8 Examples of Gamification in Popular Web Apps

By Joshua Gross, 26 May, 2022

According to a recent survey, 43% of all smartphone usage around the world is related to gaming. Even if you think you don't spend your time playing games, you might want to take a closer look at the apps and web apps you use regularly.

Increasingly, many of the techniques built into successful games are being used in the web apps of industries that aren't game-related, such as fitness, banking, education, and shopping. By utilizing features like rewards, points, challenges, badges, and leaderboards, you might be surprised to learn which web apps have been "gamified."

If you're looking to boost user engagement with your web app, increase customer loyalty, and create a long-term community surrounding your brand, gamifying your app can be an effective strategy.

Let's take a look at some of the most popular web apps that allow the user to enjoy a game-like experience.

What Is Gamification in Web Design?

Marketing professionals haven't been blind to the massive appeal of video games over the last several decades. For this reason, it's increasingly common for brands to incorporate game-like features into their web design.

Gamifying your web app doesn't necessarily mean that you are designing a video game for your audience to play. Instead, it simply refers to having some shared elements with games to help keep your visitors entertained and engaged.

Some features that a web app might incorporate that are similar to those found in a game include:

  • Timers
  • Badges
  • Leaderboards
  • Points
  • Rewards
  • Progress/feedback
  • Teams
  • Community building

If this sounds silly to you, you might be interested to learn that many popular web apps have utilized some of these game-like features. After all, when a web app is well-designed, you might not even notice that the site has been gamified. In the most effective apps, it all seems so seamless and intuitive that you don't automatically make the connection that your favorite web app is gamified.

1. Starbucks

Starbucks is one of the major corporations that has made the switch over to a PWA. Their app is brilliantly designed to keep their loyal customers always coming back for more.

So, how is the Starbucks app gamified?

One game-like element of this web app is the "My Starbucks Rewards" program. Every time a customer uses the app to make a purchase, they earn stars. Depending on how many stars you've earned, you are ranked among others at different star levels.

Basically, you get better perks and rewards the more stars you earn. You might get merchandise, birthday beverages, free refills, and more.

If you're a coffee drinker, you can see how this could be very incentivizing. You might even be looking into downloading the app on your own phone right now!

The Starbucks app incorporates game-like elements in a truly effective way. It provides rewards that are meaningful enough to people that they are motivated to use the app. Once they have the app in place, they are compelled to specifically purchase from Starbucks rather than another coffee shop to increase their rewards.

2. Headspace

Does Headspace represent the gamification of mindfulness? Maybe, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, is it a problem if more people feel an urge to keep their streak going when it comes to meditation?

Headspace is definitely partially responsible for meditation becoming a mainstream activity. Considering how many mental and physical benefits meditation has, it's hard to argue that this hasn't been a net benefit for humanity.

Through the app, users can learn about the art of mindfulness and how to stay present as they go through their day. You'd think this might be a hard sell, but the app makes it easy, rewarding, and, yes, fun to learn how to be more mindful.

Using animations, friendly illustrations, and streaks in a game-like way, users are encouraged to wander around the site in a stress-free way.

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3. Duolingo

The tremendously popular language learning app Duolingo had 9.6 million daily active users around the world in 2021. A classic example of the gamification of apps, Duolingo makes it so learning a new language is competitive, engaging, and downright fun.

There are several important elements to why Duolingo is so successful in this regard. For one, the app constantly sends notifications (some would argue a bit too frequently) to remind users about their language learning goals. Speaking of goals, it also breaks all of the challenges down into different stages, allowing users to have a sense of accomplishment even for using the app for a few minutes a day. Every little win is celebrated, creating a reward cycle that keeps people coming back for more.

With progress bars, streaks, experience points, leaderboards, and leagues, Duolingo pulls out all the stops when it comes to gamification.

4. Tinder

One of the most popular dating apps in the U.S., Tinder is a PWA that both desktop and mobile audiences can use.

Sure, you can argue about whether gamifying something as intimate as dating is a good thing for society, but you can't really argue against the fact that Tinder has been successful in creating a game-like experience for users.

Tinder completely transformed the online dating industry, which had previously emerged in the dot-com era as desktop-based dating websites. Even though the app wasn't nearly as impressive from a technical standpoint, it blew the competition out of the water by appealing to a younger demographic and by gamifying online dating.

With features such as rewards and swiping, Tinder stepped into the digital dating realm and dramatically increased the number of online dating app users in the 18-24 year old demographic. One of the founders of Tinder, Sean Rad, even stated that they "always saw Tinder, the interface, as a game."

The success of Tinder is evidenced by the fact that the term "swipe right" has become a commonly used phrase in the vernacular of millennials. Through the gamification of their app, Tinder made it so dating as a younger person and Tinder were practically synonymous.

5. Facebook

In 2018, Facebook started testing its own PWA as it grew in popularity. It's fair to say that a major reason behind the PWA revolution was the web application technology within the social media conglomerate of Facebook.

One of the most notable ways that Facebook offers a game-like experience is through its implementation of the "like button." The more "likes" a post you make gets, the more people will see what you've shared.

Since its inception, the ability to build a social network through Facebook was a way for people to display just how networked they were. However, with the ability to "friend" people and the total number of friends displayed on one page, showing others just how popular you are becomes a competitive aspect.

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6. Adidas

As the second-largest sportswear manufacturer in the world and the largest in Europe, it's no surprise that Adidas made big waves in the world of web design when they adopted a PWA frontend. Before the switch, they had sixteen different native applications, none of which were receiving the engagement they anticipated or desired. Adopting a PWA frontend has paid off for Adidas, with their revenue growing 36% to more than $2 billion in 2018.

One of their popular apps is an activity tracker named Adidas Running. One of their successful campaigns, named Run For the Oceans, utilized many gamification features to boost engagement.

First of all, the campaign in itself was a challenge that allowed participants to test and motivate themselves.

Secondly, integrated community features allowed users to join local groups and organize running events. As you know, one of the best ways to achieve a goal is to tell someone else you're working towards it. When you feel a sense of accountability in this way, it can boost your motivation to achieve what you set out to do. By building this into the app, Adidas successfully boosted user engagement.

Thirdly, Adidas allowed users to build their goals right into the app. This provides both a sense of autonomy and a personalized purpose, both of which are hallmarks of app gamification. Each user can create customized targets with deadlines, allowing app users to see how far they are from achieving their goals visually.

As the fourth point of gamification, the Adidas running app instills a sense of competition between users, thanks to its leaderboards. When you use the app, you can share achievements, track your progress, and see how you stack up against other people in your community.

Lastly, the Adidas Running app also has a built-in reward system. This is a great way to boost user retention and encourage long-term thinking in the user. Thanks to the reward system, people are motivated to keep using the app and meet their goals while also feeling driven by a sense of challenge and competition.

7. Twitter

As the seventh most popular social media platform globally, anyone interested in gamifying their web app might want to take a few notes about the game-like user experience offered by Twitter.

Twitter users receive quantifiable feedback for the communications they send out into the world. When a person makes a tweet, they can receive Likes, Retweets, and an increased Follower count if their commentary is well-received. Users can even create polls for their followers to answer, allowing them to, in some respects, create their own game and data collection methods on the platform. This makes Twitter a platform that can be legitimately thrilling to the average user when their opinions and viewpoints are given affirmation by their following and the platform at large.

Much like how Tinder gamified online dating, one could argue that Twitter gamified digital communication. People have built entire careers based around Twitter, and the platform is used by 83% of journalists, saying that it's the most valuable social media platform. In fact, 60% of journalists, according to Muck Rack's State of Journalism report, use Twitter as their first source of news.

Through the ability to receive direct feedback from one's communication, Twitter can offer a game-like experience to users and a powerful marketing tool to businesses and professional personalities alike.

8. Uber

One of the most uniquely designed apps out there today is Uber's PWA. First launched in 2018, the PWA loads quickly and only takes up 50 KB of storage space. This lightweight app makes it fast and easy to book a ride (or food delivery, bike and scooter rental, and more) even when your network connection is weak.

Though you might not think of such a utilitarian app as something that would need to include gamification features, game-like features can increase engagement even for something as practical as transportation.

One of the primary aspects of Uber's gamification is its Uber Rewards program. Built to incentivize loyalty to the ride-sharing company over their competition, this program unlocks benefits through a tiered system. The app even includes a progress bar to show you how close you are to moving up to the next rung of the ladder and visualizes your progress, so you understand how much more you need to invest to reap new rewards.

Is It Time for You to Turn Your Web App Dream Into a Reality?

As you can see, the elements of games are hidden in plain sight in some of the world's most popular web apps. Activities that one would think have nothing to do with gaming– everything from meditation and running to buying coffee and hailing a ride– can utilize game-like features to create an all-around improved experience for the user.

Only you can dream up your next brilliant web app idea. However, you don't have to go it alone when turning that dream into a reality. At Planetary, our team of globally-distributed experts specializes in helping you manifest your idea into a professional digital product.

Have you been searching for the perfect team to help you create your new web app? If so, tell us about your project today.