Examples of Gamification pitfalls and how to avoid them

Gamification and games are not the same, and some marketers often fail to comprehend that. With so much hype around Gamification, we understand how powerful it can be, but that also means it’s not a quick fix. It takes a lot more to successfully implement Gamification to your business and the truth is - some brands have miserably failed.
Gamification improves user engagement and conversion rates in numerous ways. We have previously written a blog giving an introduction to Gamification. Missed it? Read it here.
Now.. Let us take a look at some ineffective examples and how it could have been avoided.

Google News

Rewarding users with badges is very common, be it in a fitness app, a game, or even an online education platform. The core drive for users to complete tasks and earn badges include Social Influence, Relatedness, and a Sense of Accomplishment.
Google News started giving out badges to their users for reading articles on a specific topic. They said “Keep your badges to yourself, or show them off to your friends"
Some of the key points of their Gamification were -

  • Badges will level up faster if you read a few relevant articles every day, rather than trying to read everything at once.
  • You can click on a badge to see more articles that will help the badge reach its next level.

For starters, Who wants to show others what they’re reading about?

There was not much users could do with these badges as it just reveals the topic they read about. This was a poor implementation of Gamification because users who were uncomfortable about being monitored and sharing their interests gave up using Google News altogether.
Tip : Understand what your users want and build your gamification flow around that. Google News could have given badges that reflect how often a user reads instead of the content they were reading.


People feel content when they earn badges that depicts a reward, status or something they believe represents them.
An American online shoe and clothing retailer, Zappos, rewarded their users with badges, levels and points. Just one problem though, users did not know what the badges meant nor the value.

Tip : Keep it simple. If the outcome was for users to feel motivated by the badges or feel socially included, they should first know what each badge symbolizes and how they earned it.

GAP, Inc.

Another clothing and accessories retailer, GAP Inc. intended to use gamification to have check-in to their stores. They created a one-day-only event from 10am to 9pm where customers can win a free pair of jeans when they check-in to GAP via the Local Deals Feature on Facebook Places. To restrict expense, they were giving out only 10,000 jeans.

In this case, users had a motivation to check-in (well, free denim), the ability to do so, as well as a nudge to prompt them with “time’s up” at 9pm.
What went wrong was that, as soon as a consumer finds out that the 10,000th pair of jeans is gone, there was no more motivation for them to check-in. Customers wanted the free pair of jeans more than wanting to check-in. They preferred the reward more than the process, that is, the activity of checking-in. This could be very harmful for a business because when there is no reward, customers will no longer have anything to do with your brand.
Tip : One word, habit formation. Strategize to build a loyal customer base with Loyalty Programs.


Another famous fail was Marriott’s game "My Marriott Hotel” that was intended to attract recruiters. The multinational hospitality company came up with a game where the player buys ingredients, such as lettuce for hamburgers, hires staff, buys stoves and kitchen utensils and so on. Sadly, no one found the game interesting - leading to a waste of investment.

Tip : You can keep your audience engaged only by giving them what they want. Build your features around that.


Klout was a website and mobile application that rates its users according to online social influence via the Klout Score. Based on these scores, users received perks. The problem was, users didn’t know how to play the game. Their scores would drop and surge but they wouldn’t know what they did or could have done differently. Gamification should leave your customers satisfied not confused.


An application called Foursquare is a great example of leveraging gamification but ultimately losing their customer base. Foursquare encouraged users to check-in at the places they visit. If they have checked in more times than any other user, they become the mayor of that venue.
For example, if User A visits a Starbucks every day and uses the check-in feature in foursquare, then they become the major of that Starbucks and will receive discounts and more.

Although it sounds great, in actuality some users have checked in so many times that it becomes impossible for other users to become the mayor anymore. This lead to a huge disappointment amongst users and they eventually quit.
Solution : Had there been multiple statuses instead of just mayor, users would have felt motivated to continue checking-in to acquire these positions.
Gamification is a massive growth tool for industries but it is more than just badges, levels and points. It is important to understand the balance between what your users want and what your business needs.
Keep your gamification technique simple and engaging.
Want to increase effectiveness of your gamification strategy? Talk to our experts or read more about Gamification.

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