UX Gamification: Concepts For Increasing User Engagement And Experience In SaaS

At its core, UX design comes down to helping customers solve their problems. But what if you could make that journey more engaging by using UX gamification?

In this article, you’ll learn the elements of a gamification system and its components and how to use them to boost retention, increase product adoption, and streamline the user onboarding process through elements like progress bars, points, leaderboards, celebrations, etc.

  • Gamification is the process of incentivizing people to engage with your platform through game-like mechanics.
  • A proper UX gamification system uses the following components: goals/objectives, rules, feedback rewards, motivation, freedom of choice, and freedom to fail
  • Various game mechanics can be used to get the right gamification strategy in place: challenges and celebrations, points and in-app currency, badges, leaderboards, journeys and progress bars ( in the form of checklists in SaaS), and constraints
  • Gamification in UX design has the role of encouraging users to return, drives repeated engagement, and helps to simplify and personalize onboarding
  • In SaaS, you can build in-app journeys in the form of checklists or leverage celebrations modals to prompt users to take the next step towards the adoption of your product. Get a Userpilot demo and see how!

Gamification is the process of incentivizing people to engage with your platform through game-like mechanics. It can be used to drive sales, boost engagement, generate leads, and optimize conversions among other applications.

The gaming industry may not exactly publish articles on how effective their methods are, but all you have to do is play a video game and experience being rewarded after a quest to understand the appeal of a gamified design.

UX gamification is comprised of seven components. Understanding them is essential if you want to use gamification to optimize the user experience.

Having well-defined goals makes it easier for users to move through their journey. Goals serve as a guide, telling them which action to perform next if they want to get the reward at the end.

Make sure the goals you set have rewards equivalent to the difficulty of the task to encourage users to pursue future objectives provided to them.

A gamification system must have rules. These are the actions you expect your users to do repeatedly and continuously in order to reach the goal. They should be set based on what your product offers.

Periodically reminding users of how close they are to their goal will motivate them to keep moving forward. Give feedback through every step and reward users whenever they finish a task to instill the feeling of progress.

Positive reinforcement is a surefire method of creating habits. A behavior that yields a reward is likely to be repeated since we tend to repeat actions that lead us to success.

Offering multiple reward types makes it easier to sustain the driving extrinsic motivation for users over the long term.

Rewards usually come in the form of points or in-app currency.

ux-gamification-rewards-clickup
ux-gamification-rewards-clickup
Clickup rewards

Motivation is what prompts the user to take action. Intrinsic motivation is often driven by curiosity or a sense of accomplishment while extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards like prestige or currency.

Systems can only be fun if users are voluntarily choosing to participate, follow the rules, and make their way towards the goal. Being forced to participate or worse yet tricked into participating will take the fun out of gamification.

Punishing users for failing will make them more hesitant to participate in the future. If you want the experience to feel like a fun game then the elements should be friendly enough to keep users engaged whether they succeed or fail.

Various game mechanics can be used to get the right gamification strategy in place.

Let’s explore some of the most commonly used ones.

When we humans face a challenge, it can make us even more motivated to complete the task. For example, giving users daily challenges that encourage them to explore new features could be a great way to encourage feature discovery and adoption.

Nike offers limited-time challenges on its Run Club app to keep users engaged.

Nike gamification challenges
Nike gamification challenges
Both FOMO and competitive spirit play a part in Nike’s limited-time challenges. Source: StriveCloud

The best way to apply this gamification technique is to create a value system that allows users to redeem their points for useful rewards.

Duolingo is a master of gamification and one of the companies that have utilized the full potential of using in-app currency by letting users save their streak, double their rewards, or unlock higher levels by spending points known as Lingots.

Duolingo ux gamification currency
Duolingo ux gamification currency
Daily rewards increase as your Duolingo streak grows. Source: Duolingo

The motivation that badges provide is two-fold since they give users a personal sense of accomplishment while also serving as a status symbol that can be flaunted to other users.

Salesforce has been known to use badges to improve the user experience. Their Trailhead program gives users a visual representation of where they are in the onboarding journey.

Whenever a user completes one step of the onboarding roadmap, the badge they receive as a reward provides a renewed sense of motivation that pushes them to complete the next step.

The finish flag at the end of the roadmap further reinforces the quest-like element of Salesforce’s onboarding program thus making its gamification more effective. Source: Salesforce

Leaderboards encourage competition, thus, driving engagement with your product. Focusing solely on whoever is in the #1 spot can demoralize and alienate everyone else. An effective way to get around this is to have multiple leaderboards, ensuring every user is accommodated across their user journey.

Take Foursquare for example, with a separate leaderboard for each location a user could visit. Users collect points for each place they visit giving them the chance to become ‘The Mayor’ of that place.

Not only are progress bars a visual representation of progress but they also trigger the Ovsiankina effect — a phenomenon in which users are more likely to finish an incomplete task after starting it.

LinkedIn takes its progress bars to the next level by leveraging color psychology and desirable titles to keep users moving through their onboarding process the same way one would continue a quest in a video game.

LinkedIn progress bar
LinkedIn progress bar
Linkedin progress bar

Gamification works best when sufficient constraints are in place.

In the same way that limited-time events in games make questing more fun, setting a specific window for users to finish challenges on your platform can tap into their FOMO as well as establish a daily routine of using the product.

Duolingo will reduce your daily reward if you break the streak for example.

UX Gamification using daily rewards
UX Gamification using daily rewards
Duolingo’s UX Gamification using daily rewards

Now that we’re familiar with the component and mechanics of a gamification strategy, it’s crucial to also consider the role it plays in the bigger picture.

You can create an engaging, human experience for users but if it doesn’t benefit your products that’s a lot of sunken effort.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what you can hope to achieve by implementing game elements into your product.

When people have put effort into topping the rankings, maintaining a streak, or collecting badges, the sunk cost mindset starts to take effect.

Whether it’s a video game or software product, the concept of sunk cost applies and can instill a great sense of loyalty.

Dropping in the rankings or losing your streak feels like a waste, so people keep coming back. Whenever a user is successful at a challenge that only adds to their loyalty as it forms a positive association between using your product and feeling happy.

Put simply, these small achievements make the interaction more memorable.

Celebrations make the completion of tasks feel like a major milestone rather than trivial busywork. This goes back to the concept of positive reinforcement and the fact that users are more likely to repeat actions that led to success.

Of course, you still need to ensure that the underlying experience is up to par.

Gamifying your product can make it less boring but it can’t compensate for inherently bad UX design or a lack of usability.

Take a look at how Asana uses gamification to complement their neat UI with an element of fun, that makes you remember and be proud every time you complete a task. Simply making you want to engage more with the product and complete more tasks just to see which mystical creature will show up next.

(Yes, there’s not just a unicorn!)

Asana gamifying a celebration
Asana gamifying a celebration
Asana uses mythical creatures like a digital unicorn to make interaction exciting for its users. Source: Asana

Why is it easier for people to play a game than learn how to use SaaS products?

Mostly because not enough SaaS companies put their product walkthroughs into context. Showing users everything in your product from their first visit will only confuse them instead of driving them towards activation.

Through game elements such as journeys and progress bars, gamification helps simply onboarding and increases apps usability.

In SaaS, the most commonly used journey is a checklist that pretty much guides the user step by step. Connecting it with in-app walkthroughs you can guide users through each step and adding a progress bar will drive interaction.

ux-gamification-checklist-userpilot
ux-gamification-checklist-userpilot
Userpilot’s onboarding checklist built with Userpilot. Get a demo and use gamification and checklists in your product too.

Factoring user motivations into how you present your tool is truly an essential part of gamification.

Let’s take a look at a few gamification examples to give you a better idea of how to properly apply gamification to your UX design and make the user experience fun.

Kontentino’s gamified in-app modal built with Userpilot

Not as fun and colorful as Asana’s unicorn but Kontetino uses celebrations in the best way possible.

They contextually guide the users to the next step in their journey and encourage action. Once a milestone was achieved, Kontentino leverages the positive feeling of achievement and encourages users to continue.

Rewards, journey, progress bar. ProdPad uses gamification to build an enjoyable trial experience and challenge the users to take action in exchange for being rewarded more free trial days.

It’s a win-win.

Users get to both experience the product and use it for free for longer when they engage with it and ProdPad doesn’t waste resources with 30 days long trials given to users that might never be a good fit and not convert.

ProdPad’s gamified trial experience

Loading screens are the first thing that people see when playing new games, but their benefits apply in non-game settings too. It’s one of these key points that will set their perception of the game moving forward which is why proper design is so important.

Despite being very common, loading spinners are inferior in design since they don’t specify how much time is left, don’t hint at what to expect, and can even slow down the users’ perception of time in the same way a clock would.

In contrast, loading screens are something that UX designers have been adopting since they add personality and fun to the experience while also keeping the user engaged.

Not exactly gamification, but building an interactive loading screen can be the first step designers should consider as no one will engage with your in-app gamification if your app took too long to load and the user just gives up waiting.

Mural designers added short tips to their loading screen, teaching its users how to use the product.

tips gamification strategy
tips gamification strategy
Source: Mural

Game developers are able to leapfrog over UX designers when it comes to retaining the user’s attention.

That being said, it’s easy to reap the same benefits when you gamify your UX and product design.

This, in turn, leads to more engagement and product adoption. And that’s what we’re all after in the end.

Want to build in-app journeys in the form of checklists or leverage celebrations modals to prompt users to take the next step? Get a Userpilot demo and see how you can mix in-app guidance with gamification strategies and drive product adoption.

Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com