The Building Blocks Behind Gamification

Written by: Bryan Woo

Video games have been a big part of my childhood ever since I first held a video game controller. I vaguely remember countless late nights spent sneaking out to the living room, loading up some of my favourite video game titles and telling myself that I would go back to sleep once I finish this quest or defeat this final boss. Or so I said. 


Looking back, it’s funny how it would take a huge amount of willpower and convincing for me to engage in more “productive” actions, like studying or household chores but when it comes to playing games, it took no convincing of any sort. Fast forward a couple of years, I would come to better understand that I simply wasn’t motivated to do other things as much as I was motivated to beat Ghasty Gnorc from Spyro: A Hero’s Tail.

(Ghasty Gnorc via Google Images)

(Ghasty Gnorc via Google Images)

Motivated being the keyword here. 


The ability to tap into the power of motivation is why gamification has been recognized as an innovative and promising concept for a wide variety of industries in the past decade (1). The idea behind this is by utilizing various design elements from games as building blocks, and apply these to real-world scenarios to foster and maintain the motivation of its various users (2)


That being said, to gain the most out of a gamified initiative, one can benefit from looking at commonly used game elements and diving deeper into the psychology and science (or as I like to call it, Psy-ence!) behind how these elements can motivate specific behaviours:


Points and Badges

(Points and badges found in fitness app, “FitBit” via Google Image)

(Points and badges found in fitness app, “FitBit” via Google Image)

Considered a basic element of a multitude of games, points are used typically as rewards for users when they successfully perform certain actions as well as providing a numerical representation of a player’s progress (1). Although the action of awarding points can serve a multitude of purposes, I find that points are at its most impactful when used as a form of immediate feedback when users display specific behaviours or actions. 


We see this commonly in various loyalty programs (i.e. Uber, Grab, etc.), which are designed to encourage its users to perform desired actions or behaviours. Displaying these behaviours will in turn reward users with points which can be used within the platform to obtain various incentives, thereby conditioning its users to repeat the desired actions if they want to earn more points. 

Points are often paired alongside badges, which are used as a visual representation of a user’s achievements that can be earned within a game or a gamified platform (1). Badges can be used in a variety of functions in a gamified platform, either serving as a goal that a user work towards or to represent status symbols its users to show off. By associating certain challenges or tasks with badges, a user’s actions can be influenced and stir towards completing acts that reward players with these badges.  


Additionally, another impact badges can bring to games and gamified platforms lie in its ability to tap into social influence. Earning certain badges can be used as a form of symbolizing one’s membership into groups that share the same achievements (3), thus forming a small community among its users. 


Leaderboards and Progress Graphs

(Scoreboard found in navigation app, “Waze” via Google Image)

(Scoreboard found in navigation app, “Waze” via Google Image)

Humans thrive on feedback, whether if it’s for a project that we are working on or for a hobby that we seek to improve on. Feedback provides us with useful information that helps us determine the rate of our progression. In games and gamified platforms, feedback is often provided in the form of leaderboards and progress graphs.


The primary function of a leaderboard is to rank users against one another, according to the “success factor” or “winning state” of a game or gamified platform (4). By tapping into the competition as a motivator, implementing a leaderboard can encourage a sense of competitiveness among its users as they compare their performance to that of another user when performing specific tasks.


That being said, the motivational potential of leaderboards may vary, as it can either be an effective motivator as well as a demotivator. Research in gamification has shown that while competition caused by leaderboards can create social pressure, thus encouraging more user participation, it was found that the positive effects of competition are more likely to occur when users are performing at the relatively same pace or level (1). Likewise, if the majority of a user base is not motivated by competition, a leaderboard may often do more harm than good for a gamified platform. 


Aside from this, progress graphs also provide feedback about a user’s progress in a platform, by comparing a user’s current performance to that of their own at an earlier stage (5). In contrast to leaderboards, which compares a user’s performance to others, progress graphs only evaluate a user’s performance over time. 


Progress graphs motivate its users by allowing them to focus on their improvements in a game or a gamified platform, thus creating an environment that allows for learning and mastery to occur. 

Stories and Player Avatars

(Story mission page from fitness app “Zombies, Run!” via Google Images)

(Story mission page from fitness app “Zombies, Run!” via Google Images)

Stories have important emotional meaning that creates engagement from people. It captures the imagination of people while tying together an emotional experience. That is why having meaningful stories in games and gamification, and using them consistently can bring great results.


Stories can be a welcomed addition to a gamified platform as they complement existing elements like points and achievements with added contextual meaning (6). Some examples include adding characters that the users can relate to or even changing the context of an activity found in a gamified platform. A simple walk in the park can now be transformed into a thrilling survival run from attacking zombies. 


A user may feel inspired and motivated to immerse themselves if a story is engaging and in line with their own interests. 


Some platforms take this a step further and allow their users to be the main star of the story, by introducing player avatars. These are visual representations of a user within a game or gamified environment (1). More often than not, most platform allows for some level of customization for users to create their avatar to their liking. It helps give a sense of identity for the user and create even more immersion within the platform. Furthermore, allowing users to interact with others using their avatars can encourage social interaction within a platform, thus leading to communities being form.

Every day, we are often exposed to a wide variety of platforms that uses elements of gamification. So the next time you come across some of these elements, you will have a better understanding of why these elements were included in the first place. 


1)   Werbach, K. & Hunter, D. (2012). For the Win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business.

2)   Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011). Gamification: Toward a Definition.

3)   Antin, J. & Churcill, E.F. (2011). Badges in Social Media: A social psychological perspective.

4)   Costa, J. P., Wehbe, R. R., Robb, J. & Nacke, L. E. (2013). Time’s Up: Studying Leaderboards for Engaging Punctual Behaviour.'s_Up_Studying_Leaderboards_For_Engaging_Punctual_Behaviour

5)   Sailer, M., Hense, J., Mandl, H. & Klevers, M. (2013). Psychological Perspectives on Motivation through Gamification

Kapp, K. M. (2012).The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education

Gamification in Parenting

Written by: Sufiz Mohd Suffian

With the increasing awareness of gamification globally, many organisations have begun injecting gamification into just about everything. From gamifying employee Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), onboarding new recruits, and even purchasing new property. Whether it is by incorporating game elements to elicit competition, slapping on a leaderboard to rank "players", or curating an engaging experience, these all stem from game thinking and gamification. As most of us know, gamification does not necessarily mean creating a game. Rather, it is incorporating engaging elements in games into a non-game context. With the right application, organisations have yielded positive results in user engagement, revenue generation, and customer satisfaction. With such great results, it's no wonder organisations are rushing to squeeze gamification into just about anything.

But apart from the workplace, one wonders if there is a place for gamification in the household. Specifically, in parenting.

Parenting is akin to an amateur sport with consistent trial and error. Since I’ve become father to a beautiful baby girl, my wife and I have done considerable research utilizing various books on parenting - from understanding the way the brains of babies are wired to how parents have raised successful children in different parts of the globe. In our research, I couldn't help but notice some similarities between parenting and gamification. Obviously, I am not suggesting parents award points to their babies for taking regular naps, or rank children on a leaderboard. Much rather, I focused on the way parents have successfully engaged with their children to nurture and raise them to become confident and capable members of society.

So how does gamification relate to parenting then?

Creating the Right Environment
This may seem obvious, but what does creating the "right" environment really mean? In gamification, this usually involves creating a safe and engaging environment for "players" to play in. This is especially apparent in game-based learning or serious games where game elements are designed to trigger desired behaviours and reward players for continuously displaying them, which in turn reinforces and builds positive habits. Players can safely make mistakes and fail without any negative repercussions to their personal or professional lives.


Having a similarly safe and engaging environment is crucial for a child's development. The human brain is wired to focus on one thing, survival. If our brains think it is in any kind of danger, it will stop its focus on anything else, including learning. Once the brain senses that the danger has passed only then can learning resume. This means that using fear as a motivator to learn is not ideal. This includes rigid and strict parenting practices that force children to perform. Research has found that this has negative effects on a child's development and results in the child merely becoming a parrot, acting in a manner that pleases their parents but in reality does not actually improve their intelligence, which is known as learned helplessness. Instead, creating an environment filled with positive motivators is best for a child's development.

Playing to Learn

We all can agree that the one thing that children love to do is play. Gamification in essence is about injecting play into pretty much anything to make the experience fun. Although it isn't exactly like a game of tag or hop scotch, gamification is able to turn something that is mundane or serious into a fun and playful experience. Whether it is through the rush of collecting likes on your latest photo on Instagram, or securing enough sales to land you the top spot on your sale department's leaderboard, play is what ultimately drives engagement in players.


For children, play is often seen as a relief from serious learning, when in actuality for children play IS serious learning. Parenting experts (and expert parents) often emphasize on the importance of creative play for children. Free play teaches children to be less anxious and how to cope with stress. In fact, the more they play, the better they become at learning social skills and engaging in social or play contexts. Through pretend play, children are able to understand emotional challenges experienced in different roles and develop empathy.

Reframing Mindsets
Gamification has a way of changing the perceptions of players towards different situations, environments, or people by using the right game elements. The playful nature of games allows us reframe our mindsets by creating a safe and fun environment to let our guards down and welcome different possibilities into our minds. Reframing works particularly well with children.


Reframing with children is mainly about helping them shift their focus from what they cannot do to what they can do. Parents help children see situations from different perspectives, allowing them to focus on the less negative conclusions or outcomes. To do this, parents need to create a safe and positive environment for children that is free from negative labels (e.g. "He is so lazy") or limiting language (e.g. "I'm not good at that"). Negative labels and limiting language are very defining - the more children hear them, the more negative conclusions about themselves they make. Guiding children to a new, wider and more ambiguous picture about themselves and the world around them helps them to reframe positively.

Setting Rules of the Game
Games usually come with a set of rules for players to follow. To get the full experience or the desired results, players would follow these rules throughout the game. Parenting also comes with their own set of rules (and discipline), especially when it comes to raising a moral child. Children generally have an innate sense of right and wrong. However, moral behaviour is something that builds over time and requires a particular kind of guidance. Research has shown that families who raise moral children tend to follow very predictable patterns when it comes to rules and discipline. To sum it up, the recipe to moral children lie in three crucial ingredients: clear, consistent rules and rewards; swift punishment; and rules that are explained.


Parents need to set clear rules in the household and explain the rationale behind them along with their consequences to the children. If rules are broken, parents should impose punishment (that is emotionally safe and not a form of abuse) quickly, firmly, and consistently, which is then followed by explaining to the children why what they did was wrong. However, if children do follow the rules and display desired behaviours or even refrain from displaying bad behaviour, they should be rewarded or given praise as a form of acknowledgement. This helps children clearly differentiate between what is right and wrong, and ultimately builds their moral compass over time.

Parenting can be a daunting task especially to new parents. However, even games and gamification can provide useful guidance to the rookie parent in the sport of child development.


The Power of Habits

Research has found that we make thousands of decisions in a day (Sahakian & Labuzeta, 2013). How is that even possible? It's not possible, because our brain will overload & shut down. However the brain has a secret weapon - it's called habits. Up to 40% of decisions made by the brain are using habits (Verplanken & Wood, 2006), which greatly reduces the amount of active processing power the brain requires.

How Do Habits Work?

Habits work in loops. So each habit loop starts with a trigger/event. The brain then decides if this requires active thinking or recalling a habit that is stored. Once decided, an action is executed and the brain waits for feedback. If the feedback is good (reward)- it reinforces the habit, if the feedback is bad (pain/negativity), it starts to diminish the habit in the brain. In gamification, game designers use game mechanics that apply habit loops to reinforce the type of behaviours they want to see. If designed properly, gamification can help to enhance positive and constructive behaviours.

Now that we know how habits work, the next question is, what type of decisions and actions are hard coded into habits by our brain? Most of us have this idea that habits are for actions like which hand we use to hold our toothbrush or which route we take to work. We think that habits are formed for the mundane and low level decisions or actions. However, habits are formed based on which decisions or actions that is the most frequently used. The more times we repeat a decision/action, the more likely it will form habits. As such, for a sales professional, the habits that will form are; pitching to clients, handling objections, making cold calls, etc.  This means habits often take over the core functions of a person’s job.

Habits In Business Context

Here's the all important question. Why does a lot of business growth or culture change fail in organisations? It’s because habits overpower any external effort to change the default mode of habits – often known as comfort zones. As such, unless we focus on the behavioural components of habits, any transformation programme will yield little results. 

Why does training/e-learning sessions have a high failure rate of retention and sustainability in the workplace? The main reason is habits overpower any attempt by the person to apply new learning in the workplace. Participants need a space where they can unlearn, relearn and then apply the learnings while building new habits – all done before they go back to the workplace.

So then, what do we do? Habits are very hard to break, so we create new habits instead. By using gamified simulations, habit building models, and iterative techniques - we allow people to practice and rapidly develop the target behaviours and habits.

How effective is gamification in the context of learning? With one of our Fortune 500 client, their finance team reported a sales increase of 266% across the board for 300 staff that attended or sales simulations. The way we did it was by building the right habits so that when an event or trigger happens in the workplace, the brain will access the new habits as opposed to the old habits.

So if you are looking for business or behavioural results, make gamification your top consideration when implementing a solution.

An Effective Behavioural Change is Only 3 Steps Away

Written by: Gabriel Goh, Gamification Designer

This is an interactive article and I would like to invite you to take part in this – creating behavioural change in yourself.

Everyone longs for change. When I say change, it refers to a desirable change. For instance, John has been overworked doing everything by himself and he needs to learn to delegate his tasks to others. However, not everyone is willing to commit to change, simply because they think it is hard.

Before we talk about creating behavioural change, let us take a step back, how does an individual’s behaviour change occur? According to Fogg’s Behaviour Model, behavioural change occurs when the 3 components, namely Motivation, Ability, and Trigger are present at the same time.

Behavioural change = Motivation x Ability x Trigger

BJ Fogg.png

Before we dive into the components separately, here is my first question to you:


“What is the ONE behavioural change you would like to see in yourself?”


According to Fogg, there are 3 types of motivations, which are physical, emotional and social motivations. Let’s take John as an example and I will demonstrate how to apply gamification in the journey of delegating tasks. If you are wondering what gamification is, basically it is the use of game elements in non-game applications (in this case, to stop overworking) to keep you motivated and engaged in the task.


From my point of view, another term for physical motivation is extrinsic motivation. As human beings, we have the tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hence, we are inclined to do certain actions only if we know we will be rewarded. Tying back to the example, in order to make sure John starts delegating his tasks, we can reward him by offering tangible rewards that act as instant gratifications, such as free vouchers for a romantic getaway with his loved one, lunch opportunities with a CEO, etc.


From my point of view, emotional motivation refers to intrinsic motivation. According to Growth Engineering, hope is the most powerful motivator in making sure learners are engaged in the task. For instance, give him an Epic Meaning for delegating tasks. What does it mean to him if John changes his current behaviour? By doing so, it gives him a sense of purpose in taking part in something that is meaningful to him.

On the other hand, we could also use fear as another emotion to make sure that he is on track. For instance, we could leverage his fear of burning out mentally, fear of physical exhaustion, etc. Remember why was it so effective when your parents banned you from watching TV or eating dessert if you did not do what they wanted you to do? They utilised your fear of being deprived of the things that you desire as a “motivation”. It can normally be seen in games like Monopoly. For you to win, you need to keep yourself from falling into bankruptcy.



Social motivation is also known as the motivation for belonging. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of belonging is a basic human need and we cannot survive without it. This explains why prisoners are punished by being placed into solitary confinement as this is against human’s instinct to live alone.

Hence, it is common to see a lot of game developers create games that allow players to compete against or cooperate with one another. Besides that, they also include social elements into their games, such as leaderboards, forums, etc.

If John is motivated by having a sense of belongingness and relatedness, you can invite him to join a focus group where he could connect and share stories with colleagues or peers who have had a similar experience.

Here is another question for you: “What motivates you the most?”


In this model, the ability doesn’t refer to someone’s competency for a particular task. Fogg defines ability as to how simple it is to do a certain task. Simplicity is the key here as the more complicated a task is, the more motivation is required. Here are the 6 key elements that you should take note of when you are minimising your task. Before you proceed to the next question, do check out Fogg’s “Six Elements of Simplicity”.

If John was told to delegate all of his tasks on the very first day, it would seem almost impossible for him. As a result, he might not even start to change as the stakes are too high. It would be so much easier if the task is broken down into parts. Firstly, start with delegating 20% of his tasks, followed with 40%, 60% and so on.

“How would you make your task simpler?”

You’re almost there……


One last step. If we want to break out from our old lifestyles and achieve something new, we will need a reminder as a trigger. For instance, place post-it notes on your desktop or ask someone to be accountable for your change. As for John’s example, we could ask him to declare the changes he is going to make in front of his colleagues so that they can hold him accountable of his actions by reminding him from time to time.

Here is my last question for you: “What will you be using as your trigger?”

Or, “Who will hold you accountable?”

In a nutshell, make sure that the changes you want to implement really matters to you (motivation), the behaviours are as simple as possible (ability) and prompt yourself to take action in the right way (motivation). Most importantly, find out what keeps you engaged and gamify your process, I can assure you the path towards change is not as hard as it seems anymore.


3 Gamification Trends To Look Out For In 2019

Written by: Kerry Wong, Head of Gamification Design

The use of “Gamification” is becoming more widespread, as many organisations around the world are adopting the methodology to create positive behavioural change, strong organisational culture, better education and training. Gamification is here to stay but the job is still half done as it is still undergoing massive innovation. Here are 3 trends you need to look out for in gamification.


Gamification in Politics?

Gabe Zichermann, author of The Gamification Revolution(2013), Gamification by Design (2011) and Game-Based Marketing (2010), says that gamification will gain popularity in politics and civic organisations.

In the recent 2018 mid-term US elections, Gabe Zichermann collaborated with TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, a late-night talk and news satire programme, and launched a smartphone app called This Is Not a Game: The Game. The purpose of the app was to educate US citizens about the political sphere, test the electorate’s knowledge, and encourage players to vote.

Leading up to the big day, the app offered a daily trivia game, where players answer questions centred on the midterm elections, after which an inaugural pot of $5,000 will then be split among the winners. When players were knocked out, they could earn second chances by completing challenges such as registering as a voter and signing up for election reminders.

Source: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Source: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

It is what’s inside that counts.

Yu-Kai Chou, the author of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards(2017), says gamification will ‘go deeper’ as marketers seek for ways to make the desired behaviours enjoyable instead on stimulating action solely with rewards and gifts.

As the industry becomes more mature, gamification designs centred on rewards and incentives (extrinsic motivation) will give way to designs centred on making behaviours or tasks actually enjoyable for the participant to carry out (intrinsic motivation). While extrinsic motivation design is very helpful in getting a person to start performing a specific behaviour or task, it has been found that the moment extrinsic motivation is eliminated from the equation, the person will lose interest in continuing to carry out that particular behaviour or task.

For instance, if you want a child to perform well in school, an external incentive will only get you so far. Speaking from my own personal experience, I used to really like studying, I found the whole experience fun and engaging. Then, in my last year of primary education, I got my parents to agree to get me a present if I got good grades. The incentive worked, I was excited and driven, and I eventually got the grades to back it up.

However, once I entered my secondary education, the external incentive was no longer there and I ended up losing my initial motivation to study. The experience was no longer as fun or as engaging as before. I never really understood why until I found out about the impact of extrinsic motivation.

Perhaps a better way my parents could have done to tackle this would be to ignore my request and reassure my effort to foster my sense of self-achievement (PS: I love my parents, mind you). After all, someone who is intrinsically motivated is more likely to continue working on it despite the challenges they may face.

Source: Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework – Left Brain (Extrinsic) vs Right Brain (Intrinsic)

Source: Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework – Left Brain (Extrinsic) vs Right Brain (Intrinsic)

How you feel impacts what you do.

An Coppens, Founder and Chief Game Changer of Gamification Nation, wrote an article highlighting empathy mapping and how it plays a role in instigating behavioural change.

In the new age of gamification, a strong and emotionally engaging narrative will be important. For example, Judy Willis, a neurologist wrote in her book that fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the human body – all things that promote learning. So, it is important to incorporate happy and fun experiences when designing a learning programme to nurture these positive emotions, which subsequently leads to a higher retention rate.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

It is interesting to see how gamification has matured as an industry, as well as the shift towards a more intrinsically motivated approach. Can’t wait to see how it would evolve in 2019!