Gamification – What is it?

I recently started doing an online course on “Gamification” which was lectured by Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton School, Pennsylvania. In his first couple of lectures, Kevin concentrated on the meaning of gamification and its value.

Let’s start with a good definition of what gamification is: “The use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” Good examples are Nike+, which aims to make the experience of running more game like, and the Pain Squad app which makes it easier for young cancer patients to complete daily reports on their pain levels (see Fig. 1 below).

Kevin highlighted the following things with respect to the meaning and value of gamification, :

  1. It isn’t just about game components – Gamification is more than just putting together some game elements (e.g. badges or leaderboards). It’s important to think like a game designer (without having to become one) and to treat gamification as a way of thinking, as an experience.
  2. Game thinking also applies to non-game contexts – With gamification the spectrum is broader than just the goal of being successful in a game. Kevin mentioned a number of gamification examples with objectives outside of the actual game; think areas such business, social impact and education. I’ve listed some sample categories in Fig. 2 below.
  3. Gamification isn’t about just making everything a game – Kevin was quick to point out that gamification isn;t just about turning everything into a game, as you’re still in the real world. Nor is gamification about a collection of ‘PBLs’ (i.e. points, badges and leaderboards).
  4. Gamification is a way of thinking – Gamification brings concepts together from a range of disciplines. Concepts from fields such as psychology, marketing, economics and management all feed into gamification. It’s therefore much more than just playing a game or combining some game (like) components. I found the boundaries that Bernard Suits puts around games and gamification in his book “The Grasshopper to be very helpful (see Fig. 3 below).

Main learning point: I’ve learned that gamification is more than just sticking some game components together. Neither is gamification a case of just treating everything like a game. I’m looking to learn more about how one can apply gamification as a way of thinking to help resolve real-world problems and opportunities.

Fig. 1 – Promotion video of SickKids’ ‘Pain Squad’ app by Cundari Group

Fig. 2 – Sample categories where gamification can add value by Kevin Werbach

External (to the organisation)

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer engagement


  • Human Resource
  • Productivity enhancement
  • Crowdsourcing

Behaviour change

  • Health and wellness
  • Sustainability
  • Personal finance

Fig. 3 – How is the concept of a ‘game’ bounded? (taken from Bernard Suits in “The Grasshopper”)

  1. Having a pre-lusory goal – A game needs to have an objective
  2. Having constitutive goals – A set of rules and limitations that make up a game
  3. Encouraging a lusory attitude – The game player voluntarily follows the rules of a game

Related links for further learning:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: