Reward users through simple game mechanics

by on 15th September 2011

Game mechanics and dynamics: Gamification

Gamification can be broadly defined as rewarding users on your sites for performing actions that are valuable to the outcome of your business.

In a previous post by Will, we’ve looked at how to get users to promote their own content. In this post, we’re going to look at an introduction to Gamification – rewarding users for doing things that are important to your business using simple game mechanics and dynamics. It’s important to note that, balancing game mechanics (for example; points, leaderboards, virtual currency) and game dynamics (such as; rewards, competition, altruism) is an important step to a sustainable and engaged user base.

With some luck this introduction to the topic will provide some food for thought and inspiration enough to experiment with your own sites.

Check out the mozinar

Back in August, I gave a Mozinar to Moz Pro members on the subject of Gamification. I explained the typical features of game mechanics in that presentation, so do take a look. Having studied and worked with gamification I can honestly say that it’s exciting, it works and the concept is going to be an important weapon in an SEO’s arsenal of tools in the coming years. We’ve been working with game mechanics on our client sites and I’m excited to see some new examples surfacing every day, including at SEOmoz via a new reward program.

Do take a look at the Mozinar if you’re a pro member, otherwise – sign up for a pro account here. Until then, let’s take a look at a few examples. is a “show and tell” for creatives.  The system uses basketball terminology to construct a gamified environment in which players compete for visibility. As a player, you upload “shots” (sample designs) that are ranked based on the number of likes you achieve from spectators and players. To become a player you have to be invited (drafted) – you can’t just register and upload your designs straight away. You have to be drafted by another player.  If you want to become a popular player, you’ll need to earn follows and likes from other players.

The reward? Great designs win business. There are some simple mechanics in action here – the number of likes and followers you acquire will determine your popularity, hence your ranking as an all star player. are an SEOgadget client – we’ve been working them pretty much since the beginning of our company. Right now we’re helping them develop a gamified system to reward their users for participation. Put simply, they’re rewarding their users for regular blog authorship and car review submission. Participation yields Netcars Points and badges. The top participants are ranked in a leader board and the top bloggers ane reviewers are linked to throughout the site.

Ribbon Hero

I’ve been having fun with the level and challenge based platform, Ribbon Hero 2. Ribbon Hero is a downloadable application that works as a tutorial tool for Microsoft Office. Throughout the game, you help Clippy (Microsoft’s paperclip mascot) complete a series of challenges. In the first task, you have to help clippy reformat his CV from comic sans to the calibri font. When you get that right, you earn points and progress to the nest level. The game itself is integrated fully with Office, so normal use also yields points and achievements. As you complete the game you unlock levels and you’re rewarded by unlocking features and templates.

Here’s my current status in the game (my Office skills sadly remain in the dark ages…)

Codecademy is “the easiest way to learn how to code”. It combines gamification and social elements such as badges and levels to make learning development fun. I’m planning to join myself! – upload photos, (and watch videos), earn points and then exchange those points for rewards and discounts. The really smart thing about Lockerz is that they’ve taken an everyday activity (mobile users uploading photos to services like Twitpic) and gamified the system with points and rewards. This has a disruptive effect on the existing services. Nice.

Cheezeburger Network

The Cheezeburger network (where seemingly the majority of my time has been spent recently) have a spiffy collectables system – as you browse, rate and favourite memes you’re awarded collectables. The really smart part is that you can be rewarded before you’re logged in. A little pop up appears to announce you’ve earned a collectable. To keep that collectable, all you have to do is login (or register). An interesting and potentially pursuasive motivator to increase signups. is a simple website creator. They’ve gamified the process of website creation by assigning points and badges for levels of site customisation. The more features, content and images you add to your sites, the more you achieve in the game. What’s really smart is DevHub’s referral program:

You can earn cash rewards by introducing new users via Facebook, or via trackable links generated with a unique referral ID. That link can also be found in the footer of your own DevHub site.

Rewarding users for generating new users

Gamification is an exciting tool to motivate users to carry out the actions most important to your business. The Devhub example is really smart – by designing a referral system via social and links, they’ve effectively constructed something close to a social / SEO friendly affiliate marketing tool.

Earlier in the post I mentioned SEOmoz have launched a system to reward their users for generating new user signups:

It’s a very similar system – and certainly demonstrates gamification elements such as stats and gives a tangible, appropriate reward for participation – free pro memberships! There’s definitely scope for any webmaster to follow the same process – and I’d recommend taking this a step further by parsing a unique reference ID into any share action on the site:

In SEOmoz’s case, any logged in user that shares, tweets, +1’s a blog post could be tracked and rewarded should a referred visit end up in a conversion:

Building a user reward scheme with game mechanics

If you’re considering building out a similar referal or reward system, think about using the following game mechanics to make the experience more competitive:

  • Leaderboards
  • Points
  • Badges
  • Levels
  • Challenges

Speaking at #SearchLove, London

I’m excited to be covering this topic in a lot more detail with even more examples at the forthcoming (and most epic of) UK conferences: SearchLove London. It’s from the 24th to the 25th October 2011 and if you don’t have tickets already, you really, really should go and get them.

Photo credit: g-mikee

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