Game on! How Gamification Evolved in E-Learning


HR and L&D professionals need to ensure that their development programmes maintain learner engagement and motivation. Gamification is recognised as an opportunity to capture the interest of learners.

Added on 24 April 2014 by Erika Lucas

Before we look at whether it is game on or game over for gamification in learning this post examines the history of Gamification.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when gamification first started but many state 1912 as gamification’s first mass market appearance. In 1912 the American Cracker Jack popcorn brand famously began to include a free prize in every bag while this isn’t gamification in its modern sense the use of fun and a prize that could be collected may have inadvertently been gamification’s birth. While Cracker Jack’s implemented the first basic use of gamification in marketing another well-known use of gamification emerged for education in the form of the scout movement in 1910.

Their utilisation of ranks as well as badges for achievements in various activities has engaged children since its introduction.


While early gamification was being used in practice worldwide through schemes such as frequent flier miles cereal toys and the controversial McDonalds Monopoly game gamification itself had not yet been cemented as a term. 1980 saw the first academic papers and commercial books around gamification specifically aimed at the gamification of learning:

• What Make Things Fun to Learn by Thomas W. Malone

• Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: Lessons from computer games 1990s

As computers began entering the classroom so too did more advanced gamification techniques.


Games such as Math Blaster and The Incredible Machine were introduced to children to great effect however criticisms were made that the games themselves were too difficult to link with the curriculum or were too focused on the repetitive practice of a small set of skills such as addition and subtraction.


2002 saw the creation of the Serious Games Initiative SGI a group that saw the creation of several serious games for the US military. The SGI states that: “The goal of the initiative is to help usher in a new series of policy education exploration and management tools utilizing state of the art computer game designs technologies and development skills. As part of that goal the Serious Games Initiative also plays a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world today.”

While the SGI informs much of what gamification is today it isn’t incorporating gamification itself. The distinction is that the SGI creates games from scratch to educate whereas gamification is taking the elements of games and incorporating them into non-game processes.


First gamification consulting firm: Conundra. While the company didn’t last long it was the first of its kind to offer a service that gamified consumer products and incorporated enterprise gamification.


The Games for Change (G4C) initiative is launched G4C specialised in using games for social impact. The most famous example is G4C’s Peacemaker which allowed players to take a side in the Arab/Israeli conflict to show the difficulty from both perspectives. The game’s main objective was to inform players of the social issues in play.


First gamification platform: Bunchball. Bunchball was the first company to offer a platform for organisations to create a gamified process using pre-made elements such as points leaderboards and badges.


Gamification became a popular term in 2010 this is mostly due to the increase in interest from the internet an example being several videos from the DICE conference on gamification going viral further increasing the knowledge of the term.


1st ever gamification summit held in San Francisco attracts nearly 400 attendees.

Oxford dictionary adds gamification to its word of the year shortlist – defines gamification as ‘the application of concepts and techniques from games to other areas of activity’.

Corporate gamification takes off. The success of gamified applications like Foursquare inspires many large corporates to jump on the gamification bandwagon. In 2011 global revenue from gamification marketing software and consulting reaches nearly $100 million according to M2 Research.

Over the hill or still climbing?

Since 2011 gamification has been growing and growing with more dedicated conferences books and research each year. More organisations are experimenting with the techniques but opinion is still largely divided over its effectiveness this feeling of experimentation and failure can be summarised by Gartner who says that by 2014 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design.

This article is based on an extract from Daniel Griffin’s whitepaper: Gamification in e-learning . The rest of this whitepaper will focus on the theory behind gamification and how to put this theory into practice to ensure an effective gamified process.

This blog originally appeared in A brief history of Gamification | theHRDIRECTOR – The only magazine dedicated to HR Directors.