Strategy: A missing component in Gamification

One of the more common questions I get about gamification is “what is the difference between games and gamification”. I have spent lots of time writing about that exact issue, the Game Thinking pieces are my most concrete thoughts about the topic. However, just recently I was playing North vs South on the iPhone and was struck by a blindingly obvious part of games that seems to be missing from most if not all gamification.


Gamification is, in general, becoming much better implemented. The use of narrative, onboarding, intrinsic motivation, well thought out rewards and more. That said strategy does seem to be missing. What do I mean by strategy? Well, the need to plan and consider your actions to create the most desired or best possible outcome. On the surface, it doesn’t seem that gamification offers much opportunity to plan or consider what the consequences of certain actions might be. You just do what the system asks of you and get rewarded!

What if we change that a little though? What if the system gives you some choices, each one slightly different and each one offering different potential outcomes?  How about, instead of “do this action and get this reward”, we say “these are the actions you can do and these are the rewards”. Then we say “each reward has a benefit and can potentially unlock new options and benefits”. Now the user has to make decisions, work out what the best series of choices might be. If we also give them an outline of where certain choices may lead, they can start to plan what they want to achieve and how they might best be able to go about it.

When I was young, my father used to collect Texaco petrol stickers, similar in concept to the better known B.P. Sheild stamps. When you bought petrol at a Texaco garage, you got some stickers to place on a card. There was a catalogue that had gifts you could save up for, mugs, pen knives, that sort of thing. We would plan what we wanted next and how many visits to the petrol station that would take We would deliberately make sure that Texaco stations were one any route we might take so that we could fill up there rather than at any other petrol station. There was a simple strategy in place because we could see what we wanted and how best to get it. This is nothing unique, it is simply a loyalty scheme and in itself had no built in strategy, it was us who added it. It was emergent gameplay if you will.

We should aim to build this into the game, but importantly it should also be related to challenges and consequences. There is no point creating a strategy when every option leads to the exact same outcome – remember my article on creating choice architecture and fake freedom?

Strategy is an essential element of games, so we should be trying to make it an essential element of gamification – this is why it has just been added to my list of gamification mechanics and elements and will be in the updated Gamification Inspiration Cards.

How are you making use of strategy in your gamification programs? Let me know below 🙂

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Also published on Medium.

11 thoughts on “Strategy: A missing component in Gamification”

  1. Andrzej, gamification is often used to motivate certain tasks that always have the same result in the end. Would not people get bored when they went through various choices and several intermediate results, but that in the end would have the same result?

    sorry for my English 😀

    • That is the fake choice scenario. It comes down to how it is built. So if you earn coins, what are they for – is there a strategy around earning more for certain alternative actions. What can they be used for? What are the goals and can you set your own?

  2. I always considered stack Overflow a great example of how rules and Mechanics Creates a great Incentive system with Lots of Strategic edge to it. Fake choices as a try to create gamelike Interactive design and engage users is one of the worst traps i think, since the (user as soon as she finds out) will feel cheated and averse to a game/Gamified solution. Great post!

  3. I totally agree with you, Andrzej….. no choices, no gamification. no choices, why to bother to take any different action?
    behavioural understanding starts from choices.
    have fun,

  4. Explorative interactions and the room to maneuver (freedom of choices) within a given framework introduces strategy (as you define it) into our approaches. Both core elements, combined with personal progress, let you avoid the need to reward directly.

  5. Certainly requires more thought, and more freedom within gamified systems! But certainly has a lot of potential within. Have seen some of that in Yu-kai’s Octalysis Prime, at least on the sneak peeks of what’s being built.


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