Technology December 17, 2019 Last updated February 11th, 2020 1,838 Reads share

Should Your App Be a Game or a Utility?

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Apps are being developed at the snap of the fingers nowadays, but they don’t necessarily succeed as easily.

Marketers have tried almost every campaign to boost the popularity of their own product, but very few have tried adapting the product itself for a wider audience.

In this article, I’d like to discuss the pros and cons of gamifying your next application, be it Android or iOS. Naturally, the topic will mostly refer to applications that are considered utilities, trackers, small tools and etc. Apps that are games themselves would not fit this description.

I will bring some examples to better explain what we will be talking about so let’s not waste any time and get straight to it, shall we?

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is something that very few people understand. You see, it’s not necessarily turning your product into a game as a whole, but adding some features that make it feel like a game.

For example, if you’re developing a weight tracking application, you could add a small in-built game that would only be available once a user reaches a milestone. The more milestones the user has, the more motivated he or she is to reach them so they can play the game.

Naturally, the game itself needs to be entertaining for this feature to work. In the end, we get a product whose sole purpose is to help the user track their progress, and then reward them for said progress.

It’s a pretty simple concept and doesn’t necessarily mean re-doing the whole product to suit this small adjustment.

Data Says It’s True

According to PLOS, there have been around 15 studies that meet the criteria of gamification of a software or any other product.

Naturally, it’s good for us to focus on the software part so far. The studies included around 11,000 people with different backgrounds, age groups and etc, meaning that the data received is diversified and can be applied to virtually everybody.

The conclusion of these studies states that people who were using gamified software compared to non-gamified software were more likely to log-in more often. Update their progress and overall interact with the product.

Whilst people who didn’t have a gamified software, were a bit slower, meaning that they didn’t open the app as often and didn’t necessarily interact with it on a daily basis.

So, on one hand, we have a customer that logs in almost every single day, and on the other hand, we have a customer that logs in maybe once a week.

What does this tell us? Well, I have one conclusion that I derived from this information personally.

“The sense of accomplishment is much stronger when there is a tangible signal, which is the game or some kind of reward given by the app to the user. Because of this, gamified app users place smaller milestones for a big goal, rather than just setting the big goal. The positive feedback from the app helps them stay focused on the next milestone which is within reaching distance and thus not lose motivation thinking how far away the ultimate goal is.

Those who don’t have an in-app game on their software tend to draw out their involvement with the app because they want to see just the results. In order to do so, they have to check the progress only once a week or even more. This is due to the slow progression that we as humans have. Therefore, in order to get the value out of the software, they need to distance the tracking considerably in order to get the same amount of dopamine that a gamified app user gets every day.”

Examples on the Market

One of the main reasons why people use tracing apps that can be qualified as utilities is to trace their progress in a specific field.

For example, this could be losing weight, or even gaining it. It could be the speed at which they can perform a task or pretty much anything else that one can imagine.

One important “sector” of these tracking apps can be considered the habit tracking software.

People have started paying a lot more attention to how they spend their free time, what they do while working on something and how they generally spend the day.

Therefore, developers have created multiple applications that help people track their habits such as how many cups of coffee they drink a day or how much time they spend on social media.

Although they’re all designed to somehow reward the users and help them see their progress, I think none of them have done as good of a job as Habitica.

Now, this is not some kind of promotion for Habitica, as I have been using it myself to increase my overall performance at work. But just knowing that the moment I finish my work, mark it as completed in the app and get to go on a quest, simply gave me a lot more motivation.

For those who don’t know Habitica is a habit and task tracking application that rewards you with experience points, coins and various other goodies that you can use to customize a character or even play some quests built inside the application.

It’s a perfect example because the main goal is to help you track your progress on your habits, while also featuring a game to help you through it.

Needless to say, I get a much better sense of achievement when the app I’m using rewards me with a flaming sword, rather than a bright screen with “You’ve done it!” written on it.

What Is the Best Way to Gamify Something?

All of what I’ve written above may look like sunshine and rainbows, but there are some boundaries to gamifying your product.

Naturally, not everything is designed to be gamified. For example, it’s very hard to implement that feature in a banking app when it could cost the company a lot more than it could potentially gain, or an eCommerce store that relies on people buying something from the app rather than staying on it for a long period of time.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do when gamifying your app:

  • Focus on the game too much
  • Skimp on rewards
  • Make it a paid feature
  • Market it by using the game

Here’s what you should do when gamifying your app:

  • Make it a support feature
  • Reward users with tangible items
  • Deliver value
  • Market it with the original app intent

There are pretty much the only guidelines that are required to develop a healthy gaming feature for any kind of application. As long as it doesn’t feel forced and only acts as a supporting factor for the main application, then pretty much all of the checkboxes have been ticked.

Remember, you’re making this feature to keep people motivated and interested. It’s not for keeping them on the app for a longer time, it’s an added value to the existing app.



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Giorgi Mikhelidze

Giorgi Mikhelidze

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