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Are You Game? The Power of Gamification in Mobile Apps

Adding game-like elements to mobile apps, isn’t just cool or fun (and it is both). With app gamification brands have the opportunity to deliver competitive-based experiences that keep users hyper-engaged, and coming back to accomplish more goals, enjoy the thrill of competition, and reap the rewards. How do some of the world’s biggest brands deliver impactful app gamification?

You head out in the morning and grab a coffee from your favorite watering hole. Thanks to your app loyalty card, that cheese bagel you’re eyeing is free with your saved rewards. 

You open up your running app at lunch and run to the local park. You race against your friend on the other side of the world, bag a badge for your fastest time and share it on your Insta feed — hey, who doesn’t like to boast a win?! 

Grabbing a set to catch your breath, you grab your phone and take ten minutes to brush up on that new language you’re learning (French). The leaderboard shows you’re doing fantastique. 

By the time you get back to the office, you’ll have spent your entire lunch hour enjoying the fun of app gamification — and with a recent study by App Annie telling us that 70% of the world’s 2,000 largest companies are using gamification in their mobile apps, you won’t be alone. 

The stats concur: app gamification works 

By adding game-like elements to their mobile app, brands can deliver competitive-based experiences that keep users hyper-engaged, returning to take part in challenges,  accomplish goals, enjoy the thrill of competition, and reap the rewards. Little wonder that for many brands — and customers — app gamification has become a winning strategy: 

  • Brands that use gamification in their mobile apps see an average increase of 22% in user retention rates. (Localytics) 
  • 60% of consumers say they would be more likely to participate in a loyalty program if it included gamification elements. (Badgeville) 
  • Brands that use gamification in their mobile apps see an average increase of 30% in engagement rates. (GamEffective) 
  • 80% of consumers say that they’d be more likely to do business with a company that offers a gamified mobile app. (Salesforce) 
  • And gamified apps can lead to a 300% increase in customer loyalty and a 200% increase in referral traffic. (SocialTimes) 

Ok, but where should you begin? 

If you, too, want to boost your brand’s engagement and retention using app gamification, there’s plenty you can do. With some planning, gamification elements can elevate your app to the top of the leaderboard, from points and badges to progress bars and competitions. 

Before we dive into a few of our favorite apps using gamification, here’s a quick checklist of things to do before starting on your app gamification journey: 

  • Know your audience: By taking the time to understand them, you’ll be able to identify their motivations, interests, and pain points – then craft the gamification elements that will resonate with them. 
  • Establish clear goals: Are you after heightened engagement and retention? Increased spend? By setting clear goals at the outset, you’ll have the foundations for crafting a gamification strategy aligned with your and your users’ needs.  
  • Then start simple: It’s tempting to go all out immediately, but the beauty of starting simple allows you to test and refine your gamification elements before adding more complex features. 
  • Always reward progress: If you don’t, where’s the fun?! Rewards motivate and incentivize. The key to success is identifying the rewards your audience wants – so remember that audience research! 
  • Personalize the experience: When users feel like they’re part of a game tailored just for them, they’re more likely to stick around. Once you’re making headway with the simple gamification elements, there are a few ways you can do this; tailor content and rewards to each user’s interests, give users the ability to customize their experience, or offer challenges or rewards based on a user’s location, purchase history, or interests. 
  • Make it social: Users who share their achievements across their social feeds are far more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment, encouraging continued engagement. Think about adding social elements such as leaderboards that promote competition, challenges that can be taken with friends, or badges and rewards that can be shared. 

App gamification we love 

Nike+ Running app 

Setting challenges and motivating with rewards, Nike’s app offers weekly challenges, ‘Track Your Trainers’ mileage tracking, the Nike running community where users can connect and race with friends, and a wide range of personal training plans and guided runs. And when runners break their personal best or reach other milestones, they’re rewarded with badges and prizes they can share on their social feeds.   


With 30+ million users, one could say that Todoist has smashed the gamification game. The app has created gamification elements that prompt users to complete tasks – from big work projects to daily household chores -  by rewarding them with ‘karma’ points for every task they finish and dishing out some negative karma when they fail to reach the finish line. 

As users sail through their tasks, they stash their karma points and unlock new levels – and they can instantly share their karma score with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 


We can’t talk gamification without mentioning Duolingo – the most successful learning app ever

Although Duolingo’s infamous badging system has become synonymous with the app, its appeal goes way beyond mere badges by building a hyper-engaging and fun learning experience that encourages users to reach their language goals – and it works. One ResearchGate study from 2021 found that 80% of language students use Duolingo because of its gamification (and there are currently 300+ million users). 

The app offers various challenges and rewards, such as daily streaks, levels, badges, and competitive leaderboards, all designed to motivate users. Learners can also earn virtual currency, Lingots, which they can use to purchase ‘power-ups’ and unlock bonus content – and then share their progress and achievements across their social feeds.  

App gamification works; Make it work for you too 

From fitness apps that reward users for meeting their step goals to language learning apps that encourage progress through levels and challenges, gamification has revolutionized how brands approach user engagement and retention to power app growth. And as technology continues to advance, we can expect even more creative and innovative ways to incorporate gamification into our mobile experiences. So next time you’re scrolling through your app store, keep an eye out for those little game-like icons – you might just discover some inspiration to level up your app and revolutionize the user experience What have you got to lose?!.  

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Rony Vexelman

Rony Vexelman is Optimove’s VP of Marketing. Rony leads Optimove’s marketing strategy across regions and industries. Previously, Rony was Optimove's Director of Product Marketing leading product releases, customer marketing efforts and analyst relations. Rony holds a BA in Business Administration and Sociology from Tel Aviv University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management.