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6 minutes read

How to Increase User Engagement in Your Apps With Gamification

By Robert Kazmi
By Robert Kazmi
6 minutes read

Do you remember Super Mario Brothers?

(Of course, you do, right?)

It’s the Nintendo game that swept the nation for years—and if you’ve stepped foot into a college dorm room over the past decade, you’d see that it’s still common.

And it’s no surprise—the game entices you from the very first level.

But what’s more—it can teach you an essential lesson for the success of your mobile app.

A lesson that can help you dramatically increase user engagement.

Here’s the thing about Super Mario Brothers: from the first level, you’re motivated to play the game because it’s fun, and you earn points along the way. You feel victorious when you reach the end and achieve a reward when you jump on that flagpole. The victory music erupts in the background, and you unlock the next level. Fist pumps all around.

The game mechanics keep you playing, and the rewards motivate you to reach the highest level. There’s always a fun, new challenge awaiting you (bring back any memories?!).

In other words—yes—your favorite childhood video game does more than just entertain you with two little determined Italian men who have Lebron James-like vertical leaps.

It also teaches you the importance of gamification—and it’s a lesson you can use to get users engaged with your mobile app. But we’ll dive more into this in a second.

The Importance of User Engagement in Mobile Apps

When you create a mobile app, you face two challenges. Not only does the app need to be compelling enough to earn a spot on the user’s home screen; it must also keep users engaged so that they continue using and interacting with it.

Put simply, the app must be something that people actually want to use. Otherwise, it’s likely to be pushed aside and become one of the 80% of mobile apps with 1,000 or fewer downloads.

So yes—it’s important.

But how do you maximize user engagement?

There are several ways to boost user engagement in your mobile app—but let’s go back to the Super Mario Brothers example.

The game uses the concept of “leveling up”— which gives people the feeling that they’ve progressed and/or achieved something, and gives them a reason to come back and keep playing.

It also gives them a feeling of achievement, which is one of the most basic and common gaming dynamics.

When you snapped back into reality and realized you’d been playing Mario Bros for 10 hours straight, these were some of the reasons why.

We’ll show you how you can use these gaming dynamics—as well as others—to increase user engagement in your mobile apps.

But first, let’s define gamification: gamification is the integration of gaming dynamics into your site, service, community, app, content, or campaign, in order to drive participation and engagement.

It’s not about turning your app into a game—but rather, using certain features found in games to enhance the user experience of your app and make it more engaging.

Gamification has grown more popular in recent years, and we’ve seen the rise of companies like Badgeville—one of our clients—who specifically helps you integrate gamification into your mobile apps.

And rightfully so—gamification serves as a powerful driver when it comes to promotion and retention.

Companies like Starbucks, Nike+, Red Robin, Linkedin, and Nissan are already using gamification to boost engagement on their apps and websites. Now, it’s your turn!

Here’s how you can start gamifying your mobile app:

Reward Users Early and Often

Think back to Super Mario. In most games, a princess has been kidnapped, and it’s the player’s duty to rescue her. But just beating a level alone and rescuing the princess wouldn’t be enough. The collecting aspect is what makes Mario Bros and other Nintendo so iconic. Whether its users collect coins, Pokemon, stars, or bananas, they’re rewarded often for simple tasks.

Starbucks does a great job of rewarding customers with their app—and it’s no wonder that it has been downloaded over 10 million times. It’s simple—the more coffee you buy, the more rewards you get and the more you fill up your cup. Users are motivated by the visual aspect of filling the cup and reaching the next highest level of earning.

The Appointment Dynamic

This refers to enticing someone to be at a certain place at a certain time. This is prevalent in games like Farmville, where users must complete a certain task at a certain time or risk losing something.

Groupon Now is also a good example. Users must act quickly, or they’ll lose out on an opportunity.

Offer a “Free Lunch”

With the “free lunch” dynamic, a user feels like they are getting something of value for free, due to someone else having done the work. In order for this to be effective, the player must feel like they’ve “lucked” into something, so it’s crucial that actual work is perceived to have been done.

Groupon does a great job with this as well. You get a deal cheaper only after 100 other people have bought it. You recognize that people have spent money on it (done the work), but you didn’t have to do any of the work of yourself.


Loyal users are more heavily engaged, and more likely to discuss and promote your app. The loyalty dynamic links to ownership, pride, and reward. You can make users more loyal through leaderboards and achievements, which generate a sense of pride and induce competition amongst users.


Without sufficient user engagement, your app will fade into oblivion. But there are some powerful methods to increase user engagement—and gamification is one of the best.

For the same reasons that you got hooked to games like Super Mario Brothers, gamification techniques can keep users coming back to your app.

Do you want to implement gamification into your current (or next) mobile app? Have you already used gaming dynamics, and if so, which has been most effective for your app? Tweet us or shoot an email!

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Have you started usability testing for your application or website? How has the feedback been so far?


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