Our research, Think-pieces

Game changers

Are you game?

Changing behaviour is not easy.  We usually do the behaviours we find rewarding and avoid those that aren’t fun.

One way to help change behaviours is to package them into a game – for instance by making the desired behaviour about winning, accruing points, or achieving some kind of goal.  In other words, having fun.  Completion bars, being ranked or getting a reward (even a smiling emoji) can make otherwise mundane tasks more like a game. 

This approach to change behaviour is called gamification.

In it to win it

It comes in many forms. Fitbits and step counting apps help you socialise and compete at the same time.  Diabetic kids can connect blood glucose metres to Nintendo platforms and earn points for consistent testing.  

The Zombies, Run! app motivates joggers by playing the sounds of zombies closing in if you slow down.  There’s even a writing app for those who want to write a minimum amount of words each day – if you don’t achieve your goal word count, your writing will begin to delete itself…

Many human behaviours are being targeted by gamification: Healthy eating, medicine, coding, buying goods, using social media, education.  For instance, promoting adult physical activity with a gamified app led to a 21% increase in steps, and gamifying children’s lunch breaks led to a 66% increase in their fruit consumption.

Know the rules

BWA researcher Peter Slattery is something of an expert in the area.  He’s reviewed a range of literature on what works when it comes to gamifying behaviours and points out some key questions that need to be asked before getting investors for your latest Broccoli-eating app:

  • Do you know how the game is going to help you achieve your goals?

  • Do you understand your players?

  • Is more fun and motivation needed or do you just need to make things easier?  

  • Are the activities you want interesting enough to gamify? Can your system record and react to all important user behaviours?

  • Will gamifying the system undermine other user rewards or motivations?


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A lean, mean, start-up machine

Peter recommends a ‘lean start-up’ approach for the development and deployment of gamified systems. In contrast to the “build it first then evaluate it later” approach used to develop many platforms, the lean startup method builds the platform in incremental iterations.

Rapid prototypes are developed and trialled with users, then evaluated and revised based on the results. If users are less keen than expected, then the development approach can pivot to change the platform design or the platform can be abandoned.

All in all, a lean approach helps to reduce the risk of expensive failures.

Play on

Perhaps the biggest challenge for gamification may be our attitude to digital gaming itself. We used to blame games for making people spending hours on the couch, lost in a virtual world.  

Now we may realise that the same games, just applied differently, can help create behaviours and habits that we need in the world outside our screens.