The History of Gamification - Journey from 1896 to the 21st Century

Monday, February 25, 2019

Before the industrial civilisation was established, marketers were experimenting with ways to inspire loyalty in their customers. Over 100 years later, brands are still searching for methods to positively reinforce buying behaviour and engagement, gamification has been one of the latest marketing efforts to produce unprecedented results.

The term "gamification" first gained widespread usage in 2010, in a more specific sense referring to the incorporation of social/reward aspects of games into software. A number of businesses begun creating gamification platforms and marketers started employing game elements into their marketing initiatives.

Gamification draws from an eclectic range of sources, but the following timeline specifically explores and highlights the relationship between loyalty, games and fun across history.

Gamification Timeline

1896 S&H Green Stamps - Marketers sold stamps to retailers who used them to reward loyal customers.

1908 The Boy Scout movement is founded - The Boy Scouts awarded members with badges to recognise their achievements in various areas. Scouts could earn badges for becoming proficient in an activity, acting according to the principles of the organisation and for attending special events.

1973 The Power of Games to engage employees is recognised - Released in 1973, “The Game of Work” was written by Charles Coonradt to address the issue of flagging productivity in the US. Noticing that productivity was failing as sales of recreation and sports equipment was rising, Coonradt suggested that fun-and-games might be the answer to the thorny problem of employee engagement.

1978 The Birth of Social Video Games - Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle develop “MUD1”, the first Multi-user Dungeon game. Though its text-based interface was unimpressive by today’s standards, it lit the fuse for the explosion of social online gaming.

1980 Thomas Malone - publishes “What Makes Things Fun to Learn: A Study of Intrinsically Motivating Computer Games”

1981 American Airlines - introduces AAdvantage, the world’s first frequent flier programme is released by American Airlines. The initiative sought to encourage customer loyalty by offering rewards for frequent patronage – a model we still see today in every high-street coffee shop.

1982 Academics recognise the potential of Gaming - With computer games demonstrating inherent abilities to engage users, articles start to appear exploring possible productive uses of the medium. In 1981, Thomas W. Malone released Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction and Heuristics for Designing Enjoyable User Interfaces, two articles which outlined what could be learned from computer games and applied to other areas.

1983 Holiday Inn - Launches the first hotel loyalty program.

1987 National Car Rental - launches the first car rental rewards program.

1990 30% of American - households own an NES. A new generation of gamers is born.

1996 Richard Bartle - publishes “Who Plays MUAs” which divides video game players into four unique gamer types based on how different people approach playing a game. This model would go on to become a cornerstone of many gamification initiatives.

1999 Fun is taken seriously - Stephen W. Draper releases a paper suggesting that user enjoyment should be a major requirement of all software design. In the years leading up to the end of the millennium, the power of game mechanics was slowly gaining recognition.

2002 Gamification is Born - Nick Pelling coins the term ‘Gamification’ to help us define the engagements and research that have and will continue to take place.

2005 The first modern Gamification platform is created - Rajat Paharia founded Bunchball, a platform designed to boost engagement on websites by adding a layer of game mechanics.  It would be another 3 years before they adopt the term ‘gamification’

2007 Gamification at home - Kevan Davis develops Chore Wars. The site is designed to incentivise the act of doing chores by turning it into a game. With its fantasy role-playing game theme, Chore Wars finds favour with parents, children and flatmates.

2009 Quest to Learn - accepts a class of 6th graders into a game-based learning environment.

2009 Gamification: Here, There and Everywhere - The launch of Foursquare, an app which allows users to search for and discover new places, was besides being a social tool, also a strong example of gamification. Awarding users with badges and other achievements.

2010 Nathan Lands - coins the term ‘Gamify’, in an effort to name the action point of applying game mechanics to non-game engagements.

2010 DevHub - adds a points system to its website, and increases user engagement by 70%.

2010 Gamification Co. - holds the first Gamification Summit in San Francisco, CA.

2012 45,000 People - enrol in Professor Kevin Werbach’s online gamification course through Coursera.

2012 Gartner - predicts 70% of global organisations will have at least 1 gamified application by 2014.

2013 Gamification has a larger reach than first predicted - 61% of surveyed CEO and other senior executives say they take daily game breaks at work.

2014 Customer satisfaction is snowballing - 9/10 companies report their gamification efforts are successful.

2016 Gamification is recognised and valued - Gamification is predicted to be a $2.8 billion industry.

2018 Gamification exceeds expectations - In just two years, Gamification has its predicted market value inflate to be more than double of what it was in 2016, at a value of $5.5 billion.


Gamification has become mainstream fare for businesses, brands and consumers. It has found its way into groundbreaking science projects and presidential elections. When done correctly, gamification produces indisputable results and is likely to remain a cultural force for years to come.

Since gamification has been recognised as a powerful engagement tool, it has almost become a standard feature of software design across the board.

With such a ubiquitous feature, it’s easy to forget that, before 2003, nobody had even uttered (much less heard) the word ‘gamification’.

Gamification has the potential for real-world change if used in the right settings with the correct elements. It has the ability to actually produce a change in daily habits, which in itself is a very powerful attribute. The participatory experience that leads to the behaviour change is a feat in and of itself. 

Some naysayers may think that gamification is ahead of the curve, we think it is here to stay and possesses endless possibilities on its applications. Nevertheless, as gamification evolves the process that it evokes may change too.

We look forward to what lay ahead in the world of gamification.

Further Readings: 

- on Gamification

- UkTech on Gamification

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