The Gamification of New Age Apps

Here’s how brands right from Instagram to Duolingo are using games to strengthen their retention.

Every successful application now has a similar interface.

Games. They all look like games if we peel away the layers bit by bit.

And gamification is to not be underestimated. Every popular app you know: from Instagram to Duolingo, has adopted a gamified interface and owe a lot of their “addictive” nature to these basic tweaks.

But why use games as an inspiration?

Games work largely on the principle of retention. And good games ace that. For example, let’s look at a game that has been in the industry for over ten years: Candy Crush Saga. It’s interesting to see a game still have users after such a long time and only reflects the extremely strategic way games use engagements and loops to sustain retention. But at the same time, some games offer short-term engagement and therefore, wear out the user later. For example, Among Us. There’s nothing interesting that keeps the users hooked till the last second. After a while, we get tired of killing people or being the investigative lot.

A gamified interface is anything that strategically uses elements of good games like points, leaderboards and badges.

So how do you create that low-churn rate gamified experience for your non-game application?


Shift your focus from why your brand deserves a place in your consumer’s life and try to zero in on what exactly motivates your user to use the product. Great games do one thing: take the control of thought away from the user by tying in intrinsic goals. Basically, the reason a user comes back to an application is not because of an organic feeling but because the developers have instilled that feeling in the user. There are some gamified applications that have aced this motivation-satisfaction loop and Duolingo is one of them.

For those of you who don’t know, Duolingo is a language-learning platform that sort of went viral for its messaging strategy a few years ago. What still makes it the go-to platform for learning a new language is the intrinsic motivation incorporated in its user experience. One of the ways Duolingo motivates its users is by encouraging them to earn ‘crowns’ (sort of a reward system) by sharpening their language skills. It also features a calendar in its profile with ‘streaks’ regarding how long the user has been learning the language for. This all serves as a reminder that Duolingo is a commitment and not a one-time thing. Automatically, the user gets motivated and the retention rate remains high.

  1. The Crowns feature and (b) Streaks


If you reimagine branding as the plot of the Matrix, your customer is Neo who realizes their goal: to unravel the Matrix (aka your brand). You have to adopt the role of Morpheus and explain exactly what your consumer has to do to crack the goal they want to achieve. Therefore, this is the time you roll out a long process of attaining the goal which is tied into the intrinsic goals. All users go back to the game because they want to master it. The process should be difficult, but not unattainable; based on skills and not luck.

The key is how well you tune the difficulty level. It should be doable but only after a few attempts so that users are hooked to your application for an extensively long period of time.

As per Duolingo, this is obviously the art of learning the language. Let’s look at how social apps like Instagram, Twitter and Tiktok incorporate gamified user experiences. It is fairly simple. They do this through a feature that an entire Generation Z runs after: followers. What’s the first thing that pops up after you sign up on any of these platforms?

Get you connected. Either it pops up a list of accounts you could follow or asks you to import your contacts. The point is to get you to follow people through a series of methods: fleets, tweets and replies and DMs when it comes to Twitter. The process of getting followers is complicated but obviously not unattainable.

More people you follow >> more tweets on your feed>> more engagement for you>> more time spent on the app>> higher retention.


Nobody has the time to read a long PDF about the rules of an application. Users learn it as they spend more time on it. Games like Candy Crush Saga do this really well. It rewards users with fire, lightning and encouraging words like ‘Sweet’ and ‘Tasty’ and a red candy lands back in its original position when you try to line it up with yellow candy. All lessons for a user to only repeat actions that will unlock more characters and get them ahead in the story.

Now, trying to apply this to applications, let’s look at how a mental wellness platform incorporates feedback into their user experience.

Credits: Jon Lai

Great apps make users aware of what they need to do to master a platform early on in the game. There is also an underlying curiosity about the extent of the platform that hooks users for a long uninterrupted duration.

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