Archetypes of Gamification: Analysis of mHealth Apps
Following the proliferation of smartphones and other smart devices into people’s everyday lives during the last decade, mobile application stores provide users with a plethora of different health-related mobile applications (mHealth apps). In such mHealth apps, gamification presents itself as a promising approach to increase user engagement, raise the quality of health behaviors, and motivate users to use mHealth apps for a sustained period of time. Standing in the long tradition of gaming in health care (e.g., serious games), gamification has rapidly gained interest by health care researchers and professionals over the last decade. While some health behaviors, such as exercise and exercise programs in themselves are pervasively gameful in the nature, mHealth apps supporting such behaviors are increasingly and more explicitly gamified further.
What we actually know about gamification today stems from fragmented pieces of knowledge, and a variety of different perspectives (Koivisto & Hamari, 2019). Extant research has usually produced research results based on research prototypes. While experiments on simple prototypes of gamification may improve the internal validity of the corpus of gamification research on how any specific gamification features affect behavior, the state of the applications of gamification in practice may differ from research prototypes. Therefore, research is needed to map the types of gamification available and improve the possible external validity as well (Nacke & Deterding, 2017). In order to better grasp the phenomenon of gamification and its influence on peoples’ health behavior through mHealth apps in practice, we currently lack knowledge about how gamification is actually implemented in real-world mHealth apps and whether certain industry best practices have emerged.
Therefore, in this study we classified gamification approaches employed in pertinent gamified mHealth apps from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store based on a taxonomy that we developed in prior work (Schmidt-Kraepelin et al., 2018). In addition, we used a 2-step clustering approach for identifying archetypes of gamification approaches. In doing so, we were able to unveil established best practices in the design and implementation of gamification for mHealth apps and to analyze to what extent those gamification approaches are influenced by the underlying desired health-related outcomes.
Eight archetypes of gamification emerged from the analysis of health-related mobile apps. These archetypes illustrate how gamification is being implemented in mHealth apps and how their design is determined by the targeted health behavior. Our study unveiled salient best practices, and thereby contributes to a more profound understanding of gamification in mHealth apps. Our results can serve as a foundation for future research that advances our knowledge on how gamification may positively influence health behavior change and guide practitioners in the design and development of highly motivating and effective mHealth apps.
Archetypes of Gamification: Analysis of mHealth Apps
Reference: Schmidt-Kraepelin, M., Toussaint, P.A., Thiebes, S., Hamari, J., & Sunyaev, A. (2020). Archetypes of Gamification: Analysis of mHealth Apps. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 8(10):e19280. doi.org/10.2196/19280
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Background: Nowadays, numerous health-related mobile apps implement gamification in an attempt to draw on the motivational potential of video games and thereby increase user engagement or foster certain health behaviors. However, research on effective gamification is still in its infancy and researchers increasingly recognize methodological shortcomings of existing studies. What we actually know about the phenomenon today stems from fragmented pieces of knowledge, and a variety of different perspectives. Existing research primarily draws on conceptual knowledge that is gained from research prototypes, and isolated from industry best practices. We still lack knowledge on how gamification has been successfully designed and implemented within the industry and whether certain gamification approaches have shown to be particularly suitable for certain health behaviors.
Objective: We address this lack of knowledge concerning best practices in the design and implementation of gamification for health-related mobile apps by identifying archetypes of gamification approaches that have emerged in pertinent health-related mobile apps and analyzing to what extent those gamification approaches are influenced by the underlying desired health-related outcomes.
Methods: A 3-step research approach is employed. As a first step, a database of 143 pertinent gamified health-related mobile apps from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store is set up. Second, the gamification approach of each app within the database is classified based on an established taxonomy for gamification in health-related apps. Finally, a 2-step cluster analysis is conducted in order to identify archetypes of the most dominant gamification approaches in pertinent gamified health-related mobile apps.
Results: Eight archetypes of gamification emerged from the analysis of health-related mobile apps: (1) competition and collaboration, (2) pursuing self-set goals without rewards, (3) episodical compliance tracking, (4) inherent gamification for external goals, (5) internal rewards for self-set goals, (6) continuous assistance through positive reinforcement, (7) positive and negative reinforcement without rewards, and (8) progressive gamification for health professionals. The results indicate a close relationship between the identified archetypes and the actual health behavior that is being targeted.
Conclusions: By unveiling salient best practices and discussing their relationship to targeted health behaviors, this study contributes to a more profound understanding of gamification in mobile health. The results can serve as a foundation for future research that advances the knowledge on how gamification may positively influence health behavior change and guide practitioners in the design and development of highly motivating and effective health-related mobile health apps.
Koivisto, J., & Hamari, J. (2019). The rise of motivational information systems: A review of gamification research. International Journal of Information Management, 45, 191-210. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2018.10.013.
Nacke L.E., & Deterding S. (2017). The maturing of gamification research. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 450-454. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.062.
Schmidt-Kraepelin, M., Thiebes, S., Tran, M.C., & Sunyaev, A. (2018). What’s in the Game? Developing a Taxonomy of Gamification Concepts for Health Apps. Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2018 Jan 3-6; Waikoloa, Hawaii, USA. p. 1217-26.
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