You’re a gamer and you never knew it

Ok, so we’re not claiming that you’re a level 80 Shadow-Mage (though that’s totally cool with us gamer nerds if you are).

Gamification is a term used often across the digital creative landscape. It’s a concept used by designers in helping attract an audience, increase interaction or simply make an experience more enjoyable.

If you’re not aware, and as the name suggests, gamification is simply applying elements of gameplay to an experience. The level at which something is ‘gamified’ is where it becomes a little more complicated to define as there are many ways in which an experience can adopt elements of gamification.

Let’s start by looking at some of the core principles of game experiences:

  • A challenge to finish or complete a task
  • A challenge to attain a score
  • A direct competition with another person
  • An acknowledgement of progression

We’re always chasing the next fix

No to get too into the science, but you may have heard the term ‘Dopamine Fix’. This refers to the organic chemical Dopamine that our bodies produce. It’s essentially a hormone that (in common culture) is associated with a mental feeling of pleasure or motivation. When this hormone is released, you feel uplifted, satisfied, even excited – and it’s a powerful motivator to want to continue or repeat the thing that gave you this hit (The gambling industry thrives off it).

These hits of dopamine are common in most gaming experiences: Getting a new high-score, defeating an opponent – you get the idea. Design these small hits into a ‘gameplay loop’ for the user to have easily repeatable ways of achieving these hits and you’ve got an experience that’s more engaging and positively memorable.

Sometimes it’s just about seeing the numbers go up

As an audience, we don’t necessarily always need a complex system or monumental challenge to feel that sense of satisfaction. It can be boiled down to smaller, simpler interactions that don’t even need to offer any ‘real’ benefit – but give us that positive feeling nonetheless.

In fact, in many cases the more easily we can relate to the system, the more engaged we can be. These smaller interactions are the most interesting as they can often be implemented without the danger of the user feeling that they aren’t willingly engaging with the experience.

So show me a few examples

There are many examples out there where designers aren’t too shy about using gamification in an almost literal expression. You may have encountered an online shopping basket where you’ve presented a ‘Discount wheel’ to spin and see how much you could get off your purchase. Cue a big eye-roll, but don’t underestimate how this small dopamine hit might just be the difference in that customer converting to the checkout phase.

LinkedIn has gamification woven throughout the experience

If you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people that use the platform, you’re probably aware of the ‘Profile completion’ tool. A seemingly standard and helpful part of creating a full profile, yet it goes out of it’s way to let you know which areas could be improved, showing you a percentage and colour coded bar to remind you every day that you should be giving them more of your data.

Your dashboard shows you stats of how many people have viewed your profile recently (got to keep those numbers up!) and alert icons keep you instantly aware whenever there’s engagement with the content you’ve been posting. You’re even emailed to let you know that X number of people have viewed your profile this week (but you’ll need to come back to use our service to find out who!). All these systems are also cleverly tied together to essentially create a strong desire to both interact with the platform and regularly. They’ve got you on the hook.

On that note. Is social media a game? Kind of



Instinctively you’d say no, but platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram have all pulled strategy from the gamification playbook (pun intended). With all these platforms there’s a common ‘gameplay loop’ at work. You create a post and if your post is deemed good enough by the community, you’re rewarded with Likes, Hearts, Upvotes and/or retweets. This positive feedback of your actions encourages you to want to do it more. This also creates a need/desire to make the next post something even better than the last, hooking you into a spiral of dopamine-infused interactions with their platforms.

We like the simplest examples

We can’t all create fully-fledged game experiences in our creative outputs – sometimes that just won’t work for what we’re trying to achieve in a project, however, those dopamine hits can come in the smallest and simplest ways.

MailChimp’s famous ‘High Fives’ notification is a great example. If you’re not aware of this, it’s simply a message that you received once you published a MailChimp email campaign.

On the surface this doesn’t seem to be gamification inspired design choice (maybe it wasn’t), yet it’s still giving me a positive message that represents the completion of my task – ending that experience with MailChimp acknowledging our combined achievement. I get a small dopamine hit. I feel good. I’ll do that again.


Essentially gamification (when used with good intentions and in the right context) is a powerful tool to give users positive ‘micro-moments‘ throughout their experience that can increase levels of engagement, repeat interactions or just reinforce positive and more rewarding brand experience. It’s important to understand that some level of gamification can be integrated into most digital experiences – often being an easy and simple implementation.