How Gamification Can Make News Sites More Engaging

Gamification, the use of gameplay mechanics for non-game applications, is transforming online news into an engaging, social and fun activity. It’s quickly becoming the next frontier in web and mobile technology.

But what makes gamification successful? Simply put: motivation. By tracking readers’ success, news organizations provide a sense of progress. This, in turn, motivates readers to continue reading, commenting or performing whatever actions on the site that will contribute to their overall progress.

At Mashable, we’ve incorporated gamification into Mashable Follow, our social layer and content curation tool. Readers sign up for Follow with their Facebook or Twitter login to comment on and share stories, manage their news streams by following the topics they care most about, and connecting with fellow readers by viewing and commenting on their site activity.

Activity is the core of Follow. Readers must be logged in to comment on articles and are encouraged to share to any or all of their social media accounts with a single button.

Rewarding readers for taking these actions was an important component of Follow. We decided to use Badges as the reward systems because they are native to our audience. The Badges are central to Follow’s game mechanics. Readers earn badges for everything, from gaining followers to connecting social networking profiles to their account. So far, there are 26 badges that Mashable community members can earn. Most are named after web memes, such as Strutting Leo and Double Rainbow.

Of course Follow badges are just one example of game mechanics on a news site — and here’s why they work.

Fostering Community

As a result of the hunger for badges, readers develop a more personal and valuable community on our site. All badge-worthy actions are tied to Mashable community contributions, such as commenting and inviting friends to use Follow. This inadvertently creates a stronger bond between Follow users and our site, making for a more engaged and committed readerbase.

Andrew David Baron, an avid Follow user, can attest to the badges encouraging Mashable readers to comment more. “[The gamification] lends itself to creating an informed hierarchy of Social followers… not many people are willing to take a risk and put their comment out there first,” he said.

Bob Aycock, another frequent Follow user agrees.

“Once Mashable launched Follow it made me start leaving comments and replying to other folks’ comments,” he said. “I also read more posts now that Follow has become such a hit (and personal addiction).”

Resonating With Readers

Mashable coverage is driven by web culture. That’s why we chose web memes as the main theme for Follow badges. Some of the most popular ones are David After Dentist, the unforgettable YouTube video of a child reacting to dental surgery medication, and Dramatic Chipmunk, yet another notable (albeit short) YouTube video. Keeping the badges consistent with our content area helps give readers a deeper connection to Mashable.

“It really makes people smile to see something funny, referential, nerdy, etc. — things that we can relate to and feel even more at home at Mashable,” Baron said. The Sad Keanu badge, inspired by a viral Keanu Reeves photo, is his favorite.

Creating Competition

In real life and on the web, badges are status symbols. Each earned badge shows as an update in the reader’s My Activity stream as well as the Friends’ Activity stream. Followers can comment on these updates and often do so, sharing congratulations — or jealousy. Knowing what badges friends are earning makes the game more of a friendly competition, which increases readers’ motivation to use the service. In addition, each Follow user profile has a Badges tab that shows what badges a reader has earned and which they have yet to unlock. These publicly displayed achievements make keeping up in the badge-earning race essential.

Room For Growth

Just as the next big web meme is always around the corner, so are future Follow badges. We aim to give readers something to continue striving for as a motivation to remain active. Our team is continuously brainstorming badge design and milestone ideas. It seems our readers are too. They recently got involved with the process by entering our Follow Badge Contest, which resulted in our newest badge: The Honey Badger. Involving the community in the gaming dynamics gets readers further excited about and vested in Follow.


Though badges have worked well for Mashable Follow, there are a number of gaming mechanics and strategies. Points, challenges and virtual currency have been successful for some sites as rewards, while behavior and calls-to-action are examples of viable game dynamics. Gamification remains an open book for the news industry. We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential for community building, revenue and more.

At the heart of gamification is games — and games are intended to be enjoyable. News organizations should explore it and challenge themselves to take a fresh angle on engaging their communities. And, remember, have fun.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, rubenhi

Presenting Sponsor: AT&T

More About: community, content, curation, gamification, journalism, mashable, mashable follow, Media

For more Dev & Design coverage:

This entry was posted in community, content, curation, gamification, journalism, mashable, mashable follow, media and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.