Does gamification satisfy needs? A study on the relationship between gamification features and intrinsic need satisfaction

Intrinsic motivation is commonly considered as the most productive force behind people’s behavior [10][34]. However, it is often observed that people lack intrinsic motivation towards different activities they would like to undertake. Thus, many companies, educational institutions and workplaces are competing for these people’s motivational resources. In an educational context, intrinsic motivation and the autotelicy of learning are considered as one of the highest pinnacles of successful education[9][28][32]. In the marketing context, the main goal of customer relationship building is to develop a customer who loves the product and is a fan of the brand [1][20]. Similarly, in the workplace, an employee who enjoys work and is more productive as a result is considered to be a success by any HR department[2][21].

In games, however, it is generally observed that we are often rivetingly engaged and intrinsically motivated, as well as being able to derive cognitive, emotional and social benefit [6][13][15][23][25][28][33][43]. As inspired by these positive observations of games, gamification[7][16][19] has emerged as a technology trend that attempts to further transfer these benefits to a variety of services and systems, and to further increase their autotelic affordance of “non-gaming” contexts (See [24]), such as health [3][17][22], education[5][12][39], work [8][35], crowdsourcing [26][29], marketing management [19][27][44] as well as science[30][40].

Not surprisingly as a consequence, in 2017, popularly the global gamification market was valued at USD 2.17 billion and is estimated to reach USD 19.39 billion by 2023 [31]. However, the practical failures have made many firms lose confidence in gamification. Especially in the business domain, 80% of current gamified applications were estimated to fail to meet their objectives due to poor design [14]. Because of these doubts, practitioners have started to question the effectiveness of gamification. Therefore, in the practitioner realm, a looming question is still relevant as to how companies and organization should implement gamification for it to have the positive effect it is hyped to have – be it on users, consumers, students or employees.

The majority of studies and reviews of empirical studies on gamification indicate that in the majority of cases, gamification has had a positive effect on motivations and behaviors [16][24][37][41]. However, more granular research on how different gamification features affect certain motivations has been slow to emerge[16][24][38]. Currently, there still has been a “black box” surrounding the understanding of the mechanisms of how gamification affects our motivations and behaviors [16][24]. One of the main theoretical lenses adopted in gamification research is that of self-determination theory[36][19][24][38] which posits that satisfaction of three primary intrinsic needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) can lead to autotelic behaviors[10][34][11][18][4][42]. However, only a few studies exist that investigate the relationship between different categories of gamification and intrinsic need satisfaction.

Thus, in this study we aimed to fill this theoretical and practical gap by investigating the relationships between the user (N = 824) interaction with gamification features (immersion, achievement and social-related features) and intrinsic need satisfaction (autonomy, competence and relatedness) in Xiaomi and Huawei online gamified communities that represent two large technology product-related online brand communities in China through a survey-based study. The study’s main contributions were twofold: firstly, the study provided sought-after results about the relationship between gamification and intrinsic motivations, contributing to both the body of gamification literature as well as to the developer repertoire of understanding of how different game designs can affect their users. Secondly, the study provided an example of how to reach a balance between the more economic approach of treating gamification systems as single stimuli or investigating each gamification feature independently through a full experimental design which would normally be an unrealistic undertaking.

This paper is structured as follows. The next section covered the literature review including the theoretical background of gamification and intrinsic need satisfaction which support the three hypotheses in this study. Section 3 included the empirical study, explaining the research methodology and analyzing structural equation models. Section 4 provided a detailed discussion of the results, theoretical contributions and practical implications. The last section made the conclusion for this study and points out the future research areas based on the limitations.

Does gamification satisfy needs? A study on the relationship between gamification features and intrinsic need satisfaction
Nannan Xi
Juho Hamari

Citation: Xi, N., & Hamari, J. (2019). Does gamification satisfy needs? A study on the relationship between gamification features and intrinsic need satisfaction. International Journal of Information Management, 46, 210-221.

Please see the paper for full details:

Gamification is increasingly used as an essential part of today’s services, software and systems to engage and motivate users, as well as to spark further behaviors. A core assumption is that gamification should be able to increase the ability of a system or a service to satisfy intrinsic needs, and thereby the autotelicy of use as well as consequent change in beneficial behaviors. However, beyond these optimistic expectations, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on how different gamification features satisfy different dimensions intrinsic needs. Therefore, in this study we investigate the relationships between the user (N = 824) interactions with gamification features (immersion, achievement and social -related features) and intrinsic need satisfaction (autonomy, competence and relatedness needs) in Xiaomi and Huawei online gamified communities that represent two large technology product-related online brand communities in China through a survey-based study. The results indicate that immersion-related gamification features were only positively associated with autonomy need satisfaction. Achievement-related features were not only positively associated with all kinds of need satisfaction, but also the strongest predictor of both autonomy and competence need satisfaction. Social-related gamification features, were positively associated with autonomy, competence and relatedness need satisfaction. The results imply that gamification can have a substantially positive effect on intrinsic need satisfaction for services users.

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