Game On! An Introduction to Game Design and Gamification

Jun 04, 20216 min readBY Yozu Game On

By Yozu

From navigating through complex systems and improving education, to even changing behaviour and creating healthy habits, you might be surprised by what you can achieve with a game. Yozu Designer and Gamification Specialist, Kasia Pikula, takes us through the weird and wonderful world of ‘designing fun’…

So what exactly is gamification?

Gamification is a system that uses mechanisms and specific components typically reserved for game design and leverages them in a non-game environment to achieve specific goals. Innovative and bold, it can:

  • Improve user engagement
  • Increase productivity
  • Promote new products
  • Support employee recruitment efforts
  • Help users to develop new habits

A few years ago, the word “gamification” became popular in the world of marketing. Big brands promoted themselves through gamified campaigns, and digital products used points and badges to motivate users to stay longer on the website. Every gas station had their own reward system and the number of loyalty cards in our wallet was more disturbing than helpful. The idea of creating an engaging and exciting relationship with a client through a game (or ‘fun theory’) is great, but if the execution is oversimplified or intrusive, it can generate the exact opposite to the desired effect. The reality is that, like with everything in life, it takes time and effort to create a well-designed game.

Designing fun is more challenging than you think, but get it right and it could be a real game-changer for your brand and product. This comprehensive guide tells you everything you need to know about gamification – from the pitfalls to the big wins.

Understanding the characteristics of a game (and what that means for your business)

All games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.

/Jane McGonnigal/

Jane McGonnigal is an American psychologist and a game designer. She studies how to harness gamers’ power and unique skills to solve real-world problems (2). She describes the core values of the game, which are as follows:


  • What is the outcome the players are working to achieve?
  • Does it provide purpose?


  • Does it place limitations on how players achieve their goals?
  • Does it unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking?

Feedback System

  • Does it tell players how close they are to achieving their goal?
  • Does it motivate?

Voluntary Participation

  • Does it require players to knowingly and willingly accept the goal, rules, & feedback?
  • Does it establish common ground?

A good game is voluntary and engaging. It lets you try again if you fail. It creates an engaging storyline that makes you believe in yourself and motivates you to win epically. It also has a clear structure, rules and friendly rivalry. And the most important element? It’s fun. If a game isn’t fun (or voluntary), it’s work.

What does football, Monopoly and The Witcher have in common?

They all share the traits of a good game.

The list of the components (or traits) below can each be found in every well-designed game.

  • The world of the game
  • Avatars used
  • Timeframe allowed
  • Players

Let’s do a small exercise. Think about your favourite game. From classic tic tac toe, or snakes and ladders, to your favourite video game or outdoor sport. Now, looking again at the list, can you identify each component within your chosen game?

Let’s break it down with real world examples…

The world of the game — Simply referring to ‘where’ the game takes place, in Monopoly, the world of the game is clearly a board, while in football it would be a pitch. Can you think of other examples?

Avatars — These refer to the visual representations of players. In a board game, these are typically pawns or tokens; in football, it’s the team you’re supporting, while in video games, your avatar is usually a character through whom you explore the world of the game and discover the storyline.

The timeframe — In a football match, the timeframe is (approximately) 90 minutes, while, in a board game, the time is dependent on specific game mechanics, which are often represented by dice and rounds. In a video game, the timeframe depends on quests and challenges.

Players — Equally as important as the other components, a player determines how the game is played – from behaviour and style of play to the relationships formed with other participants.

So we have our game components… What’s next?

Know any good mechanics? Any good game needs a mechanic element. This essentially determines and manages all relations between each game component, as well as the feedback/scoring system. Ultimately, the mechanic keeps the order and structure of a game, allowing the rules to be followed with ease.

‘Fun’ and ‘theory’ in the same sentence?! The last element of a game connects the components and mechanics of the game with fun theory to create an engaging experience – we call it a game dynamic. An exciting storyline, a rush of adrenaline based on unpredictability, the excitement of learning something new, a growing self-belief, socialising, storytelling, proving yourself. In other words – the fun element. In product design, we use gamification to “inject fun elements into applications and systems that might otherwise lack immediacy or relevance for users”. (4)

Did you know… There is a beautiful word in Italian, “Fiero”, which means “pride”. It’s been adopted by game designers to describe the feeling after we triumph over adversity. Games can create an emotional connection between their storytelling and authentic goals. (5)

Cool. But what does this mean for my business?!

Let’s wrap it up. Gamification is the application of game elements and principles in a non–game context. Many businesses try to implement small gamified elements – adding points or immediate feedback to create a more interactive experience for users. Though the temptation to incorporate a quick fix via gamification is understandable, to achieve broader business objectives, it’s essential to dig deeper into a game’s components, mechanic and dynamics in order to understand how they can be best applied within your business.

If you spend more time on the discovery phase of the project and include your findings in your project goal and strategy, you’ll be sure to create a more memorable experience, which provokes positive emotions, inspires and motivates participants.

So, what is the next step? Define a problem. Decide if it’s possible and adequate to solve through gamification, a game or a gamified campaign. Then describe your players and… design a game ;). Don’t worry, I’ll be with you every step of the way! Keep your eyes peeled for the next article in the series…

Ready to get started with gamification in your next campaign?

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