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The Gamification of Life

Is Facebook a Social Network? Is Casumo an Online Casino?

For: iPhone
Developers Corner submission by Steel Media
The Gamification of Life

The rise in prominence of video games has had some surprising results on our understanding of human psychology and the way people feel about motivation and rewards. It didn’t take long for people to realise that many of the developed techniques have applications outside of gaming, and outside of the world of technology as a whole.

This is now a major field of interest for many researchers and professionals, and the idea as a whole is called “gamification”. Put simply, gamification refers to the practice of implementing gme-like mechanics in places where an additional motivating factor may be needed, and they can be a very powerful tool to push people in the right direction when they’re using your product or service. Let’s have a look at how gamification has been applied to certain industry in order to better understand its benefits and applications.

There are even online casinos such as Casumo , where the business model is specifically focused on gamification. When the average casino gives monetary offers and rewards, Casumo gives this plus the chance to level up your Casumo character, buy new items of clothing for it, etc. It’s got to the stage where it’s possible to question whether a company like this has begun to transcend its original purpose because of gamification.

Similarly, Facebook has effectively gamified life. People post pictures of newborns, and compete throughout life to document and attract likes. Is Facebook a social network anymore, or is it the world’s most successful video game? A couple of years ago The Atlantic did a satirical take on Facebook as a video game where all the daily habits of life on social media such as selfie taking are all tools to level up your life.

It really does put into question the value we place on relationships when casinos and social networks are all using gamification in order to tap into people’s desire for artificial likes when their own real lives are lacking in as much activity.

Mobile apps

This is an obvious contender for the list, and it’s one of the areas where gamification is seeing the most active development too. Many apps implement features that don’t directly contribute to the core functionality, but serve to entice users to come back on a regular basis, get involved in the app’s community, and more.

For example, many health tracking apps have turned working out into a game, complete with gaining experience points, unlocking new features, and more. Time and time again, research shows that this can have a profound impact on the way people interact with an app, and these elements are starting to pop up in all kinds of places.

In fact, an entire genre of games called “life RPGs” gained popularity somewhat recently, in which users literally progress by accomplishing regular everyday tasks, such as cleaning the house, cooking a meal, and working out.

A technique you will see very often in modern mobile games, and even some non-gaming apps, is called “Skinner boxes”. Named after their original inventor, B. F. Skinner, they are an implementation of a casino-like slot machine. You may be more familiar with the term “loot crates”, which they are commonly known as, and the core idea is pretty much always the same. The user is allowed to unlock a crate in exchange for some resource – it can be money, time, or in-game activity – and receives a random reward from the box.

Every once in a while, the reward will be of significant value, but more often than not, it will be complete garbage. The technique can be traced back to computer games like “Team Fortress 2”, and the current practices of companies like Valve in general, and recently, the industry has become quite exploitative in the design of those systems, leading to a lot of backlash from gamers against the practice. And yet, the data doesn’t lie – if you want to make good money in the app world, Skinner boxes are practically a printer for it right now.


We mentioned Casumo earlier - it should be no surprise that casinos have an active interest in gamification techniques, as the industry practically relies on player retention and strong engagement for their profits. There are various tricks and techniques that have become commonplace throughout the gambling world, and many experienced gamblers are already used to the way things are generally set up. Somewhat paradoxically though, it doesn’t seem like one can truly get desensitized to this sort of thing over time, and the effects of gamification can remain as strong as ever.

Modern electronic slot machines are precisely fine-tuned to give the player a wild and engaging experience, taking them on an emotional rollercoaster and enticing them to spend just a few more bucks to keep going – you were that close, after all.

That’s one common trick, in fact – you will end up with a combination that’s almost a jackpot, but not quite – you were just one symbol off from the big win! You may even see that special symbol lined up right next to the one you actually “landed” on. In reality, this is all preprogrammed, and since the machine is based on an electronic system with a digital display, it’s in full control of what you see on the screen. There’s practically no difference between a “near jackpot” and completely random symbols, it’s just a loss in both cases.

You can also see this trick in many nations’ lottery systems, where after scratching off your ticket, you will end up with an almost perfect combination – but still one that wins you nothing. Many gamblers will see this as a sign that they just need to keep going for a little longer, even though the big payout never comes.

Casino games will also entice you with attractive visuals and pleasant sounds in order to put you in a better mood during your playing, and these effects tend to be amplified during periods of lucky streaks. Your screen flashes in all sorts of colors, the game keeps dinging and pinging and making coin sounds… the Japanese are probably the ones that have taken this system to the most extreme level with Pachinko machines, which are a huge symphony of graphics and sounds.

On that note, remember those mobile apps we mentioned above? Some of the new developments that were developed in casinos eventually made their way back to the gaming industry, and app developers have learned a lot from the way casinos work. Those same systems are being used in many of the highest grossing mobile apps. Candy Crush, for example, will make everything flashier for a short period after making a purchase with real money, associating a positive feeling with the activity. This is just a small example, and digging deep into some apps that profit from “whales” can reveal a startling number of systems inspired by casinos and the gambling industry. Some developers purposefully choose not to do this, but in the end, profits can dictate quite a lot.


Some companies have a lot of gamification going on, in some cases without the employees even realizing they’re part of it. A well-known example are auto dealerships and other commission-based sales jobs, where the company might regularly award higher bonuses to top performers, giving everyone a reason to try and improve their numbers.

However, care must be taken to ensure that the practice is applied correctly, as its effects can drop down into the negative with the wrong approach. In the above example, it’s not rare for poorly managed dealerships to develop an aggressive environment for their employees, one that discourages assisting your fellow workers and pushes you to always look out for yourself only.

There are examples where gamification has been applied quite well to workplaces though, and the idea can have a very good potential if it’s done right. Call centers tend to be a common success story, but once again, it’s important to make sure that the idea is implemented in a way that nobody is encouraged to step on other people’s toes. When it’s done right though, it can be a huge boost to the performance of departments with a large number of employees, and it can lead to increased cooperation across the board.


Ever tried taking out a loan? Most developed countries nowadays have a nation-wide system that rates your financial trustworthiness. Your “credit score” is a number in a range that varies from country to country, but the basic principle is the same – it improves when you pay your bills and loan investments on time, and goes down when you do something bad, like delaying a payment or defaulting on a loan.

This system has become quite prominent nowadays and many people see it as a regular part of society. Landlords may use your credit score to determine if they should rent out a place to you, and you can see some doors of the world around you swinging wide open if your score is in the top percentages. Of course, this means that you have to actively participate in “the game”, as more serious financial activities tend to have a correspondingly heavier impact on your score.

This is yet another example of companies like Casumo or Facebook transcending their original purpose – credit scores may have started as a way to gauge credit but now they are shifting – in China, for example, is planning to roll out a new system by 2020, which will give a similar rating to its citizens for general behavior. There has been a lot of discussion about this idea, and unsurprisingly, it has been met with strong opposition by some. In the end though, it’s the country’s own decision if they want to do this, but it will definitely be interesting to observe the results if the plan does work out.

The system does sound a bit creepy in some regards – such as taking into account the purchases you make that can be traced back to you, and other seemingly innocent activities – but perhaps this is the direction our society as a whole is going in, and there is not much we can do to stop the inevitable. And in the end, maybe this won’t be so bad once it’s settled in and established as a norm of life.

And then, we can also see various smaller examples of this idea all around us. The modern online dating experience is based on systems of “likes” and “dislikes”, 1-5 star ratings, and all sorts of scoring interactions that seem designed to stroke some people’s egos more than help them build meaningful relationships. But for many, the system works fine, and services like Tinder and OkCupid are enjoying a lot of prominence for a good reason.


Another area that should come as no surprise to anyone, the education system has been trying for a long time to gamify studying and make it more appealing to students of all ages. The increased use of technology in classrooms has made that significantly easier, and we’re seeing some very interesting developments in some parts of the world, where school really is starting to seem like a game for an outside observer. Of course, students must still take their subjects seriously in the end, so there has to be a good balance in the implementation to ensure that there is actually some educational benefit in the end.

While there is no common “framework” being followed by different schools, many teachers on a local level have tried to come up with their own creative ideas for gamifying the studying process, and it’s generally observed that students tend to respond well to minor forms of competition. Anything that allows one student to demonstrate their capabilities compared to their peers tends to motivate the ones that do have something to show, although as we mentioned above, care has to be taken to avoid pushing this idea to extreme levels that can be counter-productive to the friendly and encouraging environment.

Large tech companies have realized the huge opportunities that lies in this area and have jumped on board too, and we’ve seen some interesting developments come out from the industry’s giants. Smart drawing boards and desks are just the beginning, and it’s definitely exciting to think about the possibilities for the future once technology use in classrooms really picks up, and some more advanced gamification systems are designed and implemented specifically with schools in mind.

Human Psychology and Gamification

Gamification exposes major features of the human psychology, and allows anyone to make use of them, for good or bad. We’re already seeing some interesting applications of the concept and it definitely does seem to have a strong potential for a positive impact on society as a whole, but it will take some time until it’s fully fleshed out and the best ideas have solidified.

Until then, we have to be responsible in the way we apply these systems to aspects of our everyday lives, as it’s not that hard to imagine a future where our whole lives are gamified in one way or another, and we’re forced to compete for absolutely everything. At this point is “Casumo a casino?” Or “is a credit check part of a wider game?” become more profound questions than ever.

DISCLAIMER: This article has been submitted via the PG Business Network and does not represent the views of Pocket Gamer.

Published on 12 September
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