Gamification and the History of the Video Game Industry
Matthew James Davis on

This is the first article in a series designed to demonstrate how to use gamification to increase engagement and ultimately turn a higher profit.

There’s an app for that. Probably a few. As the barriers of entry for app development have virtually disappeared, the market has become oversaturated and competition is fierce. Today, combatting churn and increasing engagement is the name of the game; thankfully, we have a solution that is already pulling in almost unbelievable results.

What is Gamification?

Games of all kinds, including card games, board games, and video games, use different elements to challenge and engage their players. Gamification is what we call the process of adding these game elements to more-than-just-a-game situations. For example, the question-and-answer site StackOverflow awards points to users for providing good questions and answers. Other examples of gamification include:

What kind of results can you expect from gamification? DevHub, a SaaS platform that helps users generate content and make money, saw an 800% increase in user engagement after reframing their app as a “build your empire” game. Adobe saw a 400% in its conversion rate by having users “level up” through their trial period. Even scientists have used gamification to cure diseases and advance research using games like Foldit and Phylo.

Drawing from Experience

In upcoming articles, we will Draw from 40 years of history in the video game industry to see how the pursuit of profitability led to the creation of various types of games, and how elements from each of those games were used to meet different financial goals. This will give us both a toolbox of game elements to work with as well as an understanding of what problems each tool can solve.

In order to better understand how profitability drove the development of games, we’re going to divide the history of the video game industry into three categories, each with distinct monetization strategies:

Each of these three monetization strategies is still used in the software industry today, making all of these lessons relevant and valuable. In the coming weeks, we’re going to dive into the specifics of each category. We’re going to learn about the games that defined each period and how the games evolved in response to market forces. We will also take a look at some of the most effective game elements of each period and examples of how to successfully use those tools in our applications today. By the end of the series, we will have knowledge of a wide array of game elements, as well as a deep understanding of how each element can be used in an application in order to maximize engagement and profit.


I have made broad generalizations about the categories of video game history in order to keep things simple and understandable. In fact, all three of these categories extend well beyond the time periods I have specified, and not all games in each period or category fit the given model. I would argue that these time periods are a “best fit” for the contributions of their respective category. Likewise, these models are a “best fit” for the development and success of their respective category.

Gamification by Kevin Werbach on Coursera
OpenBadges by Mozilla
Why does gamification work?
Website builder DevHub gets users hooked by “gamifying” its service
Gamification on Wikipedia
Arcade games on Wikipedia
Video game consoles on Wikipedia
Social network games on Wikipedia