspective: - Developing action and reaction scenarios between user and system - Ensuring functionality and relevance of gamification experience elements (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)

From a user perspective: - Carrying out activities according to what the user wants - Potential to engage in activities that could be beneficial to the users’ goals (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)


Aesthetics refers to the goal of participating in the gamification experience. Whether it be to create a sensation, evoke a fantasy, create a narrative, present a challenge, develop a fellowship, result in a discovery, provide an avenue for expression/self-discovery or incite submission/pastime aesthetics (ALA Tech Source, 2015) explains why users would want to participate in the gamified experience.

From a designer perspective: - Business requirements and planned user-experience outcomes - Intended end-user responses to be evoked (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)

From a user perspective: - Motivation to participate - Gratification from participating - A sense of meaningfulness from the gamification experience (Ruhi, 2015,p. 12)

Gamification & Privacy

Any individual who has a PC, laptop or mobile device with an internet connection knows that using such devices means they will need to sign up, register or create accounts. All these activities will require them to provide identifying information. With that comes a concern for how much information is being requested and a desire to know why so much information is required. There have been many cases where users of different platforms or gamification experiences have found out after the fact that their personal information and activities had been recorded without their consent (Mavroeidi, Kitsiou, Kalloniatis & Gritzalis, 2019, p.2) or their physical location had been tracked because “gamified applications required connecting with the user’s location, leading the applications to record their movements” (Mavroeidi et al, 2019, p.3). Privacy concerns, therefore, are not an optional extra they must be central to the development process lest they risk violating users’ privacy (Mavroeidi et al,

Privacy requirements

So, what are the privacy requirements we need to keep in mind?

Anonymity: when a user can remain unidentifiable to other users Pseudoanonymity: when a user can use a pseudonym rather than their legal name in order to protect their privacy Unlinkability: when third parties can’t discern the connection between individual users, their actions and messages Undetectability: when third parties can’t detect the existence of any activity Unobservability: when actions of users can be hidden from other users

Gamification requirements vs Privacy Requirements

Many gamification elements require users to provide identifying information which may create a privacy risk to users. Whether it is the gamification experience developers or other users the user has little control over who can access this data and how others might choose to use this information. So, it’s incumbent on the developer to keep user privacy in mind when developing these types of experiences.

Table 1: Matching game elements with privacy requirements (Mavroeidi, Kitsiou, Kalloniatis & Gritzalis, 2019, p. 9)

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Gamification. We’ve seen that it’s more than just Mortal Combat, Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft (as great as those might be). We can, however, use the same MDA framework in order to develop gamified experiences in the accommodation, retail, or safety sectors. Armed with the knowledge of what gamification is, how it can foster engagement in your brand, how to implement it and how you can avoid potentially losing the trust your stakeholders (both internal and external) have in you I hope you feel just a little less lost.

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