Gamification Strategies: A Guide To Getting Gamification Right for SaaS Products

Gamification Strategies: A Guide To Getting Gamification Right for SaaS Products

Did you know that the World of Warcraft wiki is the second-largest Wiki on the internet next to Wikipedia? This is a testament to the level of engagement that you can get out of users who are enjoying what they do.

Work and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, productivity thrives in a gamified environment. Let’s dive deeper into a few gamification strategies that can help you optimize the user experience!


  • Gamification incentivizes users to engage with your product by leveraging game-like mechanics.
  • Gamification strategies can be used to generate traffic and conversions from existing software products.
  • Gamification improves metrics by nurturing positive behavioral patterns.
  • Gamifying your onboarding process can flatten the learning curve and increase information retention.
  • Rewards incentivize repeated usage of a feature.
  • Associate your product with a specific emotional state to secure habitual usage.
  • Gamification strategies fail when they get in the way of user mobility instead of streamlining it.
  • Understanding the four archetypes of players in Bartle’s taxonomy can help you determine which gamification elements to use.
  • Onboarding gamification should be as streamlined as possible.
  • Gamification can be a powerful driver of product adoption.
  • Customer segmentation can ensure you target the right audience with your gamification strategies.
  • Tie all gamification elements into your business goals.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the process of incentivizing users to engage with your product and perform certain activities through the use of game-like mechanics. This may be used to drive sales, generate leads, or motivate employees.

What is a gamification strategy?

A gamification strategy is the process of taking an existing software and using gaming techniques to motivate user participation. These strategies often combine multiple techniques to achieve the desired result such as traffic, conversions, or long-term engagement.

What is the value of applying gamification strategies?

The key value of applying these strategies is making your product enjoyable enough to use that people explore all its features, promote it to friends, and perhaps even upgrade their subscription to a pricier plan.

Something as simple as giving users a badge when they try out a new feature for the first time incentivizes them to perform that action again in the future, nurturing those positive behavioral patterns.

Read on to learn more about how gamification can boost:

Gamification increases activation during onboarding

Contextual onboarding is one of the best ways to streamline the user journey. Gamification can inspire users to complete certain actions during their onboarding which will help them stay on the path towards their activation point.

Gamification can keep the onboarding process fast-paced and entertaining enough through a “learn by doing” approach that not only flattens the learning curve but also improves information retention and gets users to activate faster.

user adoption flywheel

Gamification increases user engagement

The only surefire way to increase user engagement in the long-term is through habit formation. Using your product needs to become second nature in the same way that Googling something or sharing a picture on Instagram has become.

When you give users badges, XP, or points, this encourages repeated engagement. In essence, rewarding users for using your product will solidify their loyalty and generate positive emotions that make them want to repeat the action again in the future.

Gamification increases product adoption

When users are rewarded each time they use a feature, they’ll be psychologically incentivized to use it more often. This repeated usage is actually the last step in the feature adoption funnel and it’s the point where your product truly sticks to the user.

feature adoption funnel

Gamification increases user retention

A common misconception is that there’s only one AHA moment in the customer journey. In reality, the best way to maintain loyalty is to create multiple AHA moments throughout the user journey so customers continuously receive value from the product.

It’s also worth noting that different users could have different AHA moments. This is exactly why you should create multiple opportunities for a user to experience their AHA moment and the best way, by far, to lead them to these activation points is by gamifying the entire experience.

To effectively retain users, you need to use AHA moments to form positive associations.

When people are bored, they launch YouTube.

When people are curious, they open Wikipedia.

When people are outraged they log into Twitter.

Tying a specific emotional state to your software can strengthen these habits.

For SaaS products, you could use the state of productivity as the internal trigger that keeps users coming back to your platform. Position your platform in their mind as the place where work gets done in an efficient manner.

user journey

When does a gamification marketing strategy fail?

Gamification can be a powerful strategy to increase product adoption and user engagement, but there’s a fine line between engaging with users versus frustrating them.

If you go too far, all these elements will feel like a gimmicky barrier that actually makes it harder to get work done rather than a fun addition that subtlety improves the user experience.

Todoist did a great job of tying its gamification rewards directly to the core function of its product. The Karma system rewards users who complete tasks on their list and use an eight-tier leaderboard to ensure their user engagement strategy is effective year-round:

Todoist gamification rewards
Source: Todoist

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking any gamification is good because it makes your product stickier but too much of a good thing is always bad. Don’t lose focus on the core purpose of your product and the needs of its users.

All the badges and leaderboards in the world can’t save a product that lags behind in functionality. Yes, gamification can entertain users but make sure it’s still accomplishing the goal of moving them through your product rather than being fun for the sake of being fun.

Above all else, don’t clutter your user interface as this will slow down user activation instead of speeding it up.

The game element hierarchy for SaaS

Game elements usually fit neatly into one of two categories: dynamics or mechanics. These components make up the game element hierarchy and understanding the differences between both categories will aid in execution.

Gamification dynamics

Dynamics center around emotions, progression, and relationships. In a game, this would include things like the plot, character development, and twists in the storyline. Contextual onboarding and interactive walkthroughs are the equivalents for SaaS companies.

Gamification mechanics

Mechanics are the actual processes that trigger certain actions. This could be challenges, resource gathering, rewards, competition, and other operations. In SaaS, this could consist of rewarding them for every checklist item they complete or leveling up their onboarding progress bar.

Gamification components you can use

Components are the objects, elements, and tools that enable the dynamics and mechanics of gamification strategies. Let’s take a closer look at a few game mechanics you can use to increase user engagement.

Gamification points and scores

Points and scores give users instant gratification for completing a task or hitting a milestone. These readily available dopamine hits are what make mobile strategy games so addictive.

Gamification leaderboards

Leaderboards rank users based on their points, level, or the tasks they’ve accomplished. This fires up users with a competitive spirit as they try to one-up each other by finishing more tasks.

Gamification progress bars

Progress bars help users visualize how far along they are in their journey — whether in the context of games or marketing.

Gamification badges

Badges are one of the most sought-after rewards because they show others your progress and the prospect of collecting them all is always enticing.

Gamification celebrations

Celebrating users for their achievements will encourage them to explore your product in search of more rewards, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Gamification rewards

Rewards are an umbrella term for anything awarded to players with the goal of celebrating an accomplishment and/or incentivizing them to repeat positive actions.

Player types

Researcher, Richard Bartle, of the University of Essex identifies four character types that people fall into when playing games. Understanding the differences between them can help you choose the right gaming elements for each type of user — multiplying the effects of your in-app marketing.

#1 – Killers

Killers are constantly trying to outdo everyone else. In-app marketing and gamification elements that allow these users to compete will motivate them to accumulate points and complete tasks. Whether it’s a strategy game or a SaaS tool, you’re sure to find this archetype climbing the leaderboards.

#2 – Achievers

Achievers are fueled by conquest. Whether it’s points, trophies, or setting a new personal record, these users are the easiest to appeal to with gamification. Features that show off their accomplishments like badges or a leveling system are sure to win over their favor.

#3 – Explorers

Explorers are driven by the unknown and seek out uncharted territory. Interactive walkthroughs might as well be a luxury vacation to them. Even bold in-app messaging like modals are more likely to pique the curiosity of these users rather than annoy them.

#4 – Socializers

Socializers seek to grow their network of friends through video games. To them, it doesn’t matter what the tasks are as long as they’re doing it with friends. Gamification that ties into social media is the most effective marketing method for these users as are social rewards like badges.

What are the gamification solutions and strategies?

The successful gamification of a virtual environment all comes down to crafting a strategy that will encourage users to move forward in the same way that playing games keep users engaged. Let’s take a look at some strategies for onboarding, adoption, and retention.

Gamification strategies for user onboarding

When selecting game elements for user onboarding, it’s essential that you take a friendly and brief approach. To ensure the user completes the onboarding process, these early gamification strategies should feel more like a video game tutorial than technical training.

If your gamification techniques seem too complicated then the user may skip the walkthrough altogether causing all your marketing efforts to go to waste. We go over some of the top gamification tools that can aid in the onboarding process below.

Use progress bars in your checklists

A progress bar can be a gaming element because it taps into human behavior to improve user engagement. While it may look like a trivial visual journey map that does nothing except track progress for your customers, it can engage users through the Ovsiankina effect.

The Ovsiankina effect is a phenomenon in which people are more inclined to finish uncompleted tasks once they’ve started. By adding a progress bar, you’re psychologically embedding the idea of completing the onboarding process and turning it into a goal for the customer.

Game designers include a progress bar in many games because it makes the user experience more fun while simultaneously bringing in more money since customers stick around longer. In essence, gamification can be used to almost ensure that all onboarding tasks are completed.

LinkedIn’s progress bar is a testament to successful gamification:

LinkedIn progress bar
Source: LinkedIn

Use celebrations to motivate users

The feeling of success is equally important to the actual information provided during onboarding since it creates internal motivations that solidify brand awareness in the mind of the user. Motivational design can also generate future purchases.

Celebrating users as they hit milestones along their user journey can increase their commitment and build up their loyalty alongside their smiles. Asana celebrates these achievements by displaying magical creatures on the screen like unicorns:

Asana celebration
Source: Asana

Gamification strategies for product adoption and retention

Getting people to use your product for the first time is only half the journey. If nothing motivates them to keep using the product on a regular basis then acquisition will be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory.

Let’s go over some strategies that can optimize both adoption and retention.

Use points to drive engagement

A rewards program centered on virtual currency is the best way to appeal to the achiever archetype from Bartle’s taxonomy. Duolingo uses lingots to motivate players to keep learning their language of choice.

Duolingo currency
Source: Duolingo

Lingots are a currency reward given to players who unlock a new achievement, hit their daily goal, or finish in the top three of their leaderboard. The clever part is that the daily reward increases as the streak grows, providing exponential incentive for users to maintain their habit.

Psychometrician Nikka Celeste from the National University of Manila had this to say about how streaks and a gamified rewards program can impact our behavior:

“The underlying reason behind why we want to keep winning is largely chemical. When we keep our streaks, our brain produces dopamine — a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. As we continue these streaks, the brain tells the rest of our body that we should keep doing so because it feels good. It’s like a pseudo-addiction.”

Reward users with badges and get users engaged

Game mechanics like badges give users, as EA would say, “a sense of pride and accomplishment.” After all, game design elements that provide periodic dopamine boosts are the best way to keep users interested and reduce churn.

Salesforce has capitalized on this by issuing badge rewards as users try out new features. Because they use a visual representation of the journey and badges, the roadmap structure also taps into the Ovsiankina effect.

Salesforce badges
Source: Salesforce

Keep users engaged with leaderboards

If you want to appeal to the killer archetype then leaderboards are the perfect type of game design. Competing is more gratifying to these types of users in comparison to other rewards like experience points so raising their position on the leaderboard every time they complete a task or try a new feature can help keep them motivated.

That being said, you should celebrate everyone on the leaderboard and not just the top user. If it becomes a zero-sum game then that’s simply taking the fun out of it. Remember, gamification makes people more engaged but it can also have detrimental effects on other users if not executed properly.

Freshdesk encourages healthy competition through the in-app team leaderboard:

Freshdesk leaderboard
Source: Freshdesk

Target audience

When leveraging game mechanics to provide guidance to customers and help them achieve success with their tasks, it’s essential that you consider the target audience. Rewards that appeal to project managers may not appeal as much to an accountant or someone in email marketing.

In addition to getting expert feedback from industry leaders, you can also use microsurveys to determine which tasks users are trying to accomplish as well as what line of work they’re in. This advanced segmentation ensures that your game design and rewards program will be relevant to the user.

Business goals

It’s important to consider what your business goals are otherwise your users will be having all the fun while you’re left with nothing to show for it. Furthermore, exploring these goals will give you a clearer idea of which game design elements to use.

If you’re trying to get more customers to follow your company on social media platforms then integrating that to game mechanics like a daily challenge ensures that your rewards program will have tangible results.

Think of your platform as a military mission, with your game design reflecting the objectives.


As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to reap by leveraging gamification. It all comes down to striking the right balance so that gamification streamlines the movement of users through your product rather than interfering with it.

If you apply some of the methods we’ve covered today, you’ll be able to reduce churn, increase your trial to paid conversion rates, and ensure that customers enjoy using your product for years to come. Want to build these positive experiences for users without writing a single line of code?

Get your free Userpilot demo today!


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