1.5-year experiment on gamification: Surprising results?

I conducted a 1.5-year-long field experiment on whether badges, which have been one of the main mechanics in gamification, had an effect on the usage activity, quality and social interaction within an eCommerce website. The data, gathered between December 2010 to the end of July 2012, consisted of the usage data of 3,234 users. The field experiment especially focused on whether providing users with clear goals and enabling social features (in form of enabling comparing badges) (2×2 design) affected the individual numbers of posted trade proposals, accepted transactions, comments and overall use activity. The users received badges for different beneficial activities, such as posting trade proposals, accepting transactions and posting comments.

Surprisingly, the results showed that merely enabling these features did not have any significant effect on use. However, those users who actively followed up on the accumulation of their own badges posted and accepted more trades as well as commented more. Comparing badges was also positively associated with making more trade proposals. The paper discusses in more length possible reasons for these results, such as context of use, nature of the gamified service, intentions of the users and the sporadic nature of use of such services.

The research is published in the journal Electronic Commerce Research and Applications here and a pre-print of the paper here.

Citation: Hamari, J. (2013). Transforming Homo Economicus into Homo Ludens: A Field Experiment on Gamification in a Utilitarian Peer-To-Peer Trading ServiceElectronic Commerce Research and Applications, 12 (4), 236-245image http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.elerap.2013.01.004

Author:

Juho Hamari
Researcher @ Game Research Lab – University of Tampere
http://juhohamari.com
@VirtualEconomy

Abstract:

During recent years, the addition of game mechanics to non-game services has gained a relatively large amount of attention. Popular discussion connects ‘gamification’ to successful marketing and increased profitability through higher customer engagement, however there is a dearth of empirical studies that confirm such expectations. This paper reports the results of a field experiment, gamifying a utilitarian peer-to-peer trading service by implementing the game mechanic of ‘badges’ that users could earn from a variety of tasks. The users (N=3234) were randomly assigned to treatment groups and subjected to different versions of the badge system (a 2×2 design). Results show that the mere implementation of gamification mechanics does not automatically lead to significant increases in use activity in the studied utilitarian service, however those users who actively monitored their own badges and those of others in the study showed an increased user activity.