Blog post

Gartner Redefines Gamification

By Brian Burke | April 04, 2014 | 29 Comments


Gamification is often loosely defined, leading to market confusion, inflated expectations and implementation failures. An updated definition is required to clarify what gamification is, and what it is not. Gartner is redefining gamification as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”

The key elements of the definition are:

  • Game mechanics describes the use of elements such as points, badges and leaderboards that are common to many games.
  • Experience design describes the journey players take with elements such as game play, play space and story line.
  • Gamification is a method to digitally engage, rather than personally engage, meaning that players interact with computers, smartphones, wearable monitors or other digital devices, rather than engaging with a person.
  • The goal of gamification is to motivate people to change behaviors or develop skills, or to drive innovation.
  • Gamification focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. When organizational goals are aligned with player goals, the organization achieves its goals as a consequence of players achieving their goals.

The rationale and implications of this updated definition are explained  in Gartner research, Redefine Gamification to Understand Its Opportunities and Limitations (available to Gartner clients only) and in my book, Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Great defintion. My audience, marketing, loves simple.

  • It’s interesting. I have been using similar definitions since around 2012

    “The application of game mechanics to non game tasks to improve motivation, promote engagement or to drive desired behaviours.”


    “the application of gaming metaphors to real life tasks to influence behaviour, improve motivation and enhance engagement.”

    I like this definition, but feel the inclusion of digital is unnecessarily limiting. Whilst a lot of gamification is digital, it doesn’t have to be. Reward charts (or in my own case behaviour meters) for kids – paper and stickers. Gamified training sessions, where game mechanics are used to engage the trainees – they don’t have to be digital only. Heck, you even have the guy that presented at GSummit who was using post it notes!

    I know you are trying to narrow it down, but I think this is an unnatural limiting factor. Remember, if gartner says it – people will adopt it and in this case it may really be incorrect.

  • Mario Herger says:

    The definition doesn’t make sense, there are a couple of flaws in it.

    First: game mechanics are things such as gravity, things that effect the player without them being explicitly described. Game rules are something that are in the manual. Also there are aesthetics, dynamics, feedback mechanics, etc. that are not covered by game mechanics. Points, badges, leaderboards are feedback components, either granular or aggregated.
    Second: digitally. If your aim was to simplify the definition, why not leave out digital? There are many gamification designs that are analog, such as cookies, stars, sticker boards, or cut outs of pawns that are moved periodically towards a finish line. There are many environments, where you may not have the luxury to use computers, such as room maids, assembly lines etc.
    Third: the action. Motivate is pretty generic. What does that mean? The purposes are generally to teach, engage, entertain, and measure players.

    I’d rather stick with the most common used definition (even if it’s not precise), but is short and way better than this one.
    “Gamification is the use of game design elements in a non-game context.”

    if you want to use a more elaborate one, then use this one:
    “Gamification is an empathy-based process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences to teach, engage, entertain, measure to support players’ overall value creation to indirectly support entities’ overall value creation.”

  • I don’t like this definition. Why are you limiting it to the digital world? That’s just not true.
    We have a hotelier who did a great job by gamifying his customer loyalty program and he did that offline. Not one digital element. At the same time, not being able to use digital tools helps you to avoid to focus too much on the ‘fancy’ graphical stuff.

    At Engaginglab we use this definition:

    “Gamification means to reverse-engineering what makes game-like engagement successful and graft it into business environment.”

    It also avoids to think that it is all about the goals. Goals are only the results of an (hopefully) engaged (because already gamified) activity.
    But they are almost never the reason to be engaged.

  • A guy with 25 years of experience in IT industry redefines gamification by adding the word “digitally” into the equation. I tend to understand you Mr. Burke, but your “new” definition has not yet the power to convince me. Once you get the idea of the 3 different layers of the topic (such as mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics), you realize that to be or not to be digital is only a matter of aesthetics.

  • Brian Burke says:

    Andrzej, Mario, Roman and Julian – first of all, thanks for your comments. You have all reacted to limiting gamification to the digital world. The reason we limit gamification to digital is because it answers the question, ‘why is gamification a trend?’ Without including ‘digital’, there’s nothing new about gamification. Weight Watchers, Boy and Girl Scouts and military organizations have been motivating people with points and badges for a half century, a century and millennia (respectively). What’s new about gamification is that by using a digital engagement model, motivation can be packaged and delivered to scale at a low incremental cost.

    Weight Watchers uses primarily a face-to-face engagement model and has more than one million members, and 56,000 employees. MyFitnessPal uses digital engagement model and has 50 million members and less than 100 employees. That’s the power of digital business. Even Weight Watchers agrees – according to their 2013 annual report, it attributes declining revenue and profits to, “increased competition from Internet, free mobile and other weight management applications, activity monitors and other electronic weight management approaches.”

    I continue to believe that ‘digital’ is a distinguishing factor for gamification, and including it in the definition is not limiting, rather it liberates people to think about new opportunities to digitally motivate people at scale. I’m sure we are only getting started…

  • Hi Brian. I appreciate what you are saying. The thing is, this distils gamification down to a stereotype that people have. This is what most of us have been fighting to change. It gives the impression that all gamification is, is points and badges attached to technology.

    Gamification is nothing new. Yes, weight watchers is a great example of basic analogue gamification.

    It is like saying that games are digital. They are not, they existed long before digital.

    My fear is this sets is back, by reinforcing ideas we have only just started to get people past after 2 or 3 years of trying.

    Why not call it digital gamification if you want to create a differential?

  • Larriza Thurler says:

    Why only digital?

  • Bob Cowen says:

    Snowfly has been offering it to businesses as a cloud service since 1999 (it just wasn’t called ‘gamification’ until recently). It was founded by Brooks Mitchell, Ph.D.

  • Dutch Driver says:

    The answer to the question you posed is not the digital component, either. The digital component enables the delivery of those strategies to digitally distributed workforce, I’ll grant that is true. That could also be said of corporate intranets, and enterprise software.

    I’d say it is a trend because of the results used and as others noted those results were based on digital AND analog use of gamification strategies are starting to capture the attention of the C-suite. It also trends because of the results and the ease of digitally collecting and grappling with the data mountains generated by an employee or customer, aggregating it and, automatically rewarding players of the system.

    Reformulating your question ‘why is gamification a trend?’ I suggest the question become ‘how is gamification a trend?’. That is a matter of looking at historical data and tracking its trends as it grew into gamification.

  • Totally agree with most of the comments, in fact I’ve written a post about this ->

    I think the Gamification Dinner at the Gamification World Congress would be an excellent place to discuss about this new definition. And it’s an important topic, as Andrzej wrote in one of his comments, Gartner is very influential, so most people will adopt your definition because they don’t understand implications of this new definition.

    And I don’t think that having a “standard” definition that doesn’t convince most of the professionals in the sector is good enough to the development of this trend.

    What’s good about this is that it starts the discussion 🙂

  • It is difficult for me to understand (and share) this definition.

    Mr. Burke, I think there is a key factor missing when stating that the goal of gamification is “engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”.

    Gamification works not only because it “energizes” people. It works because it empowers them, One of the reasons for the success of good gamification designs (not necesarily tech mediated) is that they enable people to take more efficient decisions, they increase people awareness and understanding of their context and the rules and elements within it.

    It’s not only about drivers, but also about meaning.

    And I hardly see how could we achieve that with a framework with points badges and leaderboards as the most representative examples.

  • Penny de Byl says:

    I also disagree with the term gamification being confined to “digital”. As you say you want to illuminate gamified experiences such as weight watchers, airline miles and other royalty cards that have been around for decades. Digitising these mechanisms only enables them. It does not make gamification technology. And as it may be “trending” and a “hype” it had no place on the technology hype cycle. Digitising chess for example, did not redefine the game such that the definition of it was changed. The fundamental engagement mechanisms of gamification stem back to behaviourism methods for behaviour modification. It has been used for over a century in psychology, education and business. You can slap a new term on it for it have become a trend, but it is in no way a technology.

  • Brian Burke says:

    I think the debate is great, and I want to thank all of you for contributing your thoughts. There are too many points to address individually, but I will answer a couple of the themes in the comments…

    1.) Some of the comments take exception to our use of the term, “game mechanics” and the focus on them in the definition. We decided to use the term “game mechanics” in our research to describe things like points, badges and leaderboards back in 2010. While we are aware that people use different terms to describe these things – our clients value consistency. Others people have taken exception to the focus on points, badges and leaderboards. I would agree that one of the pitfalls of gamification is that people with a superficial understanding of the topic sometimes believe that slapping badges on something will magically engage people. At the same time, it is important to include it in the definition since game mechanics are really inherent to gamification. I can’t think of anything that I would call a gamified solution that doesn’t include some of them.
    2.) Many other comments concern the use of “digital”, arguing that digital is simply a progression from older physical engagement models. I would argue that digital is a game-changer, not simply another step on the path – for all the reasons I mentioned in an earlier comment. I recall people in the late 1990’s saying Amazon was just another bookstore, and people in the early 2000’s saying that digital photography is just a fad. Fast forward to today and we find Kodak is in bankruptcy and Barnes and Noble continues to struggle. Lesson learned: Ignore technology disruptions at your own risk.
    All of these issues are examined in much more detail in my book Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things.

  • Interesting seeing so many people in the industry all agreeing on the same points, takes a lot for is to all agree on things – this is promising I have to admit. Sadly I know you and gartner can never change what you have said, so this is all really just here to make sure other voices may get heard. However, I will just add these last to points to clarify the position we are in.

    1. Points and badges etc are feedback not game mechanics. Most people in gamification have pretty much agreed on this after much conversation with those who know – game designers. Game mechanics are things like physics or bullet speed. I appreciate your clients need consistency, but I am sure the also appreciate accuracy. The fact that we want to move away from the image of nothing but points and badges is secondary to the fact the term is wrong the what it is used here. “Because we always called it that” seems like a strange argument in a conversation about redefining things.

    2. I fear you are still missing why we are all against digital. Yes – that may have popularised gamification and made it easier for many implementations. However, it is not what makes gamification what it is, it just enables certain ways of working and using it. No one here is blind to the importance of digital. We all know what happened to Kodak. We all know how much photography has changed and we now take more photographs than ever before. This is due to the introduction of digital cameras and camera phones etc. however no one has changed the definition of photography to include the word digital just to satisfy a need to recognise a trend. Instead they refer to this new trend as digital photography if they want to differentiate it from analogue photography.

  • Tore Rex says:

    It’s very exciting to see a new definition of gamification and I think “experience design” certainly has it’s place in there somewhere.

    Let me offer a thought about “digital part” though – it’s to limiting in my opinion – one would never define games or books as being “only digital?”

    Books went from paper to audio then became digital. The digital part is another way of distributing books and maybe add extra content and convenience. It doesn’t change that a book is still a book. Imo, the same rules apply to gamification.

    No-tech, low-tech or high-tech: Gamification is still gamification

    I define gamification like this:
    “A strategic tool to design user behavior by fulfilling psychological needs to create engaging experiences”

  • Brian Burke says:

    Andrzej – Thank you for taking the time to explain your position. I certainly understand that some people commenting on this blog use different terminology, and I believe that it is a good thing that terms are being debated. But I disagree with your statement that “most people in gamification have pretty much agreed” on the use of the term “game mechanics.” Gamification platform vendors such as Badgeville and Bunchball also use the term “game mechanics” to describe things like points, badges and leaderboards, so if you want to change the terminology, you will need to bring many more organizations around to your way of thinking.

    It seems we agree that gamification was popularized by digital solutions like Foursquare, and a quick search on Google Trends confirms that the term ‘gamification’ became popular about the same time. The question seems to be: is ‘gamification’ a new term to describe an old approach; or is ‘gamification’ a new term to describe a new way of implementing an old approach. I may have to consult my philosopher friends on that – it sounds like a ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ kind of question. In the meantime, we will stick with the latter and include ‘digital engagement’ in the definition 🙂

  • Marcel Leal says:

    We had a similar discussion in Brazil recently, but was about the terminology: should we use “gamificação” (a portuguese approach of gamification word) or “ludificação” (a formal language approach, with “ludus” latin root)?

    The most of people here use “gamificação”, but this is not the point: the concept is.

    And to better explain this concept and simplify it to our customers, we like to say that gamification is a fun way to do things that have to be done. This seems to make sense for them and we can skip this part of conversation to start talk about how we can help them.

    Of course it is important, especially for a reference like Gartner, to have an oficial definition. And I agree with people here about the digital aspect… but for the most of us (or our clients), this doesn’t change too much…

    Makes sense for you guys?

  • Brian Burke says:

    Marcel, I couldn’t agree more. In Spain, there was a similar debate about using ludificación or gamificación. In the end, semantics are not important to organizations. Getting the concepts right is far more important in achieving success.

  • Brian, I actually did like your definition when you talked about it a few months back in an interview. As the CEO of a gamification platform myself ( who pitches 24/7 for investments and sales to many verticals, I completely appreciate that an authority/thought-leader comes out strong to define and narrow down the purpose of gamification. Adding “experience design” and “digital” certainly adds focus to the key benefits.

    Dubious interpretations are frustrating and create confusions. I have spoken in conferences where someone in the slot before me says “gamification is part of serious gaming”, or vice-versa, and to see my slides contradict them later on. Many top guns in the industry want to keep “gamification” vague; it might be a fear of being wrong later, keep it a blanket/catch-all term to extend their professional capabilities, but mainly, I believe they want the industry to find its own definition and grow on its own (though it has taken too much time). So yes, more definition, more narrowing, more precision, pretty please.

    Now, with all that said, I did like your definition of gamfication until this article: You claim in your article: “Gamification is often loosely defined, leading to market confusion, inflated expectations and implementation failures.”. True, gamification is loosely defined, but game mechanics aren’t. Just because two gamification platforms (one of whom had openly discouraged the “g” word and fun when speaking to their clients, preferring to call it RAMP, while the other calls it game components in its site, game mechanics aren’t PBL. You PBLably want to revise and update that, and not confuse the market further.

    Here is a pretty good resource too: (badgeville’s second definition).

  • Hayk says:

    Hi all,

    I read all the comments and agree with Andrzej, Marcel and Keith the most.

    Like others, while I appreciate an organization such as Gartner trying to bring clarity to the debate about gamification by trying to clarify its definition and components, I do think the way Brain did it is flawed.

    Simplifying a definition by considering what a trend (digital, social media, web) in last few years isnt going to help elucidate the concept of gamification, especially in long-term.

    Just as for physics, its working “definition” is “study of nature,” so is the current classic definition of gamification as “introducing gaming dynamics into non-gaming contexts.” Both of the definition are generic but are NOT vague, thus allowing plenty of room for all sorts and types of gamification to coexist under the generic term.

    That said, your narrowing down of term gamification is not something that should be seriously considered. As many commented above, gamification is nothing new and just because last few years worth of Internet technologies are finally bringing it to the mainstream doesnt mean we need to hardwire the means by which gamification came to be known to masses with the concept itself. Just the same as saying media (in its various forms) existed before Internet and “social media” was a consequence of having Internet technologies create new means of media, that didnt imply redefining media itself but carefully defining what “social media” is versus “traditional media.” Media is media and is a means, which can take on analogue or digital forms.

    So is gamification which can take its analogue or digital forms.

    My 2 cents!

  • There is another downside aspect of the “new” definition that I would like to point out from a completely different perspective.

    I came across the “old” definition of gamification only recently, and it immediately appealed to me, as it shed a completely new light on what our company has been doing for the last 10 years without labelling it so.
    At we ‘gamify’ corporate meetings, conferences, workshops, and other live events. We call what we do interaction design, as it involves structuring real-time live interaction to trigger actions, behavior, and engage people in a way that a desired outcome (driving a complex project, understanding a new process, share knowledge across organizational boundaries, etc.) is more likely to be achieved. Doesn’t this sound familiar…

    “Applying game elements and game design thinking in non-game contexts” was a very inspiring metaphor for us and for the companies we work with. Doing very similar things already, this simple shift in perspective opened our eyes for a huge body of knowledge from a domain we had never even considered.

    I consider reducing gamification to situations where people engage digitaly an “unforced waste of context”.
    Gamification is a powerful concept with a tremendous potential to increase the quality of live interactions within organizations – and people simply (still) DO engage face-to-face with real people in the real world, too. Removing these situations from gamification’s scope without a good reason would probably keep it off corporate radar screens or make it more difficult to penetrate organizations, and both would be a loss.

    Talking about the reasons to reduce the scope in the first place, “market confusion, inflated expectations and implementation failures” are serious concerns. But narrowing down the scope of gamification will neither help to increase the quality of implementations nor reduce market confusion (following this discussion, the opposite seems to happen). And not expecting anything from gamification outside digital media would simply means wasting what I think is a huge potential.

  • I agree the power of gamification lies in digital engagement.

  • But does power define it or enable it?

  • jerry says:

    Brian, Gartner, good job.

    The term Gamification is abused and misunderstood. This is a solid attempt to clear the air up.

  • Manuel Pimenta says:

    I’m finding this discussion more and more fascinating by the minute 🙂

    Something I’ve found though is that “blaming” the digital component of gamification for making it a trend seems to me to be a stamp that fits-like-the-rest-of-them. I’ll explain: like Brian said with the examples of Amazon and Kodak, is that dismissing the digital factor as a game changer (no pun intended!) is a mistake. I agree. However I don’t agree that it is what makes gamification a trend.

    The more videos and lectures and articles I see, the more I get that the issue everyone’s trying to address is the so called “engagement crisis”. Is that not what makes gamification a trend? The fact that we’re having more and more media being bombarded at us at the same time? Now more than ever, we are going to have to learn how to keep people focused and engaged on a task, because the need arose from this overkill of stimuli.
    I’ve been working with children for 10 years now, with a 4 year gap in the middle, and I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the need to keep them constantly engaged. And I use zero digital components despite gamifying my activities. And I come from an IT background.

    I honestly think that the digital component does not make it a trend but instead is just the most effective medium to get the message across. Why? Because of this engagement crisis. 10 or 20 years ago, gamification was already around and was considered just another tool in the box. Now I think it is this engagement crisis that makes it not only more valuable but essential, and therefore a trend.

  • Power does bring more relevancy and context. This limitation will probably help Gartner share forecast, share facts, discuss, without clarifying digital or not, though no one would ever use “online gamification” and “traditional gamification” in the same way we discuss “online advertising” and “traditional advertising”.

    I have never met a gamfication designer/consultant that has been engaged for offline gamfication (not impossible though), and have always assumed the term would imply digital strategy anyway. It doesn’t bother me if Gartner defines it or not, but it bothers me that already well-defined terms like “Game Mechanics” and “Experience Design” are redefined out of the blues here.

  • Brian Burke says:

    Wikipedia describes the early definition of “computer”, in use from the early 17th century (the first known written reference dates from 1613), meant “one who computes”: a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available. When people make historical references to that profession today, they usually add a prefix “human computer” to distinguish it from the more common current usage of the term “computer.” Like many words, the meaning of the term has evolved over time.
    Many people commenting here have taken issue to the word “digital” in the definition. I believe that “digital” is essential to the trend, and to the definition. Just as computer is now prefixed with ‘human’ to distinguish it from the more common use of the word, perhaps the answer is to prefix gamification with something like ‘off-line’ or ‘low-tech’ or ‘manual’ to distinguish it from the digital (now common) use of gamification.
    For more on why I think “digital” is essential to the definition, have a look at my blog post on Forbes, How Gamification Motivates the Masses –

  • Hello Brian,

    It is good to see that you are trying to narrow down the definition of gamification as it is essential for research and business alike! However, as everyone (except one person until now) that disagreed with your decision to narrow gamification to digital only, I share the same opinion. I understand your argumentation points regarding the trend (that started with Forsquare) and the evolution of concepts but I don`t think they are valid in linking gamification with digital only.

    I see gamification as a design approach to creating an experience for a specific target group/person (and this does not have to be digital only). Building upon Manuel`s argument I believe that gamification has become a trend due to this “engagement crisis”. And yes, the engagement crisis is mostly linked to technology but that does not mean that gamification as a design tool for experiences should be approached just from a digital point of view, as your definition states.

    According to Neuhofer & Buhalis (2013);jsessionid=BF8D893BB16A72369A456ABD82FCFEAE.f01t04 an experience can be either: 1. Conventional (low tech-staged experience) 2. Technology Assisted (non-interactive Web 1.0 technology – assisted experience) 3. Technology Enhanced (interactive Web 2.0 technology -enhanced experience) or 4. Technology Empowered (interactive, immerse, pervasive technology – empowered experience). Gamification is just a design thinking method that can be applied to create an experience in any of the cases above mentioned.