Friday, March 07, 2014

A Brief History of Gamification: Part I - The Origin

This is the first post regarding the origin and evolution of gamification, the concept broadly defined as "the use of game elements in non-game contexts". I invite others to contribute (with comments to the post) if something is missing and to correct what may be wrong or incomplete.

The Origin

The concept behind what become known as gamification in recent years was already known almost one hundred years ago. Nelson (2012) argue that the origins of gamification are in the early to mid 20th century in Soviet Union, like “a way to motivate workers without relying on capitalist-style monetary incentives”. Workers and factories could compete with each other to increase production, using points and other game-like elements. Later, in american management, on the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, the strategy of turning the workplace into a more playful setting reappeared. In 1984, Coonradt (2007) published the first edition of his book The Game of Work. Coonradt, known as the “grandfather of gamification”, applied game principles in business contexts, dealing with employee motivation. His principles to motivate people include frequent feedback, clear goals and personal choice, features that can be found in games. These American and Soviet approaches, as precursors of gamification, gave rise to o sub-genre of the concept, the “gamification of work” (or playbour). Even before Coonradt's work, loyalty programs, like frequent flyer programs in airline companies (Kumar and Herger, 2013), where travelers gain miles (i.e. points) that can be exchanged for some benefit, and other marketing campaigns already incorporate some game features.

In other contexts, similarities with game elements can be found in the use of icons or symbols to express achievements, as insignias on military uniforms or insignias used on youth organizations like the Scouts (Silvers, 2011; Werbach and Hunter, 2012). These icons and symbols have their digital counterpart in video games’ badges (Rosewell, 2012). As the Scout can collect badges and display them on their uniform, digital badges can be used to display individual skills, abilities and accomplishments since a software system provides the adequate infrastructure.

In the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) context, Deterding et al. (2011) note that, in the 1980s, in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), the design of user interfaces already benefited from the knowledge of different design practices, namely game design. Playfulness, as a desirable user experience or mode of interaction, gained the attention of multiple HCI researchers. As Deterding et al. refer, game elements were long used in HCI, as game controllers used as input devices or graphic engines and authoring tools of video games used in non-ludic contexts.
Game-Based Learning (GBL) and the Serious Games movement contribute to the spread of the concept, revealing that games could be useful in non-ludic contexts instead of just being used for fun and amusement. Gamification, connects to concepts related to HCI and to game studies, as serious games, pervasive games, alternate reality games, or playful design ( Deterding et al.).

Nelson, M. (2012). Soviet and american precursors to the gamification of work. In Lugmayr, A., editor, MindTrek, pages 23–26. ACM.
Coonradt, C. (2007). The Game of Work: How to Enjoy Work as Much as Play. Gibbs Smith.
Kumar, J. and Herger, M. (2013). Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software. Aarhus, Denmark,. The Interaction Design Foundation.
Silvers, A. (2011). On education, badges and scouting [web log message].
Werbach, K. and Hunter, D. (2012). For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Wharton Digital Press.
Rosewell, J. (2012). A speculation on the possible use of badges for learning at the uk open university. In EADTU Annual Conference: The Role Of Open And Flexible Education In European Higher Education Systems For 2020: New Models, New Markets, New Media.
Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., and Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining ”gamification". In Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, MindTrek ’11, pages 9–15, New York, NY, USA. ACM.


  1. Hello, thanks for you interesting posts! I wonder if you already know the International Journal of Serious Games, whose first issue has just been published ( Maybe you could publish something on your research there. Regards, Antonie

  2. Hello Antonie, thanks for your comments. I will take a look at the Journal of Serious Games.

  3. Hello, thanks for this amazing post, Can you tell us about "A Brief History of Gamification on education"