Game Over: Common Gamification Mistakes to Avoid

“The adoption of applying game mechanics in more nontraditional industries has grown exponentially in the past 18 months” said Wanda Meloni from M2 Research.

It is becoming obvious that there are some Gamification mistakes that even the biggest companies are making right now.

Let’s take a look at the main pitfalls in Gamification and how to avoid them:

1. Mistake: Focus on Competition

Competition Gamification

Obviously, competition plays a huge part in Gamification.

Competition is one main element required in a Gamification strategy, however it is important not to overlook the other crucial aspects such as positive reinforcement, collaboration, and teamwork.

To really engage your audience, the purpose of Gamification should not be competition alone. Focus on your users engaging with your core experience, rather than everybody competing to be first on the leaderboards.

Of course competition can add excitement, but it can also divert people’s attention from the main point. If suddenly everyone is preoccupied with reaching the top of the leaderboard they might not pay attention or care at all about engaging with the content.

How To Avoid It

To avoid making the competition your main focus and ensure your users are engaging, you need to make sure the competition is strong enough to encourage people to act, but not so strong as to demotivate people who are not winning.

Cantador & Conde (2010) summed it up pretty nicely. They wrote, “Competition has to be long enough to avoid learner demotivation because of bad initial results, and to assure that all participants have a good chance of winning until the end of the activity.

You need to think about what rewards you will give the leading players. If you are going to give cash rewards to those topping the leaderboard then this will increase the competition between players. Another important factor is the positioning of your leaderboards and how centrally they are featured on your site. If they look like they are the center of the page and attention grabbing, then naturally users will focus their efforts to compete on the board.

Captain Up Leaderboards

Using a tool such as Captain Up you can add leaderboards to incentivize and motivate users while showing your users’ current standing based on the number of points they received in a given time period.

With leaderboards that start over every week or month, users who are at the bottom will not lose hope completely, because they will have the chance to start fresh soon enough.

2. Mistake: No Clear Gamification Goals

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘what is the point of my game?’ If you can not answer this question then you are not likely to engage and captivate your audience.

The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland said: “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.“ And the cat was right! Before implementing your Gamification strategy, you have to decide on clear objectives

Here are some popular gamification goals that have helped some of our customers:

Without a clear plan in place, you will not be able to manage the game mechanics, keep the game alive, or make improvements to continuously update it.

How To Avoid It

To avoid this common mistake, set aside some planning time.

In order to have an effective gamification design you must start with defining and having a clear understanding of what motivates your users and what your main goal is.

You can follow this guide on how to set clear goals or take some strong strategy tips from Yu-Kai Chou’s video “How to create a game your users will want to play.”

Gamification Yu Kai Chou video
Click here to see video. 

3. Mistake: Too Many Rewards

Everyone likes to be rewarded right? Everyone likes to feel good about their accomplishments. But if you constantly reward users, what is the point?

The reward structure of any game plays a significant role in its success. If you constantly throw points, badges, and rewards at your users then they won’t take them seriously. It will suddenly become easy, the rewards won’t feel special.

Rewards should be used to build skill. Your aim is to encourage users to carry out specific actions – if they get rewarded for everything, then how are you going to nudge them in the direction you want?

How To Avoid It 

There is no doubt that rewards are a crucial piece in the engagement puzzle. Rewards are the way to motivate, drive engagement and keep users wanting more. However rewards have to be delivered in the right way.

Keep it simple. Choose two or three actions that you want your users to carry out. By rewarding users for carrying out these specific behaviors you can motivate them to do exactly what you want.

The Lawley Insurance case study is a great example. They were struggling with their sales because of messy opportunity data within Salesforce. They tried gamifying it with a competition to motivate employees to update sales opportunity data with: 1. Accurate estimated close dates and 2. Sales Stage.

Incentivizing only 2 actions resulted in 152% more updates to their sales opportunities than in the prior 8 months combined.

Lawley then ran a separate Gamification project in which they rewarded employees on making calls and logging client meetings. This resulted in 257% more weekly activities during the two week gamification effort compared to the previous 8 months.

Here are 3 of our favorite ways to reward:

Fixed Action Rewards: This is when the user knows exactly what he/she must do in order to receive a specific reward. An example of this is a loyalty program – such as a customer knowing that they need to buy 10 coffees in order to get the 11th for free.

Sudden, Unexpected Rewards: These types of rewards make users and customers feel engaged on a deeper level. They are surprising, and these rewards are appreciated for much longer. Sudden rewards tend to get great word-of-mouth exposure because everyone loves to share something exciting that happened to them!

Reward Pacing: Reward pacing works by giving out rewards piece by piece. It it a great way to engage participants as they have to collect rewards in steps.

This type of rewarding works because users want to complete the collection of small rewards. A great example of this is the McDonalds Monopoly Game. Customers received a set of two tokens with every purchase. These tokens were matched with board properties, and customers had to redeem token-property sets for cash rewards.

Monopoly Loyalty Board

4. Mistake: No Motivation

It can be incredibly hard to sustain motivation. Motivation is the why, it is what will make someone care, and what will encourage a user to continue.

If people are not engaging with your Gamification project then they are not motivated.

How To Avoid It

In order to maintain your users’ motivation and keep them playing you should imagine you were the player and plan around the question: “What is in it for me?” Ideally you should be able to give at least 5 answers to that one question.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

One of the earliest theories of motivation comes from psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, famous for his Hierarchy of Needs, published in 1943. Maslow believes there are 5 needs that motivate people to do the things that they do.

  1. Physiological: These are the physical requirements for human survival, such as air, water, and food.
  2. Safety: An individual’s safety needs to include personal security, economic security, health, and well-being.
  3. Love and belonging: After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the next need involves feelings of belonging.
  4. Esteem: All humans have a need to feel respected and valued by others. People often engage in certain ways to gain recognition.
  5. Self-actualization: This level of need refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes this as the desire to accomplish everything one can.Maslow believes these are the needs to motivate people. If you think about these 5 needs when creating your Gamification strategy you will keep your users motivated. There are many other theories about what it is that motivates us. Some psychologists suggest there are three critical elements that support motivation – read more at Scientific American.

5. Mistake: Misusing Points and Badges

A common Gamification mistake is over-simplifying the strategy to focus simply on badges, points and leaderboards. There is A LOT more to Gamification than this.
Points and Badges Captain Up

Points and badges are definitely important, points denote achievement and measure a user’s achievements in relation to others. It also keeps them motivated to reach the next level or earn a badge. Badges, which mark special achievements and give users something to remember, feel connected, and show off with, are also an incredibly powerful tool. What we need to remember is that it is not ALL about points and badges.

Daniel Debow, VP of, a division of said: “You’re not going to get people to do something they don’t want to do by giving them points and badges. You have to think of Gamification as a way of amplifying an existing signal.

How To Avoid It

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users. Points and badges alone are not very engaging. Yes, they are important and relevant, but they are only a small aspect of a larger picture.

Andrzej Marczewski explains that in today’s world, we should be looking at intrinsic motivation, yet almost every implementation you see of Gamification will have some form of points system and probably badges.

When you are creating your Gamification strategy, think about the challenge you are trying to overcome. Points and badges should be looked at as a way to recognise an achievement, not the reason for your users to do something.

6. Mistake: Short-Term Thinking

Gamification has the ability to change long-term behavior, yet many companies and organizations implement Gamification for their short-term projects. It is not enough.

Not only will your gamification techniques become stale and repetitive, but you won’t be able to maintain your users’ interest. Game fatigue will kick in and users will exhaust themselves unless you are constantly changing their experience and looking at the bigger picture.

How To Avoid It

Re-shape your approach to Gamification. Think of it as a program rather than a standalone project. Implementing long-term gamification can be achieved through strategy and thorough planning.

Check out 3 strategies for making Gamification a long-term engagement engine: choosing a behavior built for the long term, using variable-interval rewards, and adding new elements over time.

Remember: Plan, think out an in-depth strategic design, and ensure your rewards are carefully considered and well-integrated.

To learn more about gamification, see the following blog posts: Ten Best Practices for Implementing Gamification, and Eight Game Elements to Make Learning More Intriguing

Are there any mistakes missing? Comment below – we would love to hear from you!