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A definition for gamification: anchoring gamification in the service marketing literature



“Gamification” has gained considerable scholarly and practitioner attention; however, the discussion in academia has been largely confined to the human–computer interaction and game studies domains. Since gamification is often used in service design, it is important that the concept be brought in line with the service literature. So far, though, there has been a dearth of such literature. This article is an attempt to tie in gamification with service marketing theory, which conceptualizes the consumer as a co-producer of the service. It presents games as service systems composed of operant and operand resources. It proposes a definition for gamification, one that emphasizes its experiential nature. The definition highlights four important aspects of gamification: affordances, psychological mediators, goals of gamification and the context of gamification. Using the definition the article identifies four possible gamifying actors and examines gamification as communicative staging of the service environment.
A definition for gamification: anchoring gamification
in the service marketing literature
Kai Huotari
&Juho Hamari
Received: 1 May 2014 /Accepted: 17 December 2015 /Published online: 15 January 2016
#Institute of Information Management, University of St. Gallen 2016
Abstract BGamification^has gained considerable scholarly
and practitioner attention; however, the discussion in acade-
mia has been largely confined to the humancomputer inter-
action and game studies domains. Since gamification is often
used in service design, it is important that the concept be
brought in line with the service literature. So far, though,
there has been a dearth of such literature. This article is an
attempt to tie in gamification with service marketing theory,
which conceptualizes the consumer as a co-producer of the
service. It presents games as service systems composed of
operant and operand resources. It proposes a definition for
gamification, one that emphasizes its experiential nature.
The definition highlights four important aspects of gamification:
affordances, psychological mediators, goals of gamification
and the context of gamification. Using the definition the
article identifies four possible gamifying actors and exam-
ines gamification as communicative staging of the service
Keywords Gamification .Game design .Service marketing .
Service design .Persuasive technologies .Service-dominant
JEL Classification M3 Marketing and Advertising .
M31 Marketing
Gamification has raised significant interest both in industry
(Kim 2008) and increasingly in academia (see Hamari et al.
2014a;Hamarietal.2014b for reviews) in the last few years.
However, this discussion has remained primarily in the realm
of game studies and humancomputer interaction (HCI).
Although games are offered in increasing numbers as services
to consumers, very few academic articles have been published
that bridge game studies and the service or marketing
literature (e.g., Hamari and Järvinen 2011; Hamari and
Lehdonvirta 2010;Hamarietal.2015;Sigala2015;
Stenros and Sotamaa 2009). Anchoring findings from
game studies in the existing service marketing literature
could provide a framework in which game play can be
viewed as a part of the overall service and for understanding
how it supports the core service offering.
Electronic commerce and electronic markets are one of
the main areas where service marketing and technology
intertwine. According to Alt et al. 2010, service-oriented
solutions can bring many benefits to electronic commerce and
technology in several areas such as healthcare (see e.g.
Cocosila and Archer 2010), telecommunication (see e.g.
Czarnecki et al. 2010), logistics, education and others. While
gamification has become one of the most popular trends of
electronic markets and commerce, understanding it from the
service marketing perspective could bring proven models
Responsible Editor: Artur Lugmayr
*Kai Huotari
Juho Hamari
Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu 15 B 11, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT
and Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service
Management CERS, Hanken School of Economics/CERS,
Arkadiankatu 22, P.O. Box 478, FIN-00101 Helsinki, Finland
Game Research Lab, School of Information Sciences,
University of Tampere,
FIN-33014 Tampere, Finland
Electron Markets (2017) 27:2131
DOI 10.1007/s12525-015-0212-z
from service marketing to the development of Bgamified^ser-
vices. Currently, gamification has already been employed and
researched in majority of the above mentioned domains such
as commerce (Bittner and Shipper 2014; Cechanowicz et al.
2013; Hamari 2013;Hamari2015; Terlutter and Capella
2013), education (Denny 2013, Hakulinen et al. 2013;
Domínguez et al. 2013; de-Marcos et al. 2014; Farzan and
Brusilovsky 2011; Simões et al. 2013; Christy and Fox
2014; Filsecker and Hickey 2014;Bondeetal.2014),
healthcare (Jones et al. 2014; Hamari and Koivisto 2015),
and logistics (Hense et al. 2014;Klemkeetal.2014).
However, even though empirical research is accumulating
on the deployment of gamification in several areas, we have
still had a gap in our conceptual understanding about what
gamification is and how it can be defined. This further hinders
our efforts in employing and investigating gamification in a
consistent manner. In the next section of the paper, we give an
overview of the central concepts of gamification in game
studies. The third section introduces service marketing, an
emerging approach to marketing in general, before we pres-
ent some of its concepts that are relevant for the present
study. In Section 5, we situate games relative to the service
marketing literature; then, in Section 6, we elaborate on the
experiential nature of games. We go on to present a defi-
nition for gamification from the service marketing perspec-
tive (Section 7) and show how it can be used for identifi-
cation of four possible gamification providers (Section 8).
Section 9 discusses how gamification can be viewed as
communicative staging of service environment. The paper
concludes with a summary of the results, discussion of their
contribution both to the scientific community and for prac-
titioners, and some directions for future research.
Games and gamification from a game studies
In game studies, games have been defined in terms of a set of
necessary conditions. None of these numerous conditions suf-
fices in itself to characterize a game, and it is only in their
combination that a game emerges (Juul 2003; see also
Deterding et al. 2011 on gamification). Juul surveyed seven
existing definitions, analysing them before offering a new
definition. In the definitions Juul compiled, the conditions
necessary for games vary. For example, Avedon and Sutton-
Smith (1971) describe a game as an Bexercise 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 work (Salen and
Zimmerman 2004, p. 96) defines a game in the following
way: BA system in which players engage in an artificial con-
flict, defined by rules that result in a quantifiable outcome.^
Juul (2003, p. 35) describes a game as Ba rule-based formal
system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where dif-
ferent outcomes are assigned different values, the player ex-
erts 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 feature both a systemic component, refer-
ring to how the game is constructed, and an experiential com-
ponent, describing the human involvement in the game. In
Tab le 1, below, we have listed the conditions found in previ-
ous literatures definitions of games and gamification.
In addition to arranging the conditions by their systemic/
experiential nature, Table 1groups them into three distinct
levels of abstraction. The first level shown, the most abstract,
is addressed by all of the definitions. Central here is that
games are systems they are composed of several interacting
sets of mechanisms and actors (systemic condition) and that
games always require the active involvement of at least one
player (experiential condition). At the second level of abstrac-
tion are conditions that are characteristic of games but are not
necessarily present in all games. Under this category fall such
systemic conditions as rules, conflicting goals, and uncertain
outcomes, generally referred to as game design elements.
Among level-2 experiential conditions are hedonic experi-
ences, suspense (resulting from players valuing outcomes
but being uncertain of them), and flow. Also, the mastery
placed in this category. The third level consists of conditions
that are unique to games. However, no content is shown in the
table for this level it has not been addressed by previous
literature positing definitions of games. In fact, there do not
seem to be elements that are unique to games.
The lack of systemic conditions unique to games is not
surprising, since Juul (2003) and Deterding et al. (2011)have
stated that a game emerges in a combination of conditions and
that none of the conditions alone is sufficient for constituting a
game. However, it is surprising that none of the definitions
describe an experiential condition unique to games. If there
were no such condition, how could anyone recognize a game?
As Juul and Deterding et al. put the question, how would
anyone know when a game has emerged from a combination
of various necessary conditions if it were not for an experien-
tial condition unique to games? The term Bgamefulness^
could be used to describe such a unique condition, just as
McGonigal (Takahashi 2011) has suggested. Yet Deterding
et al. (2011) draw a distinction between games and gamified
services, and they state that both can lead to gameful experi-
ences, thus defining gamefulness as a condition that is not
unique to games.
There does not seem to exist a single common articulation
for gamefulness or gameful experience, nor is there clear con-
sensus as to which kinds of experiences can arise only from
games. As a starting point, however, psychologists and game
researchers have suggested, for example, the following as
22 Huotari K., Hamari J.
characteristic psychological factors of a Bgameful
experience^: mastery, autonomy, flow, suspense, and so forth
(see Table 1). Therefore, instead of explicitly mentioning var-
ious psychological factors linked to games, we employ the
shorthand Bgameful experiences^or Bgamefulness.^While
we recognize that such abstraction is problematic for accurate-
ly pinpointing a phenomenon, working out exactly what
Bgamefulness^means is beyond the scope of this paper, for
defining this term would also require us to define games
The term Bgamification^was first used in 2008, in a blog
post by Brett Terrill (2008). He describes the word as Btaking
game mechanics and applying them to other web properties to
increase engagement.^In 2010, the term entered more wide-
spread use in the industry (Deterding et al. 2011) and in aca-
demia (Hamari et al. 2014b).
Regardless of the attention the term quickly gained in the
industry, academia has been slow to react. To our knowledge,
there are only three peer-reviewed definitions for it: the one
stated by Deterding et al. (2011), that presented in an early,
brief, and considerably different version of the present work
(Author anonymized 2012) and the one by Werbach (2014).
Deterding et al. describe gamification as the use of game de-
sign elements in non-game contexts. While they do discuss
the experiential aspects of games, their definition of
gamification adopts only a systemic perspective to games,
an approach that we argue has several shortcomings, which
we will discuss in Section 6. Werbach (2014), in turn, adopts a
designers point of view and presents a very general definition
of gamification as Bthe process of making activities more
game-like^, in order to bring academic and practitioner
perspectives closer together. However, the vagueness of
Werbachs definition makes connecting the concept of
Bgamification^very hard to other theoretical frameworks.
Our attempt, in this article, is to anchor gamification in
the growing body of literature on service marketing.This
line of marketing research has gained increasing interest
also outside the scope of services during the last ten years.
Through service marketing theory, any game can be seen as a
service, and by defining gamification using this theoretical
framework, the term can be connected to any companys larger
business strategy. To give context to our arguments, let us first
turn to the service marketing literature its origins and some
of its key concepts.
The emergence of the service marketing field
Marketing science was developed in the 1950s on the basis of
the goods-selling logic of the manufacturing industries. The
mainstream marketing approach using marketing mix man-
agement and the 4P developed around this model where the
exchange of physical goods and transactions were in the focal
point. As services gained more weight in the economy,
scholars grew interested in the marketing of services.
Mainstream marketing looked at services as variants of phys-
ical products. However from 1970s onwards, a handful of
scholars came to the conclusion that the classical marketing
axioms could not provide sufficient understanding of services
(Grönroos 2007) and began to develop a service marketing
theory based on the distinctive characteristics of services.
This new line of service research was developed quite in-
dependently of mainstream marketing science until the 1990s
(Grönroos 1994). What followed was that marketing theory
based on the service paradigm began to seem applicable
also for goods marketing. This tendency was strengthened
in 2004 when Vargo and Lusch introduced the idea of
Bservice-dominant logic^(S-D logic) for marketing and
proclaimed that a service-focused approach should replace
classical mainstream marketing theory. Similarly, Grönroos
Tabl e 1 Game conditions presented in previous literature
Level of abstraction Systemic conditions Basis Experiential conditions Basis
1st level (common to all games) Games as systems 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Requirement of player/user
voluntary involvement
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
2nd level (characteristic of games
but not necessary in all games)
Conflicting goals 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 Hedonic pleasure 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 13
Mastery/achievement 10, 13
Rules 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 Relatedness 10,12,13
Suspense 4, 6
Variable and uncertain outcomes 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 Competence 10, 13
Flow 11
Immersion 10, 12, 13
3rd level (unique to games) - -
1 = Avedon and Sutton-Smith (1971), 2 = Caillois (1958), 3 = Crawford (1982), 4 = Deterding et al. (2011), 5 = Huizinga (1944), 6 = Juul (2003),
7 = Kelley (1988), 8 = Salen and Zimmerman (2004), 9 = Suits (1978), 10 = Ryan et al. (2006), 11 = Csíkszentmihályi (1990), 12 = Yee (2006),
13 = Hamari and Tuunanen (2014)
A Definition for Gamification 23
(2006) compiled contributions from the Nordic School of
Marketing Thought under the label service logic and stated
that they can be applied also to goods if the conception of
consumption process is widened. According to Grönroos
(2006), goods can be considered as resources in a process
that actually forms the service.
Va r go e t a l . ( 2010) refer to the marketing research of ser-
vices following the mainstream marketing axioms as Bservices
marketing^(in plural) and to the new approach as Bservice
marketing^(in singular). The plural form of Bservices
marketing^is based on the idea that mainstream marketing
sees both goods and services as outputs of production, whereas
the singular form of Bservice marketing^emphasizes that the
new service approach considers service as a collaborative pro-
cess of service providers and customers (Vargo et al. 2010).
In recent years, the service paradigm has gained growing
interest in academia (see e.g. Alt et al. 2010;DaiandSalam
2014) as well as in industry due to its generalizability. Two
key concepts of Bservice marketing^,thoseofcustomer as co-
producer and value-in-use, help to explain this universal ap-
plicability and the profound difference between the main-
stream, goods-dominant logic and the new approach based
on service marketing.
Mainstream marketing theory sees the production as car-
ried out by the company, and the value is considered to be
created during the production process by the company and
embedded in the resulting product. The product then Bcarries^
the value within it, and the value is transferred from company
to customer with the transaction for hand-over of the product.
In a service context, however, the value-in-exchange approach
is rendered meaningless, since there is no physical product to
which the value could be attached.
The service marketing literature views the customer as al-
ways a co-producer of the service as participating in a pro-
duction process wherein the value is generated only once the
customer uses the service or goods. In this value-in-use model,
the companys role in the value creation is to support the
customersprocesses by offering resources for them.
Varg o a nd Lu s chs(2004) S-D logic divides these resources
into two categories, initially introduced by Constantin and Lusch
(1994): operand and operant resources. Both consumers and
companies offer operant and operand resources for the value-
creation process. Operand resources are resources acted upon.
They are often tangibles, such as goods and raw materials, but
monetary possessions and spaces too can be viewed as operand
resources (Arnould et al. 1998). Operant resources, in contrast,
are employed to act on operand or other operant resources. They
produce effects and support human ingenuity. Among operant
resources are knowledge, competencies, and intellectual proper-
ty rights (IPR), yet operant resources encompass social resources
too, such as skills requiring physical involvement (e.g., knowing
how to play a musical instrument) or a network of friends.
Operant resources are always culture-dependent.
In practical operations, the company first deploys its oper-
ant resources to mold its operand resources or other operant
resources such that it can offer the customer a value proposi-
tion (ibid.). A customer who chooses this proposition over
others engages in a value creation process to which said cus-
tomer brings his or her own operant and operand resources.
Thereby, the value-in-use is experienced and determined by
the beneficiary phenomenologically (Vargo and Lusch 2008).
Service, service systems, and service packages
Before we can develop a definition of gamification, three key
concepts of service marketing need to be defined: service,
service system,andservice package.
Vargo and Lusch (2004,p.2)defineBservice^as Bthe
application of specialized competences (knowledge and
skills), through deeds, processes, and performances for the
benefit of another entity or the entity itself.^Accordingly,
any intentional act no matter how small that assists an
entity can be considered a service.
A systematic bundle of services constitutes a service
system. The latter term, according to Vargo and his colleagues
(2008, p. 145), refers to Ban arrangement of resources (including
people, technology, information, etc.) connected to other sys-
tems by value propositions.^The aim with a service system is
utilization of its resources and the resources of others to improve
the entitys circumstances and others. An illustrative example
of a service system is Internet shopping that requires coopera-
tion among a Web store provider, money-transfer firm, and
shipping company if it is to function. However, any organiza-
tion, an individual department thereof, or even a family could be
viewed as a service system (Spohrer et al. 2008).
The service package model (Grönroos 2007), in turn, helps
firms manage bundled services or service systems. The basic
service package is composed of the core service, enabling
services, and enhancing services. Enabling services are re-
quired for consuming of the core service,andenhancing
services support the offering of the core service and thus in-
crease its value or differentiate it from competitorsservices.
In the case of an airline, the core service is transportation.
Check-in for a flight would be considered an enabling service,
because it is required for the passengerstravel by air, whereas
in-flight services such as meals and drinks would be viewed as
enhancing services, because they are not mandatory and are
utilized only to increase the value of the core service and for
differentiation value vis-à-vis other airlines.
Games as service systems
As has been described above, service marketing defines a
Bservice^very broadly and, therefore, virtually any system
24 Huotari K., Hamari J.
or interactive process with a value-proposition can be con-
sidered a service or a service system and be examined
through service marketing theory. Furthermore, game liter-
ature and service marketing literature complement each
other in many ways. Thus, when viewed through the lens
of service marketing theory, game design elements can be
described as services and games as service systems. This
conceptualization is supported by Table 1, which shows
that games are always regarded as systems demanding
the playersactiveinvolvement.
Games are thus co-produced by the game developer and
those playing them. The game developers part of the co-
production commonly takes place first. It requires financing
(an operand resource) and game design activities such as de-
signing visuals, inventing a storyline, and building a platform
(operant resources). The playerspart of the co-production and
of the value-creation process is performed each time the game
is played or otherwise interacted with. In the playing, the
players skills, previous experience, and knowledge become
operant resources of the game. These elements make the game
experience unique and subjectively experienced. The core ser-
vice of the game is provision of hedonic experiences such as a
welcome challenge, suspense (Kim 2008), Bgamefulness^
(McGonigal 2011), and flow (Csíkszentmihályi 1990).
These patterns and attributes hold even when the game is
developed partly or solely by the player.
Subjective nature of the experienced value of a game
It is noteworthy that, from the service marketing perspective,
it is always the players 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 Section 2, in all of which the playersvoluntary
commitment and participation are a key building block of
a game. However, service marketing theory holds that the
value of a service is determined solely by the customers
subjective experience: service providers do no more than
make their offering available. It follows from this that the
value of a game service be it Bpleasure,^Bsuspense,^
Bmastery,^or Bgamefulness^is always determined by the
individual players subjective perception. In other words, the
use of a game service may lead to a gameful experience for
one user but not another user. This difference in outcome
may arise, for example, from differences in the operant
resources of the two users/players, such as skills (e.g., Hamari
and Tuunanen 2014;Yee2006).
Experiences of playing a game and of determining what
even is a game are deeply individual. Accordingly, in our
view, a game emerges only when the use of the service results
in a gameful experience. Therefore, we see gamefulness as an
experiential condition unique to games. Here, we diverge
sharply from the definition of gamification proposed by
Deterding et al. (2011), which stresses that only non-games
can be gamified. Then, the obvious question is this: how can a
service designer possibly identify a non-game context when
the existence of a game is dependent on the player/users
subjective perception? If the sensation of gamefulness is not
unique to games, this question becomes impossible even for
individual consumers to answer. For example, a stock market
and a dashboard for participating in it can readily be perceived
by some users as creating gameful experiences though not
generally seen as a game by all users. Thinking about what
constitutes a Bfull-fledged game^and what does not can only
lead the designer astray from what should be the focus: cus-
tomer/user/player experience.
These issues and the resulting conundrums led us to seek
an alternative way to define gamification from the perspective
of service marketing.
A proposed definition for gamification
On the basis of the literature discussed 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 usersoverall value creation.
We wish to emphasize that this definition highlights the
goal of gamification the experiences that it attempts to give
rise to rather than the methods. Past definitions have relied
on the notion that gamification proceeds from the use of game
design elements. However, there does not seem to be a clearly
defined set of game elements i.e., elements that are strictly
unique to games yet that do not automatically give rise to
gameful experiences. If we subscribe to the idea that game
elements create a game or gamify a system, we could conclude
that the aforementioned stock exchange dashboard; decision
support systems; loyalty programs; and other services featur-
ing, for example, levels, points, and progress metrics would
also be games, regardless of the userssubjective experiences.
Furthermore, gamification is not always carried out through
any particular concrete elements alone. Therefore, we ar-
gue that basing definitions of gamification (or games) on a
set of mechanics is problematic. Instead, we propose that
gamification could be understood more broadly as a pro-
cess in which the gamifieris attempting to increase the
likelihood of the emergence of gameful experiences by
imbuing the service with affordances for that purpose
(be they badges, points or more implicit cues).
The term affordance has become quite established in the
human-computer interactions field and refers to elements that
enable activities specific to that affordance in the environment
A Definition for Gamification 25
in which it occurs (Gibson 1977;Norman2002;Greeno1994;
Zhang 2008). In general, affordances refer to Bactionable
properties between an object and an actor^(Gibson 1977).
Affordances do not force the user to act upon them or are
not necessarily even interpreted by the user in the manner
intended by the designer. However, they open the possibility
for occurrence of experiences or behaviours. Motivational
affordancescan be considered as stimuli designed with the
intent of provoking the usersmotivational needs and affect-
ing the userspsychological states (Zhang 2008;Jungetal.
2010; Huotari and Hamari 2012;Hamari2013).
The idea of affordances is also highly compatible with the
discourse on gamification as itimplicitly contains the idea that
the users voluntarily interact with the system and its
affordances rather than seeing the system elements as some-
thing the user automaticallyhas to interact with (Zhang
2008;Jungetal.2010; Huotari and Hamari 2012). This view
is also in line with the theoretical view of service-dominant
logic (Vargo and Lusch 2004) where the value of a system or a
service emerges from the voluntary user-driven interaction
between the user and the system. In this vein, any system
can be seen as a set of affordances intended to enable the user
to realize the system related goals.
The definition of gamification proposed by Deterding et al.
(2011) culminates around the set of game design elements,
implying that determining whether a system is gamified is
defined based on existence of elements characteristic of games
in that system. The definition of gamification proposed herein,
on the other hand, centres on the abovementioned favourable
motivations and psychological states invoked by the
(motivational) affordances. This implies that the focus of
gamification is related to the psychological outcomes rather
than specifics of design. These psychological outcomes also
further act as mediators for behavioural outcomes and value
creation of gamification. In other words, the affordances of a
system invoke psychological states and emotions (Zhang
2008; Jung et al. 2010; Hamari 2013), which, mediate the
behavioural outcomes and value creation. Table 1outlines
psychological states that are commonly encountered in games.
Meta-reviews on gamification studies (Hamari et al. 2014a;
Hamari et al. 2014b) find that these psychological factors are
also commonly investigated in the literature on gamification,
although, most empirical studies circumvent the psychologi-
cal mediators and focus directly on behavioural outcomes
(Table 2).
We find it important to highlight also that our definition
does not imply that the process of gamification is inherently
successful: gamification can only attempt to support the
user in creating gameful experiences that promote the
s overall value creation. Nevertheless, the definition
specifies two goals that gamification can be measured
against: 1) affording gameful experiences and 2) supporting
the overall value creation.
If gamification is designed solely to increase certain behav-
iours instead of focusing on the emerging gameful experi-
ences, the designers are in danger of falling into a trap that
leads to conflict between the goal of changing peoplesbehav-
iour and that of creating valuable experiences. One of the
defining elements of gameful experience (see Table 1)isthat
it is voluntary, autotelic and an intrinsically motivated. If the
designer attempts to direct player/customer decision-making
in such a way that the player or usersfreechoiceisreduced,
the design moves further from what is at the core of a gameful
experience (on games and autonomy, see Ryan et al. 2006).
Again, however, as we noted above, defining Bgamefulness^
is, on account of what it entails, beyond the scope of
this paper. In the discussion here, we rely on previous
theorization that includes, for instance, discussion of flow
(Csíkszentmihályi 1990), autonomy, mastery, and general
intrinsically motivated experiences as being gameful (see
Tab le 1), as addressed in Section 2.
As for support for the overall value creation, the word
Benhancement^in the definition refers to the service package
concept from service marketing literature, as introduced in
Section 4. It sets the other goal for gamification from a service
design perspective: the gameful experiences should support
the value-in-use of the core service as experienced by the user.
If, for example, gamification is successful in creating gameful
experiences but in such a way that they distract the user from
using the core service, the gamification cannot be considered
successful overall. Therefore, it is important to differentiate
among the core service, the enhancing service(s), and their
result: the gamified service.
Under the definition given, Foursquare, for example, is not
a gamified service in itself, though it possesses potential to
gamify (and, thereby, enhance) other services, such as restau-
rants or bars, through rules, goal-setting, variable outcomes,
feedback, and rewards. Moreover, the definition remains ag-
nostic to the nature of the core service. The core service could
even be a game that can be further gamified, with the output
being so-called meta-games. From this perspective, not only
non-games can be gamified.
The process nature of gamification often renders it difficult
or even impossible to know whether a given service has been
gamified or not in the absence of knowledge about its
production/consumption process.
Let us, for example, consider three, at first sight, virtually
identical scenarios wherein a person plays a geocaching game
(Geocaching 2013) in a public park. In the first scenario, the
person is a geocaching enthusiast and one caching happens to
lead him or her to the park. In this scenario, no gamification
has occurred, since the core service is the geocaching game
itself and the park is the enhancing service: a suitable location
for the geocache. Here the geocaching service is a full-fledged
game. In the second scenario, the city has set up a geocaching
game for its residents, to encourage more active use of the
26 Huotari K., Hamari J.
citys parks. In this case, gamification has occurred, because
here the city parks represent the core service and the
geocaching game the enhancing service. In the third scenario,
a group of outdoor enthusiasts has implemented a geocaching
game in the park in order to make trekking in an urban envi-
ronment more gameful. Here again, gamification has oc-
curred: the hikers have made their hobby (the core service)
more gameful through geocaching (an enhancing service).
Therefore, if one is to identify gamification, it is essen-
tial to distinguish between the enhancing service providing
affordances for gameful experiences and the core service
that is being supported by that enhancing service and thus
aiding the actor who is the gamifier. Table 3gives exam-
ples of gamified services, making explicit the core and
enhancing service in each case, and Table 4distinguishes
among various possible gamifying actors. In theory, it is
the customers subjective perception that determines what
should be considered the core service; however, up to that
point, it is the gamification providers perception that is
decisive, for it is the gamification provider who decides
which service to gamify.
Four possible gamification providers
From the gamification design perspective, it is important to
identify the individual actors and their respective roles in the
gamification process. The geocaching scenarios presented
above demonstrates that it is not always the provider of the
core service that enhances the core service via gamification. In
scenario 2, the gamification is provided by the city, possibly
with the aid of a third party, whereas the trekkers themselves
perform the gamification in scenario 3. We have identified
four possible gamification providers (i.e., providers of the en-
hancing service). These are 1) the core service provider, 2) a
third-party service provider, 3) the customer him- or herself,
and 4) another customer. The enhanced service is provided
either by one of these four parties or by a combination of them.
Tab le 4presents examples of gamified services involving a
range of gamification providers.
For service designers, it is important not only to recognize
the various gamification providers but also to understand that
third parties and customers may gamify a service independently
of the core service provider (as with the third geocaching
Tabl e 2 Core definitions of gamification broken down into elemental aspects
Source System elements/affordances Psychological mediators/
Goal of gamification Context of gamification Focus of the
Deterding et al.
Bgame design elements^
elements that are
characteristic of games
[Not explicated] [Not explicated] Bnon-game contexts^
Argumentation by the
authors: adding game
design in games is
Huotari and Hamari
(2012); Present
B(motivational) affordances^-
not explicitly restricting
the set of design elements
Bgameful experiences^
referring to, but not
limited to, the set
listed in Table 1
Bvalue creation^
derived from
service marketing
literature with the
aim to refer to
whatever set of
activities that are
[Not explicated]
Argumentation by the
authors: it is impossible
to objectively distinguish
a game and a non-game
context since the experi-
ence of gamefulnessis
subjective and experiential
User experience
Tabl e 3 Examples of gamification
Core service Enhancing service Gamified service
Profile in LinkedIn Progress bar for measuring progress in entry of
personal details
The enhancing service increases the perceived value of filling in all
details by making use of progress-related psychological tendencies.
Café Mayorship competition in Foursquare The enhancing service creates a competition between customers wherein
they have to visit the café frequently enough. This generates retention.
Dry cleaners Loyalty card on which the customer receives
one stamp toward a benefit for every visit
The enhancing service takes advantage of psychological tendencies
related to progress and thus increases the perceived value of using
the same dry cleaning service.
Gym HeiaHeia or Fitocracy The physicaltraining experience sets goals itselfand assists in monitoring
the progress of the training.
A Definition for Gamification 27
scenario and Foursquares local badges in Table 4). Such cases
may prove advantageous for the core service provider, and
service designers may want to create opportunities for said
customer or third-party initiative and even encourage it. For
example, the application programming interfaces (APIs) that
many companies offer software developers can be a way for a
firm to let third parties gamify its service.
Gamification as communicative staging of service
Because the companys role in the value creation is to support
customersprocesses by offering resources for these, for the
gamification designer it is interesting also to examine
gamification from the angle of operand and operant resources.
After all, these resources are the designers tools in the
gamification process.
A gamified service is, by our definition, a service package
consisting of a core service and an enhancing service that
supports gameful experiences. As we have pointed out in
Section 5, the key resources in the creation of gameful expe-
riences are operant resources. Therefore, we can see that the
job of a gamification designer is mainly to use operand re-
sources of the core service and combine the operant resources
of the core service and of the enhancing service into a mean-
ingful whole. This can be thought of as a gameful framing of
the core service or, as more generally conceptualized in ser-
vice marketing, communicative staging (Arnould 2007;
Arnould et al. 1998). A concept used to denote how the ser-
vice provider communicates its interpretation of the service
environment, communicative staging refers to conveying ex-
periential meanings from service provider to customer, and
back, and between customers. Its efficiency relies on the mu-
tuality of cultural understanding (Arnould 2007). A parallel
term is Bsubstantive staging^; this refers to the presentation of
the physical service environment (Arnould et al. 1998), often
denoted in the service literature as servicescape (Bitner 1992).
A clear connection can be seen also with service design
methods drawing from the performing arts, wherein
storyboarding is used both to visualize the customer as part
of a physical setting and to position the customer along the
narrative continuum (Miettinen and Koivisto 2009).
A good example of communicative staging is the
gamification implemented at the Trader Joes grocery store
in Berkeley, California. To help parents with their grocery
shopping, each day the workers hide a teddy bear somewhere
in the store and challenge the children of their clientele to look
for it. Those who find the bear are rewarded with some candy
or a bag of nuts. This quest makes the store visit much more
exciting for the children (by creating gameful experiences)
and much less stressful for the parents (supporting the overall
value creation of the store experience). The gamification is
done purely by rendering new meanings for existing re-
sources, such as the hidden teddy bear (the mission) and the
treats (the reward).
Similarly, Foursquares services, the LinkedIn progress bar,
homespun drinking games, and the other examples in Table 4
are ultimately about giving and conveying new meanings to
existing resources.
In game studies, games have been defined in terms of a set of
necessary conditions. These conditions can be divided into
systemic and experiential conditions. This approach is com-
patible with service marketing theory, which emphasizes cus-
tomers role as co-producer of the service and which can be
used also for marketing of goods and products.
Game study literature and service marketing literature are
largely complementary. However, the definition of
gamification proposed by Deterding et al. (2011) adopts a sys-
temic approach seemingly incompatible with the understanding
of value creation in the service literature, which, in contrast,
emphasizes the experiential and psychological nature of
Tabl e 4 Examples of gamified services, from various gamification providers
Core service Enhancing service Gamified service Gamification provider
Airline (e.g. Finnair) Mileage program involving levels that
can be attained by accumulating tier
points, award points and/or flights
(Finnair Plus in a Nutshell 2014)
Customers who use the airline regularly
can reach higher membership levels
and get premium service.
Airline (the core service provider)
Restaurant (e.g., Starbucks) Local badges in Foursquare Customers who check in at least three
times a week at the same location
with Foursquare getting a badge
Foursquare (a third party)
Sports bar Drinking game (Yahoo Answers 2013) Deciding to incorporate a drinking
game into watching hockey, for
The customer him- or herself
National Park Geocaching game ( 2014;
Geocaching 2013)
Adding a geocaching quests to a hike in
Other customers (through
28 Huotari K., Hamari J.
services. The definition by Werbach (2014)isclosertoservice
marketing theory as it sees gamification as a process. However,
it remains on such a general level that attempts to connect
gamification to the service marketing literature remain vague
and imprecise when using it. In contrast, we have attempted
to tie gamification in with existing knowledge from service
marketing, with concepts such as service package, value-in-
use, and service systems. Then, we defined gamification
from the perspective of service marketing, as Ba process
of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful expe-
riences in order to support usersoverall value creation.^
This definition emphasizes gamifications two, parallel goals:
to afford gameful experiences and to support the customers
experienced value-in-use of the core service process. The
proposed definition is agnostic with respect to the nature
of the core service that is being gamified. In this, it chal-
lenges the view that gamification can only take place when
game-like elements are used in non-gaming contexts.
Looking at gamification from this perspective also enables
one to understand that it is not only a service designer who can
employ gamification. Here, we have identified four possible
gamification providers: the core service provider, a third-party
service provider, the customer/user, and some other customer/
user. Furthermore, we have enriched the discussion of the
complex nature of gamification as a service. Theoretical
background from service marketing enabled us to identify
in a seemingly obvious scene of gamification three distinct
scenarios by considering multiple options as to the core
service and also the party providing the gamification.
Finally, we have also presented gamification as communi-
cative staging of the service environment, which aids in
understanding gamification as a way of conveying experi-
ential meanings between service provider and customers.
We believe that anchoring gamification in the service
marketing literature will assist in researchersexamination
of how gamification can contribute to marketing sciences,
in connecting gamification to overall business strategy and also
in building a bridge between game studies and marketing
One interesting avenue for future research might be the
investigation of how gamification could be integrated into
an expanded version of the servicescape model presented by
Bitner in 1992, as Arnould et al. (1998) have suggested.
Another interesting path could be to study the social aspects
of gamification by considering social networks as operant
resources. Foursquare, for instance, makes extensive use of
its userssocial networks when gamifying other services.
The social networks of the users represent operant resources
for Foursquares users. More thorough analysis of the theme
remains for further research. From the point of view of game
studies, instead of merely investigating gamificationsdirect
effect on behavioural outcomes, the theoretical framing
adopted in this study enables further research to also take
experiential aspects into account. On all fronts, it would be
interesting to empirically investigate the psychological effect
that mediate the effect between affordances and behaviour.
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A Definition for Gamification 31
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The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the world economy, affecting many industries. Given the growing inadequacies of traditional marketing communication channels in the digital age, fashion retailers are looking at innovative ways of communicating with consumers. Gamification's efficacy as a marketing communication's tool can be linked to its potential to satisfy users' intrinsic needs, ostensibly through evoking a pleasurable consumer experience via autotelic use reminiscent of videogame engagement. The goal of this study was to investigate the use of gamification in the fashion retail industry. A qualitative approach was followed by means of an exploratory research design. Judgement sampling was used to identify a total of 25 participants from whom data was gathered by means of conducting three focus groups. Data was analysed by means of the Morse and Field approach using Atlas.ti. The results indicate that consumers are aware of gamification and enjoy using it, describing it as a fun and enjoyable experience. Consumers' primary motivation for using gamification applications is to gain financial benefit in the form of discounts, vouchers, points or rewards. The dominant challenges identified with using gamification applications are that they do not provide a user-friendly interface, as well as privacy and security concerns and connection issues.
Purpose This study aims to investigate the impact of utilitarian, hedonic and social emotional mechanics in gamified digital platforms on the components of value co-creation. Design/methodology/approach Hypotheses are proposed to test the emotional mechanics of gamification as antecedents of value co-creation in terms of the components of the DART (dialogue, access, risk assessment, transparency) model. The Nike+ gamified digital platform is used as the context for the empirical analysis. The hypothesis testing is performed from the consumer perspective, with data gathered using a questionnaire sent to users of the Nike+ application. Findings The social emotional mechanics of gamification have a positive impact on the value creation components of dialogue, access, transparency and risk. Utilitarian and hedonic mechanics also exert an impact on the value creation component of access. This study contributes to the value co-creation literature. The findings also reveal the role of customer emotions in embracing gamified platforms in a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) ecosystem. Practical implications Practitioners and consumers in B2B2C ecosystems can gain insight into how to interact in digital gamified platforms and how to co-create value. This study shows the importance of customers’ emotional mechanics when participating in gamified platforms. The results can help organisations ensure the success of their value co-creation processes. Originality/value This paper proposes a combination of approaches that have traditionally been studied in isolation, placing emotions at the heart of the value co-creation paradigm.
This meta-analysis aimed to investigate and compare the efficiencies of gamification and game-based learning in terms of learning achievement and motivation. With distinctive features, gamification and game-based learning were hypothesized to exert different effects on learning achievement and motivation. The effects on learning achievement were more stable and significant for game-based learning (ES = 0.54, 95% CI [0.38, 0.70]) than for gamification (ES = 0.85, 95% CI [0.32, 1.37]). The overall effects on motivation were more significant for gamification (ES = 0.77, 95% CI [0.53, 1.01]) than for game-based learning (ES = 0.60, 95% CI [0.42, 0.78]). Gamification exerted less significant but more stable effects on intrinsic motivation (ES = 0.64, 95% CI [0.37, 0.91]) than on extrinsic motivation (ES = 0.92, 95% CI [0.50, 1.34]). Game-based learning exerted less significant but more stable effects on extrinsic motivation (ES = 0.56, 95% CI [0.35, 0.77]) than on intrinsic motivation (ES = 0.62, 95% CI [0.12, 1.13]). The main conclusion was that gamification and game-based learning, as two distinct game-related pedagogies, differently influenced learning achievement, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation. The dependence on immersion subject to external or internal factors and ludic contexts associated with internalization of motivation influenced the effect stability on learning achievement and motivation.
Purpose The negative influence of gamification on online communities has received little attention in the available literature. The study examines the adverse effects of gamification during engaging in online communities. Design/methodology/approach Gap-spotting methods were used to develop the research questions, followed by model development using the social exchange and social-network theories. Data were collected from 429 samples. The study applied partial least squares structural equation modeling to test the research hypotheses followed by ANN application. Findings The study identified five factors related to gamification that have a significant adverse effect on the mental and emotional well-being of the users. Furthermore, the results of PLS-SEM were then compared through an artificial neural network (ANN) analytic process, revealing consistency for the model. This research presents a theoretical contribution by providing critical insights into online gamers' mental and emotional health. It implies that gamification can even bring mental and emotional disturbance. The resulting situation might lead to undesirable social consequences. Practical implications The result highlights the managerial and social relevance from the perspective of a developing country. As respondents are becoming more engrossed in online gaming, managers and decision-makers need to take preventive measures to overcome the dark side of online gaming. Originality/value The present study shows that the dark side of gamification has some adverse effects on human mental and emotional health. The study's findings can be used to improve gamification strategies while engaging online communities.
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