Is It Gamification? 5 Ways to Know

Is It Gamification? 5 Ways to Know

What is gamification and how can we know if a process has been gamified?

In a few weeks, I’ll be speaking at the Social Media Strategies Summit Higher Ed in Boston about the gamification of educational processes, and I thought I would share a few thoughts about the concept of gamification in general.

educational gamification

First off, the natural reaction to hearing the term gamification is to immediately think of games (and, in most cases, video games). It makes sense after all, when one considers the fact that the process of gamifying involves the integration of game techniques to (sometimes) mundane practices. But gamification is much more than that.

At its core, a gamified process is simply one wherein participants shift statuses by way of achievement. For example, if I am on Level 1 and I complete all the required tasks in order to move to Level 2, this is the core of a gamified process, but it does not necessarily possess the criteria to be fully gamified. What are those criteria, and how can we turn a standard Status-Achievement model into a gamified one?

There are five inherent human desires that a gamified process attempts to leverage.


Perhaps most obviously, a key component of any gamified experience involves competition. Whether players/customers/students/people/etc. are competing against one another, against time or even against themselves (e.g. beating your high score or best time) the competitive nature of a process is crucial if it is gamified.

The competition does not necessarily need to be fierce. Of course in games there can be winners and losers. In a gamified process or experience, as noted above, there are several types of competition that might exist.


Ultimately, the incentive for any participant to continue with the process is going to be the achievement. This might be the progression to a new ‘level’ (whatever that might mean for the process) the unlocking of a badge, or any number of other rewards or new elements.


Just as we have seen from sociological studies looking at class, caste or social status, status in a gamified process is an extremely important incentive for participants to continue and move from one ‘level’ to the next.

Looking at something like the educational space, status can be something macro, such as a grade level, or micro, such as the number of gold stars a student has received over the course of the week. Both are means to incite effort on the part of the student to reach the next status through achievement.


Relationship building is often a key component to the success of a gamified process. Take a look at Starbucks, for example. They have done a phenomenal job of gamifying their mobile app, and a major part of that has been done through the altruistic aspect they have incorporated. Users can send and receive gifts, tip and invite friends to use the app, possibly by giving them the aforementioned card.

Altruism – though not necessarily a part of the gamified process directly – is a key strategy when acquiring new users. As with the inherent desires listed above, altruism is another human trait on which gamified experiences can benefit.


Community collaboration is excellent way to drive increased engagement, build on the altruism and give focus to the competition (with regards to reaching the achievement). When people work together in order to move up to a new status as a group, processes can move faster and more can be learned.

Community collaboration has seen a sharp rise in recent years with the growth of the share economy, which is another area where several processes have been gamified either explicitly or subtly (think Uber drivers competing for fares and obtaining stars).


There is a reason why we have seen such success with gamified processes: they build off of human nature and desire! Though the term ‘gamification’ has only really existed for a few years, the concept has been in play for a long time. When the game-type elements are brought to the forefront, however, there is a great chance for success.

I’ll be talking all about this with respect to the world of education in Boston in a few weeks. If you’re around, consider stopping by! Find out about the event here.

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Corey Padveen is a data-oriented marketing professional with a focus on statistical analyses of human behavior. This specialization has led him to speak and present at dozens of conferences around the world, to write for a variety of reputable online and print publications, and recently, to publish ‘Marketing to Millennials For Dummies’ as part of the world-renowned ‘For Dummies’ series. He regularly shares real world examples and findings from his research, and discusses how members of society are evolving as consumers, communicators, and a global network as a whole.
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