Oriol Banús Product designer and lecturer passionate about solving problems through design.

Gamification in UX: Increasing engagement through games

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UX Analysis of Gamification

According to a study conducted in 2021 by Statista, gaming applications were responsible for over 55.5 billion downloads worldwide, making them the most downloaded app category. This rocketed them far above tool apps, which generated 12.13 billion downloads globally, and social media apps, accumulating almost 10 billion downloads during the examined year.

What is the magic ingredient that makes the game category the most downloaded in the app stores? In this article, we will try to understand the psychology behind a game, the structures used to build them, and easy examples of how to gamify non-game apps. Let’s start!

Gamification Example

Gamification enhances engagement

Let’s be honest, the final objective of all mobile applications is to generate money constantly by fulfilling a user’s needs. It’s important to focus attention on the adjective “constant,” a word that is used to describe something that occurs continuously or repeatedly.

Businesses are always looking for growth, so therefore an app, as a business itself, is looking to generate money constantly and grow its numbers each month.

The first thing we need to be aware of is that the application must fulfill a user’s needs. As much as we try to trick a user, if we are not satisfying a need, our application will never be successful; but if this is granted, we can enhance our user’s engagement by adding the typical elements found in games into our non-game applications.

Before we continue, let’s review some important terms that will help us with our gamification.

Engagement, monetization, and loyalty


In this scenario, we can define engagement as how invested users are in using an app. In other words, the times a user opens an app and how much time they spend using it during the day.

The more minutes a user spends in your app, the more engagement the app generates, meaning you have more minutes to generate revenue.

There are three factors to consider when measuring engagement:

  • Frequency and duration of a user session on the app
  • The number of actions taken within the app
  • Retention rate (meaning the user keeps using the app over a long time span)

High engagement is a good sign a company can monetize an app. On the other hand, low engagement would make it difficult to ask for money from the user.


Monetization is not the topic of this article, but still it is important to mention a few ways you can generate some revenue, since this is the goal of gamification for many applications:

  1. Sponsorships and adverts: Free applications, or the free version of them, will subsist by adding advertisements embedded on the application as banner ads, interstitial ads, or even native apps
  2. Paid apps and in-app purchases: Some applications will ask you to pay upfront to use their services, but the most used method is the freemium model where the user can freely use the product for a period of time or use certain features for free. Later on, they will be asked for money to keep using the service or to unblock a certain feature of the application
  3. Subscriptions: So far, the most successful revenue method for companies is that you grant a company a monthly and steady income from a subscription service


Another important concept here that goes hand in hand with engagement is the concept of loyalty. Loyalty is understood in these circumstances as a retention strategy that consists of rewarding customers for constantly engaging with your brand instead of competitors’ brand: the more they buy, the more they get.

In a world with different apps and websites offering the same product or service, it’s really important to generate a fanbase of loyal customers that will always choose you over your competitors.

Retaining an existing customer is 5 times cheaper than acquiring a new one, and a significant portion of an ecommerce store’s revenue, specifically 41 percent, is generated by only 8 percent of its loyal customers.

Generally, gamification strategies fall inside loyalty strategies because a player returns to the app to play, making the player a loyal fan.

Connecting the dots

The goal of your app is to sell a physical product or service that satisfies a user’s needs. However, you face two challenges: maintaining a steady flow of revenue over time and differentiating yourself from direct competitors to become the top product in the market.

To address these challenges, you want to create a fanbase that is engaged and loyal to your product.

Gamification is one potential characteristic that can help you achieve this goal. While there may be other methods to explore, gamification can certainly help a business increase customer engagement.

Top research insights into successful gamification

To learn more about gamification, I carefully benchmarked lots of games and went through different research interviews and surveys on the Glovo App. I would like to explain the main insights I discovered about successful gamification strategy:

  1. Users assume that in a gamification strategy, they will receive monetary rewards in the form of discounts, prizes, or promo codes
  2. Even though financial benefits are perceived as motivators, other variables have to be taken into account. Meaning, there are personal motivators stronger than money. As an example, we can say that a person that likes to eat health food might never purchase McDonald’s, even if they have a chance of winning a TV. Small amounts of money generally can’t beat personal beliefs and morals
  3. Games can be advanced or simple, depending on the development of the game
  4. Loyalty can be gamified. Games can be created in order to generate loyalty. The user has fun playing and getting prizes; this strategy helps to associate the usage of the app with getting rewarded
  5. Games usually have continuity. The play will last for some time, maybe until the users finish the game or because they have run out of time. Still, we can have games without continuity that are played only once.
  6. There is always a motivation to play a game, but it can relate to one or the other:
    1. Intrinsic motivation: Games that are played to gain something personal, such as learning a language
    2. Extrinsic motivation: Games that are played to gain something monetary (such as all ecommerce transactions)
  7. A game’s success is measured with one of these four elements
    1. Completion of a single game
    2. Points
    3. Levels
    4. Badges
  8. The entry point of all games must be easily approachable; all the participants of the research I examined mentioned that the game must be always accessible, having a preference to have access from the home page. Other interviewees mentioned the game can automatically start or continue during the user’s interaction with the app, meaning that the game start automatically without the need to trigger a play button, obviously always after gaining consent.

So now you know a bit more about the world of games, and you’re probably putting together how you could incorporate one into your app. Let me outline game structure so you can bring your idea to life and sell your team on the UX benefits with a clear plan.

How to use gamification: The game structure

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations

The success of gamification relies on a well-structured game that can stimulate players. This structure consists of three critical components:

  1. Establish a clear and challenging goal that players must achieve. This goal can be related to actions such as earning a reward or saving money on a purchase
  2. Present players with a series of challenges that align with the goal or separate tasks that earn points or other rewards. These challenges can be related to purchases, inviting friends to use the app, or registering for a newsletter
  3. Provide players with proportional rewards that correspond to the difficulty of the challenges and the time and effort invested in the game. Rewards can be virtual (e.g., points, badges, or levels) or tangible (e.g., discounts, merchandise, or special offers)

The four game structures and measuring success

Five Examples of Gamification

We mentioned this earlier, but games utilize four fundamental concepts to keep users engaged, whether the game is a short or an infinite experience. These concepts can also be applied to other forms of gamification.

  1. Single game: This is a game in which the user may or may not win a prize and can require multiple wins to achieve a final victory. However, this approach lacks continuity, as there is no long-term engagement
  2. Challenges/badges: This involves completing tasks or collections of small tasks within a set time frame to receive rewards. A trophy is a reward the user obtains after completing a collection of challenges. This approach provides mid-term continuity to keep users engaged
  3. Lottery: Users receive participation in a prize draw each time they purchase a specific product. Prizes can be awarded via a raffle or through collection. This approach provides an element of surprise but lacks continuity
  4. Levels/points: Both level and point concepts offer different benefits and provide infinite-term continuity to keep users engaged. Users earn points or complete challenges to progress through levels, with each level offering different rewards. Levels present as a fictional progress bar, while points act as a fictional currency

These four concepts are key to keeping users engaged and can be used effectively in gamification.

Important game concepts

Failure and winning

When playing a game, whether it’s a single play or it has continuity, the resolution of the game is winning or failing.

There are some situations where we always win, even if it’s a morale win without a real prize. Other apps play by the rules and failing is a possibility.

Including the possibility of failing is a good option because it feels more real and makes the game more competitive.


Gamification is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it can vary in complexity depending on the intended audience and the goals of the game. For example, some apps have comprehensive gamification systems that incorporate various elements such as points, levels, challenges, and rewards, making it a more challenging and complex game. In contrast, ecommerce apps usually feature simpler gamification features, like easy games or long-term loyalty programs that provide points or levels.

The simplicity of games tends to attract more users, especially those who want a quick and straightforward reward system. However, the more complex games can offer more engagement and motivation for players, but they require more effort and may not be suitable for all users.

Game developers must carefully evaluate the complexity of their games to ensure they provide the right level of challenge and motivation for their target audience.


Maintaining continuity is a crucial element of gamification that helps to ensure users remain engaged and invested in the game. While some games may not require continuity, most are designed to incorporate some level of continuity, whether through a long-term loyalty program or a series of mid-term challenges.

Popular structures for creating long-term loyalty include points and levels, while challenges and badges can provide a mid-term focus for users. Game designers should carefully consider the desired level of continuity for their game and structure it accordingly to meet the needs and expectations of their target audience.

Motivation and rewards

In loyalty programs, rewards play a crucial role in motivating users to participate, and gamification can enhance this experience. While discounts and promo codes are effective motivators, non-monetary rewards can also be useful in some cases.

The brain’s reward system shows that earning points or levels can generate similar sensations to social media likes, which trigger dopamine and create an addiction to seeking gratification. Therefore, non-monetary rewards such as early access to products, exclusive experiences, or additional features may be more appropriate in certain contexts.

Ultimately, the choice of reward should align with the goals of the gamification strategy and the preferences of the target audience.

Create your own game

With all the concepts we have unveiled in this article, anybody can combine the elements to create their own game. Here is a quick list of topics you need to go through in order to create the game, all of which have been reviewed previously in this article.

N.B., before creating the game, remember to set goals and objectives. Not everything is valid, so it is important to know what the business objective behind the game is. Typical reasons include increasing sales, promoting a product, or generating loyalty.

  1. Tasks and complexity:
    1. Single task: Complete a task to finish the game
    2. Multiple tasks or challenges: Complete several tasks over a period of time in order to finish a mission
  2. Continuity or duration: Determine how long a play session lasts. Sometimes, the strategy is to create a short game during a user’s interaction with the application, while other times, it is to create a game that lasts over time, engaging with the user and generating more loyalty
  3. Loyalty: We have already talked about the concept of loyalty, but it is important to mention whether loyalty can be built into a game strategy or not. Typical strategies range from a stamp card membership to a points system that can be redeemed for prizes or discounts.
  4. Rewards: As mentioned before, it is important to reward users, as nobody likes to do things for free! Here, it is important to think about which kinds of prizes users will receive by participating in the quest. Typical rewards range from discounts to expensive gifts

Last words

Inspirational apps with fun games

I recommend you explore the following apps and games to get to know more about gamification on ecommerce apps:

To sum up

People like to play, so mixing their difficult or undesirable duties with a dynamic and fun approach can help your users enjoy their tasks. This, in turn, can improve business metrics.

Each product or service requires analysis to create the perfect scenario for their game. Keep in mind that not all problems can be solved with a game, but rather the game can be a solution to a problem.

Header image source: IconScout

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Oriol Banús Product designer and lecturer passionate about solving problems through design.

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