How to increase app retention? Use these 8 proven gamification features!
Mobile app retention is a make-or-break metric for product growth teams. Put simply, retention is the first step in creating loyal customers, and that’s crucial — the top 20% of your customers make up 80% of your revenue. But of course, cutting user churn is easier said than done! Indeed, it requires a holistic user engagement strategy that puts customers at the heart of your product. To achieve this, one of the best-proven tools you can implement is app gamification. So let’s answer the question: how to increase app retention?
- What is mobile app gamification?
- Why app gamification is crucial for user retention
- Rewarding user engagement leads to customer loyalty
- Levels clearly conceptualize user milestones
- Challenges motivate users — win or lose!
- Lotteries are rewarding and unpredictable
- Competition makes winning meaningful
- Leaderboards help build an app that is sticky and social
- Progress bars create an app that’s easier to use
- Badges are not just rewarding, they are a status symbol to slash user churn
What is mobile app gamification?
Gamification is the use of game-like elements like badges, points, and levels in non-game contexts. In short, app gamification leverages the data mined from user behavior to incentivize desired user actions. Essentially, it’s a means of persuasion!
But what makes it so persuading? To start with, gamification is based on behavioral science. Research shows that app gamification taps into the deepest parts of human psychology, and in doing so results in something powerful. Namely, gamification can fulfill innate and complex needs like fun, personal growth, and belonging.
When you realize those inner cravings, you create what is called intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivators make your app naturally satisfying to use, in turn, enticing users to return to your app! Indeed, studies show that while extrinsic motivators — based more on simple, transactional concepts like prizes and hard results — push users through the discovery phase, intrinsic drivers sustain long-term user retention.
Why app gamification is crucial for user retention
It was only recently that mobile apps became so integrated into our daily lives. In 2017, mobile apps grossed an impressive $178 billion globally. In 2025, that figure is predicted to hit a whopping $613 billion — a 71% increase! This growth is affecting every sector:
- Finance is experiencing a 36% decrease in bank branch visits, while at the same time a 121% increase in mobile transactions!
- Fitness app sessions are on the rise, with a 31% jump from 2020 to 2021
- Shared mobility is taking advantage of the power of mobile apps to grow by diversifying its offerings beyond e-hailing services like Lyft
But what is the consequence of all this? Essentially, the old ways of working have been thrown out the window!
Gone are the days of product, marketing, or customer success teams working in silos. Today product-led growth is now the #1 driver of acquisition and retention for mobile apps. Here, the go-to-market strategy relies on your product experience as a way to acquire, activate, and retain users. In fact, 65% of consumers say they would become loyal to brands with a consistently positive user experience!
Given this, mobile apps with the best and most exciting user experiences will dominate today’s user churn success stories — and that’s where app gamification comes in! A gamified app comes with a host of CX benefits, from increases to perceived levels of usefulness, social influence, and enjoyment. To be sure, when you boost these triggers, you unlock a powerful user motivation that makes retention less of a challenge!
Like the sound of that? You too can boost mobile app retention, with these 8 gamification examples.
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Rewarding user engagement leads to customer loyalty
Face it — why should users bother to become loyal customers, if they are treated the same as a new customer? They’ve put in the work, and so should you! This idea is actually called the Lucky Loyalty Effect, which says that loyal customers feel more entitled to prizes and gifts than customers who are not loyal.
To fulfill the expectations of loyal customers, provide the opportunity to earn prizes, perks, and freebies. Try using a tiered reward system, where the value of the reward increases depending on the user’s activity. The results? Less user churn and higher loyalty! Uber’s tiered reward system is a great example, which encouraged 20 million sign-ups in just 6 months!
Levels clearly conceptualize user milestones
Levels are a powerful tool because they are easy to understand. Essentially, rack up points and you will hit important milestones. These milestones represent not just a clear goal and an engaging challenge, but they also indicate progress and social status.
Finally, and useful for product growth teams, levels can be leveraged as timely and relevant reward touchpoints to spur engagement and, in turn, increase mobile app retention. Sustainable e-bike app HumanForest rewards users with on-brand levels like the novice status ‘Bonsai’.
Challenges motivate users — win or lose!
Challenges work because they’re fun. It’s as simple as that! Looking closer, behavioral studies show that challenges are a great way to test user skills, or ‘perceived level of user competence’. This is highly motivating and positively affects ‘sustained use’ for apps.
Moreover, whether users win or lose a challenge doesn’t matter — research demonstrates that both winners and losers crave the feeling of winning!
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Lotteries are rewarding and unpredictable
Lotteries are a great example of unpredictability, a core gamification mechanic. For one, unpredictable elements keep the CX fresh and exciting, giving users a reason to stay. Moreover, not everyone can win a lottery, and this fear of missing out is motivating! Fintech app Revolut has a weekly lottery that rewards users with the most referrals, a clever way to boost retention. Customers will stick around if their friends use the same app!
Competition makes winning meaningful
The research is clear — competitive game mechanics have a significant positive influence on app usage and reuse. So if you want to decrease user churn, competitive elements like challenges and leaderboards can help by not only making the UX more exciting but also giving users opportunities to have meaningful wins they can celebrate. In turn, you can use this as a focal point for rewards.
Competition is especially effective for apps that feature repetitive tasks, like health or financial trackers. When competing, users are more likely to complete their tasks!
Leaderboards help build an app that is sticky and social
Through user competition, leaderboards become a social anchor. On a leaderboard, users are driven by something called ‘upwards social comparison’. In short, that’s being motivated by seeing someone doing better than you! This actually helps form user relationships and fosters a community. As a result, you fulfill the ‘the need to belong’ — which social psychologists describe as an “extremely powerful motivation”.
What’s more, the social attachments that come with an in-app community “produce positive emotions”, which will affect reuse intention, and reduce user churn! Fitness app Fitbit found that their leaderboard gave users a place to connect, and alone led to a 15% increase in daily user engagement!
Progress bars create an app that’s easier to use
Progress bars fill up as a user advances. In tracking the user’s progress, this feature provides a clear and visually stimulating way to give feedback. Users can easily follow their growth, one of the basic psychological needs that leads to intrinsic motivation.
To sum up the effect of a progress bar, it influences the perceived ease of use of your app. By decreasing the ‘cognitive load’, your CX is smoother and less abrasive. To be sure, this is a must-have if you want to increase mobile app retention!
Badges are not just rewarding, they are a status symbol to slash user churn
Badges are prizes given after passing a successful activity. They are both a form of instant feedback and a powerful reward system for loyal users! When users collect badges, they become a sort of status symbol that they can publicly show off.
Completing the collection, and removing those pesky greyed-out achievements, plays on the super motivating constraint mechanic, which says that some features should be locked off for all but the most loyal users. This can be super motivating and give users another reason to keep your app installed.
The tasks that users must complete to earn badges can even align with your business goals. For example, the mobility app Waze awards badges for users who drive out of their way and increase the system’s coverage. Studies show that badges increase user engagement, and in turn, retention.
Get started with app gamification & slash user churn by 23%! Book a gamification workshop & kick-start your app retention strategy.
How to increase mobile app retention?
The answer to how to increase mobile app retention seems simple: create a better experience! Why? Well, the better your experience the higher user engagement will be. In return that will lead to higher retention and finally help you get rid of user churn!
What is mobile app gamification?
Gamification is the use of game-like elements like badges, points, and levels in non-game contexts. In short, app gamification leverages the data mined from user behavior to incentivize desired user actions. Essentially, it’s a means of persuasion! With features like points, you can literally reward user engagement & keep them coming back!
Why is app gamification is crucial for user retention?
Today, 65% of consumers say they would become loyal to brands with a consistently positive user experience. A gamified app is one that focuses on a positive user experience, by making it rewarding, fun, and easy to use.
Why do I need a gamified reward system?
Consumer research shows that customers expect a gamified reward system! This is a concept called the Lucky Loyalty Effect, which says that loyal customers feel more entitled to prizes than customers who are not loyal. Given this, gamified rewards are a must-have.
What gamification features increase mobile app retention?
Competitive features like leaderboards and challenges make your app social, which studies show positive influences on reuse intention. You should also make the customer experience unpredictable with fun mechanics like lotteries and badges — this will keep things fresh and decrease user churn.