Gamification Cheat Sheet

This quick guide will help you remember what gamification is and how to best use it. I've put everything you need to know in one place, so you never have to commit it to memory unless you really want to (no bonus XP though 😉).


What is gamification?

The most popular definition is “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” from a 2011 research paper.

Gamification is a design method for thinking about motivation and engagement. It’s one approach that can be used to scaffold activities with game-like qualities in order to motivate and engage.

Why use gamification?

So the thinking is that if games can be so engaging then can we use game design elements in non-game contexts to make a more motivating and engaging experience.

For example, the fitness tracking app Fitbit includes a leaderboard that lets you compare your total steps for the week to your friends to encourage competition which may lead to more exercise.

Fitbit's weekly step count leaderboard

Fitbit's weekly step count leaderboard


Gamification Examples

Gamification can be used in nearly any area where engagement or motivation is a lacking. Popular areas include education, health & fitness, productivity and crowdsourcing. Let's look at some popular examples. 


Health & Fitness



Designing Gamification

There are existing platforms you can use, but it's likely your situation is going to be unique to everyone else out there. You will have different users and goals, so generally a one-size-fits-all gamification platform isn't great.

Instead, consider designing your own. Start small and follow the effective gamification design framework to help you:

1. Identify your motivation problem

Determine what your problem is. If it's motivation or engagement related then gamification can help you. If not, consider another solution. Don't jump to the conclusion you need gamification.

2. Validate your problem

Talk to the people experiencing the problem to understand it further. Work out the root cause and make sure it's motivation or engagement related. Dig deep as it may be more complicated than you first imagined.

3. Design a Gamification solution

Start small, add a few game elements that you think your users will like. 

4. Create a prototype

It doesn't need to be a complete, technical solution. Create a paper-based prototype if possible that let's you try out the game elements.

5. Measure success

Test your prototype with your target customers, students or colleagues and measure the success. Does it work? Do they like the game elements? Is it motivating?


Take what you've learnt and redesign the gamification, improve the prototype and keep measuring. Once you're happy you can develop the final solution and roll it out.

Gamification Research

Start with these key research articles if you're researching gamification. 

From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification.

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011, September). From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification. In Proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference: Envisioning future media environments (pp. 9-15). ACM.

Does gamification work?–a literature review of empirical studies on gamification.

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014, January). Does gamification work?–a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 3025-3034). IEEE.

Gamification in theory and action: A survey

Seaborn, K., & Fels, D. I. (2015). Gamification in theory and action: A surveyInternational Journal of Human-Computer Studies74, 14-31.

Note: This paper requires purchase or database access.

Useful books

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

If you watched the video above and you want more, you can always check out the book behind it. This is a great read for those interested in the underlying research and it contains a number of useful tools for a number of different contexts.

Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn

If you're looking for even more detailed research on motivation then look no further. Alfie Kohn provides an extensive review of motivational psychology literature in this book. 

Need help with gamification?

Get in touch. We can review your gamification design, help you design great gamification solutions or provide employee education to up-skill them so they can create effective gamification solutions.