Why Gamification Fails in Education and How to Make It Successful: Introducing Nine Gamification Heuristics Based on Self-Determination Theory

  • Rob van Roy
  • Bieke Zaman


Gamification, a design technique that uses the motivational elements of games in other contexts, is increasingly looked at as a possible solution to the dropping levels of motivation observed in learners. However, previous research has presented mixed results as to the demonstration of whether gamification in education works or not. To better evaluate the potential of gamification, we argue that it is important to first focus on how gamification works. This chapter contributes to this discussion by asking three research questions, starting by specifying “What is gamification?” (Q1), to then revealing “How does gamification work?” (Q2). Looking at gamification from the perspective of self-determination theory, we show that various types of motivation guide people’s behaviour differently and point to the importance of basic psychological need satisfaction. Furthermore, the answers to our first two research questions will explain why adding game elements as external, meaningless regulations is likely to cause detrimental effects on learners’ intrinsic motivation. Finally, by cumulating these theory-informed insights, we address our last research question “How can gamification design be improved?” (Q3) and define nine gamification heuristics that account for (the interplay between) design, context and user characteristics. As such, this chapter forms a guide for researchers, educators, designers and software developers in fostering a promising future generation of gamified systems that resonates our plea for theory-driven design.


Gamification Education Motivation Self-determination theory Basic psychological needs 



We would like to thank Sebastian Deterding, Lisa Lambrechts and the reviewers for their useful feedback and guidance during the preparation of this chapter.


  1. Abramovich, S., Schunn, C., Higashi, R.M.: Are badges useful in education?: it depends upon the type of badge and expertise of learner. Educ. Technol. Res. Dev. 61(2), 217–232 (2013). doi: 10.1007/s11423-013-9289-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Attali, Y., Arieli-Attali, M.: Gamification in assessment: do points affect test performance? Comput. Educ. 83, 57–63 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.12.012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barata, G., Gama, S., Jorge, J., Gonçalves, D.: Engaging Engineering students with gamification. In: 2013 5th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-GAMES), pp. 1–8. Presented at the 2013 5th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-GAMES). (2013). doi:10.1109/VS-GAMES.2013.6624228Google Scholar
  4. Barata, G., Gama, S., Jorge, J., Gonçalves, D.: Gamification for smarter learning: tales from the trenches. Smart Learn. Environ. 2(1), 1–23 (2015). doi: 10.1186/s40561-015-0017-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blohm, I., Leimeister, J.: Gamification – design of IT-based enhancing services for motivational support and behavioral change. Bus. Inf. Syst. Eng. 5(4), 275–278 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buckley, P., Doyle, E.: Gamification and student motivation. Interact. Learn. Environ. 22(6), 1–14 (2014). doi: 10.1080/10494820.2014.964263 Google Scholar
  7. Burguillo, J.C.: Using game theory and Competition-based learning to stimulate student motivation and performance. Comput. Educ. 55(2), 566–575 (2010). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.018 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Busse, V., Walter, C.: Foreign language learning motivation in higher education: A longitudinal study of motivational changes and their causes. Mod. Lang. J. 97(2), 435–456 (2013). doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2013.12004.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cameron, J., Pierce, W.D., Banko, K.M., Gear, A.: Achievement-based rewards and intrinsic motivation: A test of cognitive mediators. J. Educ. Psychol. 97(4), 641–655 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carr, P.B., Walton, G.M.: Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 53, 169–184 (2014). doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.03.015 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cheon, S.H., Reeve, J.: A classroom-based intervention to help teachers decrease students’ amotivation. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 40, 99–111 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.06.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cheon, S.H., Reeve, J., Lee, J., Lee, Y.: Giving and receiving autonomy support in a high-stakes sport context: a field-based experiment during the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 19, 59–69 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2015.02.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Csikszentmihalyi, M.: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row (1990)Google Scholar
  14. Darby, A., Longmire Avital, B., Chenault, J., Haglund, M.: Students’ motivation in academic service-learning over the course of the semester. Coll. Stud. J. 47(1), 185–191 (2013)Google Scholar
  15. de Marcos, L., Domínguez, A., Saenz de Navarrete, J., Pagés, C.: An empirical study comparing gamification and social networking on e-learning. Comput. Educ. 75, 82–91 (2014). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.01.012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. de Marcos, L., Garcia Lopez, E., Garcia-Cabot, A.: On the effectiveness of game-like and social approaches in learning: comparing educational gaming, gamification & social networking. Comput. Educ. 95, 99–113 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2015.12.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. de Meyer, J., Tallir, I.B., Soenens, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Aelterman, N., Van den Berghe, L., et al.: Does observed controlling teaching behavior relate to students’ motivation in physical education? J. Educ. Psychol. 106(2), 541–554 (2014). doi: 10.1037/a0034399 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Sousa Borges, S., Durelli, V.H.S., Reis, H.M., Isotani, S.: A systematic mapping on gamification applied to education. In: Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, pp. 216–222. ACM, New York (2014). doi: 10.1145/2554850.2554956 Google Scholar
  19. Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M.: Handbook of Self-determination Research. University Rochester Press, Rochester (2004)Google Scholar
  20. Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M.: Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Can. Psychol./Psychologie canadienne. 49(1), 14–23 (2008a). doi: 10.1037/0708-5591.49.1.14 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M.: Self-determination theory: a macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Can. Psychol. Psychologie canadienne. 49(3), 182–185 (2008b). doi: 10.1037/a0012801 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M.: Self-determination theory. In: Wright, J.D. (ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, vol. 21, 2nd edn, pp. 486–491. Elsevier, Amsterdam (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Denny, P.: The effect of virtual achievements on student engagement. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 763–772. ACM, New York (2013). doi: 10.1145/2470654.2470763 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Deterding, S.: Eudaimonic design, or: six invitations to rethink gamification. In: Fuchs, M., Fizek, S., Ruffino, P., Schrape, N. (eds.) Rethinking Gamification, pp. 305–323. Meson Press, Lüneburg. (2014)
  25. Deterding, S.: The ambiguity of games: histories and discourses of a gameful world. In: Walz, S.P., Deterding, S. (eds.) The Gameful World. Approaches, Issues, Applications, pp. 23–64. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2015a)Google Scholar
  26. Deterding, S.: The lens of intrinsic skill atoms: a method for gameful design. Hum. Comput. Interact. 30(3–4), 294–335 (2015b). doi: 10.1080/07370024.2014.993471 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., Nacke, L.: From game design elements to gamefulness: defining ‘Gamification’. In: Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, pp. 9–15. Presented at the MindTrek, ACM, New York, NY, USA (2011). doi:10.1145/2181037.2181040Google Scholar
  28. Dicheva, D., Dichev, C., Agre, G., Angelova, G.: Gamification in education: a systematic mapping study. J. Edu. Technol. Soc. 18(3), 75–88 (2015)Google Scholar
  29. Domínguez, A., Saenz de Navarrete, J., de Marcos, L., Fernández-Sanz, L., Pagés, C., Martínez-Herráiz, J.-J.: Gamifying learning experiences: practical implications and outcomes. Comput. Educ. 63, 380–392 (2013). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.12.020 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Filsecker, M., Hickey, D.T.: A multilevel analysis of the effects of external rewards on elementary students’ motivation, engagement and learning in an educational game. Comput. Educ. 75, 136–148 (2014). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.02.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gee, J.P.: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy: Revised and Updated Edition, 2nd edn. Palgrave MacMillan, New York (2008)Google Scholar
  32. Glover, I.: Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners. In: Herrington, J., Couros, A., Irvine, V. (eds.) Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2013, pp. 1999–2008. AACE, Chesapeake (2013)Google Scholar
  33. Gunnell, K.E., Crocker, P.R.E., Wilson, P.M., Mack, D.E., Zumbo, B.D.: Psychological need satisfaction and thwarting: a test of basic psychological needs theory in physical activity contexts. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 14(5), 599–607 (2013). doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.03.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Haerens, L., Aelterman, N., Vansteenkiste, M., Soenens, B., Van Petegem, S.: Do perceived autonomy-supportive and controlling teaching relate to physical education students’ motivational experiences through unique pathways? Distinguishing between the bright and dark side of motivation. Psychol. Sport Exer. 16(Part 3), 26–36 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.08.013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hakulinen, L., Auvinen, T., Korhonen, A.: Empirical study on the effect of achievement badges in TRAKLA2 online learning environment. In: Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE), 2013, pp. 47–54. Presented at the Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE), 2013, Macao, China (2013). doi:10.1109/LaTiCE.2013.34Google Scholar
  36. Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., Sarsa, H.: Does gamification work? – a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In: Proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, pp. 3025–3034. Presented at the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). (2014). doi:10.1109/HICSS.2014.377Google Scholar
  37. Hanus, M.D., Fox, J.: Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: a longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Comput. Educ. 80, 152–161 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.019 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hassenzahl, M., Tractinsky, N.: User experience – a research agenda. Behav. Inform. Technol. 25(2), 91–97 (2006). doi: 10.1080/01449290500330331 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hidi, S.: Revisiting the role of rewards in motivation and learning: implications of neuroscientific research. Educ. Psychol. Rev. 28(1), 61–93 (2015). doi: 10.1007/s10648-015-9307-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Interactive Software Federation of Europe.: GameTrack Quarterly Digests – Fourth Quarter of 2015. (2016). Accessed 15 Apr 2016
  41. Jang, H., Reeve, J., Ryan, R.M., Kim, A.: Can self-determination theory explain what underlies the productive, satisfying learning experiences of collectivistically oriented korean students? J. Educ. Psychol. 101(3), 644–661 (2009). doi: 10.1037/a0014241 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Katz, I., Madjar, N., Harari, A.: Parental support and adolescent motivation for dieting: the self-determination theory perspective. J. Psychol. 149(5), 461–479 (2015). doi: 10.1080/00223980.2014.903890 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Koivisto, J., Hamari, J.: Demographic differences in perceived benefits from gamification. Comput. Hum. Behav. 35, 179–188 (2014). doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kyndt, E., Dochy, F., Struyven, K., Cascallar, E.: The direct and indirect effect of motivation for learning on students’ approaches to learning through the perceptions of workload and task complexity. High. Educ. Res. Dev. 30(2), 135–150 (2011). doi: 10.1080/07294360.2010.501329 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kyndt, E., Coertjens, L., van Daal, T., Donche, V., Gijbels, D., Van Petegem, P.: The development of students’ motivation in the transition from secondary to higher education: a longitudinal study. Learn. Individ. Differ. 39, 114–123 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2015.03.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lee, J., Hammer, J.: Gamification in education: what, how, why bother? Acad. Exch. Q. 15(2), 1–5 (2011)Google Scholar
  47. Lepper, M.R., Corpus, J.H., Iyengar, S.S.: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: age differences and academic correlates. J. Educ. Psychol. 97(2), 184–196 (2005). doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.184 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lepper, M.R., Henderlong, J.: Turning ‘play’ into ‘work’ and ‘work’ into ‘play’: 25 years of research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. In: Harackiewicz, C.S.M. (ed.) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, pp. 257–307. Academic, San Diego (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lepper, M.R., Greene, D., Nisbett, R.E.: Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: a test of the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 28(1), 129–137 (1973). doi: 10.1037/h0035519 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Linehan, C., Kirman, B., Lawson, S., Chan, G.: Practical, appropriate, empirically-validated guidelines for designing educational games. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 1979–1988. ACM, New York (2011). doi: 10.1145/1978942.1979229 Google Scholar
  51. Liu, O.L., Bridgeman, B., Adler, R.M.: Measuring learning outcomes in higher education motivation matters. Educ. Res. 41(9), 352–362 (2012). doi: 10.3102/0013189X12459679 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Malone, T.W.: What Makes things fun to learn? Heuristics for designing instructional computer games. In: Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGSMALL Symposium and the First SIGPC Symposium on Small Systems, pp. 162–169. ACM, New York (1980). doi: 10.1145/800088.802839 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Malone, T.W.: Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cogn. Sci. 5(4), 333–369 (1981). doi: 10.1016/S0364-0213(81)80017-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Malone, T.W.: Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: lessons from computer games. In: Proceedings of the 1982 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 63–68. ACM, New York (1982). doi: 10.1145/800049.801756 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mekler, E.D., Brühlmann, F., Tuch, A.N., Opwis, K.: Towards understanding the effects of individual gamification elements on intrinsic motivation and performance. Comput. Hum. Behav. (in press). doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.08.048
  56. Niemiec, C.P., Ryan, R.M.: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory Res. Edu. 7(2), 133–144 (2009). doi: 10.1177/1477878509104318 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Otis, N., Grouzet, F.M.E., Pelletier, L.G.: Latent motivational change in an academic setting: a 3-year longitudinal study. J. Educ. Psychol. 97(2), 170–183 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pan, Y., Gauvain, M.: The continuity of college students’ autonomous learning motivation and its predictors: a three-year longitudinal study. Learn. Individ. Differ. 22(1), 92–99 (2012). doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2011.11.010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Peng, W., Lin, J.-H., Pfeiffer, K.A., Winn, B.: Need satisfaction supportive game features as motivational determinants: an experimental study of a self-determination theory guided exergame. Z. Med. Psychol. 15(2), 175–196 (2012). doi: 10.1080/15213269.2012.673850 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ramirez, D., Squire, K.: Gamification and learning. In: Walz, S.P., Deterding, S. (eds.) The Gameful World. Approaches, Issues, Applications, pp. 629–652. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2015)Google Scholar
  61. Reeve, J.: Self-determination theory applied to educational settings. In: Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M. (eds.) Handbook of Self-Determination Research, pp. 2–183. University of Rochester Press, Rochester (2004)Google Scholar
  62. Reutskaja, E., Hogarth, R.M.: Satisfaction in choice as a function of the number of alternatives: when ‘goods satiate’. Psychol. Mark. 26(3), 197–203 (2009). doi: 10.1002/mar.20268 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Richards, C., Thompson, C.W., Graham, N.: Beyond designing for motivation: the importance of context in gamification. In: Proceedings of the First ACM SIGCHI Annual Symposium on Computer-human Interaction in Play, pp. 217–226. ACM, New York (2014). doi: 10.1145/2658537.2658683 Google Scholar
  64. Richter, G., Raban, D.R., Rafaeli, S.: Studying gamification: the effect of rewards and incentives on motivation. In: Reiners, T., Wood, L.C. (eds.) Gamification in Education and Business, pp. 21–46. Springer International Publishing, Cham (2015)Google Scholar
  65. Rigby, S., Ryan, R.M.: Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw us in and Hold us Spellbound: How Video Games Draw us in and Hold us Spellbound. ABC-CLIO. (2011)Google Scholar
  66. Rojas, D., Kapralos, B., Dubrowski, A.: The missing piece in the gamification puzzle. In: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Gameful Design, Research, and Applications. Presented at the Gamification 2013, pp. 135–138, ACM, New York. (2013). doi: 10.1145/2583008.2583033
  67. Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L.: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 25(1), 54–67 (2000a). doi: 10.1006/ceps.1999.1020 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L.: The darker and brighter sides of human existence: basic psychological needs as a unifying concept. Psychol. Inq. 11(4), 319–338 (2000b). doi: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_03 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L.: Self-regulation and the problem of human autonomy: does psychology need choice, self-determination, and will? J. Pers. 74(6), 1557–1586 (2006). doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00420.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L.: Promoting self-determined school engagement. Motivation, learning, and well-being. In: Wentzel, K., Wigfield, A., Miele, D. (eds.) Handbook of Motivation at School, pp. 171–196. Routledge, New York (2009)Google Scholar
  71. Ryan, R.M., Kuhl, J., Deci, E.L.: Nature and autonomy: an organizational view of social and neurobiological aspects of self-regulation in behavior and development. Dev. Psychopathol. 9(4), 701–728 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Ryan, R.M., La Guardia, J.G.: What is being optimized?: self-determination theory and basic psychological needs. In: Qualls, S.H., Abeles, N. (eds.) Psychology and the Aging Revolution: How We Adapt to Longer Life, pp. 145–172. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schwartz, B.: The Paradox of Choice. New York, Harper Collins (2009)Google Scholar
  74. Seaborn, K., Fels, D.I.: Gamification in theory and action: a survey. Int. J. Hum. Comput. Stud. 74, 14–31 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.09.006 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Song, H., Kim, J., Tenzek, K.E., Lee, K.M.: The effects of competition and competitiveness upon intrinsic motivation in exergames. Comput. Hum. Behav. 29(4), 1702–1708 (2013). doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.042 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Su, C.-H., Cheng, C.-H.: A mobile gamification learning system for improving the learning motivation and achievements. J. Comput. Assist. Learn. 31(3), 268–286 (2015). doi: 10.1111/jcal.12088 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Su, Y.-L., Reeve, J.: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of intervention programs designed to support autonomy. Educ. Psychol. Rev. 23(1), 159–188 (2010). doi: 10.1007/s10648-010-9142-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Taylor, G., Jungert, T., Mageau, G.A., Schattke, K., Dedic, H., Rosenfield, S., Koestner, R.: A self-determination theory approach to predicting school achievement over time: the unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 39(4), 342–358 (2014). doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.08.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tohidi, H., Jabbari, M.M.: The effects of motivation in education. Proc. Soc. Behavior. Sci. 31, 820–824 (2012). doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.148 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology.: Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World. Washington DC, USA. (2013). Accessed 17 Apr 2016
  81. van Roy, R., Zaman, B.: Moving beyond the effectiveness of gamification. In: Workshop paper presented at CHI 2015 workshop Gamifying Research, Seoul, South Korea (2015)Google Scholar
  82. Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., Deci, E.L.: Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: another look at the quality of academic motivation. Educ. Psychol. 41(1), 19–31 (2006). doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep4101_4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vansteenkiste, M., Sierens, E., Soenens, B., Luyckx, K., Lens, W.: Motivational profiles from a self-determination perspective: the quality of motivation matters. J. Educ. Psychol. 101(3), 671–688 (2009). doi: 10.1037/a0015083 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Weibel, A., Rost, K., Osterloh, M.: Pay for performance in the public sector—benefits and (Hidden) costs. J. Public Adm. Res. Theory. 20(2), 387–412 (2010). doi: 10.1093/jopart/mup009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MintlabKU Leuven – imecLeuvenBelgium

Personalised recommendations