Hamari, J.


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.

  1. lemd reblogged this from jhamari and added:
    I recommend this paper to every one researching about Gamification.
  2. socialintel reblogged this from jhamari
  3. jhamari posted this