Especially during the uncertain times of the year 2020, many businesses in a wide range of industries are looking for methods of increasing productivity and maintaining efficiency in the workplaces and practices. One method of achieving this aim, and that was developed during the last decade, is known as “gamification”. Gamification is an approach to designing workflow, professional or educational activities, or even meta-activities surrounding a game itself in such a manner as to reflect the generalized structure of a game. While this may sound counterintuitive – games are seldom regarded as a productive pastime in today’s society, after all – gamification has in fact spread broadly in the early 21st century and looks to only continue that expansion in the 2020s.

So how exactly does it work? It’s easiest to explain with some examples from key industries that have gone the furthest in leveraging gamification for their gain. One major field in which the technique is employed is in education – both in scholastic environments as well as in hobby-educational apps and software for more leisurely use. If you’ve ever used language learning apps like Duolingo or Babbel, you will be acquainted with the general structure.

Users have an avatar, friends list, may perhaps even be able to form groups or teams, and are awarded high scores, rewards, trophies, achievements, and so on, for completing educational tasks in the app. Structuring learning in this manner utilizes the same reward loop structure upon which video games are built. A mixture of both short- and long-term goals is typically used to engage users both in the present and hook them into the future. In a language learning environment, this might look like needing to learn 10 words per day for a short-term trophy or reward, and perhaps completing a full conversation throughout the week for the long term trophy or reward.

While this may sound alien to those not yet exposed to it through design or personal experience, it is in fact not too different from strategies employed in schooling children and young adults. Smaller tests are spread throughout terms and semesters to gauge student performance but also to reward hard work and study, while larger end-of-year exams serve as the long-term hooks. In many school systems “house”-style systems are also used, whereby students are assigned a different group and must work collectively to compete with other groups for points rewarded for learning performance or other related activities.

In the app world, this is also used extensively to teach otherwise extremely abstract or challenging subjects such as coding, for example. A multitude of apps are currently available across digital marketplaces that use gamification to teach these skills to those learning them as a hobby endeavour. Other apps that use gamification include apps in the gambling space, which makes use of a similar structure to guide players into short- and long-term fun and rewarding game loops. For example, gamification is key to the success of the UK online casino PlayFrank.

But it’s not just in the digital world of apps, nor only in the learning environment of schools and universities that gamification is used. The end of last year saw Forbes publish a summary of 15 innovative and current strategies that are used in a corporate setting. These include methods such as forming groups out of employees in just the same way as building “houses” out of students, as mentioned above – prompting coworkers to work together apparently has similarly powerful effects on productivity! Moving further into the 2020s, it will be fascinating to see what innovation awaits in gamification, as it will surely continue to develop as we move forwards.