The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

How to use gamification the RIGHT way

You’re a game designer. So naturally, you may often think about gamification.

But what is gamification?

Well, it depends on who you ask. But if you think about it, you’ll start to see this everywhere. It’s all about applying elements of game design outside of games.

There are different ways to use gamification and for different purposes.

One way we often see this used is by incentivizing people to do something by giving them a reward. Gamification is often used as a marketing technique to persuade people to try a product or service, or to provide feedback.

Have you ever been asked to fill out a survey for your chance to win a prize or gift card? This type of gamification can definitely incentivize the wrong thing.

Are you filling out the survey because you care about the product or service, or do you just want the chance to win something for free?

This is a particularly important question if the prize is completely unrelated to the survey. It’s one thing to give away a print and play version of your game or offer the chance to win an expansion to a game people already own by providing feedback on your game and another thing to offer an iPad related to your grocery shopping experience.

It’s the same thing when trying to build an email list, perhaps with the intent to create a buzz and grow your following before launching a Kickstarter project. People may enter a contest to win a completely unrelated game you are offering but will they be there for you when you need backers for your campaign?

Maybe or maybe not. These are all examples of extrinsic motivations and rewards, which I would argue is not usually the best approach.

What you really want is for people to play your game, try your service, or buy your product because they feel they will benefit from this. If what you’re offering is good enough to stand on its own, you won’t need to offer any external rewards.

These internal benefits are known as intrinsic motivations and rewards.

They are more based on personal achievement and accomplishment.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t offer food and drink to playtesters when they come to your home to try your game. That’s just being a good host. However, after that initial encouragement for them to attend, make sure that your game is great (or at least has the potential to become great), so that the players enjoy the game and want to play again because it’s just a great experience.

There’s also a difference between gamification and game-based learning that should be mentioned here. The distinction is that gamification is more about rewarding the behaviours you want to encourage, often through badges, leaderboards, loyalty rewards, chances to win products, etc. This approach can be effective for loyalty programs and other business endeavours. Almost any activity can be gamified in some way.

However, “The definition of GBL (game-based learning) is taking an actual game and using it within the learning process”, according to It’s more about teaching a skill rather than rewarding behaviour.

What are some examples you’ve seen of gamification done well? How are you incentivizing players to try out your game?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    I used gamification in my classrooms previously in that I gave students points for doing the things I wanted them to do, such as using the class website. They could then use these points for rewards, and thee was an extra reward for the student who had the most points. The results were that the students who would do those things anyway got all the points, and those who didn’t just gave up because they were always behind. Similar examples are making games out of worksheets and giving points or prizes for those who finish first or whatnot. The kids aren’t fooled; they know these aren’t really games and you’re trying to trick them into doing the work.
    That’s why in school it’s important to make a distinction and focus on game-based learning, instead. Use games that require the skill you are trying to get them to practice, but in order to accomplish something else, so that doing the work isn’t the goal of the activity.

    I run the contests at my local farmers market using web apps. Their purpose is to get people to know what products exist at the market. To incentivize patrons to participate in the price match game for example, every player gets a guaranteed prize upon completion. By playing, they hopefully will see something they like and ideally purchase.

    My new puzzle game will provide an actual cash reward for solving a unique mystery. After buying the game at the market and solving it, upon showing their successful solution, they will get back part of their purchase price. Each game comes with a web app that generates a unique mystery based on the contents of the puzzle. There will be six puzzles in the series with embedded single-use codes for reward redemption.

    In addition, if they refer someone to actually buy their copy of the game, they will also receive a thank you gift.

    The goal is to incentivize families to eventually buy the entire series. I don’t yet know if this will work, but in a couple of weeks I should know.

    hi Joe enjoyed your article.
    A friend of mine who is a teacher brought a prototype of my game into school. During a free class he challenged the lads versus the girls, to try out this new game. It certainly worked as on student in Particular[girl] came out of her shell and was really determined to beat the lads. So I don’t know would you call that GAMIFICATION.

    Glad to hear it, Henry!

    Well, gamification is all about making a game out of something that’s not normally a game, so I might consider this to be more of an enthusiastic playtest of sorts. 🙂