03 November 2015

The psychology of winning: How gamification is changing consumer behaviours.

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Gamification is not new, it’s been around for a long time although it has been predominately the domain of business marketeers trying to entice new clients to explore their products and services.

With the rise of mobile devices and apps, gamification has really come into its own. Collect some badges, win a prize! Who doesn’t find themselves participating, no matter how unwillingly at first. It’s the same sort of idea as the current Woolworths dinosaur cards promotion.

I’ve lost count of the amount of frazzled looking parents in front of me at the check-out at my local Woolworths whose children are reminding them, quite forcefully, not to forget their dinosaur cards.

When I was a small child it was Golden Books. My Mother was excellent at bribery. Chocolate didn’t work, probably the sugar, but if I behaved myself while we were shopping and didn’t ask for anything I could choose a Golden Book to take home and have a ride in the red space rocket located in the shopping centre.

Needless to say, I had a box of Golden Books the size of a barn by the time I turned 8 and no longer fit in the shopping centre rides.

People like to win. It’s human nature. Give us the opportunity to gain a prize, or be better at Candy Crush than our friends and we go out of our way to prove it.

Foursquare is a prime example of gamification. By competing with random strangers and checking in everywhere you go, you have the opportunity to be declared the Mayor of somewhere.

The first time a friend of mine posted on Twitter he was Mayor of Starbucks I thought he’d gone mad. What made him made mad however occurred the following day, when someone ousted him as Mayor of Starbucks. I think he’s still coming down from the caffeine high getting his title back caused.

“Gamification is probably more like 75 per cent to 25 per cent psychology to technology,” Gabe Zichermann, co-author of Gamification by Design said in an interview in early 2015.

While Gamification has been embraced by corporate Australia for some time Government Agencies have been slower on the uptake, despite the move towards e-Government. When correctly applied and carefully nurtured, gamified systems can get people interested and participating in activities they wouldn’t normally be interested in doing.

In her article “Why gamification is so useful to business,” Catherine Garner quoted statistics from Gartner Inc. that projected spending in the gaming and gaming-related market was expected to reach $112 billion by 2015.

One area in which gamification is coming into its own is education. The high take up rate and results of MinecraftEDU in Australia is evidence that gamification in the classroom has positive outcomes.

While Government agencies have been slower than corporate Australia to embrace the importance of gamification, one agency took up the challenge early.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics launched “Run That Town,” in April 2013. In six days the app had been downloaded 7500 times, as Australian’s used actual census data to manage any town in Australia.

Another app that brings gamification to a situation a lot of people find difficult is the My Quit Buddy App, available from iTunes and designed to assist smokers during the difficult task of quitting. The app calculates your daily cigarette amount, toxic chemicals you inhale, the financial cost and sends the person regular inspiring messages. It’s crazy, but it works. There’s a space to leave comments about your journey which really makes it feel like you’re not alone and various games and distraction methods for when you have a craving.

While I’d hesitate to say it makes quitting smoking “fun,” as such, it definitely makes the situation easier to handle. Also, who doesn’t love to see they’ve saved a few thousand dollars.

Gamification at its most basic is based on rapid, but less valuable rewards for achievements as they occur. Rapid gratification means our patterns of behaviour are reinforced, resulting in greater likelihood we’ll repeat the behaviour again.

While gamification can – and often is – dismissed as “just a game”, the opportunities for Government and corporates alike are unlimited. Companies such as Microsoft and VW have utilised gamification for fantastic rewards and brand recognition and governments across the world are now beginning to embrace gamification as a way to modify the behaviour of the population.

An example of governments using gamification to bring about a preferred outcome is from the Swedish Government. Instead of going down the well-trodden path of graphic commercials or posters, the Government initiated a safe driver competition.

The aim was to use red light cameras to capture the drivers who were driving at the speed limit. At the end of the competition a cash prize was awarded randomly to one driver, paid for by the fines of those drivers who were still speeding.

At the end of the competition the Swedish Government had managed to reduce speeding by 22 per cent.


Government agencies in Australia need to begin to understand the impact of games on motivation, engagement and behavioural changes and how they can use psychology and a little fun to make real changes to the lives of Australians. 

For further information about Gamification for Government please click here.


Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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