min read

What is gamification?

Updated on
May 25, 2023

Jules Winckers

Marketing Maestro

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Playing games. We have been doing it for centuries. From the ball game 'Pitz' that the Mayans used to play to the famous game consoles Playstation and Xbox that we now use to play (online) games. Games provide connection, a reason to be together, distraction from everyday life but, above all, they provide a lot of fun.

Nowadays, however, games are used for many more things than just the above. Gamification of certain processes is gaining ground in many different industries. Briefly, the meaning of gamification is:

"The process of using game elements in a non-game environment to encourage users to solve problems or change their behaviour."

So gamification is not just playing a game. It is a proven and powerful concept when you want to encourage people to study, for example. Or if you want to promote good behaviour like quitting smoking.

There is quite a bit of science behind the concept of gamification. So what does gamification do to the brain and why is it so effective in some cases? How do you deploy gamification correctly so that it actually gets results? Below, we look for the answers.

Recruitment, reward and retention

Researcher David Nieborg (Media Studies) argues that gamification consists of three basic principles, namely: recruitment, reward and retention.

These basic principles are:

- A high 'fun factor' forms the basis of a gamification experience and exerts great appeal;

- With gamification, it is important that a reward is given when the desired behaviour is shown;

- Because there is a reward in store when certain behaviour is exhibited, you will continue this behaviour.

That reward is attractive because it creates a substance in the brain that makes us happy. This substance is called dopamine. It creates the feeling of happiness we know when we eat something delicious, when we fall in love or when we hear our favourite song.

Dopamine in gamification

Several studies (Fiorillo, Tobler, & Schultz, 2003; Schultz, Apicella, & Ljungberg, 1993; Waelti, Dickinson, & Schultz, 2001) show that dopamine plays an important role in learning to predict rewards. With this, it stimulates certain behaviours in which you do something to obtain these rewards.

Here's the thing: When we get a reward, dopamine is released. If this is accompanied by a specific action, the dopamine will be released after a while if you are engaged in that action. The reward is then already no longer needed to release the dopamine.

So you can use dopamine to make certain processes more fun or attractive through rewards. For example, you can make an E-learning module a lot more fun by giving regular rewards. This will eventually make the module perceived as increasingly fun and challenging. Users get a nice feeling while doing the module because dopamine is released. This is because it already anticipates the reward that will follow.

Gamification, the application of game elements such as points, badges and leaderboards in non-game activities, makes difficult tasks more fun and enjoyable. The motivation to do and complete the task will increase. Below, we tell you exactly how.

Motivation through gamification

People get motivated with gamification to perform certain actions. This motivation can come from the person themselves (intrinsic motivation) or it can come from external factors (extrinsic motivation).

Intrinsic motivation plays the most important role here because it is the most powerful. This is because it will not fall away immediately when the reward is taken away. It is not always easy to identify a person's intrinsic motivation. However, we do know that this motivation comes from certain needs. These needs are well represented in Maslow's model, called Maslow's pyramid, which you can see below:

The pyramid shows 5 layers of different needs. According to Maslow, a person cannot move to a higher layer until the needs of the layers below are met.

From a social perspective, gamification responds to two layers from Maslow's pyramid. These are: the need for social contact (layer 3) and the need for appreciation and recognition (layer 4).

In fact, gamification helps people develop certain feelings such as:

- Being successful

- Being structured

- Feeling social appreciation

- Being intelligent

When deploying gamification, it is also useful to consider a number of things that determine whether it will be a success. We list a few:

Social Proof

Using gamification becomes more effective when you make users' achievements visible to others. When users see each other's achievements, for example achieving a high score or a certain badge, they are triggered to perform the same behaviour. So they will try harder when performing the task. They call this phenomenon social proof.

Social Comparison

Social comparison also occurs when users see each other's performance. It is human nature to compare themselves to people around them and this is also the case here.

They do not want to be inferior to other users and are therefore more likely to take the same actions as others. For instance, studies show that people are willing to pay up to 64% more for products when others around them have also bought the same product.

So by using gamification in processes, you can encourage users to take certain actions by making them feel out of place if they don't.


To sum up, gamification can be a great addition for certain non-game processes to encourage users to take certain actions. You see it coming more and more into everyday life.

By giving rewards after certain tasks, you can make the tasks themselves more fun and enjoyable. Also, if used correctly, you can respond to users' intrinsic needs and thus encourage them to change their behaviour.

At Intractive, we believe gamification is a very powerful concept. We use gamification to make our interactive experiences playful and in this way hold the user's attention longer. We also let them discover a story for themselves in a playful way that makes them emotionally connected.

Want to know more about how we apply gamification to our experiences and how we can help you with this? We are happy to explain it to you briefly.

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