Top Gamification Techniques for SaaS

15 min read
2 Sep 2021
Top Gamification Techniques for SaaS Cieden


By 2025, the gamification market is expected to grow by 27.4% and reach a whopping $30.7 billion. But what is it about gamification that made it a ubiquitous trend in education, corporate process, and user experience? – Well, if done correctly, game-like activities trigger our reward brain circuit and make for an engaging experience. How do you introduce such elements to SaaS apps? We’re glad you asked. 

Top Gamification Techniques for SaaS Cieden

In this article, we will explore some of the most powerful gamification techniques to help you grow your SaaS product, as well as retain and engage your users.

What is gamification anyway?

In case you need your memory jogged, let us briefly go over what gamification is. In a nutshell, gamification is introducing game-like elements to a non-game environment. Giving stars to students in primary school, having a piggy bank to save for something, and the local coffee shop “get 8 cups, get 1 for free” program are all examples of gamification. It’s quite ubiquitous if you think about it.

Gamification is still in its early stages in the SaaS industry and tech in general. However, digital products can borrow principles and best practices from other industries.

Why do you need gamification in the first place?

Simply put, gamification keeps your users engaged and encouraged to stick with your app longer. In business terms, gamification helps with retention and engagement. Additionally, you create an extra incentive for users to complete tasks even if the impact isn’t immediate.

Development & Accomplishment – Progress Bar:

Being the person who is likely interested in gamification, you probably knew that this technique would end up here. What we really like about this particular implementation is that the form starts with 5% progress filled, which motivates the user to finish the form. Additionally, the product displays the green point, i.e. the desired goal, that indicates the bare minimum of information necessary for the app to work. In addition, the app includes a tooltip that highlights the value of correctly filling out the form. – Progress Bar Example

  • How can you use this technique?

For services that require users to fill long questionnaires, the progress bar is the best way to encourage a user to complete the task.

Uber Achievement Symbols:

Although the badge technique is often overused, it can be very helpful with team development. The badges can reflect feedback from teammates. A good example of the latter is Uber. The app allows passengers to evaluate drivers and then rewards the drivers for their accomplishments.

Achievement Symbols examples by Uber

  • How can you use this technique?

Based on our understanding of the dynamic team framework, it provides a breakdown by different categories, which we can evaluate for a particular individual. It enables us to use a whole range of techniques to encourage users to be more active on a platform and interact with other team members effectively. In short, this technique rewards good behavior. – A Point on Points: is a suite of marketing apps primarily for e-commerce businesses. What we found interesting with gleam is their implementation of contest entries. There are several ways to collect points required to enter contests, such as visiting their app on Facebook, viewing a post, logging in via Facebook, etc. Such an entry system allows for a win-win situation among the users and the business. – A Point on Points example

  • How can you use this technique?

Whenever there’s a need to nudge users toward a certain behavior, you should consider encouraging users through a point system that rewards them for their effort.

Genius – Leaderboard Game Mechanics:

Another great way to encourage app usage is through competition. Let’s take Genius, a website with an extensive collection of song lyrics. In order to have a website like this running, you need a constant supply of people submitting lyrics. Otherwise, the website would not be able to keep up with the new releases, which would be detrimental to its popularity. After all, people are the most likely to search for lyrics of songs that are brand new.

Having built a leaderboard, the genius created a reward system that encourages users to keep the website running. The website gets content, the users get bragging rights. We call it a win-win.

Leaderboard Game Mechanics example by Genius

  • How can you use this technique?

In order to encourage users to consistently use your product, consider introducing some sort of competition to have additional incentives and rewards associated with the product usage.

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

An essential part of any game is having an end goal. Once you reach the goal, you’ve beaten the game. Such a game narrative is linear. What if, instead of focusing on the end goal, you could make the game flexible enough so that there’s room for creativity and exploration?

Gamified experiences that leave room for creativity are the ones that stand the test of time. Chess, mahjong, and sudoku all require so much creativity that the end result, i.e. winning, becomes less relevant than the experience itself. This principle applies to UX just as well. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Upwork – Milestone Unlock:

Upwork, one of the world’s largest freelance platforms, allows employers and freelancers to create milestones, i.e. levels. Splitting work into multiple parts is highly reminiscent of level progression in games. The latter becomes very similar to an epic journey with the final destination looming on the horizon, which encourages users to “keep playing”.

Upwork – Milestone Unlock example

  • How can you use this technique?

Whenever there’s room for creativity in task completion, you should encourage it. If you set the goal for your users, help them define their own path of achieving it. If the users determine the goal, make sure they have the tools to create "levels" and their own path. 

Our Concept – Boosters: 

We’ve likely all experienced the “game over” screen at least once in our life. No one likes to lose their progress, be it a video game or your professional career. Nor do people like to progress slower than they could. That’s why concepts such as “revival”, “health potions” and “power-ups” are so ubiquitous in gaming. Video games, however, are not the only things to which you can apply the “boost concept”.

Let’s take a look at the example below. The application below helps users edit their video and then shares the download link. The latter is not something that happens immediately. As such, you could either wait OR complete an action, i.e. share the video on Twitter, that will speed up the loader. Another win-win.

Our Concept – Boosters

  • How can you use this technique?

If a user experiences a preventable delay or interruption, you could help them satisfy their impatience by asking them for a favor in return. Be mindful of the ethical aspect of this technique though. Feeling scammed is a more powerful emotion than impatience.

Ownership & Possession

The ownership & possession group of gamification techniques taps into human’s desire to accumulate, protect and acquire more resources. The more resources you put into something, the more likely you are to stick with it. These resources can be specific, such as in-game currency, or more abstract, such as time and effort.

LinkedIn – Status Points and Exchangeable Points:

We think LinkedIn is a great example of how y0u can implement a skill social proof system that encourages you to keep accumulating resources, i.e. points. The more points you have, the better your perceived competence is and the more likely you are to keep collecting. LinkedIn gets more usage, you get social proof. The win-win situation has been a running theme of this article, eh?

Status Points and Exchangeable Points on Linkedin

  • How can you use this technique?

In a given product, if there’s room for creating a resource you can accumulate, you should consider doing it. That way, after having invested time and effort into obtaining a certain resource, users will be more likely to commit to your product for the long term. 

Social Influence & Relatedness

Aristotle once said that people are social creatures. Since the 3rd century BC psychologists have proven that statement countless times, so we’re not going to focus on the scientific aspect of this phenomenon.

As you might have gathered, social influence & relatedness is a group of gamification techniques that tap into the human desire to connect with others and develop interpersonal connections.

With the advent of social media, there aren’t many apps left that don’t try to entice people to like and share. However, this alone isn’t enough. If you’re asking people to share something, make sure it’s share-worthy. If you’re asking people to share your product with friends, make sure you’ve built enough trust and showed enough value. Otherwise, the share buttons are just visual noise.

Kahoot – Group Quests:

An interesting example of implementing the social relatedness gamification technique is Kahoot, a quiz app. One of the product’s many features is creating group quests, which turns Kahoot into a platform for you to connect with people who have similar interests. Users will then associate the product with interacting with like-minded people, which is a great thing to be known for.

Kahoot – Group Quests example

  • How can you use this technique?

Consider adding a social or group element into a task or activity whenever it makes sense. That way, you can create additional value for the users by connecting them with like-minded people.

Grammarly – Brag Buttons:

Unlike asking users to share a boring PR story, Grammarly recognizes and praises users for their achievements. The latter is something that people are actually likely to share. 

Brag Buttons by Grammarly

You might have also noticed that the posts that get the most attention on social media are success stories.

  • How can you use this technique?

If your product measures and tracks your users’ progress, then communicating achievements in a shareable way might be a great way for your product to encourage word-of-mouth promotion. 

Linkedin – Tout Flags:

Another cool way LinkedIn allows people to display their social influence (competence in this case) is through displaying their certifications.

Tout Flags on Linkedin

  • How can you use this technique?

If it makes sense product-wise to assign achievements to your users’ profiles, consider doing it. That way, you can encourage people to keep collecting credentials so that they can “compete” with other users.

Epic Meaning & Calling

Lingualeo – Narrative (Game Technique #10):

Another app we’re going to talk about is Lingualeo. The app is an equivalent of Duolingo, but for the Russian, Turkish, and Brazillian demographic.

This service implemented gamification in many ways, but we like how they combined onboarding, a quest system, and their narrative. First of all, the product encourages users to explore different parts of the platform, and it also provides the user with an easy way to get XP, which allows them to gain new levels, which starts a whole other chain of other gamification techniques. 

Combination of boarding, a quest system, and narrative in Lingualeo

  • How can you use this technique?

You could have a series of onboarding quests with the possibility to gain a badge, new level, or a platform currency. Another powerful way you can leverage this technique is by rewarding users with extra trial days or premium functionality. The latter is a surefire way to encourage users to spend time, scan the platform and try the premium features. – Free Lunch (Game Technique #24):

Free lunch is a no-brainer technique to use because, out of the entire spectrum of gamification techniques, it works best to convert guests into users. Providing part of the functionality for free requires users to put effort and time to explore/ use the system, so they are much more willing to purchase the product, eventually. 

For example, has a CV checker, which requires a user to sign-up, fill a simple form, and upload a resume, and as a reward, they see the general analysis of their CV with the progress bar showing how many things could be improved and the general description of them. 

Free Lunch example by

  • How can you use this technique?

You could have a very similar free questionnaire that will show users a sneak peek of premium functionality, which also triggers the scarcity segment of the gamification framework. One way or another, you should strive to show as much value before prompting the user to get a subscription.

Scarcity & Impatience

This group of gamification techniques taps into our irrational selves. We tend to place more value on things that we consider rare or scarce, regardless of an object’s actual value. Take diamonds, for instance. The only reason they’re the most sought-for piece of jewelry is their scarcity. 

The other side of this group is impatience. Impatience is an emotional state that forces us to make rash decisions, thereby making us vulnerable to impulsivity. That’s the best time for a sales pitch, by the way. When we’re impatient, we’re more likely to buy things or pay a price we wouldn’t otherwise.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Grammarly – Magnetic Caps:

Grammarly might be one of the best examples of utilizing our impatience. When writing a document, especially an important one, we’re likely to be in a hurry. On top of needing to finish the piece of text fast, you also need to make sure it’s well-written. Grammarly will help you correct the surface-level mistakes, but then will graciously notify you that you’ve made a whole bunch of other mistakes. Well… you could just maybe guess what these mistakes are, but there’s an easier solution. You need a subscription.

Magnetic Caps used by Grammarly

  • How can you use this technique?

If your product has a variety of use cases that are likely to take place in an urgent environment, you can consider giving a part of the functionality for free, while keeping the rest for the moment the user needs it most. 

PS. Please make sure to take into account the ethical perspective of employing such tactics.

Playstation Achievements – Scarcity & Exclusivity:

Within their achievement features, which is a gamification technique in and of itself, PlayStation also made a smart move to include information on how rare a trophy is. Knowing that only 7% of players acquired a trophy is exactly what makes it desirable.

Playstation Achievements – Scarcity & Exclusivity

  • How can you use this technique?

If you collect data on how many users complete a task or achieve a goal, consider using it to encourage them to join a certain group. It’s either a group of the majority who managed to obtain an achievement or the exclusive circle of the “elite users”. Either way, you can make it work through careful phrasing.

Unpredictability & Curiosity

Linkedin – Mystery Boxes:

“Someone viewed your profile”. This is the message you’ve likely seen on LinkedIn. At a first glance, this message is utterly useless. However, it’s actually a smart move. What this message does is evoke curiosity. Who was it after all? Is someone considering headhunting you? Is it a jealous ex stalking you? Is your employer spying on you? There goes something to keep you awake at night.

Need your curiosity satisfied? It’s as simple as getting a LinkedIn premium subscription.

Mystery Boxes example from Linkedin

  • How can you use this technique?

Eliciting curiosity is a powerful tool. Whenever there’s some information that is not essential to the experience, but that’s likely to be interesting, consider using it as a hook.

Loss & Avoidance

Although most of the gamification techniques can be used to manipulate, this tactic is especially pernicious. Loss & avoidance tap into your deeply rooted human fears of missing out and losing what’s ours. 

Let’s look at a few examples to better illustrate our point.

FOMO – Most e-commerce platforms out there:

Take a look at the screenshot below. Did you notice these messages that imply that the product is about to be unavailable? These messages only have one goal, and one goal only - to create a sense of urgency. It’s needless to say that a lot of times these messages aren’t true and are only there to coax you out of your money. E-commerce isn’t the only industry that does that a lot, real estate is infamous for this exact dark pattern as well.

E-commerce platforms create a sense of urgency

Irreversible Actions:

This tactic goes hand-in-hand with multiple usability heuristics: error prevention & flexibility of system use. However, one way you can discourage people from abandoning your app is by referring to what they’re going to lose access to.

Irreversible Action example

  • How can you use this technique?

Make sure you're informing users of what they will lose, as a consequence of their actions, whenever you're dealing with unpleasant parts of the user journey. Ideally, you need a very compelling message that refers to something of value to the user.

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Top Gamification Techniques for SaaS Cieden
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