A lot of apps use some form of gamification to keep the users on track and motivated. For example see this screenshot of a language learning app (Memrise).
You have some bars being filled, some stars or marks getting checked for each day etc.
Very extrinsic motivators.

Now this might be okay for an app of this type. But suppose I have an app about personal development / self-improvement. The userbase here would of course have a higher intrinsic base-motivation, so they need less external factors to keep them active. But one would still like to have some extra motivating features in their app, to help the users with their behavioral change and to prevent early drop-outs.

Now what I'm actually wondering is, how would users who are using an app for deeper, serious reasons react to such design elements? For example if I used something like the loss aversion pattern, as Facebook did here. Would something like this be too obvious for users and make them think of the app as too shallow for using such "simple" things?

I'm already trying to avoid a lot of the gamification stuff because it is purely based on extrinsic motivation, so I would like to know if there are any elements one could use that foster intrinsic motivation or at least help with it somehow. Something that still looks "serious" to the user.

Of course I know: testing, interviews with your users to find out etc., but this is a more theoretical question and I'd like to see different possibilities and opinions.

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    Have a look at Habitica (habitica.com), they made a whole game-like app for self improvement ;) – Adriano Oct 18 '18 at 22:36

The use of the description 'meaningful app' might mean different things to different people, but if you are asking whether gamification can potentially put some people off your app in certain types of context, it is definitely possible because there are certainly different attitudes and behaviours that affect how 'sticky' an app is (i.e. how engaged we become).

Generally speaking, a good design considers the balance between various factors, so that a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic elements weaved into the user flow and interactions in the app could provide the optimal experience for the majority of users. This is why I wouldn't necessarily rule out one over the other (unless you have specifically tested for the differences).

However, it is important to consider the difference between engagement and addictive behaviour because there is a very fine line that is also not very well defined.

So in summary, I do believe gamification can be used correctly for your purpose, as long as it is authentic and true to meeting the needs of the users and actually solving a problem for them. There is a saying that: "the difference between medicine and poison is the dosage", so I would just take care to use only what is necessary to achieve the outcome desired.

Hopefully some of the people will be able to provide actual examples from existing apps to illustrate this (I couldn't think of any off the top of my head).

  • Well I guess in the end the main point is "actually solving a problem" and that a person won't really mind the design means if they help them solve their problem. I was kinda hoping for more specific examples, but your answer is already direction giving enough. – Big_Chair Oct 20 '18 at 14:22
  • @Big_Chair I think there are meditation apps that have gamification elements embedded within to help people progress, and language learning apps have been doing this for a while too. Habitica was a good example and I have used it before but it was not for me (although that's not to say it doesn't work for other people). – Michael Lai Oct 20 '18 at 22:54

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