What happened to gamification?

Benedict Shegog
5min read

The 11:FS research team is in the midst of building out an internal platform that has some elements of gamification (and because we see a lot of products coming through our benchmarking tool 11:FS Pulse which make use of it), I’ve been spending a bit of time considering the topic.

Back in 2010, the buzzword ‘gamification’ hit the scene like a train. Everything from education and marketing, to PFM and social media were subjected to a stream of hastily composed think pieces on the topic. https://tinyurl.com/y94gsvj8

Gamification Hype

So what came from all the 2010 hype? On the face of it, not a lot – and we should be thankful for that. No one wants a shower of stars each time you make a purchase on your card or a leaderboard of people who’ve saved the most. Users are not naive and shouldn’t be treated as such. But there are areas where gamification has crept into product design in subtle and less subtle ways. For example, Apple Watch owners will be familiar with the challenge of closing the activity rings through exercise and anyone who has used a modern language training app will understand the impact that progressive goals and levels can have. But the larger, more important impact of the gamification hype cycle relates to subtle changes in product design. The majority of these changes existed in one form or another before the gamification hype hit, but it is useful to think about them under the gamification framework.

UX Level Up: Demonstrating progress

Even the most basic games allow users to see how they are progressing. Points, levels, prizes and leaderboards all add up a player or user’s sense of completion. Whether it’s an onboarding journey, a payment flow, or just a queue to talk to a member of a customer support team, customers should be able to instantly gauge their progress. Failing to include progress bars on forms or processes will result in user attrition, as people get bored of seemingly endless tasks. Smart product designers can go a step further, providing users with a mental boost by taking advantage of a phenomenon called ‘Endowed Progress’. Think of it as creating a to do list which has two items on it which you’ve already completed, just to give yourself a bit of a mental pat on the back. A good progress bar is also a nice way to be transparent with users about what you’re asking of them. It’s possible to see this tactic being employed by Medium, who provide users with stats on the length of time it will take a reader to finish the piece, or Intercom, which gives customers information on the wait time for a support request.

Rewarding good financial behaviour

Rewarding customers for specific behaviours is nothing new. B.F. Skinner - the man behind your phone’s addictive qualities - was running experiments on this way back in the 1930s. And credit card companies have been using sweepstake-style competitions to randomly reward customers for using their card since 2000. What we’re more interested in is the way financial products can help people make better financial choices. Not through dinky rewards, points, or leaderboards but through subtly gamified rewards that help users save more and adhere to their budgets. Perhaps the most interesting example of rewards-based gamification is the kind of random payout that savers receive from schemes like the UK’s premium bond and some of Latin America’s commercial banks. By purchasing bonds or making savings, customers enter themselves into a lottery that pays out amounts of varying size (the UK’s bonds pay out monthly rewards ranging from £25 to £1m) – importantly, the rewards are common enough to be almost guaranteed over the life cycle of a customer, and provide that unpredictable reward which keeps people coming back.

What’s the ‘so what’?

Whenever we’re working on research projects for our clients, we wrap up the report with a section on the opportunities that fall out of the analysis. For gamification, the ‘so what’ isn’t the blunt trend that was originally hyped by back in 2010. Fortunately we’re not all being inundated with badges based on our spending, or being placed on a leaderboard alongside our friends to compare your savings habits. Instead, more subtle forms of gamification have worked their way into products in other ways: keeping customers in the loop with progress bars, rewarding good behaviour, and providing waiting list leaderboards are all customer-centric features that draw lessons from games without going too far. Benedict Shegog is Product Manager for 11:FS Pulse. You can contact him at benedict@11fs.com and listen to his insights into the fintech space on the Fintech Insiders podcast.