Gamification and IoT

Could we change behaviours for the better by playing a game?

Vasilis Gkogkidis works for our friends Gamification+ as a gamification trainer and designer. He loved what we were doing with IoT and it got him thinking about how IoT and gamification could be used together. This article is the result.

Vasilis has a masters from the University of Brighton with a distinction and is on a PhD course at the University of Sussex. He is researching how games can change our lives for the better and what can we learn from them. He is also a Lego Serious Play facilitator where he helps people achieve their business goals by building Lego! Send him an email if you too think that play and fun can be a good thing for the workplace and our everyday lives.

Let me start by saying that I consider myself a member of the JFDI family even though I don’t work for JFDI.

We at GAMIFICATION+ were very lucky to have shared an office with JFDI so I got to know some of the projects they work on pretty well.

JFDI does a lot of interesting and innovative work with IoT so I offered to write this blog post for them.  That would give me a chance to do some reading on how can IoT and gamification work together and try to come up with some ideas of my own on how we could do that.

I will start by defining what gamification and IoT are, then I will talk a bit about some ideas that have been explored and researched in academic literature and some of my own ideas on gamification and IoT.

What is Gamification?

“Gamification is the process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.” (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011).  Another definition is given by Huotari & Hamari (2012) that say that “Gamification refers to: a process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences in order to support users overall value creation”.

Both definitions give us a feeling of what gamification is, but I know from my own experience it can be hard to visualise exactly what they mean.

Let’s examine an example of a game and a game mechanic used in that game and then an example of gamification that is using the same game mechanic.

The game I use for this example is Pictionary.  A very well-known game, where the goal is for the player to draw a word to help their team – partner guess what the word is.  If at the end of the game your team has guessed more words that the other team you win.

The main game mechanic in Pictionary is the timer.  You have 30 seconds to draw the word that you are given, and your teams must guess what it is in that timeframe.  Watch this clip from Jimmy Fallon up to 2:47 to get a taste.

Notice how when he is running out of time he is more creative and draws the stethoscope? That’s the effect of the timer. A timer applies pressure to players. You get excited or stressed because time is running out and you want to get the solution to the problem.  Timer also sets the pace of the game depending how much time the player is given to perform a task and how hard the task is.

The same game mechanic is used in many sports like football and basketball. Teams play differently when time is almost up than when they got plenty of time.

Pictionary’s aim is to entertain people. This James Bond commercial aims at entertaining people while marketing two of the biggest brands on the planet.

We use gamification to help us solve some problem utilising the power of fun and engagement that games offer us.

Let’s now move on to what IoT is…

What is IoT?

As identified by Atzori (2010), “Internet of Things can be realised in three paradigms – internet-oriented middleware, things-oriented sensors and semantic oriented knowledge”.

The definition that demonstrates better what we will talk about in this blog post is the following from Gubbi (2013) that says that IoT is consisted of “Interconnection of sensing and actuating devices providing the ability to share information across platforms through a unified framework, developing a common operating picture for enabling innovative applications”.

Basically, a lot of devices that talk to each other and can create and share data that give you useful information on how you drive your car, your house or business is run and many more applications.

An example is Amazon’s Alexa that you tell her “Alexa, play the Ace of Spades from Motorhead at maximum volume” and Alexa tells your speaker to play your favourite song at full volume without you having to lift a finger.

Interconnectivity, voice recognition and cloud technologies make these devices look and sound “smart”.

How can gamification and IoT work together

In most cases gamification is used to nudge behaviour change. Let’s say for example you want to start exercising more and get fit. You go and buy a FitBit that can track your workout performance and transmit the data to your phone. Your phone then gives you visual feedback on how well you are doing. You can also compete with your friend on how many miles you run this week and how many calories you burned.

Gamification is nudging you to put exercise in your life and it generally works better if we have some data about the behaviour we are trying to change.

In the beginning you run a mile a day. Then you go up to 2 miles a day and so on and the progress you are making is recorded let’s say for a year. By the end of this year you will have enough data that patterns will emerge and reveal how things really work.

Maybe you never run on a Saturday because Saturday is your lazy day, or you run more every Saturday because you are not tired after work and you got time. The data you gathered will reveal these small insights and patterns that can help you achieve your goal of getting in shape.

Gamification and IoT will also appear a lot in the marketing field. For example, it will be easy for beacons located in a supermarket to send your smart watch the latest discounts on sour cream that you love so much (I love sour cream!).

What about bigger problems?

Inspired by JFDI’s work with IoT that can control devices in buildings like lights, heaters, fans and air condition units, let’s examine how gamification and IOT could help us solve one of humanity’s biggest problems, energy consumption.

Researching for this blog post, I found this very interesting article by Dimopoulos (2017) that says, “Buildings consume more than 40% of Europe’s energy use and are responsible for 36% of EUC02 emissions; for this reason improving the energy performance of e.g. public buildings is a key action in the fight against climate change and improvement of energy security.”

The article is called “IoT-enabled gamification for energy conservation in public buildings” and explores the same idea I have been discussing with JFDI. Putting gamification together with IoT could potentially educate people on how to be more environmentally friendly.

Now remember we said IoT can track your progress? How about tracking how much energy you save? The system can nudge you to take actions that lead to consuming less energy, slowly changing the way you think about energy consumption. Games are great at catching your attention when something needs to be done, like building a new house or a dealing with a new enemy that appears on screen. The same can happen when you forget your garage lights open. Nudging action that saves energy will eventually create energy saving behaviours.

Why not play in teams? A big part of games has to do with humans being social beings. We love working together to achieve a larger goal. Games like Halo and World of Warcraft prove that every day with thousands of players logging in to play with other people.

How about the whole neighbourhood having a common goal to save a certain amount of energy or the total energy consumption to be less than a specific number?

The whole community would be working together to defeat the bad guy and make a change in the environment.

There could even be an energy saver of the month award for the household or business that was most energy friendly. Then we could organise a meetup where the winner of this monthly title would share their insights on how to be more energy friendly with their community.

How about bringing the community of energy savers together on an online forum or a Facebook group?

These are all things that games do very well and we can learn from them.

I believe that games can play a big role in educating people on being more environmentally friendly. We need to design a good gamification system that is being fed the appropriate data These data will be generated from a robust IoT system which is exactly what JFDI are doing at the moment.

Numbers do give us a better perspective on our environmental footprint as citizens and as businesses. I know a lot of businesses strive to be more environmentally friendly so could that be an idea that can help us all?

Let us know your thoughts on this!


  • Atzori, L. Iera A., Morabito, G. (2010). “The Internet of Things: A survey”, Comput Netw. 54 2787–2805
  • Gubbi, J. Buyya, R. Marusic, S. Palaniswamia, M. (2013) “Internet of Things (IoT): A Vision, Architectural Elements, and Future Directions”, Elsevier
  • Huotari, K. & Hamari, J. (2012). ‘Defining gamification: a service marketing perspective’. Proceeding of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference, p. 17-22
  • Papaioannou, T. Kotsopoulos, D. Bardaki, C. Lounis, S. Dimitriou, N. Boultadakis, G. Garbi, A. Schoofs, A. (2017) “IoT-enabled gamification for energy conservation in public buildings”, Global Internet of Things Summit (GIoTS)
  • Zichermann, G. (2011). ‘Gamification has issues, but they aren’t the ones everyone focuses on’. O’Reilly Radar. [online], [accessed 25/9/2016]