Another Way of Rewarding the Crowd: Gamification

Written by Enrique Estelles

Mar 29, 2014

Badges used in gamification

Relationship between crowdsourcing and gamification

One of the key elements in a crowdsourcing initiative of any kind is the motivation of the crowd. It’s true that the crowdsourcing initiative will need a large enough crowd, that a clearly defined task must be defined, etc. but if there isn’t a clear motivation factor that leads people to do the proposed task, everything will be in vain.

Normally, the use of rewards tries to generate that motivation factor. Money is usually one of the most used rewards, but discounts and other prizes can also apply. But, what happens when a company does not have enough resources to offer (great or not so great) rewards? What if the monetary amount that rewards the completion of the task is very low? (as can be seen in many tasks of Amazon Mechanical Turk)

In these cases, a good solution could be the use the gamification… only if the task to be done fits the gamification requirements and viceversa. As with crowdsourcing, there will be cases in which gamification won’t be possible or convenient to be applied.

Gamification consists in the use of gaming elements within tasks. The goal is to make these tasks more attractive, more fun, more engaging. Some of these elements may be the use of badges (like in FourSquare), the use of leaderboards, the use of points, the sense of progress (increasing the difficulty, going to “next level” …), etc..

Thus, gamification integrates with crowdsourcing through its capability of rewarding in a subjective way the realization of a task.

Ways of applying gamification in crowdsourcing

When using the Gamification in a crowdsourcing initiative, it can be applied in an implicit or in an explicit way.

Screenshot of the game "Play to Cure: Genes in Space"

Screenshot of the game “Play to Cure: Genes in Space”

An example of explicit application of gamification in a crowdsourcing initiative is the game entitled “Play to Cure: Genes In Space“. This would be an extreme case of gamification, that would belong to what is known as GWAP (Game With A pourpose). It is a mobile game (iOS and Android), developed from the Cancer Research Center of UK. It’s a real game, with its graphics, its points system, challenges, etc.. in which users should control a spaceship and follow a path while dodging asteroids and other space obstacles.

The crowd is invited to play this game, that’s the task. What happens is that when performing this task, a series of data are generated. The crosslinking of all this data allows scientists to analyze thousands of genetic information in a much faster way.

The reward for the crowd in this case is to have fun playing a game, to be better that other players (competition), etc. It is a subjective reward, since not everyone would consider the game funny, neither everyone will be interested in compete with other people.

However, gamification can be applied in a more implicitly way using some game elements within tasks. Some examples.  In the now discontinued ESP game, thanks to competition, people are motivated to tag images. In the citizen platform Ziudad, using a leaderboard, people are encouraged to report urban problems in their cities. In the mobile app TrashOut, by delivering badges, they try to motivate the crowd to denounce the location of illegal dumping. Also by using points and badges, the Old Weather Project, developed in the crowdsourcing platform Zooinverse, encourages the crowd to retrieve weather data from the Arctic and the world by transcribing ships’ logs.

In these cases the competition, recognition by other “players” from the crowd, getting a higher “status” in the platform, etc.. work as rewards.


The use of gamification in a crowdsourcing initiative, independiemtente of the form it takes, can be very effective. However, it requires careful planning. It’s not enough to apply game elements and it’s done. In fact, by doing so you can get just the opposite motivational effect.

About Author

About Author

Enrique Estelles

Dr. Enrique Estellés-Arolas is a researcher focused in all the issues that involves Crowdsourcing. His PhD research at the Technical University of Valencia (Spain) was about the relationship between crowdsourcing an collective intelligence. He has published different papers in international journals, being the one about the crowdsourcing definition the most cited (118 times in less than 2 years). All the relevant information about crowdsourcing that he finds is blogged at . Apart of researching about crowdsourcing, Enrique loves to take care of and play with his little crowd (5 children) and read.

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