Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:
Gamification is the use of techniques learned from real life games to make products much more engaging and addictive.
The reason why product designers are looking into games is because most of the existing products are quite boring and users lose interest too soon. However, people could spend hours on addictive video games, spending precious time, money and resources.
The key elements of games are:
- Competition & Mastery: When you play Chess, you are totally engrossed and want to use all your mental abilities to win the opponent. You feel good about yourself as you are demonstrating mastery. What if a question answer site made content writing into a competition – enabling realtime voting and ordering answers based on popularity? Such a site might have more traction than a boring blog where you write without anyone competing with you.
- Rewards: At the end of a game, someone wins. The winner gets something. It could be something monetary or something as simple as "credits" on Quora or the points on a video game. This way you feel a sense of accomplishment. Numbers are historically more addictive. Thus, instead of saying I won, I would be more addicted it, I get 800 foo points. It feels good to earn something in numbers, even if you know that foo is totally useless. The rewards create a reinforcement in your brain, making you do the activity again, again and again.
- Status & Badges: When you win a few of the games, you get a status. You assume people look at you with adulation. Rewards are often visible to only the user, while the status badges are visible to others. Almost every sport has a ranking card that helps people understand who is the person with the status. Djokovic is the current status holder in Tennis ATP men's rankings. The badges on Foursquare and "top writer status" on Quora are examples of this. Keeping the status can make it things far more addictive. Most humans live and die by their status in real life.
- Socialize: Most games let you socialize. People decide business deals while playing a round of golf, for instance. It builds camaraderie and friendships. In case of Quora, the comments, messages and blogs help you socialize in the midst of the game. Like the golfer heading to their next hole, we chat through comments. The social element adds another layer of addiction, as people want to meet others and make small talk. The comment section is a perfect place to schmooze.
- Collaboration: In many team sports you need to find ways to collaborate. The collaboration adds an extra element of socializing. In fact, if you don't socialize you lose. Wikipedia and Github provide that level of gamification. You are in a team with a few others trying to build something.
- Learn and Improve: Every game has a way to help you improve in something. Tennis players analyze their faults and forced errors. Golfers look at their handicaps. When there is a scope for improvement and learning, you tend to come back. In the same way, Quora tries to provide things that make you want to improve and learn everytime you come back.
There are plenty more lessons we can learn from real life games to make our products fun, engaging and addictive. The process of making the products addictive this way is called Gamification.