On Location Based Applications the use of Gamification is essential. As you move along and check in you earn badges and points. Users also find themselves in a leader board, which most certainly encourage at least some users to use the app more than they first intended.

Gamification is also one of the drivers of Stack Exchange different sites. Reputation points, differently categorized badges (bronze, silver and gold) and acceptance rate. Also, users get more permission the more reputation points they earn.

I admit I'm very encouraged by Gamification, and try to find ways to earn more points and badges (and hats during christmas) as I participate in the discussion. I admit I updated the tag-wiki, just because I wanted more reputation points and to get this site to be more complete - since it was asked in the meta-forum. But my real driver was the reputation points. It's not the only driver for me, but it is an important one.

Now, are there any studies or white papers on changes of user behavior based on Gamification? ...or in short: How does Gamification change User Behavior?


9 Answers 9


Gamification is a design tool. You might call it a buzzword or a temporal rage but it is gaining proper academic support.

The most concise definition that I have come across is:

Gamification is the use of game element and game design techniques in a non game context.

Gamification needs voluntariness (if you are forced in a Points,badge system it is NOT gamification), learning or problem solving aspect (if not, then it is just play) and, it needs a balance of structure and exploration. Finally, you need to think of your users as players and make the activity fun.

Systems like stackoverflow and foursquare are using points, badges and leaderboards (PBLs) as their game elements for user engagement. Foursquares model is extrinsic since you can get discounts and such, but, like SO, there are other forms of gamification which use intrinsic rewards.

While designing for intrinsic rewards you need to think of three characteristics of intrinsic motivation:

  • Competence: Ability of the user to achieve something within the activity
  • Autonomy: The user should be able to make meaningful choices
  • Relatedness: Can the user relate to the activity? (going green, etc.)

Fitocracy is a good example of a gamified system working on these elements:


  • PBLs should be used for intrisic motivation (badges meaning nothing outside the system and cannot be used to purchase stuff)
  • When you're taking challenges, you are getting in better shape and feel good about yourself. This keeps you self-motivated to do it.


  • The user should be the one calling the shots. You are not supposed to guide the user step by step. Let the user pick his/her own challenges.


  • Fitocracy involves a social aspect which makes it easier for people to keep going. It is better with friends/groups AND you're not in this alone.

Fitocracy also maintains good activity loops:

  • Engagement loop: (Motivate -> challenge -> feedback) repeat
  • Progression loop: It is a journey for the person from his current level (may be beginner or intermediate) to mastery(or higher). You take challenges, you rest, challenges get harder, and once a while you do a big challenge and looking back you can see how much you have progressed which acts as self motivation

Now talking about behavior design, one of the widely accepted models is the Fogg behavior model:

Behavior happens when motivation, ability and trigger happen simultaneously. B = mat

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The 2 activity loops I mentioned above tie in quite well with Fogg's model. The engagement loop ties in with the motivation aspect and the progression loop ties in with the perceived ability aspect.

I bring this up because it basically reinforces the argument that gamification can be and is used for behavior design and the secret ingredient is fun.

Well-designed games are great at triggering, putting something in front of you at the right moment. Understanding your user's behavior, how people react to the system and looking at the analytics data provides guidance for giving them the right triggers at the right moment to encourage them.

Richard Ryan & Edward Deci, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 2000 (Overview of self-determination theory concepts by it primary developers.)

Sebastian Deterding, Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right, Google Tech Talk, January 24, 2011 (Presentation explaining the Self Determination Theory case against behavioral approaches to gamification.)

Essential read for gamifiaction and game design: Rules of play by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen

Another rockstar in the field: Jane Mcgonigal She does not like to use the term gamification ;) TED talk - Gaming can make a better world.

You can hear Jesse Schelle from CMU and a leader in the field talk about it (in a sarcastic manner)

BJ Fogg's website (Stanford professor and expert in behavior design) - A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design (paper)

  • 1
    Helped me refresh my concepts for answering this :)
    – rk.
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 19:18
  • It's actually better than the previous accepted answer. Especially the reasoning on design tool. It's a proof of that design techniques evolve over time. Commented May 2, 2013 at 19:22
  • 1
    Thanks a lot for the reading list! I am extremely interested in game design as well as gamification as UX tool. This is a great bunch of resources for me check out. Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 17:34

The thing about gamification is that it's basically a buzzword. What does it even mean? Looking at examples around the web, Foursquare and StackExchange being good examples, what you're essentially seeing is apps that motivate behaviour they'd like to encourage with an extrinsic rewards system.

When you think of it like that, there's a lot of research and worthwhile reading that you can look for to inform your views. And just like in any other extrinsic rewards system, behaviour changes as a result of the system being in place. (I can point you to a bunch of websites and blogs that are worth looking into but perhaps someone could add papers and books to the answer later.)

For example, rewarding employees by offering them a performance-based cash bonus has several consequences. One is that you'll see hard workers work even harder if they're motivated by the reward. Another is that you'll see magnified office politics as people try to get managers to see them as the better performer. So there are some ups and downs to consider. As Wikipedia mentions in its article on motivation:

Social psychological research has indicated that extrinsic rewards can lead to overjustification and a subsequent reduction in intrinsic motivation.

Hope that helps.

Further reading on motivation:

  • The Psychology of Games is a blog written by a psychologist about how videogames/the games industry and psychology interact. For instance, he discusses everything from how World of Warcraft is perceived as being so addictive to what kind of effect Microsoft Points have on purchasing games in the marketplace. (in fact, game designer refer to this as "mastery based interaction design")
  • What Games Are is another great blog by a game designer that tends to be quite introspective and looks at various foundational blocks that make up games.
  • Daniel Pink's book Drive discusses "what truly motivates us and how we can use that knowledge to work smarter and live better" and comes highly recommended.
  • Kathy Sierra's blog, Creating Passionate Users, has plenty of posts that talk about how psychology affects user behaviour. The great thing about Kathy is that she was talking about this stuff before people figured out that it was a good idea :)
  • The Lost Garden blog by Daniel Cook has a lot of discussion on mastery-based interaction design and how game designers can change user behaviour by making things fun by taking advantage of game mechanics (note: Blogger was throwing an error when I tried to access this page on Thu May 12th)
  • Stephen Anderson's Mental Notes cards and related talks/slides are a result of a lot of research into how behaviour and motivation affect use of web products and software. He might be the most important speaker on the topic currently, so if you want direct answers, make sure you contact him. He's also writing a book called Seductive Interaction Design which looks at how sites like Foursquare increase conversion and stickiness by using principles from psychology.

I read a great analysis of Foursquare badges that users actually earn a few months ago, and unfortunately I can't find it again. The gist, though, was that almost all users get the badge for visiting one place, a few less get 5 places, etc. and very few peole get the badge for visiting 50 unique places. On the other hand, the badge for visiting the same place a whole lot was much more common. The conclusion was that the badges might reinforce things users were inclined to do anyway (visit their favorite place a lot, which they argue is more common), but they weren't enough to change behavior to something else (try something new every night).

The same might not hold true for something like the Nike run tracker thing, or other things where the user is intrinsically motivated to change their behavior.

  • 8
    Could it be this article ?
    – Marielle
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 21:42
  • Yes, I think so, good find :)
    – Pam G
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 22:51

Sebastian Deterding has given some interesting presentations about the topic of gamification, he also seems interested in its impact on UX.

  • Seconded! Some very interesting presentations here
    – Tom
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 9:28

You might find Jesse Schell's lecture, 'Design Outside The Box', an enlightening one. It's not an official published study format, but I found that it was both eye-opening and a little scary at the same time.


I think that based upon the information provided above, it's safe to say that Gamification does change users' behaviour.


  • It creates a system where people want to "advance" or "progress" through the system
  • It puts in place an automatic "checks and balances" program, where the system is given cases or criteria and if we meet those criteria, then we progress or earn achievements
  • It provides an insight into our character, makes the user more trusted, more respected (or feared, if it's a game)
  • It provides an incentive to participate and own our input, or feel a part of the community

I believe that Gamification appeals to our need to be recognised (Maslow). So if we're not careful, we can get caught up in acquiring points, which could be harmful, unless it actually is a game, but in the case of Stack Exchange, although it is a great way of improving the site's content, to have high reputation points generally means that you can be trusted and if not used well (some ambitious person just trying to get noticed) then we can actually influence someone to follow our advice, and it may not be right for them to do so.

Gamification is a great way to encourage user participation, and provides a ranking system which can improve the site's content, it clearly does change a user's behaviour, for the better or for the worse is up to each individual to decide for themselves, I believe.


On The Media, a US radio program on public broadcasting, featured a segment on the use of Gamification by Jihadist websites in order to increase participation. Gamification is a powerful influence on Stack Exchange and elsewhere.


Recently on the gamification research network mailing list, a member linked to a new peer-reviewed paper on defining gamification. You can download the paper here and read a short version in form of a blog post.

a process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user’s overall value creation.

This triggered some interesting responses and linked to another publication - Calibration Games. In this paper it outlines a design process and comments on the change in behaviour when adding game elements.


One important factor which in certain contexts will have a higher impact than extrinsic rewards is surely the intrinsic rewards. This is in particular true in competitive and reputation-based environments, where recognition for completeted achievements is importantant for differentiations among peers. Enabling people to be perceived as "experts", "gurus" etc, can be enough of a driver to influence engagement patterns, and inspire people to submit content, actions etc.

Other intrinsic rewards which can influence user behaviour is learning as well as entertainment. Such elements can equally create a drive for visitors to see it being valuable to participate.

Extrinsic rewards such as discounts, gifts etc surely have a value as such, but will probably not generate a complete change in behaviour, driven by differentiation in the way that intrinsic rewards can do.

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