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Gamification and Its Impact On User Engagement & Rentention

Gamification and Its Impact On User Engagement & Rentention
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For those who are not familiar with the term, “Gamification” is defined as the use of gameplay mechanics for non-game applications and the process of using game thinking, to solve problems and engage audiences.

Simply put, the concept of gamification involves transforming menial or routine tasks, into more engaging, fun activities by making a game out them. That is the idea behind the emerging trend of “gamification.”, a concept that is being hailed in technology circles as the next frontier in web and mobile. And rightfully so according to Gartner analysts, who predict that by 2015 more than 50% of organizations will gamify their innovation processes.

The report concludes that “by 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon; and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application”.

The reason for this surge of interest in gamification is largely due to the sea-change in today’s consumer mindset, which seeks a more engaging experience than what has traditionally been offered. This is particularly true for the younger generation, which is more game-attuned than previous generations. As a result of this changed mindset, companies are observing a distressing downward spiral in the effectiveness of their long-standing user engagement and retention techniques. Companies are therefore looking to gamificiation to restore the balance and make things engaging enough for their consumers to pay attention to them and stay focused on them for a longer period of time.

The four most commonly used gamification techniques employed by companies today include:

  • Points
  • Badges
  • Status Levels or Ranks
  • Leaderboards
  • Challenges/Missions

As a software development firm, Folio3 has worked on a number of gamified applications and platforms over the years. Our most extensive implementations however have been done on two particular projects, namely the Gamezebo website and the SecretBuilders virtual world; as both these projects involved the design and implementation of ALL of the gamification techniques mentioned above, rather than just one or two. These projects are described in more detail below.

Gamezebo

For the causal game review site Gamezebo, we implemented all of the gamification techniques mentioned above i.e. points, badges, status levels/ranks, leaderboards and challenges/missions. Our development team sat down with Gamezebo’s management to help them identify the exact behaviors that needed to be rewarded. Once these behaviors (activities) were identified, our developers then assigned certain points to them, so that users were awarded points each time they performed that activity, for e.g. submitting game reviews, submitting game walkthroughs, cheats or tips, submitting tips on lower priced games’ availability, sharing reviews on Facebook/Twitter, etc. Based on these points, users were then ranked on weekly and monthly leaderboards.

A few months later, we also implemented status levels or ranks (in addition to the points system), via which users were awarded various ranks or statuses, based on the number of points they had attained. For example, new users who had attained 10 to 20 points were awarded the status of “NewZebo” and so on. The users’ leaderboard rankings were then based on both points attained as well as their status levels or ranks.

To further boost user engagement with the site, we also implemented badges and missions/challenges, whereby, badges were awarded to users for completing a certain sequence of behaviors (known as missions or challenges). For example posting three game reviews or walkthroughs in a week. These missions were mostly progressive or timed missions (such as completing certain activities in day or week or completing all levels of a particular mission to attain a particular badge). Users were rewarded with different badges each time they performed such a sequence of activities as a mark of their achievement. These badges were also linked to the user’s status level and thus the more badges a user attained (or missions completed), the higher their status level became. For example by completing two missions such as submitting two price tips in a week or submitting three game cheats in a week, a user instantly got the 100 points that he/she needed to go from “NewZebo” to “LordZebo”.

As a result of these measures, user engagement in Gamezebo has increased considerably and the site has quickly become one of the most popular casual game review sites on the web, with over 2 million unique monthly visitors & 5 million monthly page views.

SecretBuilders

Similarly, in the SecretBuilders virtual world, we implemented the same gamification techniques but in a different manner, based on the SecretBuilders’ operating model. The game mechanics in SecretBuilders revolve around users f being awarded points in the form of silver or gold coins (virtual currency), which can be used to buy virtual items in the world, such as clothes and accessories for updating the user’s avatar or items for updating their in-world home. Silver coins are awarded for performing certain activities (or behaviors) such as posting content, playing in world games or participating in the various in-world events, while gold coins are awarded for downloading SecretBuilders’ mobile games.

The site also has status levels (ranks), badges, missions/challenges and leaderboards implemented, whereby users are awarded different status levels and badges for completing a certain sequence of behaviors (missions & challenges); for e.g. attending five in-world parties or concerts in a month or posting content on their wall three times in 10 days. Badges are awarded for each challenge or mission completed (achievement) and the user’s status level increases with the number and type of badges attained. Users also gain silver coins & in-world rare items for completing the missions/challenges.Based on their status levels and badges, the users are ranked on the SecretBuilders leaderboards on a weekly and monthly basis.

Due to the implementation of these measures, SecretBuilders’ has not only been able to retain its existing users but has also been to attract a large number of new users, despite fierce competition from similar websites. Today the site has over 5 million registered users and is still growing.

Conclusion

Gamification has the potential to be a game changer for driving user interest, if done right. In our experience, we’ve observed that users’ reaction to gamification tends to vary, depending on the type of application being gamified and also on the way gamification techniques are implemented. Based on these two elements, gamification can either generate significant improvement in user engagement (and retention) in the application or platform in question, or have little to no impact on end user engagement and user retention. Given below are some of the key factors that we’ve observed during the course of our work, that have a significant impact on the success of gamification in driving user engagement / retention in software applications.

  • Gamification achieves the best results only when backed by a compelling product or service. The product/service itself must be compelling enough to hold the user’s attention in order for gamification to have any impact at all.
  • The most important aspect in the implementation of gamification techniques is the identification of user behaviors to reward. You must know exactly which user behaviors to target, in order to get the maximum impact from gamification
  • Although each of the gamification techniques mentioned in the discussion above are effective in their own way, the technique that we’ve observed to be the most effective for improving user engagement is timed missions i.e. limited time reward related activities. Since these rewards are available for a limited time only, they tend to attract maximum user interest. As such, they are ideal for helping generate a buzz, for e.g. for a new product or game launch.
  • One cannot use the same gamification technique over and over as it causes the users’ to lose interest. The techniques used must be varied in order to keep the users engaged, for e.g. offering limited edition badges, having a variety of challenges/missions, etc.).
  • Challenges or Missions must be designed in such a manner that the behaviors/activities being rewarded are beneficial to both the users as well as the company. If they are not mutually beneficial, they will not have the desired impact.
  • The rewards model being used should also include real world rewards in addition to virtual rewards, since over time, users start losing interest in virtual rewards unless they are backed by the promise of real world rewards as well. For example, in order to boost user retention one can offer a 10% discount at Starbucks to users who have achieved a certain status level, or a complementary gift to users who have completed a certain number of levels or a particular mission.

If the above factors are taken into consideration in the design and implementation of game mechanics, there is no reason why gamification will not be successful in driving user engagement and enhancing user retention and loyalty.

At Folio3 we specialize in implementing gamification techniques in both enterprise and consumer applications as well as mobile apps. In addition to the above mentioned projects, we have successfully implemented game mechanics on a number of other client projects using technologies such as Badgeville, Openfient, and Apple’s Gamecenter. For more details about our gamification expertise please contact us.

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