Epilogue / acknowledgement. Back in 2012-2013, we conducted a rather modest but popular literature review on then extant empirical literature that had examined gamification:

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does gamification work? – a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In Proceedings of the 47th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), Hawaii, USA, January 6-9, 2014.

While this review has served and continues to serve many scholars as a go-to paper for several aspects of gamification, the literature on gamification has exploded after its publication in the beginning of 2014. It has been exciting to follow the proliferation of the concept and the increase in research conducted in the field during these years, although at the same time the review has become more outdated year by year.

Therefore, we are happy to announce an updated and greatly extended version of the literature review !

Koivisto, J., & Hamari, J. (2019). The rise of motivational information systems: A review of gamification literature. International Journal of Information Management, 45, 191-210.

During recent decades, we have witnessed glimpses of a fascinating emerging development where utilitarian and hedonic systems are in a state of spiraling convergence. Today, the spiral has made a full revolution, and we now see hedonic or entertainment-oriented technologies being re-appropriated for productive use. This development has been titled “gamification” and the phenomenon has quickly cemented itself as being one of the major developments in the information systems (IS) field and other domains. Hedonic information systems initially came about through the re-appropriation of instrumental information technology. Most notably, the first video games emerged from a playful re-appropriation of oscilloscopes – a seemingly utilitarian system (“Tennis for Two” developed by Higinbotham in 1958 – see e.g. [42]). Since then, we have witnessed a wide diffusion of game consoles (e.g. Pong in 1972, Atari 2600 in 1977, Nintendo in 1983, Xbox in 2002 etc.) and other video game applications. Forwarding to today, hedonic systems and software are everywhere, and are developed for the sole purpose of promoting user enjoyment. Furthermore, digital games have penetrated our everyday lives at an increasing pace and have now become a mainstream form of entertainment, enjoyed by people from all demographic groups (see e.g. [48][49]). However, especially during the last ten years, we have come a full circle, and hedonic systems (and especially game designs) are currently merging back into utilitarian systems and even perhaps new strains of utilitarian systems are emerging from hedonic systems.

Games are especially known for their ability to engage and excite, and when playing games, people commonly experience e.g. mastery, competence, enjoyment, immersion, or flow, all of which are characteristic of intrinsically motivated human behavior (e.g. [19][37][11][38][1][46][50][8][9]). An essential aspect of playing games is the self-purposeful nature of the activity, as well as the engagement and enjoyment of the activity. It is this nature of playing games that gamification technology attempts to capture, harness and implement into contexts that commonly have a more instrumental purpose ([20][19][30][39][47][31]). When starting a game, a player accepts the contingency of the end result, however, the process is often enjoyable regardless of the outcome (see e.g. [34]). Incorporating the engagement and enjoyment of the gameful process into activities outside games is at the core of what commonly is titled gamification; a design approach of employing game elements into different types of systems and services, with the goal of affording gameful experiences [19].

Since its conceptual inception around 2010, gamification has increasingly drawn the attention of academics and practitioners (see [21]). In addition to gaining popular proponents, the approach has gained traction from positive prospects published in business analyses by Gartner (2011) and IEEE (2014) which predict that most companies and organizations will implement gamification in the near future. Consequently, operators in various fields have been attracted by the potential of gamification for inducing motivation and engagement for a diverse range of activities. This has led to gamification being implemented in domains such as enterprise resource planning [2][23], intra-organizational communication and activity [15][16][43], science [40], government services [4], public engagement [44], work and crowdsourcing ([32][14][27] see also [35] for a review), commerce [24][25], exercise [22][29], health ([28]; see also [3] for a review), education (e.g. [5][6][10][12][13][17][18][26][41]), environmental behavior [32][33], as well as marketing and advertising [7]; [45], to name a few.

The literature on gamification is rapidly increasing and spreading in many directions, but this is similar to any development that has great potential and which is surrounded by a crowd of hyped enthusiasts. In order to control and take advantage of this development, concerted efforts are needed to harness the literature and existing knowledge to productive use, and to provide the field with an agenda for further research. Gamification is still in its infancy and rapidly developing, but what is actually known of the phenomenon tends to stem from fragmented pieces of knowledge, and from a variety of perspectives. While some attempts have been made to synthesize the literature on gamification, previous reviews have been very focused in their scope. In order to provide both academics and practitioners with a more widespread view on the gamification phenomenon, a larger scale review of the phenomenon should help to map its development and progress, as well as aid in steering future literature and agendas. We firmly believe that gamification is especially an IS/IT phenomenon, since it has at its core the use of leisure information systems (more specifically (video) games) and their design in a variety of utilitarian information system contexts. However, if we consider the host of literature on gamification that has been produced thus far, it appears to be relatively under-represented in IS literature, regardless of it clearly being an IS phenomenon. This suggests that other fields (especially those of education and human-computer interaction) have perhaps shown more innovation and openness in their approach to this prominent technological development. Therefore, it is also important to more broadly initiate a discussion about gamification in IS literature.

In this study, it aimed to, firstly, comprehensively reviewed and synthesized the extant literature on the concept of gamification; and secondly, to theorized and delineated a further research agenda for the research of gamification and motivational information systems within the information systems research field. The review drew together the existent knowledge on the topic and presented it in a structured manner. The review process mainly followed the guidelines described by Webster and Watson [51] and Paré et al.[36]. Over 800 papers have been categorized, and 273 empirical studies are analyzed in detail to outline the domains in which gamification is being implemented, how it is being implemented, how it has been studied, as well as identifying the kinds of results that have been produced thus far. The findings of the review indicated where research knowledge is already abundant, where further research is needed, and what steps should be taken in future research to develop knowledge on the topic.

Jonna Koivisto
Juho Hamari

Citation: Koivisto, J., & Hamari, J. (2019). The rise of motivational information systems: A review of gamification research. International Journal of Information Management, 45, 191-210.

Please see the paper for full details:

Today, our reality and lives are increasingly game-like, not only because games have become a pervasive part of our lives, but also because activities, systems and services are increasingly gamified. Gamification refers to designing information systems to afford similar experiences and motivations as games do, and consequently, attempting to affect user behavior. In recent years, popularity of gamification has skyrocketed and manifested in growing numbers of gamified applications, as well as a rapidly increasing amount of research. However, this vein of research has mainly advanced without an agenda, theoretical guidance or a clear picture of the field.
To make the picture more coherent, we provide a comprehensive review of the gamification research (N=819 studies) and analyze the research models and results in empirical studies on gamification. While the results in general lean towards positive findings about the effectiveness of gamification, the amount of mixed results is remarkable. Furthermore, education, health and crowdsourcing as well as points, badges and leaderboards persist as the most common contexts and ways of implementing gamification. Concurrently, gamification research still lacks coherence in research models, and a consistency in the variables and theoretical foundations. As a final contribution of the review, we provide a comprehensive discussion, consisting of 15 future research trajectories, on future agenda for the growing vein of literature on gamification and gameful systems within the information system science field.


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