Gamification is not manipulation, it's motivation

CPO at Bunchball explains how gamification can educate as well as engage people with a product

Technology trends and news by Krystal Peak
May 4, 2012
Short URL:

The term gamification often gets a bad rap. Some people think of it as  way to trick people into using a product or that it assumes its users are lemmings.  Rajat Paharia, CPO at, believes that gamification, when done right, is a tool that can help people interact with a product in a more fun way than approaching it as a job that has to be done.

At the inaugural Vator Spark event in Berkeley this week, Paharia approached gamification as an alternative way of presenting products and services to it users so that they can learn and enjoy.

"I'm very personally invested in the gamification industry," Parharia said. "There are a lot of people out there with a point of view that people are too dumb to know that they are being played or that people don't want to do the right things unless there is a behavior modification ritual. We hope to show them that there is more to gamification than that."

Bunchball, which entered the gamification realm in 2007, offers gamification solutions to some of the largest consumer and B2B companies in the world -- including Warner Bros., Comcast, NBC Universal, ABC Television, and Stella & Dot. 

Bunchball has managed 125 million users, tracked 14 billion actions and has awarded 500 million trophies since its inception.

In order to be successful in motivating people with gamification, you have to understand what motivates. Paharia pointed to five factors that motivate and how gamification can trigger those drivers.

What motivates: autonomy, mastery, relatedness, purpose, progress.

Autonomy: Paharia referred to this as the Tom Sawyer effect. The line between work and play is totally perceptual. You can be managing a spreadsheet of numbers and tasks, but it is the perception of whether this is work or fun is the difference. Work is something you are obliged to do and play is something you aren't obliged to do. If you flip the switch you can be in play all the time. When a company is able to turn a job into a game, they succeed in flipping the individual perception.

Mastery: Hitting milestones gives a great feeling of accomplishment. This can feed into the dopamine effect that gives people a pleasure jolt to the brain when they overcome an obstacle. If you create challenges and reward people with trophies stating mastery you feed into this motivational driver. 

Relatedness: There is a prehistoric drive to work together to accomplish bigger tasks when you leverage your relationships with others. If you can find a group of people that want to reach a common goal, then you are able to motivate their collective drive to be a valuable member of the team. No one wants to be the weak link.

Purpose: Having a goal that drives several actives is very motivating. When you are given a  purpose or a value for your actions you are more likely to put out more work than if you are told that there is no value or purpose -- otherwise it is just busy work. If people see what they are working up toward then they are more likely to continue their involvement. 

Progress: Giving people a sense of everyday accomplishment and progress helps keep up motivation.  Much like the completeness bar on LinkedIn drives more people to get all their personal information up just to feel the sense of accomplishment and clear that task. Smaller milestones and an overall sense of where they stand in the game arc give people an easier time committing more to their actions.

So, why is gamification taking off now? 

Pahria believes it is because we are living so much of our lives online. Websites and software is tracking everything we do and so it is easier to track that system. Previously, retailers were only able to track your loyalty with just the purchases you make (via a loyalty card or credit card transactions) but now there are more elements such as viewing videos online, playing games, retail consumption, community communication, etc.

Games give you immediate feedback and goals, unlike in real-life when some people only get an annual evaluation. This provides a way for the business and game developers to give the players insight on what they expect and provide help and tools to adjust action to reach goals and get instant feedback.

Games are great at giving a big goal as well as sub-goals that give you more motivation and a general content or narrative arc.

Photoshop's new gamification is a great example of how a company can enlist gamification tools to improve conversion rates from free trial to revenue, empower users, engage and teach people skills where they would have just abandoned the game before. If you have ever opened Photoshop to edit a picture for the first time, you know that their user interface is very intimidating and hard to dive into. There are few words, instructions and a million entry points. Because of this, very few people using the free trials were converting to buy the product -- especially at the steep $700+ price tag. But Photoshop has been creating ramified tutorials that take 12 key functions for the system and help create and walk people through tasks until they master those tools. Since badges are indicators of something we have done, enjoy doing and have mastered, people are excited to get that reinforcement and learn something valuable at the same time.  

More companies like Microsoft Office are also trying to gamify while teaching skills for their product and increase conversion. And really, whomever learns how to motivate and convert, wins.


Related companies, investors and entrepreneurs

Description: Bunchball is the industry leader in gamification, an innovative way of engaging users, motivating employees and increasing customer loyal...
Bio: Founder, Chief Product Officer at Bunchball

Related news