Gamification and Social Dynamics: Insights from a
Corporate Cycling Campaign
Matthias Wunsch1,3, Agnis Stibe2, Alexandra Millonig1, Stefan Seer1,
Ryan C.C. Chin2, Katja Schechtner2
1 Austrian Institute of Technology, Vienna, Austria
2 MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA, USA
3 Vienna University of Technology, Human Computer Interaction, Vienna, Austria
Abstract. Cycling is an essential transport mode in a well-balanced urban
transportation system. While most approaches for achieving an increase from
today’s usually low levels of biking are focusing mainly on infrastructure
measures and policies, this study presents the effects of the Biking Tourney, a
bike commuting challenge between 14 companies aiming at motivating em-
ployees to commute by bike. This six-week study involved 239 participants us-
ing a socially influencing system for reporting commutes and watching the
rankings. The frequency of bike commuting increased for 15% of overall partic-
ipants due to their participation. Within the subgroup of occasional bike com-
muters an even higher share of 30% commuted by bike more frequently. Fur-
ther analysis discusses multiple factors contributing to the engagement of em-
ployees in the tourney. As the results show the persuasiveness of the interven-
tion, implications for a large-scale implementation are discussed.
Keywords. low-energy mobility, cycling, behavior change, transportation, sus-
tainability, socially influencing systems
Cycling is an essential transport mode in a well-balanced urban transportation sys-
tem. The benefits of cycling comprise ecological, economic, social as well as individ-
ual advantages, e.g.
Cycling is a carbon neutral form of transportation and requires only 1/30 of re-
sources as compared to private motorized vehicles during its life cycle 
Cycling provides major health and financial benefits both for the individual (low
costs) and the economy as a whole
Cycling requires less space than private motorized transport (about 10% for parked
vehicles and 60% for moving vehicles .
However, despite the documented advantages of cycling, in many cities there is
still a very small share of cyclists. A range of different barriers to cycling are respon-
sible for the fact that cycling is not perceived as a legitimate form of transport. As
many of these barriers are based on individual perceptions and emotional aspects such
as fear of the feeling of insecurity, the provision of cycling infrastructure and access
to bikes is not sufficient to convince a large number of people to start biking. Thus,
there are several initiatives to promote biking through e.g. gamification and socially
engaging approaches in order to motivate citizens to voluntarily switch to more sus-
tainable modes of transport . Examples of campaigns applying game elements like
competition or cooperation show promising effects : e.g. the annual Austrian cy-
cling campaign “Bike to Work” engages thousands of bikers each year. Part of this
success is believed to be related to the boosting effect of having small teams in the
campaign, which mutually encourage themselves to take as many bike trips as possi-
ble. In comparison, prizes that are provided as part of the campaign are playing a less
important for motivating participants to bike more. The actual social dynamics and
processes leading to behavior changes  are still barely examined. Particularly the
effectiveness of initiatives aiming at creating/stimulating behavior change in the ab-
sence of any tangible incentives needs to be studied further.
A pilot study as part of the research project “Persuasive Urban Mobility” showed
that the gamification of cycling, when cycling becomes part of a wider competitive
challenge against the self and others, gives promising results regarding the increase of
bike trips among participants . Previous research from McCall et al.  and Jylhä
et al.  support these results.
In this paper, we present the outcomes of an approach providing organizations with
a socially influencing system for engaging their employees in a biking competition.
We chose this approach to investigate how social dynamics evolve in organizations
through gamified biking campaigns, which enable better scalability compared to
reaching out to individuals themselves. In particular, the following research questions
have been addressed:
Are group dynamics and the elements introduced with the competition sufficient
for increasing specific bike use?
What overall effect on the level of biking can be observed for different types of
To what extent can socially influencing systems designed for competition engage
employees in commuting by bike?
The next section outlines the design of the study, followed by a description of the
methodological setting. The main section provides the detailed evaluation results for
the study, and the concluding discussion highlights the learning of this approach in
relation to previous findings and the implications to be considered for similar future
2 Study Design
Within the presented study, a six week lasting intervention: the “Biking Tourney
2015”, we designed as a socially influencing system  to drive competition  be-
tween organizations. In this approach, companies serve as communities, thus provide
a shared identity for their employees. By that, social interactions and mutual encour-
agement for biking are facilitated. Apart from the competition and related information
(website, emails), no extra incentives were provided to the companies or participants.
The design of the tourney included four different categories related to bike usage in
which the participating companies were ranked. Actual mobility data was gathered
using a self-reporting web application. The categories aimed to reflect the goals of the
tourney of encouraging citizens to bike instead of using high-energy means of trans-
portation. Three of the rankings were introduced at the beginning of the tourney: (1)
“Bikers”, reflected the share of biking employees and should encourage for participa-
tion as well as for motivating others to join the tourney. (2) “Average distance”, re-
flected the effort a company’s employees invested in the tourney while not being
influenced by the actual employee count of a participating company. (3) “Total dis-
tance”, honored the total contribution of the biking employees which, however, clear-
ly favored bigger companies. After the initial three weeks, the fourth ranking called
“enthusiasm” was introduced, which showed a score of the change in the share of
bikers over time. Thereby companies with low drop-outs and employees joining even
after the official start were higher ranked. Figure 1 illustrates the graphical representa-
tions of three categories which were provided to the participants during the tourney.
The different ranking schemes were designed in a way that they also compensate
for potentially demotivating settings for participants, for instance being in the lower
ranks, or having a disadvantage because of the company size. This was based on the
assumption that when providing several rankings a low standing in one of them is not
as demotivating as in a single category design. The hypothesis is that a competition
among organizations would provoke cooperation among employees in each organiza-
tion. Furthermore, the use of publicly displayed rankings in common areas of the
companies – as shown in Figure 2 – should raise awareness of the tourney and facili-
tate  commuting by bike.
Fig. 1. Screenshots showing the rankings for bikers, total distance and enthusiasm
Fig. 2. Public displays with the tourney rankings in the participating companies
Intervention Context. After contacting 227 companies, a total of 14 companies took
part in the Biking Tourney, with employee counts from 17 up to about 10,000. All
companies or their respective local offices were located in the Greater Boston Area
(MA, USA). The companies did not receive any incentives for taking part in the
study. The Biking Tourney took place in September and October 2015 and lasted for
six weeks. The weather during the intervention period was generally described by the
participants as good biking weather except for one week with several rainy days.
Sample. The Biking Tourney had overall 239 registered users, with a mean age of 39
years (SD: 11 years), consisting of 18.6% (44) female, 81.0% (192) male and 0.4%
(1) non gender specific participant. The domination of males can be partly explained
by the fact that the company with the most participants has a male-dominated work-
force (about 70%). Furthermore, the overall share of male bikers is higher in the US,
similar to many other countries.  The mean commuting distance - home to work -
was 7.7km (4.8 miles) with a standard deviation of 6.1km (3.8 miles). Based on a
survey the participants took during the sign-up, 60% were usually bike commuting on
an almost daily basis, 24% were usually commuting by bike up to several times a
week, and 16% were using their bike less often than that. All of the participants had
been commuting by bike before the tourney. Out of all study participants, 127 filled
out the ex post survey. For them, the mean age was 39 years, with 17% (22) female
and 83% (104) male participants.
Data Generation. Quantitative data was gathered by pre- and post-intervention
online surveys, where all participants had to fill out the pre-intervention survey during
the sign-up for the tourney whereas participation in the post-intervention survey was
done voluntarily. The surveys contained standardized questionnaire items for descrip-
tive statistics and cross-tabulation. The post-intervention survey also contained a set
of open questions regarding the overall effect of the tourney on one's commuting rou-
tines. Furthermore, nine qualitative interviews with the company representatives, i.e.
our contact persons for each company, were conducted during the Biking Tourney.
It was a major goal to ensure that participation of companies and employees would
be as effortless as possible. Therefore, the reporting of trip data for a time period be-
fore the tourney was not mandatory. Self-reported data on daily choices of mode of
transportation were hence used to calculate the standings in the tourney but was not
analyzed for gauging the intervention effect due to the lack of pre-study- or control-
Analysis. Cross tabulation is used to highlight the effects within the intervention for
different types of participants. Qualitative data from the interviews and from the
open-question pre- and post-questionnaires was structured and analyzed according the
a thematic analysis .
4 Results and Discussion
Participants of the Biking Tourney have been very positive about the intervention
design. The question: “Overall, how did you like the Biking Tourney?” on a scale
ranging from 1 “Not at all” to 50 “Very good” the mean rating was 35.5 [SD=9.8].
Regarding mode shifts due to participation, a reduction of car use was reported by
11% of the respondents and 17% stated to have reduced their use of public transporta-
tion. Furthermore, out of all participants answering the post-intervention survey, 19%
planned to commute by bike more often or continue to do so and 78.6% planned to
continue to do their commute as they did before joining the tourney. As for these
results one has to keep in mind that a self-selection bias has been likely introduced
through the selection of participants and the voluntary nature of the post-study ques-
4.1 Motivation for and during Participation
Cooperation among employees of each organization was a driving factor for partic-
ipation, with 45.7% of participants crediting “team spirit / participating together as a
team” and 41.7% saying that their colleagues were motivating to them. A total of
29.9% agreed with “joining as a way to motivate others to bike”, highlighting the
cooperative effect within the companies. “I bike most every day anyway. I do appre-
ciate the encouragement for others.” (#205)
Personal health benefits were a relevant motivator for 40.9% of participants, the
available statistics did motivate 34.6% of participants and competition with other
companies has been a motivator for 34.6%. Although often mentioned in relation to
biking, environmental benefits were the lowest ranked motivating factor with a share
of only 27.6%. Of course, for most participants a mix of motivators was present: “The
tourney gave me more incentive to bike during the week as the exercise is good, faster
than transit, and more reliable.” (#48)
Colleagues as Persuaders. The level of engagement and activities of the company
representatives varied to a large degree. All of them sent out informational emails to
their colleagues, but some were more eager and actively engaged their colleagues to
participate regardless of their otherwise used mode of transportation. In order to sup-
port this, some companies used specific mailing lists, handed out flyers or set up so-
cial media groups. This shows that the Biking Tourney did provide a framework for
persuading their colleagues within a company to regularly commute by bike or try out
doing so. Because of that, having companies as a proxy for such an intervention ap-
pears to be an effective way for increasing scalability.
Advocacy. Another motivator for participating was advocacy for improved bike poli-
cies. Company representatives and decision makers as well as individual tourney
participants stated that they want to signal to the city that there is demand for better
infrastructure for utilitarian biking. “Hoping that the statistics will improve safety for
cycling and bring attention to improved urban planning for commuting on bike in
Greater Boston.” (#76)
4.2 Change in Frequency of Bike Commuting
Users of the Biking Tourney reported their preexisting frequency of bike commut-
ing at the sign-up process for the tourney. Based on this, three groups of participants
can be identified: (1) Occasional bikers, commuting by bike monthly to weekly, (2)
regular bike commuters are those commuting several times per week by bike and (3)
daily bike commuters. Notably, the latter two groups represent 84% of the tourney
participants and are slightly overrepresented in the ex-post survey with a share of
90%. Furthermore, all Biking Tourney participants stated that they commuted by bike
before, implying that the tourney did not encourage non-biking employees to try to
commute by bike. By that the intervention did mostly “preach to the converted”. This
could have been caused by the overall approach of a competition oriented design
which might be more attractive to existing bikers.
Table 1 represents the reported change during the Biking Tourney. These changes
are based on survey data rather than self-reported trip data as no pre-intervention mo-
bility data was collected. While 78.7% of participants remained at their level of bike
commuting, overall 15% reported an increase in doing so. This compares to only
4.7% reporting a decrease in bike commuting. By that, a persuasive effect shifting
daily transportation choices towards biking is indicated. A comparison by group
shows that the increases in bike use where most present for the occasional (30.8%)
and regular bikers (25%). This does not come as a surprise, as these were the partici-
pants with a higher potential for such increases.
A Trigger for Commuting by Bike More Often. The collected qualitative data sup-
ports these findings shown in Table 1, with some of the occasional bikers trying out to
commute by bike: “I took bus before but was pleasantly surprised how much faster
taking bike was.” (#276) But while this leads to an uptake of a new commuting habit
for some, other came by bike to “[...] try it out and support the regular bike commut-
ers in my office” (#286), but stopped doing so after the tourney. Regular bike com-
muters commented about the motivating effects on their colleagues as well: “The
Biking Tourney is a great boost for folks who were considering bike commuting and
who needed a little push.” (#93)
Table 1. Reported change in frequency of bike commuting
Usual frequency of bike
during Biking Tourney
Biked more often
Biked the same
Biked less often
Number of survey re-
Survey question: “During the Biking Tourney…” (a) “I commuted by bike more often than
usually.” (b) “I commuted by bike as often as before.“ (c) “I commuted by bike less often than
before.” (d) ”Other”
Commitment for Commuting by Bike More Often. For occasional bikers, the tour-
ney acted as a mean for making bike commuting more of a habit. “Last spring the
Mass Bike Challenge helped me realize that I could bike the 12 miles each way. The
MIT Media challenge helped make it more of a routine.” (#86) “Due to the tourna-
ment, I did seek out a safe route to cycle into work and will use it more often as a
result.” (#76) Furthermore, the tourney acted also as a commitment system for in-
creasing ones bike commuting frequency: “I have always wanted to bike in pretty
much every day. Biking tourney got me moving towards that goal.” (#176) “It defi-
nitely helped as motivation to get on bike more often.” (#36)
Another effect of the commitment to the tourney was that participants biked even
on days with bad weather. “Some of my office mates made a bigger effort to bike. [...]
It was exciting to see so many of our fair-weather bike commuters take the plunge
into cold and wet riding on the days that rained.”(#50)
Commuting as Always. Most participants (78.7%) continued commuting by bike at
their usual level, indicating no change due to the tourney. “I always bike to work, so it
was the same as usual.” (#50)
Commuting by Bike Less Often. A small amount of participants (4.7%) reduced
their amount of bike commuting, but this was mostly due to temporary external caus-
es such as business travel to other places, illness or technical problems with one’s
This study investigated the effects of competition and cooperation on overall en-
gagement which adds to the knowledge about the social dynamics within initiatives as
the Biking Tourney. The mutual encouragement present in most participating compa-
nies made employees join. While a large part of actual participants were already
commuting by bike on a daily basis, the induced social processes did also motivate
non-regular bikers to participate in the Biking Tourney. By that, the tourney was able
to set the stage for triggering an increase in bike commuting for 15% of overall partic-
ipants, with almost a third of the subgroup of occasional bike commuters and for a
quarter of the subgroup of regular bike commuters increasing their bike use. Qualita-
tive data showed the importance of the competition between companies and the coop-
eration within companies for the overall engagement in the tourney.
Future large scale implementations of the presented study design should consider
that the share of occasional bikers, i.e. participants that usually bike once a week or
less than that, has been lower and the behavior changing effects were smaller than in
previous studies [6, 13]. A different framing of this intervention that is more inviting
to non-regular-bikers or non-bikers might help to get more of them involved. Fur-
thermore, companies as a social-group might not be as effective as small teams for
producing mutual encouragement between participating employees.
As a behavioral intervention the Biking Tourney can be easily scaled-up, making it
a viable option for communities or cities for promoting sustainable transportation. By
that it has the potential to benefit organizations, communities, societies, individuals
and research alike.
Acknowledgments. The authors gratefully acknowledge Kent Larson and Geraldine
Fitzpatrick for their advice and support within this research project. Our special
acknowledgement is due to Chengzen Dai, Felipe Lozano-Landinez and Francesco
Pilla for their contributions to this research and their help in conducting the presented
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