Increasing member engagement with gamification

Keeping your members engaging with your site on a regular basis is essential if you want to avoid member churn, build your brand, and maximize your revenue – and one of the best ways to do that is by using gamification!

What is gamification? In simple terms, it refers to incorporating game-like elements such as points tracking, leaderboards, rewards, and achievement badges into your business. Since its first appearances in the early 2000s, this trend has exploded, becoming a dominant engagement strategy used by some of the biggest brands around – and it’s particularly useful for memberships.

“Gamification is a process of using game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.”

– Gabe Zichermann (Gamification.co)

In addition to being fun and engaging for your members, game-like elements also spark the competitive human spirit, motivating members to participate regularly and stick around for the long-haul. Increasing engagement (and thus retention) is precisely what you need in order to grow and maintain a successful membership site.

In this post, we discuss some of the different aspects of gamification to illustrate how you can use it to increase member engagement on your own membership site!

How effective is gamification?

The whole concept of gamification plays on the same tried-and-tested, data-driven rules and methods – or game mechanics – used by video game designers. In fact, these methods were designed specifically for user engagement, and were later adopted in non-game settings to inspire the same kind of motivation.

Game mechanics (BunchBall)
Game mechanics / game dynamics chart (BunchBall)

Depending on your content and goals, implementing gamification can be as simple or complex as you want it to be – however, with the times of mobile-first design already upon us, simplicity is desirable. This is not to say that more advanced game elements aren’t worthwhile, but  just adding one or two game elements to your membership site can add a new level of interest for your members!

“…even when companies add badges in what some might call a slapdash kind of way, they’re still seeing some results in user engagement. That’s what’s remarkable about gamification. Businesses add it hoping to ‘move the needle’ 1 percent, and they end up [improving] by 50 percent.”

– Gabe Zichermann (Gamification.co)

Common elements

You’ve probably encountered gamification in one form or another in your own life, as many modern websites employ one or more aspects of it in their user experience. Let’s take a look at some common elements you might use for a membership site:

Points tracking

Points tracking is one of the most basic ways you can gamify your memberships. Whether it’s actually “points” or some other form of trackable unit, keeping track of points earned by your members for completing purchases, content, or profile elements (for example) helps to motivate them to keep going, finish a specific section of content, or otherwise keep coming back to your site.

A credit system

Similar to points, a credit system can essentially be thought of as the member’s site-based “bank account”. The more credits are earned or awarded through the completion of content, milestones, achievements, or other behaviors, the more they can be used to access things like exclusive bonus content, special privileges, or similar.

Badges, awards, and titles

Recognizing things like completing achievement levels, courses, or sections of content, or achieving milestones like member commitment levels and anniversaries can be especially effective for engagement. Consider awarding members with badges, awards, certificates, or special titles to give them a sense of accomplishment – and celebrates their progress!

Author title and badges (ThemeForest)
Example of a special title and badge display (ThemeForest)

Need some ideas? Consider rewarding your members when they:

  • Reach a certain number of points
  • Complete a level
  • Complete a course
  • Complete a series of courses
  • Read X number of articles
  • Reach a certain number of downloads
  • Purchase a certain dollar amount or number of products
  • Receive a certain number of likes, comments, or kudos for helping others (or contributing in some way)
  • Finish their member profile (image, personal information, etc.)
  • Upload a certain number of files
  • Publish a certain number of posts or amount of content
  • Remain a member for 1 year
  • Refer a certain number of new members
  • Upgrade to a higher membership tier

You might even give your members a dashboard where they can view all of their achievements at once. This can be especially effective for motivating action and completion!

Badges dashboard (Khan Academy)
Badges dashboard (Khan Academy)

Making badges and awards easily shareable via social media channels adds an extra social element to the mix, too! Not only is this enjoyable for your members; it also catches the attention of new prospective members within their networks.

Pathways

Depending on the type of content that’s on your site, you might decide to give your members different pre-designed content pathways that lead them to one end point or another. This takes some of the decision-making burden off of your members – plus, if they already trust you enough to sign up for your membership site in the first place, they’re likely to appreciate and take advantage of your efforts to simplify the process for them.

Typically, a content pathway will have an end goal, but it can also simply be a focused area of interest. Some examples of specific pathways might be:

  • A beginner’s crash course
  • A morning commute playlist
  • A themed collection of creative assets or downloadables
  • A 30-day fitness video boot camp
  • A focused guitar techniques tutorial
Pathways (Duolingo)
Path options with content to be unlocked (Duolingo)

Checklists

Want to break up achievement levels into daily or weekly groups of tasks? Using checklists can help members keep track of their tasks remaining, making it easier for them to complete unexplored content. Adding interactive elements to a checklist, like factoids, encouragement, and new content can make them even more engaging.

Progress bars

Seeing their percentage of progress helps members visualize where they’re going, and how far they’ve come. Especially useful when it comes to courses or other types of content that is presented in a specific order, progress bars are a staple of gamification.

Progress bar (Codeacademy)
Progress bar with a prompt to resume the course (Codeacademy)

Similarly, tracking contributions, activity, or any other desired measurement is also effective for members who want to compare their current activity to previous months, projects, subjects, or status levels, for example. This can be done with bars, graphs, or other styles of visual representation.

Contributions graph (GitHub)
Tracking contributions with a Calendar graph (GitHub)

Leaderboards / rankings

This is simply one of the best ways to bring out the competitive side in your members! Giving them an exclusive leaderboard with achievement rankings helps motivate members as they compete against each other for high scores.

Rewards

Valuable, usable rewards are always effective when it comes to incentivizing people. It follows that offering your members rewards like bonus content, extras, or reduced cost membership upgrades can be motivating. This is a particularly good way to reward long-term members who demonstrate customer loyalty!

Unlocking content

Reserving some of your content for members who reach certain achievements or milestones can do wonders when it comes to keeping them active on your site. Unlocking content works in tandem with badges, awards, and credit systems (as shown in the Duolingo example above), if you want to inspire your members to stay engaged and reap rewards!

Other benefits

Control, direction, and structure

Besides engagement, gamification can actually help you to manage the member experience. Instead of releasing your content as a proverbial free-for-all and then just waiting to see what happens, you get to retain some control over how your membership is experienced.

In fact, gamification can aid you in structuring your entire membership. Maybe you want to create a certain flow of content, or support your members in their progress, or unlock access to specific content upon completion of prerequisites. All of this pairs nicely with gamification.

For the most part, you probably don’t want to require member participation, but gamification does help you to guide your members toward certain behaviors – and direct their attention to where you want it to go, while still giving them control over their own progress.

Less churn

When it comes to memberships, churn can be a big problem. Effectively implemented gamification helps to reduce churn by inspiring members to stick around because they genuinely enjoy and derive value from the experience.

From the member’s point of view

Gamification plays on imagery that members recognize, making it easy for them to figure out where to go and what to do next. It can also help them keep track of what content they’ve already explored, and gives them extra motivation to complete new content.

Creating clear paths through your content helps your members make the most of their memberships – and get their money’s worth! Plus, who doesn’t enjoy some rewards and recognition?

“Gamification should be a tool in a larger tool box and implemented when appropriate.”

–Karl Kapp

While extremely effective, gamification is best used in a supplementary way; it’s not a replacement for understanding and personally engaging with your members. Remember: you (and your content) are at the center of your membership site, so maintaining real relationships with your members is a must!

Memberships are all about the user experience – and creating meaningful memberships is more than just fun and games. Gamifying your memberships can bring you serious benefits in the engagement department, but always keep your core focus on the value (and the real-world benefits) that you provide.

Do you have experience with using gamification on your own membership site? What wisdom do you have to share? Join the conversation below!

Mandy Jones

About the author: Mandy Jones is a content writer at Sandhills Development and founder of Looplicious. Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she's a world traveler and animal lover with a passion for creativity and maker culture. When she’s not writing blog posts for Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, and AffiliateWP, she can be found hanging out with other people’s dogs, or writing, recording, and performing music.

8 comments

    1. There are not RCP-specific options yet though it is something we hope to build. There are, however, some generic WordPress gamification plugins that will work with RCP perfectly fine.

  1. I would love to add this type of feature onto my membership site. Can I do this through RCP? Or do I need something else?

    1. There are not RCP-specific options yet though it is something we hope to build. There are, however, some generic WordPress gamification plugins that will work with RCP perfectly fine.

  2. Great post! We think our members would totally dig something like this.

    Are there RCP add-ons for gamification that exist or are on the way? Or any plugins you would recommend for us non-technical membership site owners? Thanks!

    1. There are not RCP-specific options yet though it is something we hope to build. There are, however, some generic WordPress gamification plugins that will work with RCP perfectly fine.

        1. It’s unknown at this point because we haven’t begun building nor planning it.

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