We are moving rapidly toward a future where fun is the new work. Fun is buying, selling, attention grabbing, achieving fitness goals and much more. Gamification is leading the charge to radically change industries by making it more fun and ultimately more effective in building a strong, happy and better engaged community, in a society where people have a shortening attention span.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the mechanics used from games such as design concepts, loyalty programmes and behavioural economics that foster user engagement. User and customer engagement are not just crucial for startup success but also for the lifetime value of a user, customer or business. As a business or startup, your success depends on being able to maintain the attention of both your customers and also your employees.

The Gamification loop

Game mechanics are the basic features that are used in games such as points, badges (achievements), levels leaderboards and rewards. Combined together these features create a system of mastery and end-point for users.

What defines engagement?

  • The user’s last visit/frequency of visit
  • Length of stay
  • How often do they refer? (Viral mechanism)
  • Rating
  • Knowledge of the product or brand

The higher your business ranks in these engagement metrics the more engaged your user base is with your product or service. Progression is a key factor driving engagement, a number of factors can contribute to this:

  • A goal
  • Levels or a bar showing completion that lead to a goal
  • Reinforcement of progress through points
  • Social reinforcement/sharing
  • Progression of difficulty
  • Side challenges
As players progress through the levels and begin to accomplish things in a game, the user experience leads to more fun and higher engagement. By motivating people to play and cutting through the consumer noise, the underlying behaviour can lead to an increase in the lifetime value of a consumer/user.

How do you grab the user’s attention?

Surprise and delight

Users don’t know what comes in store, the badges, points, leaderboards they could earn therefore comes as a surprise.

Make it fun

Apple have historically built in clues to their product launch events, including within the invitation to the launch itself. Invitations to see in a firm in advance of a launch or having a say in the early stages of the product helps users become brand ambassadors as they feel special and part of an early community.

Gamify the brand

Gamifying the brand has become increasingly important. Over the last decade we have seen how gamification has become a common theme in the health and fitness industry. When Nike initially launched the Nike+, you could see the number of steps you had taken and got congratulatory messages for completing certain milestones. Since then gamification appears integral in the Health & Fitness community as we have seen with the astronomical rises of Fitbit, Zwift and Peloton. Similarly we have seen the combination of gamification in Extended Reality games such as Pokemon Go and also social media giants TikTok who have gamified social media through regular challenges.

However, no matter how good your customer engagement process, at some point users of your system will lose interest and their interaction with it. This makes it all the more critical to continuously innovate and improve the gamification process in order to sustain customer engagement and Lifetime Value.

How do you sustain long-term customer engagement through Gamification?

Define a grind

A grind is a simple activity that users must repeat in order to earn enough resources to progress.

Build a powerful engagement loop

If you don’t make a deliberate effort to engage users on a regular basis, it is highly likely they will lose interest in your brand. Push notifications and tone of voice are crucial to make users feel engaged. Startups need to understand the reasons behind user behaviour, users must have a reason to use your product.

Mechanisms for achieving this:

  • Social call to action
  • User re-engagement and progress
  • Motivate emotion
  • Visible progress and rewards e.g. aggregate stats such as likes, followers, comments, badges

Keep content fresh

In order for users to continue returning frequently, fresh and interesting interactions must be available. Tweaks give users and the community something to talk about, creating new challenges for players to engage with, keeps the interaction with users fresh and by proxy will extend the lifetime value of the user. This is where loyalty programmes have benefitted from gamification and the most successful ones tend to be the ones that continually update their schemes with meaningful rewards and benefits for their users.

Personal purpose

An individual’s desire for mastery and a sense of progress is a strong factor driving engagement. We have seen numerous startups in the EdTech space and what is a constant theme throughout is the progress bar throughout learning systems with stats, badges, and other game mechanics e.g. Duolingo or Memrise. Whilst also adding elements which encourage educational exploration.

Learn through play

As more and more customers engage with new tech, users want to learn new skills. How do you mitigate that? You deliver a gamified learning system that creates, sustains and rewards engagement as we have seen on platforms that teach you how to code. In aiding user progression to mastery and support educational goals will help get long-term loyalty and engagement e.g. CodeAcademy.


Working alone and in teams from around the country or world has been accelerated due to COVID. Now building a great and vibrant community is a challenge at the best of times, even with multiple resources at a firm’s disposal, let alone a startup. In order to get participation, community engagement has to take a different mechanism utilising the crowd to make a difference. We have seen this with companies like Product Hunt and Reddit, who are common examples of this where rank and score can provide not only positive feedback but also enables upcycling of popular stories or products. Similarly, we have seen it with our Portfolio companies Distributed and Arbolus. Distributed which is a platform for scaling elastic and distributed development teams. Arbolus is a marketplace for independent consultants and businesses to efficiently find each other and work together. Gamification plays a significant role in driving both these startups and ensures that projects are delivered.

In our own industry we have seen applications of gamification through fundraising platforms such as Seedrs and CrowdCube showing the amount of funding raised, timeline and number of funders.

Crowdsourcing can inspire new product development. From a founder’s point of view this can lead to reductions in costs, improvements in quality, innovation and idea generation. Ideas such as beta testing by engaging the crowd to not only get a buzz before a launch but also to provide feedback via a scoring system or other gamified feedback mechanism, helps gauge interest as well as participation at all levels of the life cycle.

Examples of gamification in recruitment

Gamification has also changed recruitment for many startups and companies, as it filters through the best and most suitable candidates quickly. This is a billboard for EA placed in front of their competitor’s building written in code showing “Now Hiring”. A highly targeted yet gamified recruitment campaign.

An example of gamified marketing

Here is an example of gamified marketing we have recently seen with the launch of the Playstation 5 in London. Sony totally flipped the strategy and gamified a physical monument changing the Oxford Circus underground signs, as well as having a gamified promotional strategy with strong media partners such as the LADBIBLE Group.

Gamification based advertising

As the world has shifted even more digitally this year, what has become even more popular is the use of gamification strategies to encourage conversion in adverts with techniques such as multiple choice and swiping. This is due to the increasingly short attention spans that people have.
Gamification is no doubt an increasingly crucial and fundamental strategy for startups to drive user engagement, cutting through the consumer noise and helps promote brand awareness and loyalty.

If you are an entrepreneur who is looking for funding and has some interesting gamified strategies around your business we would be interested to hear more. Please email your deck to alexb@fuel.ventures.

Suggested reading:

  • The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition by Gabe Zichermann 
  • Game–Based Marketing: Inspire Customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges, and Contests by Gabe Zichermann 
  • Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things by Brian Burke
  • Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards by Yu-Kai Chou

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