Gamification in content creation: how to do it (and some successful examples)

Gamification in content creation: how to do it (and some successful examples)

Massimiliano Santolin Published on 6/7/2024

Gamification is a tried-and-tested communication technique that adds depth and enjoyment to the user experience.

This article was conceived and written in collaboration with Federica Morichetti, copywriter and content manager at GreatPixel.

With short-form videos (less than 30 seconds long) more popular than ever before, and a generation of users with an attention span lasting fewer than 8 seconds, ‘less is more’ is a key concept in modern content creation.

Gamification, however, offers an alternative. This communication technique adds depth to the experience, rather than taking it away, gratifies the user  and boasts a long line of success stories. In this article we’ll take a closer look at some examples of gamification in action.

Gamification: what is it, and why does it work?

Gamification uses mechanisms typically seen in games in unusual contexts to create a new level of experience for the consumer. This process can be applied to myriad situations across both physical and digital media, and can produce wide-ranging effects: building loyalty, creating communities and interaction, or simply encouraging purchases. Its potential knows no bounds: an effective gamification process can revolutionise the approach a brand takes to a certain product or service.

The gamification market is growing exponentially:

  • According to Mordor Intelligence, while it is currently worth a whopping $15.43 billion, its value is set to reach $48.72 billion by 2027.
  • Research recently conducted by Mambo.IO, a business that specialises in gamification solutions, found that using gamification techniques can increase customer engagement by up to 48%.
  • Using loyalty programmes with gamification elements can generate a 22% rise in customer retention.

Why is it so effective? It may sound trivial, but play is good for us. Back in 2011, video game designer Jane McGonigal explained how adding an element of play to our activities can have incredible benefits: it’s all down to chemical processes in our brain that give us a sense of satisfaction when ticking boxes, accumulating points, defeating opponents, and so on.

However, in her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, McGonigal makes an important point: a game will not encourage anyone to do an activity they are not really interested in.

A scoring system therefore cannot be an end in itself: it must be founded on an intrinsic motivation, a wider meaning that gives it value. Gamification is at its most valuable when a perceived human need is combined with a satisfying user experience.

There are countless examples of brands that have used this process to revolutionise their relationship with the public, and sometimes with their entire sector.

Gamification: three success stories

1. Duolingo and the learning revolution

One excellent example is Duolingo, an app employing innovative marketing techniques that have kept it at the forefront of its sector ever since its release.

It all began in 2009, when Luis von Ahn – a professor at Carnegie Mellon University – and his former student, Severin Hacker, came up with the idea of offering free, easy and enjoyable language learning.

Underpinning this incredible success was the realisation that learning a new language, particularly as an adult, while often necessary, is also expensive and complicated. Duolingo tackles this using a fully data-driven approach that sees the app adapt to the user’s needs, thus providing a personalised experience.
The app’s division into levels, where you progress by accumulating points, and the opportunity to monitor your own progress turned something that had always been ‘invisible’ in language-learning into something tangible, creating a virtuous circle that encourages the user to open the app more often and therefore learn more quickly.

2. My Starbucks Rewards: building customer loyalty

Starbucks, the famous coffee house with franchises all over the world, is the perfect demonstration of how a historic firm can continue to be innovative without losing its identity. Since it opened its first premises in Seattle in 1971, it has never stopped evolving, always adapting skilfully to the global market.

The way Starbucks completely revamped its in-app loyalty programme, incorporating game-like elements, provides a crystal-clear example of how gamification techniques can be used to bring together digital and physical experiences to encourage people to visit premises in person (drive-to-store).

It features two particularly interesting elements: the Star Dash programme and Starbucks for Life. The former gives users specific perks on their purchases using time pressure techniques: creating a sense of urgency in users that pushes them to complete the task within a certain time-frame, thereby turning a routine action into a fun challenge. The latter, meanwhile, offers customers the chance to win free coffee for a week, month or year by completing challenges and mini-games, thereby rewarding customers for their brand loyalty.

In addition to these two programmes, on multiple occasions Starbucks has shown great awareness of its customer base in its successful partnerships. There are too many to mention here (Coca-Cola, The New York Times and Spotify, to name but three), but we would like to focus on PokémonGo: when the game was at the height of its popularity, Starbucks transformed its cafes into PokéStops and Gyms, encouraging customers to catch Pokémon and challenge other players there . Starbucks’ gamification efforts have brought it a customer retention rate of 44%, considerably higher than the average for the sector (25%).

3. Headspace: the power of community

Headspace is an app and digital platform devoted to guided meditation, founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, in 2010, and seeking to promote mental wellbeing and mindfulness (a sense of inner awareness). The benefits of his meditations, which last around ten minutes, have been trumpeted by various media outlets in the UK and USA, and the company even signed a partnership deal with Netflix in 2021 for a three-season TV series.

So why is Headspace so successful? Right from the off, the platform incorporated various elements of gamification, and it offers a multifaceted experience, allowing users to gain rewards and monitor their progress. This all helps make meditation – which by its very nature requires a good deal of perseverance – much less tedious.

In addition to providing badges for completing daily meditations and allowing users to monitor their progress, the most important element is the major focus on sharing and community creation: Headspace users have the opportunity to connect, and even compete, with one another.

The future of gamification

Gamification is a constantly shifting frontier with enormous potential. If brands take the time to understand its principles and learn from its success stories, they will gain a host of different techniques they can use to strengthen their content-creation strategies.

Moreover, in our constantly shifting digital landscape, with virtual reality, the Metaverse and AI spreading at breathtaking speed, there is still plenty of scope for new potential applications of game-like features. Recent innovations include interactive experiences conducted using VR headsets and the creation of branded spaces inside the Metaverse, where customers can interact with staff using avatars. This type of interactivity blending digital and physical suggests an exciting future for the customer experience.

In conclusion, gamification can be a vital part of any creative strategy seeking to put the user experience at centre stage – it can help brands understand users’ needs and desires and revolutionise users’ perception of many activities that have until now been considered trivial or monotonous.

So what are you waiting for? Game on!