The simplest questions are often the most difficult to answer.

To keep the answer as simple as the question, let’s say that gamification is the application of game-based elements into something that’s not actually a game. Gamification is a tool that can be used to influence someone’s motivation and enjoyment of activity while pursuing a goal, both acknowledging the rules and artifacts of the “game” at hand. And gamification, like games, is composed of goals, rules, and artifacts.

Goals

Every game has a goal, usually victory in some manner.  When talking about gamification, usually we’re talking about an already established real-life goal like improving your life or learning more.

Always remember to state your gamification goals from the perspective of the user/player/participant. Gamification is human-focused, not business-focused.

Gamification is used in these instances to motivate “players” to make progress towards their goal and find additional enjoyment throughout the process.

Rules

Oftentimes games are defined by their rules. In sports, we set boundary rules, contact rules, time-based rules, and other rules. All of those are often arbitrary but they are the rules of the game, nonetheless. A player’s acceptance of these rules is referred to as a lusory experience, which is critical to creating challenges and manufacturing fun.

In business, we have additional rules that are enforced by our governments, professional associations, or even bound by the rules of the physics of our world.

In gamification, we augment these universal goals with game-level rules that govern play, point scoring, accountability, and other facets in an attempt to balance the game to ensure it is challenging, yet rewarding.

Artifacts

Games have many different artifacts, from the balls, pucks, and game pieces, to nets, endzones, and timers. Gamified systems have similar artifacts, but the most commonly implement are the dubious trio of “Points, Badges, and Leaderboards”.

There are many different artifacts to utilize that if you take one thing from reading this, please let it be that points, badges, and leaderboards are not ubiquitous solutions, and if they are used, they should be the last artifacts you implement when everything else in the gamification system has been designed.

Anyone who starts and ends with tracking points, awarding badges, and displaying leaderboards are not actually implementing a thoughtful gamification design. They’re merely applying artifacts that appear to be gamification without the work of enhancing motivation and increasing enjoyment.

Summary

That incredibly high-level overview might help you understand some of what gamification is about, but looking more deeply at how it’s used will give you a better understanding of the interactivity of the components.

Once you fully understand how motivations can be harnessed for the good of the player/customer/user, you start to see how genuine gamification becomes an effective tool.

But as with all technology, remember that gamification can be used for good, and for evil.