Defining Gamification - A Service Marketing Perspective
School of Information, UC Berkeley California, USA
Hanken School of Economics, Finland
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, Aalto
PO Box 19215, 00076 Aalto, Finland +358 50 384 1557
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, Aalto
HIIT, PO Box 19215 00076 Aalto, Finland
+358 40 835 9563
During recent years “gamification” has gained significant
attention among practitioners and game scholars. However, the
current understanding of gamification has been solely based on
the act of adding systemic game elements into services. In this
paper, we propose a new definition for gamification, which
emphases the experiential nature of games and gamification,
instead of the systemic understanding. Furthermore, we tie this
definition to theory from service marketing because majority of
gamification implementations aim towards goals of marketing,
which brings to the discussion the notion of how customer / user
is always ultimately the creator of value. Since now, the main
venue for academic discussion on gamification has mainly been
the HCI community. We find it relevant both for industry
practitioners as well as for academics to study how gamification
can fit in the body of knowledge of existing service literature
because the goals and the means of gamification and marketing
have a significant overlap.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
H1.m. Information systems - Miscellaneous
Theory, design, management
Gamification, games, game design, service marketing, service
design, persuasive technologies
Gamification has raised a lot of interest both in industry  and
also increasingly in academia  during the past few years.
For example, the success of mobile services such as Foursquare
and Nike+ are often attributed to gamification . This discussion
has remained, however, mainly in the realm of game studies and
social sciences. Although an increasing number of games are
offered as services to consumers, only very few academic articles
that bridge game studies to service or marketing literature have
been published (see exceptions e.g. ). Anchoring
findings in game studies to the existing service marketing
literature could provide a framework on how gameplay can be
viewed as a part of the overall service and on how it supports the
core service offering. It could also bring proven models from
service marketing to the development of “gamified” services.
In the next section of this paper, we give an overview to the
central concepts of gamification in game studies. In section
number 3, we introduce service marketing and then in section 4 go
on in presenting some of its concepts relevant for our study. In
section 5, we situate games to the service marketing literature and
then in section 6, we elaborate on the experiential nature of
games. In section 7, we present a definition for gamification from
the service marketing perspective. In section 8, by referring to our
definition we show how it can be used to identify four possible
gamification providers. In section 9, we discuss how the new
definition relates to game studies. In section 10, we summarize the
results and discuss its contribution both to the scientific
community as well as to the practitioners. In the final chapter 10,
we give some directions for future research.
2. GAMES AND GAMIFICATION FROM
THE PERSPECTIVE OF GAME STUDIES
In game studies, games are seen as a collection of multiple
necessary conditions. None of these conditions alone is sufficient
to constitute a game and it is only in combination of them that a
game emerges . Juul (2003) assembled seven previous
definitions, analyzed them and then presented a new definition. In
the definitions assembled, the conditions necessary for games
vary from author to author. For example,  described game as an
“exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an
opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in
order to produce a disequilibrial outcome.” A more recent study
 defines a game in turn in the following way: “A system in
which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules,
that result in a quantifiable outcome”. Juul (2003) describes a
game as “a rule-based formal system with a variable and
quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned
different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the
outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the
consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable”.
Although, the definitions vary in emphasis they all include both a
systemic component, defining how the game is constructed and an
experiential component describing the human involvement within
the game. In the Table 1 below, we have enlisted all these
conditions of the definition of games and gamification from past
In addition to the division along systematic/experiential axis,
Table 1 arranges the conditions to three separate abstraction
levels. The first and the most abstract level is shared by all game
definitions. It simply states that games are systems, meaning that
games are constituted of several interacting sets of mechanisms
and actors (systemic condition) and that games always require the
active involvement of at least one player (experiential). The
second abstraction level includes conditions that are characteristic
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to games, but are not necessarily present in all games. Under this
category fall such systemic conditions as rules, conflicting goals
and uncertain outcomes. Deterding et al. (2011) labels these
conditions game design elements . Level 2 experiential
outcomes are hedonic experiences, suspense (that results from
player valuing outcomes but being uncertain of them) and
gamefulness. Also mastery and competence stated by  could
be included in this category. The third abstraction level should
include conditions that are unique to games. However, this level
remains empty in the light of past literature defining games. There
does not seem to be elements that were solely unique to games.
Table 1: Game conditions
Level of abstraction
1st level (common to all
- Games are
system (1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
- Games require
of players/users (1, 2, 3,
4, 5, 6, 7, 8,
2nd level (characteristic
to games, although not
necessarily to all
- Rules (1, 2, 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9)
goals (1, 3, 4, 6,
7, 8, 9)
- Variable and
outcomes (1, 2, 4,
6, 7, 8)
- Generates hedonic
pleasure (2, 4, 5, 6)
- Generates suspense (4,
- Generates gamefulness
3rd level (unique to
Referred articles: 1.; 2. ; 3.; 4.; 5. ; 6.; 7. ; 8. ;
The lack of systemic conditions unique to games is not surprising,
as  and  have stated that a game emerges only as a
combination of conditions and that none of the conditions alone is
sufficient in constituting a game. However, it is surprising that
none of the definitions describe an experiential condition unique
to games. If this would be the case, how would anyone recognize
a game? Or to put the question in ’s and ’s words, how
would anyone know when a game has emerged from a
combination of different necessary conditions if it were not for an
experiential condition unique to games? The term ‘gamefulness’
could be used to describe such a unique condition, just like
McGonigal  has suggested. Yet,  make a distinction
between games and gamified services and state that both can lead
to gameful experiences, thus rendering gamefulness a condition
that is not unique to games. However, we think this is up for
The term ‘Gameification’ was first used in 2008 in a blog post by
Brett Terill . He described the term as ‘taking game
mechanics and applying them to other web properties to increase
engagement.’ To a more widespread industry use the term became
during 2010 in its current form ‘gamification’ .
In spite of the attention the term received quickly in the industry,
the academia has been slow to react. To our knowledge there are
only two definitions for gamification: the one given by Deterding
et al.  and the one presented in the first short version and now a
drastically different version of this paper. Deterding et al. 
describe gamification as the use of game design elements in non-
game contexts. While  discuss the experiential aspects of
games, their definition of gamification adopts only a systemic
perspective to games. We argue that this approach has several
shortcomings and we will discuss them in section 6. In order to
give context to our arguments, let us first turn to service
marketing literature: its origins and some of its key concepts.
3. EMERGENCE OF SERVICE
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, a handful of marketing
scholars started forming a new school of thought for marketing
concentrating on services because the classical marketing axioms
were based on the exchange of physical goods, which could not
provide a sufficient understanding on services . This line of
research developed quite independently of the mainstream
marketing science until the 1990’s  when it started to gain
popularity also outside the sphere of service marketing scholars.
Marketing theory build to fit services started to seem applicable
also for goods marketing. In 2004,  launched the term service-
dominant (S-D) logic for marketing and proclaimed that the
service approach should replace the classical marketing theory.
Since then, the S-D logic for marketing has gained growing
interest both in academia as well as in industry.
Two key concepts of the service approach, customer as co-
producer and value-in-use, help to explain the ubiquitous
applicability of the service logic and the profound difference
between the traditional, goods-dominant logic and the new
In traditional marketing theory, the production is considered to be
carried out by the company and value is considered to be created
during the production process by the company and to be
embedded in the resulting product. The product then “carries” the
value in it and the value is transferred from company to the
customer with the transaction. In service context however, this
value-in-exchange approach becomes meaningless, as there is no
physical product to which the value could be attached.
Service marketing literature sees the customer always as a co-
producer of the service, i.e. participating in the production process
as the value is generated only once the customer uses the service
or the good. In this value-in-use model company’s role in the
value creation is to support the customers’ processes by offering
resources into them. Resources can refer e.g. to personnel,
machinery, service setting, or to available information sources.
Furthermore, the value is considered to be experienced and
determined by the beneficiary phenomenologically .
4. SERVICE, SERVICE SYSTEM AND
For the purpose of defining gamification, three key concepts of
service marketing need to be defined: service, service system and
Vargo and Lusch  define service as “the application of
specialized competences (knowledge and skills), through deeds,
processes, and performances for the benefit of another entity or
the entity itself”. Thus, any intentional act - no matter how small -
that helps an entity can be considered a service.
A systematic bundle of services constitutes a service system that,
according to , “is an arrangements of resources (including
people, technology, information, etc.) connected to other systems
by value propositions”. A service system’s aim is to use its
resources and the resources of others to improve its circumstance
and that of others .
The service package model  in turn helps firms manage
bundled services or service systems. The basic service package
consists of the core service, enabling services and enhancing
services. Enabling services are required in the offering of the core
service, while enhancing services support the offering of the core
service and thus increase its value or differentiate it from
5. GAMES AS SERVICE SYSTEMS
As the previous section demonstrates, there are a lot of
complementarities between the game literature and service
marketing theory. Seen through the service marketing literature,
game design elements can be described as services and games as
service systems. This is supported by table 1 that shows that
games are always regarded as systems that require an active
involvement by the player.
Games are thus co-produced by the game developer and the
player(s). The game developer’s part of the co-production takes
place when the game’s storyline is created, rules invented, game
design patterns chosen and visuals designed etc. The player(s)’s
part of the co-production and of the value-creation takes place
each time the game is played or otherwise interacted with. The
game can also be solely or partly developed by the player, of
course. The core service of the game is to provide hedonic,
challenging and suspenseful experiences for the player(s)  or
gameful experiences . The quality of such a “game service” is
strongly determined by the functional quality of the service or
game experience, which is often referred to as flow .
6. SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF THE
EXPERIENCED VALUE OF A GAME
It is noteworthy that from the service marketing perspective, it is
always only the player’s participation in the game, i.e. playing the
game, that completes the production of the game service. This
notion is consistent with the definitions of games presented in
chapter 2 that see player’s voluntary commitment and
participation as one key building block of a game. However,
according to the service marketing theory, the value of a service is
determined solely by customer’s subjective experience, as service
providers can make only value propositions. What follows is that
value of a game service, be it ‘pleasure’, ‘suspense’, ‘mastery’ or
‘gamefulness’, is always determined by the player’s individual
perception. In other words, it is possible that the use of a game
service leads to gameful experiences with one user but does not
do so with another user. This difference in outcomes may be due,
for example, to differences in skills of the two users/players (see
The experience of playing a game as well as determining what is a
game is deeply individual. Thus, in our view, a game emerges
only when the use of the service results in a gameful experience.
What follows is that we see gamefulness as a unique experiential
condition to games.
This greatly differs from the gamification definition proposed by
, which highlights that only non-games can be gamified. The
obvious question is: How can a service designer possibly identify
a non-game context, when the existence of game is dependent on
the subjective perception of the player/user. If the sensation of
gamefulness is not unique to games this question becomes
impossible to answer even for individual consumers. For example,
a stock market and dashboard for participating in it can easily be
perceived as creating gameful experiences for some users
although it is not generally perceived as a game by all users.
Thinking what is a ‘full-fledged game’ and what is not will only
lead the designers astray from what should be their focus:
These incompatibilities led us to seek for an alternative way to
define gamification from the perspective of service marketing.
7. A PROPOSED DEFINITION FOR
Based on the literature presented above, we define gamification in
the following way:
Gamification refers to: a process of enhancing a service with
affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user's
overall value creation.
We would like to emphasize that the definition highlights the goal
of gamification - the experiences that it attempt to give rise to -
rather than the methods. Past definitions rely on the notion that
gamification is based on the use of game elements. However,
there doesn’t seem to exist a clearly defined set of game elements
which would be strictly unique to games, neither they
automatically create gameful experiences. We can find similar
elements from a variety of non-game contexts as well. If we
subscribed to the idea that game elements create a game or gamify
a system, then we could conclude that also stock exchange
dashboard, decision support systems, loyalty programs and other
services that have for example levels, points and progression
metrics would also be games, regardless of the subjective
experiences the users have. Furthermore, gamification is not
always carried out through any concrete elements alone.
Therefore, we argue that the definition of gamification (nor
games) cannot be based on a set of methods or mechanics, but
instead it has to be understood more broadly as a process in which
the gamifier is attempting to increase the likelihood for the
gameful experiences to emerge by imbuing the service with
affordances for that purpose (be it badges or more implicit cues).
The term affordance here can refer to any qualities of the service
system that contributes  to the emergence of gameful
Another aspect we would like to highlight is that the definition
does not imply that the process of gamification has to be
successful. In the same way as game services or products,
gamification can only attempt to support the user in creating
Currently, it seems that the successfulness of gamification has
mostly been measured through sales figures, “clicks” and general
retention of users. However, if we accept that gamification aims to
create “gameful” experiences, then the successfulness of
gamification should also be measured through same measurement
instruments as games are.
This notion also leads to another point that gives boundary
conditions to gamification. If gamification is designed solely to
increase figures related to marketing instead of gameful
experiences, the designers are in danger to fall into a trap that
leads to a conflicting situation between selling and creating
valuable experiences. One of the defining aspects of gameful
experience is that it is voluntary and that it is carried out by
having intrinsic motivation. If, however, the designer attempts to
direct player/customers decision making in a way that it reduces
the player/user’s free choice, then the design moves further away
from what is in the core of a gameful experience. With ‘gameful
experience’ we refer to an experience leading to ‘gamefulness’ -
an experiential condition unique to games. However, defining
exactly what "gamefulness" means is outside the scope of this
paper, as defining "gamefulness" would also require us to define
The word ‘enhancement’ in the definition refers to the service
package concept of service marketing literature introduced in the
section 4. It entails that gamification describes a service system
where a core service is enhanced by another one. From marketing
perspective it is essential to make this distinction.
According to the definition, Foursquare, for example, is not a
gamified service in itself, but it can potentially gamify, that is,
enhance other services, such as restaurants or bars, through rules,
goal setting, variable outcomes, feedback and rewards. Moreover,
the definition remains agnostic to the nature of the core service.
This means that the core service can also be a game that can be
further gamified, creating so-called meta games. From this
perspective, it is not only non-games that can be gamified.
Table 2: Examples of gamification
Progress bar for
in filling personal
The enhancing service increases the
perceived value of filling all details
by invoking progress
The enhancing service creates a
competition between customers
where they have to visit the café
Loyalty stamp card.
You get 1 stamp for
The enhancing service invokes the
psychological biases related to
progress and thus increases the
perceived value of using the same
dry cleaner service.
Gym experience that sets goals and
helps to monitor the progress of the
It is important also to notice that according to this definition not
all service systems combining games and other services involve
gamification, as it is essential that the enhancing service supports
the core service, not the other way around. For example, if a
geocaching  game brings a customer to a public park,
gamification has not occurred, as the core service is the
geocaching game. In contrast, gamification occurs if the public
park offers a geocaching game to its visitors.
After the fact, it may be difficult to make the distinction between
the core service and the enhancing service. Theoretically it is the
customer’s subjective perception that determines what should be
considered as the core service. However before the fact, it is the
gamification provider’s perception that is decisive as it is the
gamification provider who decides which service to gamify. Let
us now, look how by referring to our definition of gamification we
can identify gamification providers.
8. FOUR POSSIBLE GAMIFICATION
It is not always the provider of the core service that also provides
the gamification process. Based on our definition, we can identify
four possible gamification providers, i.e. providers of the
enhancing service. These are 1) The core service provider, 2) A
third party service provider 3) The customer him/herself 4)
Another customer. The enhanced service is provided either by one
of these four parties or by a combination of them. Table 3 presents
examples of gamified services with different gamification
Table 3: Examples of gamified services with different
check in regularly
Places are offered
check in at least
three times a week
to a same location
get a badge.
drinking game to
Adding a quest-
like tip to other
they are waiting
9. CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION
Game study literature and service marketing literature are for
large parts complementary. However, the previously proposed
definition of gamification by Deterding et al.  adopts a
systemic approach, which seems incompatible with the
understanding of value creation in service literature which, in
contrast, emphasizes the experiential nature of services.
In this paper, we have defined gamification from the perspective
of service marketing as ‘a process of enhancing a service with
affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user’s
overall value creation. This anchoring of gamification into an
existing body of knowledge of service marketing and its concepts
like ‘service package’, ‘value-in-use’ and ‘service systems’ will
help subsequent research to examine how gamification can
contribute to marketing sciences. It also provides the gamification
research with proven theoretical models to build upon. The
proposed definition is agnostic regarding the nature of the core
service that is being gamified. Thus, it challenges the view that
gamification can only happen when game-like elements are used
in non-gaming contexts.
Using the proposed definition, we have also identified four
possible gamification providers. This will help service providers
when designing the gamification of their service.
One interesting line for future research could be the investigation
of customer loyalty cards and other widely used marketing
techniques as gamified services. Gamification could also be used
to expand the servicescape model presented by Bitner in 1992,
from physical settings to more abstract constructions, as  have
suggested. Servicescape gives a framework for the landscape
where the service takes place and that is under the control of the
service provider . Servicescape affects customers’ behaviour
and perceptions. An example of servicescape could be the layout
of an IKEA store. The layout design forces the customers on a
certain path that present numerous temptations to them.
Gamification could be used to enhance the experiential
dimensions of servicescape that lead customers to gameful paths
through the service process.
We would like to thank the participants of CHI 2011 Gamification
Workshop for the valuable feedback that we received concerning
the early ideas presented in the early draft of this paper .
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 Yahoo Answers, Drinking game to play while watching