Combining the success of social networks and fitness, companies like Strava, Freelethics, or Runtastic have accumulated millions of active users and supporting those to live a healthier life. One of their keys to success is the use of gamification, which according to Deterding et al. is defined as the use of game elements in a non-game context. It takes inspiration from Behavioral Economics and plays with certain irrational behaviours of people.

With the help of gamification, mobile applications have integrated game elements into the customer experience, which nudge their users in specific directions. It helps those to internalise extrinsic motives and trigger intrinsic motivation. Gamification pairs the advantages of a utilitarian with a hedonic system. Implementing utilitarian elements spark intrinsic motivation, such as enjoyment, flow and involvement and hedonic systems provide a self-fulfilling value to the user, drive engagement, perceive enjoyment and encourage prolonged use.

Users are running to receive badges, taking part in challenges and are competing for the top positions in internal rankings. Yet, it is important to note that gamification shall be regarded as a tool to support a voluntarily action, rather than to force someone to perform such. In his book, Hooked, Nir Eyal says: “Points, badges and leaderboards can prove effective, but only if they scrape the user’s ‘itch’. When there is a mismatch between the customer’s problem and the company’s assumed solution, no amount of gamification will help spur engagement." In the field of fitness applications, it means that once the user has signed up, it shows that he is willing to be active. Gamification can help facilitating the user’s desire and turn such into a healthy habit. A habit is a behaviour done with no or little conscious thought. When not doing an action it causes a bit of pain, similar to an itch. Using technology or product to scratch the itch provides faster satisfaction.

Yu-Kai Chou, the inventor of the Octalysis Framework, underlines that gamification shall be human-focused as opposed to solely function-focused. Not few argue that currently, too many apps require too much effort in engagement for too little perceived worth or benefit, an imbalance that results in unreliable behaviors. Gamification shall be regarded as a tool that triggers human inner motivation, as opposed to create pure efficiency for algorithmic tasks. It means that the motivational relevancy of content provided by mobile applications must align with a users’ immediate as well as overall intrinsic goals. Integrating playful experiences into a process will support the user to meet his needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which build the core of the self-determination theory by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.