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How to develop your app gamification strategy: Everything you need to know

The gamification market had a global value of $9.1 billion in 2020 and is projected to register a growth rate of 27.4% by 2025 – reaching a total of $30.7 billion. Developing an app gamification strategy helps you retain users for longer and create a more satisfying user experience. The corporate sector, which is the biggest user of game-based learning solutions, achieved a growth rate of 47.5% in 2019. Gamification also helps increase organic installs and boost revenue generated by in-app purchases and in-app advertising. In this guide we will define what gamification is and share app gamification strategies that can also be implemented for non-gaming apps.

What is an app gamification strategy?

Gamification is the practice of implementing gaming elements into your mobile app. It can be used to get users engaged and focused on their goals, while optimizing for critical KPIs such as retention rate, sessions, churn, return on ad spend (ROAS) and improving the overall user experience.

Gamification app design uses basic psychology to keep users engaged. Gamified mobile apps ensure that the user is rewarded with a sense of achievement that motivates them to return to the app and enjoy using it for longer. This gives you a competitive edge and enables you to achieve your growth goals.

Implementing gamified elements into your mobile app does not require you to redesign your entire product. You can develop and include your app gamification design as an additional feature.

Why is gamification an effective strategy for mobile apps?

There are the four key advantages to gamifying your mobile app:

  • Generate organic installs: Implementing your gamification app design elements will increase the stickiness of your app. Creating a more satisfying user experience will also encourage your users to share your app with friends and generate organic installs. For example, a fitness app with gamified elements may also offer users the opportunity to share their achievements on social media. This user-generated content is a smart way to increase brand awareness and give users a chance to celebrate their achievements with friends and family.

  • Drive motivation and increase your retention rate:

    Gamification app design works to incentivize users to stay engaged for longer. This can have a huge impact on your retention rates and lower churn.

  • Unlock user creativity: By Gamifying elements in your mobile app, you can unlock your user's creativity to produce a more stimulating and enjoyable experience.

  • Make onboarding fun for your users: Onboarding users has to be enjoyable to avoid a high churn rate. It is also critical to provide users with all the information they need to use your mobile app. By offering a more engaging way to onboard your users, your users can get the most out of your app over time while having fun during the educational process

5 gamification ideas for apps you need to know

There are several gamification ideas for apps that can help you achieve your goals. Here are five popular gamification elements that can be used to increase retention and create a fun and rewarding user experience.

1. Progress display:

Whether you implement a points system or reward users with in-app badges, including a progress display is a smart way to keep users engaged and motivated. For educational apps this could be tracking the time they have spent learning and tracking their performance on quizzes. For fitness apps a user’s progress display could include run times, calorie counts and the number of workouts completed each week.

2. User rewards:

You can retain users by rewarding them for their in-app activity. Incentivizing users to perform certain actions with tangible rewards can increase session length and retention – creating a win-win scenario for you and your users. The type of rewards you may want to give your users will depend on the nature of your app. For example, if you have a fitness app you could work with relevant brands to offer active users discounts on sports products and healthy foods. This is a great way to motivate users while showing your appreciation for their brand loyalty.

3. Quizzes:

You can implement quizzes into your mobile app to give users an opportunity to flex their knowledge and revise relevant information. An advantage of including quizzes in your mobile app is that they are highly shareable. Users may want to share their results on social media and encourage others to install your app and try it for themselves. Quizzes also offer replay value to users who want to improve over time.

4. Leaderboards:

In addition to quizzes and points-based systems that help motivate your users you can also add a competitive element with user leaderboards. Depending on the nature of your product, this can be customer-wide leaderboards or leaderboards that exclusively show a user’s friends and family’s achievements. This creates an opportunity for users to climb a leaderboard while also providing a social element to your mobile app.

5. Badges:

You can reward users with in-app badges that are visible on their profile after accomplishing certain tasks and milestones. This is a smart way to recognize a user’s achievements and give them exclusive rewards for their activity. Badges can also motivate users to push towards more ambitious goals. You can take this to the next level by giving users with certain badges exclusive content and tools.

Taking inspiration from mobile games to improve your app also helps to optimize  user acquisition efforts. These elements give users more reasons to return to your app and present opportunities for them to share your mobile app with their network.

App gamification strategies per vertical

Gamification in fitness apps

It is commonplace for fitness apps to have some gamified elements built into their product. These include progress displays for a user’s workouts, challenges and leaderboards. For example, Nike Run Club uses gamified elements to drive engagement. Writing for StriveCloud, Founding Director at Eduscale Jente Vanhaesebroeck explains that “The Nike Run Club app uses gamification to encourage mobile app engagement and retention. Through this app, Nike can collect data about users’ chosen sports, activity levels, and preferred styles. By using that data to personalize the experience, app users spend 3x more than guest customers.

A Hindawi study asked Nike Run Club users why they continue to use the app and their reasons included usefulness, ease of use, playfulness and social elements. The app lets users build their community and set timed challenges to trigger participation. A user’s achievements and milestones are also acknowledged and they have the ability to share these with their social networks – providing the positive reinforcement they need to return and keep pushing towards new targets.

Gamification in learning apps

Language app Duolingo is one of the most famous educational mobile apps to drive growth through gamification. In fact, gamification has been described as the key to Duolingo’s success by the language learning app’s Associate Product Manager, Zan Gilani: ““Motivating yourself to learn is very hard and learning a language is even harder, especially when you are doing that online on your own, so we realised early on that we needed to try to encourage people to form a daily learning habit. We found that the most effective techniques for this come from the gaming world.”

In the same presentation, Zan explained that the company's research and A/B testing led to a four-point app gamification strategy.

  • Enable users to set concrete goals that can be achieved daily. Learning a language takes a long time so it is important for the language app to enable users to break this down into small steps. This helps Duolingo encourage users to return each day.
  • Visually motivate users to progress towards their larger goal. Although the user is taking small steps it is important for them to see that they are moving close to their goal – a critical motivation needed to continue each day.
  • Utilize external triggers to bring users back to the platform. Although it is inevitable that a percentage of users will churn, many users can be retained with triggers such as emails and push notifications. The Duolingo owl, used as a mascot to retain users by reminding them of inactive periods, even became a worldwide meme supported by the language learning app themselves.
  • An app gamification strategy known as ‘The Streak’ is used to form daily habits by rewarding and incentivizing users for using the platform. This includes rewarding users with badges for their daily activity. Zan explains that “Once they have started a streak people hate to lose them. Losing a streak is a horrible thing when it happens so we have created other achievement badges, which once earned are with the user forever.”

Gamification for fintech apps

Even fintech mobile apps are finding ways to use gamification to increase stickiness and improve the user experience. For example, SmartyPig is a productivity app that helps users reach their finance goals. This is a virtual piggy bank users can use to build funds over time in an engaging way. SmartyPig uses progress displays to motivate users to keep adding to their funds and reach their targets.

Another example is budget tracker and financial planning app Mint. The fintech app is designed to help users manage their funds and identify better ways to manage their money. The app includes goal-setting features that users can use to receive rewards – promoting more efficient financial habits over time while offering an engaging user experience.

Gamification in mobile marketing

In addition to gaming elements in your mobile app, gamification can be used for marketing purposes. Brands have used gamification for user acquisition and brand awareness. For example, Domino’s Pizza created a gaming app, Pizza Hero, which let users create their own pizza in a branded gaming app. The company increased sales revenue by 30% as a result of the campaign. Another example is Urban Sport Club, who developed a rock climbing game for lead generation. Gamers were tasked with climbing as high as they can in order to win a 3-month free contract with the sports membership company. According to Gamewheel the game was highly engaging with the majority of users playing at least three times, adding that “Urban Sports Club was able to capture the players’ data who participated in the competition in the leaderboard and add them to the existing vivid club community.”

If you found this resource useful you may also be interested in How to define and reach your mobile app target audience. We also have a best practices guide for How to build a community for your brand on social media.

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