Gamification | Efficiency, data and case study

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Does Gamification really work?

After much consideration, we came to the following conclusion: yes, it does work, but only in certain conditions. Read on to learn more!

The most cited article on Google Scholar about gamification, “Does Gamification Work?” by Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014), presented an analysis on 45 articles related to the theme aiming to discover the infamous answer to this question. This goes to show that the answer is not as simple and direct as one would expect.

First, let’s take a look at how often gamification is cited. The chart below presents research data on the popularity of this topic. The image, cited in the article[1], contains all the results, including non-scientific writings, such as magazine articles, publications, etc.:

Another way of verifying the theme´s popularity is to build a timeline using Google Trends data. Therefore, by defining a period between 2004 to the present time, a substantial and continuous increase in interest on the subject becomes clear.

It is evident that there was a great gamification boom around 2013. Since then, the trend has kept steady under (high) popular status.

What are the most used gamification tactics?

The motivation level of the public involved in gamification is another interesting point for discussion. We can all agree that people are different and consequently react differently before incentives. 

In the reference article, the authors present data showing the number of articles that cited the different types of motivation. See below:

Motivations work different areas of the brain and emotions. According to the Octalysis methodology, incentives such as points, medals and ranking fit under the Accomplishment drive, and according to a study on gamification octalysis by Yu-Kai Chou [3], History/Narrative falls under the Meaning drive. This proves that each audience has different cerebral and emotional reactions depending on what drives them.It is evident that Points, Medals and Ranks (or “Leaderboards”) are the most discussed and cited aspects, making them the most implemented tactics in gamification. However, they are not the only ones, and, if implemented without real meaning or goal (called pointsification), the result might be opposite from what is desired. It can lead to an unbalanced game, as presented by Kevin Werbach in his course on gamification at the University of Pennsylvania. [2] 

Where is gamification employed?

Yet another point to consider is the Context where gamification will be implemented. The chart below shows the list of articles that discuss the different contexts:

The studies on the context of education found that learning through gamification brought especially positive results in terms of motivation, involvement and enjoyment to the learning tasks. Nevertheless, the studies also pointed to negative results, such as increased unnecessary competitiveness among learners and difficulties in evaluating tasks and design resources. 

Gamification continues to be a success in education since the time data was collected for the article “Does Gamification Work?”. 

So, does gamification really work?

“What are the results that can be used with gamification like?” The reference study for this post presents the table below to answer this question:

We came to the conclusion that gamification does provide positive effects; however, such effects depend on the context where gamification is being implemented and on its users. In other words, in order for it to work, a gamification strategy cannot merely depend on good incentive tactics. It also needs to be well thought out as to where it will be implemented and whether it has been properly adapted to the target audience.


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