Hamari, J.


Does gamification work? - A look into research

Understanding gamification and its effectiveness beyond anecdotal evidence and hype is evidently a pertinent practical issue as well as, increasingly, a scholarly pursuit. Regardless of the increasing amount of both industry chatter and scholarly articles, there still is a dearth of coherent understanding whether gamification works and under which circumstances.

To address this gap, we ran a literature review on empirical studies on gamification. We focused on investigating (in accordance to Huotari & Hamari 2012; Zhang 2008) what were the implemented affordances (independent variables), psychological and behavioural outcomes (dependent variables), what was gamified, as well as the methods and results of these studies.

In summary, the current empirical research on gamification largely supports the popular view that, indeed, gamification does produce positive effects, but many caveats exist (see e.g. Hamari 2013). Most frequently, the studies bring forth three categories of caveats: the context of gamification, qualities of the users using the system and possible novelty effects. See the paper for more details.

The study will be published in the Proceedings of 47th Hawaii International Conference on System SciencesDownload here. image 

Citation: Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on gamification. In proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA, January 6-9, 2014.

Abstract: This paper reviews peer-reviewed empirical studies on gamification. We create a framework for examining the effects of gamification by drawing from the definitions of gamification and the discussion on motivational affordances. The literature review covers results, independent variables (examined motivational affordances), dependent variables (examined psychological/behavioral outcomes from gamification), the contexts of gamification, and types of studies performed on the gamified systems. The paper examines the state of current research on the topic and points out gaps in existing literature. The review indicates that gamification provides positive effects, however, the effects are greatly dependent on the context in which the gamification is being implemented, as well as on the users using it. The findings of the review provide insight for further studies as well as for the design of gamified systems.

Juho Hamari
Researcher @ Game Research Lab - University of Tampere

Jonna Koivisto
Researcher @ Game Research Lab - University of Tampere

Harri Sarsa
School of Science - Aalto University

Social aspects play an important role in gamification

(Cross-post from Gamification Research Network blog)

Although gamification is most commonly connected with experiences such as mastery, competence, flow and goal commitment (Huotari & Hamari 2012Hamari 2013), it is quite evident that also social factors have an important role to play. Therefore, we wanted to empirically investigate how social factors such as social influence, getting recognized and reciprocal benefits contribute to attitudes and use intentions towards gamification services.

In order to investigate this phenomenon, we ran a survey in Fitocracy which is one of the largest services that gamify exercise. The results show that social influence, getting recognized and reciprocal benefits are strong predictors for attitude formation and use intentions as well as for intentions to recommend such services. However, our results hint that merely getting recognized does not necessarily lead into improved attitude and use intentions unless at the same time getting recognized leads into reciprocal benefits in the community.

The results also hint that alignment of service design (gamification) and the norms of the community can be essential for successful gamification. The role of the gamification, in form of points and levels, is thus to facilitates this social process within the community. Therefore, perhaps also mere “pointsification” can become “meaningful” when shared within a like-minded community geared towards same goals.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the 21st European Conference on Information Systems. Download here.

Citation: Hamari, J., & Koivisto, J. (2013). Social motivations to use gamification: an empirical study of gamifying exercise. In Proceedings of the 21st European Conference on Information Systems, Utrecht, Netherlands, June 5–8, 2013.

Abstract: This paper investigates how social factors predict attitude towards gamification and intention to continue using gamified services, as well as intention to recommend gamified services to others. The paper employs structural equation modelling for analyses of data (n=107) gathered through a survey that was conducted among users of one of the world’s largest gamification applications for physical exercise called Fitocracy. The results indicate that social factors are strong predictors for attitudes and use intentions towards gamified services.

Juho Hamari
Researcher @ Game Research Lab - University of Tampere

Jonna Koivisto
Researcher @ Game Research Lab - University of Tampere

Transforming Homo Economicus into Homo Ludens

I conducted a 1.5-year-long field experiment on whether badges, which have been one of the main mechanics in gamification, had an effect on the usage activity, quality and social interaction within an eCommerce website. The data, gathered between December 2010 to the end of July 2012, consisted of the usage data of 3,234 users. The field experiment especially focused on whether providing users with clear goals and enabling social features (in form of enabling comparing badges) (2x2 design) affected the individual numbers of posted trade proposals, accepted transactions, comments and overall use activity. The users received badges for different beneficial activities, such as posting trade proposals, accepting transactions and posting comments.

Surprisingly, the results showed that merely enabling these features did not have any significant effect on use. However, those users who actively followed up on the accumulation of their own badges posted and accepted more trades as well as commented more. Comparing badges was also positively associated with making more trade proposals. The paper discusses in more length possible reasons for these results, such as context of use, nature of the gamified service, intentions of the users and the sporadic nature of use of such services.

The research is published in the journal Electronic Commerce Research and Applications. Here.

and a pre-print of the paper here.

Hamari, J. (2013). Transforming Homo Economicus into Homo Ludens: A Field Experiment on Gamification in a Utilitarian Peer-To-Peer Trading Service. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 12 (4), 236-245

Juho Hamari
Researcher @ Game Research Lab - University of Tampere


During recent years, the addition of game mechanics to non-game services has gained a relatively large amount of attention. Popular discussion connects ‘gamification’ to successful marketing and increased profitability through higher customer engagement, however there is a dearth of empirical studies that confirm such expectations. This paper reports the results of a field experiment, gamifying a utilitarian peer-to-peer trading service by implementing the game mechanic of ‘badges’ that users could earn from a variety of tasks. The users (N=3234) were randomly assigned to treatment groups and subjected to different versions of the badge system (a 2x2 design). Results show that the mere implementation of gamification mechanics does not automatically lead to significant increases in use activity in the studied utilitarian service, however those users who actively monitored their own badges and those of others in the study showed an increased user activity.

Defining Gamification

We propose a new definition for gamification in the below peer-reviewed paper that just came out:

Huotari K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining Gamification - A Service Marketing Perspective. Proceedings of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference, Tampere, Finland, October 3-5, 2012.

In short, we describe gamification as

a process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user’s overall value creation.

The definition, undoubtedly, is a mouthful when compared to the previous definitions presented for example in Wikipedia: “Gamification is the use of game design elements, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts” or by Deterding et al. (2011): “Gamification refers to the use of design elements characteristic for games in non-game contexts”.

Our definition differs from the previous conceptualizations in a few interwoven ways:

1) There are no game elements, or if there are, they are not unique to games as we understand them.

Elements that are often referred to as “game mechanics”, “game design patterns”, “game elements”, such as badges, points, leaderboards, graphics, sound effects and more. We can find such elements in variety of systems and services.  These elements, were they in “games” or “non-games”, do not automatically lead to “gameful experiences”. We think defining whether something is gamification (or a game even) should not be based on the use of mechanics that are not unique to games in the first place, but rather the definitions should pertain to the experiences that gamification is attempting to afford. We argue that gamification is primarily about affording “gameful experiences” rather than the usage of certain game-like elements. If we, however, subscribed to the idea that certain mechanics alone create a “game” or a “gameful experience”, then we could conclude that also stock exchange dashboards, decision support systems, loyalty programs and other services and systems that have for example levels, points and progression metrics would also be, by definition, games. By this reasoning, we would notice that a large number of systems could be categorized as games or gamified systems according to the previous definitions. Furthermore, all of these game-like systems, according to the previous definitions, make them non-gamifiable. This leads to the second point:

2) There are no non-game contexts. … or game contexts for that matter.

Elemental aspect of the previous definitions has been that _only_ non-game contexts can be gamified. In our view, the dichotomy between games and non-games does not necessarily exist, and if it does, it is rather subjective. This makes distinguishing between the two - a game and a non-game context - rather difficult. Firstly, because the experience of gamefulness is subjective. Not all people experience gameful experiences when playing for example Chess or someone might feel very gameful when competing in the stock market whereas others might think the activity is very stressful. Secondly, non-games also have “game design elements” which implies that even on the systemic level distinguishing between a game and a non-game context is tricky. Therefore, we argue that restricting the gamification only to non-game contexts, which we can not very well distinguish from game contexts, is very problematic and therefore we argue that the definitions should be agnostic about the system which is imbued with affordances for gameful experiences.

This line of thinking, however, also implies that this part of the definition of “gamification” also applies to game development. After all, game developers are designing affordances for gameful experiences. This leads us to the third point: 

3) One can’t create “gameful experiences”. 

As with games, products and services in general, there is no guarantee that they would bring about experiences that the designer intended. For example, not all games bring about experiences linked to “gamefulness”. Therefore, we argue that the gamifier can merely provide affordances, such as game mechanics, for gameful experiences. In the end it is always up to the user/player/customer whether they experience the game in a manner that the designer intended. This understanding of the customer value creation is well conceptualized in service marketing literature (see e.g. Vargo & Lusch 2004).

In line with this perspective, the definition highlights that gamification aims to support the user’s overall value creation related to the product or service that is being gamified (“in order to support user’s overall value creation.”).This also sets gamification apart from mere game development. In gamification, the idea is to enhance an existing core service with affordances for gameful experience in order to make the existing service more valuable through gamefulness, whereas in full-fledged games, the gamefulness is the core service. However, this articulation does not exclude games from being “gamified” through for example meta-games.

What are gameful experiences? There does not seem to be a single common articulation of an experience that we could use to replace “gameful experiences” nor there is a clear consensus which kinds of experiences would rise only from games. Thus far, however, psychologists have suggested for example the following being characteristic of a “gameful experience”: mastery, autonomy, flow (which breaks down into about 9 more sub-characteristics), suspense, and so forth. Therefore, instead of explicitly mentioning all of the different experiences and feelings linked to games, we refer to “gameful experiences”. We do realise that such an abstraction level is problematic as long as “gameful experiences” have not been clearly defined in psychology literature.

4) The goal of gamification is first and foremost to afford gameful experiences … through which further goals are reached

Many previous conceptualizations refer to a limited set of goals for gamification, such as: “connect and engage with audiences” (Spitz 2011), “engage user and solve problems” (Zichermann & Cunningham 2011), or something else related to user retention and other marketing/learning/fitness etc. goals. We argue, that a broader set of goals is in order to make the definition domain-independent.

With regards to goals of gamification also lays one of the dilemmas of gamification. If the goal of gamification is something else than to bring about gameful experiences, gamification falls into the danger of what has often been loosely called “pointsification” or “badgefication”. Voluntariness and instrinsic motivation have been regarded as main antecedents for and consequences of gameful and playful experiences. If the goal pertaining to what users ought do is strictly defined, there is a danger for reducing voluntariness, sense of self-efficacy and intrinsic motivations, especially if the gamification strictly rewards only pre-defined activities that the designer has determined for the user.

Because of these aspects, we defined that gamification is carried out “in order to support user’s overall value creation”, which takes into account the user/player/customer’s subjective needs and wants pertaining to the use of the core service or a system in question. According to this conception (see Service-Dominant Logic - Vargo & Lusch 2004) the customer or a user is always a co-creator of value, implying that the only way to extract value from a service is through interacting with it. Hence, “user’s value creation”. This can be, for example, enjoying the service more, getting more out of the service, getting more motivated to learn or to exercise and so forth. Thus, this articulation also affords a domain-independent definition.

Afforandance for gameful experiences
possible gameful experiences
overall value extracted/created from and during an activity or use of a service


Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From Games Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”. Proceedings of The 15th International Academic Mindtrek Conference, Tampere, Finland.

Huotari K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining Gamification - A Service Marketing Perspective. Proceedings of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference, Tampere, Finland, October 3-5, 2012.

Spitz, M. (2011). The gamification of healthcare and what is means for mobile. http://www.pharmaphorum.com/2011/12/09/mhealth-monthly-mashup-release-6-0-the-gamification-of-healthcare-and-what-it-means-for-mobile/

Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2004) Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing. Journal of Marketing 68 (January): 1 – 17.

Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.