10 Fundamental mechanisms of Gamification explained

Door Oxyma -

The first time I heard about Gamification I thought it was quite lame to be honest. One of those corporate ideas that would magically make boring stuff more fun. I could hear the commercial already:

You have some boring tasks to do? Challenge accepted!
You have a boring product to sell? No problem!

You have some deadlines to catch and need some motivation? Easy! Just sprinkle some Gamification on it and WAZZAM! Fun & done!

Then I read the book "Loyalty 3.0" (2013) by loyalty guru Rajat Paharia from San Francisco, USA and I learned that Gamification did exactly what I expected! But it turned out not to be lame, instead it is rather fascinating. I read the book because I am part of a team at Oxyma, doing research on the current state and trends of loyalty programs. One of those trends is Gamification. This article will teach you 10 mechanisms of Gamification, the intrinsic motivators that drive them and some cool examples to use Gamification IRL (for those not from the internet age: In Real Life). Read on and get grasped by the notion of Gamification as I did…

Your intrinsic motivators

Rajat Paharia says that Gamification is one of the pillars of the new way of motivating, engaging and engendering true loyalty among customers. According to him there are 10 key mechanics of Gamification based on 5 intrinsic motivators. These intrinsic motivators are:

  1. Autonomy – being in control. Imagine the first time you did not have a curfew and decided all by yourself what time to go home after a night out. That felt great! Because you have an innate motivation to be in charge of what you are doing.
  2. Mastery – improving yourself. The second time you played Super Mario, you wanted to jump over the gap you fell in the first time right? Exactly!
  3. Purpose – making a difference. Ever did volunteering work? It made you feel good because you could make a difference.
  4. Progress – achieving results. Were you addicted to Farmville at some point? Of course you weren't. But probably 'your friend' was. How was that possible? Probably not because he secretly wanted to become a farmer. No, every time you open the app you have a little more crops or cows or cash. And that’s the trick: you’re making progress which makes you hungry for more.
  5. Social interaction – connecting with others. If you are reading this, you are a marketer, and I need to explain to you why this works. Please go home and rethink your live, as a wise Jedi once said.

Now you know what intrinsically motivates people. Let's move on to Gamification.

Gamification mechanisms

Building on the 5 intrinsic motivators are 10 key mechanics of Gamification. I will give a short summary of the mechanisms, what customer-need that mechanism appeals to, which of the 5 motivators it builds on and a short  example to understand how to use it for your organization.

Mechanism #1: fast feedback

What your customer wants: "I get immediate feedback or response to actions."

What motivators does it build on: Mastery and progress.

Explanation & example: In a world where everything is 'real-time', your customer wants to know "what's up" right now and not tomorrow. Using Facebook messenger or WhatsApp for customer service is a good example of handling questions and issues quickly.

Mechanism #2: transparency

What your customer wants: "I can see where everyone (including me) stands, quickly and easily."

What motivators does it build on: Progress and social interaction.

Explanation & example: Let's say you bought some new sneakers and you want to wear them to that special occasion tomorrow. Having no insight in the delivery moment could frustrate you. But if you get an email the moment you order, with a tracking ID and an overview of all the steps the shoes take before they reach you, you can either calm down and wait for the shoes or brush up your old ones because you see that they are still in the distribution centre on the other side of the country.

Mechanism #3: goals

What your customer wants: "I have short and long goals to achieve."

What motivators does it build on: Purpose, progress and social interaction.

Explanation & example: Finally, some real game-like mechanisms! Imagine you are training for a marathon and you finally managed to run 12k in 1 hour. You've reached your short-term goal in order to achieve your long-term goal. So how do you create goals for your customer in a business environment? I remember very vividly that my parents gave me a dinosaur magazine which came with a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur skull. To complete the dinosaur you had to buy the entire magazine series. Of course I wanted the rest of it (it was my goal) and took the magazine for granted.


I used Gamification (Goals and feedback) when helping a colleague to motivate to finish his to-do’s for that day.

Mechanism #4: badges

What your customer wants: "I can display evidence of my accomplishments."

What motivators does it build on: Mastery, progress, purpose and social interaction.

Explanation & example: Have you ever seen "Up in the Air" (2009) with George Clooney? In case you haven't: He meets a girl and they are all hyped up about achieving 10 million frequent flyer miles and the gold card that comes with it. This works in real life too. I have heard an actual person say that he attaches his frequent flyer card on his suitcase to show other travellers and airport staff that he is a serious flyer.

Mechanism #5: levelling up

What your customer wants: "I can achieve status within my community."

What motivators does it build on: Mastery, progress, purpose and social interaction.

Explanation & example: The story of George could be told here too. Another example are VIP customers. In many cases the status that comes with being a VIP is much more important than the perks that come with it.

Mechanism #6: onboarding

What your customer wants: "I can learn in an engaging, compelling way."

What motivators does it build on: Mastery.

Explanation & example: Inform your customers about your products, services and organization can be a hassle. You don't want them to read a complicated manual to understand how doing business with you works. By making this a playful learning experience it will be easier for customers to digest and, in the meantime, will look like you did them a service. A nice example is the airline safety instructions. They used to be dreadful for both the cabin crew and the frequent flyers. Now there are semi-comical videos that show you the whole thing and everybody's happy.

Mechanism #7: competition

What your customer wants: "I can see how I'm doing compared to others."

What motivators does it build on: Mastery and social interaction.

Explanation & example: If you have ever done any sports in your life, you know competition makes everything 10 times more intense. So why not spice up your customer-relationships with some healthy competition. Dropbox's 'Space race' is an example of how an organization puts itself on the map with competition. In this case the University of which the most students got other students to register for a Dropbox storage account won the challenge.

Mechanism #8: collaboration

What your customer wants: "I can work with others to accomplish goals."

What motivators does it build on: Purpose and social interaction.

Explanation & example: When you want to launch a product and you need both an investment and product awareness, you can try kick-starting/crowdfunding it. This makes your potential customers part of the process and makes them feel like it's their own product. They will also recommend it and act as ambassadors.

Mechanism #9: community

What your customer wants: "I can see what the community is doing, the community can see me."

What motivators does it build on: Social interaction.

Explanation & example: Strava, Facebook and Reebok's Cross Fit are a few organizations that leveraged the community effect to grow fast and become a hub in people's lives. In case you think 'Cross Fit is only a sport', wait until you hear two Cross Fitters talk. They have their own language, their own games and even their own lifestyle.

Mechanism #10: points

What your customer wants: "I can see tangible, measurable evidence of my accomplishments."

What motivators does it build on: Progress and social interaction.

Explanation & example: Points… The oldest trick in the book. 9th sandwich for free at Subway? Using your FreeBees card at the gas station? Credit on your Starbucks rewards card? All just points you're collecting. And there is nothing wrong with that. It's like saving money, except it's not money. With digital technology collecting points can be even easier and more fun.

These mechanisms can be leveraged in the most creative of ways, like you’ve read in this article. We also gathered inspiring cases of Gamification used in loyalty programs, ranging from fairly easy to implement to rocket-science-proportions. Are you excited? Well stay tuned, because it will not be long before we will publish our white paper on loyalty programs with these cases and more! Subscribe for our newsletter or send me a message if you want to secure your copy of the white paper. Also feel free to take a look at the Infographic we made for our loyalty program.

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