UX Crash Course: Stupid Question 12 of 30

The answer to this one is probably going to be exactly the opposite of what you expect. So let’s get into it:

“Does gamification always work?”


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For those who don’t know what “gamification” is, a short history:

Previously, on gamification…

Games have been around for a long time, but it was Foursquare that really cracked open the idea of using game-like features in non-game products.

And it really worked.

Foursquare’s system of badges pretty much defined their product and launched them into the stratosphere. Many companies have tried to follow in their footsteps.

There were (are?) even a few startups that sold a way to add badges and points to your product without any effort. How’s that for a Bandwagon Effect?

Which brings us to now. A time when gamification and “social” (tomorrow’s lesson) are seen as tactics, not just types of products. 

So, does gamification always work?


The stupid answer:

It’s easy to find companies that gamified their products and failed, so no, it doesn’t always work. It’s product design, not magic, dumbass.


The real (and surprising) answer:

Yes. Gamification always works. And yes, I am serious.


Why this isn’t a stupid question:
Gamification is not made of badges and points.

Gamification is not a feature.

Gamification is pure psychology. And when done correctly, it always works. On people. On animals. Even on teenagers!

In fact, you will know when your gamification is designed properly, because it will start to work.

If you really believe that adding a few badges and points to your otherwise shitty product is going to bring you fame and fortune, that is why gamification isn’t working for you.

True gamification is hard to do. Most companies never get there. It’s a strategy, not a feature.

There are (at least) two fundamental things your gamification must include to be effective: a feedback loop, and progression.

Note: this is the least sophisticated version of gamification. Without these two things, you have gamifinothing.


Feedback loops: the psychological engine of gamification.

Step one, the user is motivated to do an action. Maybe they want to check in at a fancy coffee place so other people know they are a pretentious hipster type who can only drink coffee if it costs more that $8 and has been eaten by some other animal first.

Step B, the user does an action. In this case: they check in. Makes sense.

Step iii, You give them feedback about the action. Give badges, points, stickers, sounds, pieces of chocolate, pictures of your mom, or whatever. One way or another, you need to say “Great job, you pretentious fuck!” — but double check that with your copywriter to make sure it is “on brand”.

4) Here’s the magic: The feedback you give them creates the motivation to do the original action again.

That creates a never-ending loop of motivation. Think: slot machine.

Motivation > action > feedback > motivation.

Protip: Make sure you are giving feedback on the stuff you want people to do more of!

Super protip: You don’t have to reward people every time. Actually, not rewarding them every time is more addictive.


Design progression into the game.

If you want to create real addiction, you also need to make levels. Somehow, the risks and rewards must increase as the user gets better.

Every good video game includes something easy at the beginning, and something that is damn near impossible at the end.


If you make those two things really well, and hopefully add your own unique flair to it… gamification will always work.

But that’s easier said than done.

If you can also solve a real problem and make it spread virally, your biggest problem will be finding a safe place to put all your money.


Tomorrow we will answer: “Is social better than non-social?”