Evaluating the presence and design of gamification in popular smartphone applications

Opportunity

There are thousands of mobile apps focused on monitoring and changing health behaviors. Many use game design elements such as points, levels, and badges, commonly referred to as gamification. However, the presence and design of gamification in popular mobile apps have not been well studied.

Approach

We downloaded and tested 50 of the top mobile apps in the Apple iOS store. We quantified how many use gamification and identified the  types of design elements  used. We also evaluated whether insights from behavioral economics were incorporated.

Impact

We found that 64 percent of the top 50 most popular mobile apps used gamification. However, we also found that none of them used insights from behavioral economics in their design, representing an opportunity to improve their potential impact. The most commonly used game design elements were goal setting, social influences, and challenges.