Blog | 22 November 2023

Engage, retain, and delight: Gamification for membership organisations

Creating an engaging and rewarding user experience is critical in a world increasingly dominated by digital interactions. This is especially true for membership websites looking to maintain and grow their user base.

One method that has gained traction in recent years is ‘gamification‘.

gaming room with arcade machines
Image credit: Carl Raw on Unsplash


Gamification is the use of game-like elements and principles in non-game contexts to motivate and engage people. Examples of gamification elements include points, badges, leaderboards, challenges, and rewards. These elements can make tasks more fun and rewarding and encourage users to participate more often and actively in your community.

Here are a few examples of how gamification can be used in non-game contexts:

  • An elearning platform might use gamification to engage students and help them learn more effectively by presenting lessons through challenges and games.
  • A business might use gamification to motivate employees to be more productive by offering rewards for completing tasks or achieving sales goals.
  • A fitness app might use gamification to motivate users to exercise more by awarding them points and badges for completing workouts.
  • A social media platform might use gamification to encourage users to participate more actively by rewarding them for posting content, liking, commenting on other users’ posts, and following new accounts.

Gamification can be a powerful tool for motivating and engaging users in various settings. When used effectively, it can improve user experience, increase participation, and achieve desired outcomes.

But how might all this work in the context of gamification for membership organisations?

Why gamification works: The psychology behind it

Gamification taps into fundamental human drives. The desire for recognition, the pleasure of achievement, and the thrill of competition are all deeply rooted psychological triggers. When members see tangible rewards for their actions, like badges or points, it activates the brain’s reward centres, leading to dopamine release. This “feel good” neurotransmitter enhances pleasure and reinforces the behaviour, encouraging your members to keep participating in your community.

neon display of a man's head and brain
Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

Incorporating gamification in membership sites is particularly effective for enhancing your membership platform experiences, increasing engagement, and ensuring members remain loyal to your platform, which should support strong retention.

Below are ten strategies you can use in your membership website development that leverage membership gamification:

1. Points, badges, and leaderboards: Fuelling friendly competition

The thrill of earning points, receiving badges, or moving up on a leaderboard can be a powerful motivator. By introducing these elements, you acknowledge members for their participation and instigate a sense of friendly competition. It’s human nature to want recognition, and these game mechanics can drive members to be more active, participate more often, and stay more engaged.

2. Interactive challenges: Beyond passive engagement

Interactive challenges can range from quizzes and puzzles to mission-based tasks. These challenges foster deeper engagement and provide members with a sense of accomplishment when they complete them. Additionally, such challenges can be tailored to promote specific content or features of your membership portal, ensuring members explore your platform more extensively.

3. Milestone rewards: Celebrate achievements

Consider offering exclusive content, discounts, or other perks when members reach specific milestones. This not only acknowledges their loyalty but also incentivises further engagement. Whether it’s accessing a premium webinar after earning a certain number of points or receiving a discount code after completing a challenge, these rewards make members feel valued and appreciated for their efforts.

4. Progress tracking: A journey worth showcasing

Another tool for gamification for membership organisations is showcasing members’ progress. By doing so, you provide them with a tangible representation of their journey and achievements. This motivates members to continue their progression and instils pride in their accomplishments. A visual dashboard, for instance, can make this journey visible and engaging.

5. Tiered membership levels: Climbing the ladder

Implementing tiered membership levels offers members a clear pathway to advancement. Members can unlock more benefits as they move up tiers, creating a continuous engagement loop. It’s like levelling up in a game – each new level brings new challenges and rewards, ensuring members always have something to strive for.

Game and ladder
Image by MyTechLogy Where IT Talents Shine from Pixabay

6. Themed events and contests: Community building

Hosting themed events or contests is an excellent way to foster community spirit and collaboration among members. These events can be aligned with holidays, seasons, or any other theme relevant to your platform. Such activities can ignite excitement, encourage creativity, and promote active participation.

7. Instant feedback: The power of immediate gratification

Instant feedback, be it through points, badges, or notifications, provides immediate gratification when implementing gamification in membership sites. When members see instant rewards for their actions, they’re more likely to repeat those actions, aligning their behaviours with your platform’s goals.

8. Storytelling: Immersion beyond mechanics

Membership gamification isn’t just about points and badges; it’s about creating an engaging narrative. By weaving a compelling story into your platform, you can captivate members emotionally, making their engagement deeper and more meaningful. This could be a journey they embark upon or a larger narrative they contribute to with each action.

9. Social Sharing: Amplifying achievements

Allowing members to share their accomplishments on social media gives them a platform for bragging rights and can serve as organic marketing for your website. When members share their badges, points, or milestones, their network gets a glimpse into the value and fun your membership platform offers.

10. Data-driven refinements: Continuous evolution

Lastly, but crucially, using gamification for membership organisations provides a wealth of data on user behaviour. By analysing this data, you can refine your strategies, ensuring they’re more effective and tailored to your members’ individual preferences. Continuous iteration based on real-world feedback ensures your membership gamification efforts are relevant, entertaining, and impactful.

Real-world examples: Community-focused gamification in action

Many major platforms that target communities have successfully incorporated gamification. Here are three very successful applications of it:

  • Duolingo: This language-learning app uses gamified lessons where users earn points, level up, and compete on leaderboards. This approach makes learning fun and keeps users returning daily.
  • Fitbit: By tracking steps, setting daily goals, and allowing competition with friends, Fitbit transforms the mundane task of walking into a game. Achieving 10,000 steps feels like a significant accomplishment, and badges celebrate milestones.
  • WWF UK: The wildlife and nature charity uses games and tracking tools to build engagement, like this Footprint calculator.
Duolingo leaderboard

Potential gamification pitfalls and how to avoid them

While gamification can be powerful, it’s not without potential pitfalls:

  • Overcomplicating systems: Avoid making your point system or challenges too complex. Members should easily understand how to earn points and what they’re worth.
  • Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation: Relying solely on extrinsic rewards (like badges or discounts) can overshadow intrinsic motivations (like the joy of learning or participating). Balance is the key here.
  • Avoiding negative competition: Leaderboards can be demotivating if members feel they have no chance of reaching the top. Consider segmented leaderboards or rotating challenges to give everyone a chance to shine.

The broader implications for community building

Membership gamification can be a powerful tool to foster a sense of community. When members share their achievements, engage in challenges, and participate in events, they’re more likely to interact with one another. This can lead to discussions, collaborations, and the forming of sub-communities, all of which can enrich the overall platform experience.

Tailoring gamification for your members

It’s essential to remember that not all gamification strategies will work for every audience. For instance, a professional networking site might not benefit from the same gamified elements as a hobbyist community. Research, user feedback, and regular adjustments are crucial to ensure your gamification resonates with your specific audience.

In conclusion

When done right, gamification can transform your membership website from a simple platform to an engaging, dynamic community. By understanding the psychology behind gamification, studying successful real-world examples, avoiding common pitfalls, and continuously tailoring your approach, you can maximise the benefits of gamification for your membership organisation.

As technology continues to advance, the potential for innovative gamified experiences is vast, making now the perfect time to integrate gamification into your membership website.

Gamification is more than a buzzword – it’s a powerful strategy that can supercharge member engagement and loyalty. Integrating game-like elements into your membership website makes the experience more fun and engaging and fosters a vibrant, active, and loyal community.

Hopefully, these gamification tips have inspired you to think about how they might benefit your organisation. If you’d like to discuss your membership website or you need help putting any of these tips into practice, we’d love to hear from you.

You can email us directly, call us on 01273 830331 or fill in the form on our Contact Us page, and we’ll get back to you soon.

A shorter version of this article was recently published on the MemberWise blog.