Evaluating the presence and design of gamification in popular smartphone applications

Opportunity

There are over 1,000 mobile applications focused on monitoring and changing health behaviors.  Many of them 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 has not been well studied.

Approach

We downloaded and tested 50 of the top mobile applications in the Apple iOS store. We quantified how many use gamification and what types of design elements were used.  We also evaluated whether or not insights from behavioral economics were incorporated.

Impact

We found that 64% of the top 50 most popular smartphone applications 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.

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