Gamification: turn your online business into a fun experience for users

When users need to be encouraged to interact with each other, gamification might be the answer.

Launching an online social platform is not an easy task. Attracting and retaining users is a big challenge, especially if you start your business with limited resources. You need to bootstrap your way to get users on board.

The first challenge is to come up with an acquisition campaign that stands out in the crowd and convinces users to sign up, but by far the most complicated task is to get users to actually interact with each other.

At Sportspal, we first focused on securing steady signup-rates, and then it was time to get our users to interact with each other. But how could we do that? We brainstormed about potential solutions that could help us with that process.

Sportspal is an online social platform based in Maastricht that brings together sports lovers, clubs and associations.  By signing up a new user can find in a few quick steps a sports partner, schedule a sports encounter – for example a tennis game – and choose a location. Once the user is “on board”, she/he is offered the chance to enter a local offline community, where different sports events are organized by the sportspal community.

The concept seems easy enough, but once users have found a couple of sportpals, how do we encourage users to socialize with others and participate in the sportspal community on a regular basis?

We investigated the matter and decided to implement a system called “gamification”. Gamification has been a hype among online businesses since 2010. Even without noticing it, we are surrounded by examples of gamification, from popular Foursquare app to smart public projects such the recycling competition among neighbourhoods organized by the mayor of Milan in Italy.

Gamification, since its conceptualization, gained recognition in the business and academic world, but also received some criticism. On the one hand, gamification is becoming an increasingly popular trend among internet platforms that wish to make a visit to their websites an entertaining user experience. On the other hand, trends may disappear as fast as they pop-up. This means that users may get tired of gamification, making it useless for audience retention.

At Sportspal, we give points for simple actions such as completing the information on the personal profile or initiating a sports game with another user.

Our idea was to reward pro-social behaviour instead of providing incentives solely based on sports skills. By bringing a competitive edge to the platform, we motivate people to compete against each other and to meet always new pals. This way, we aim to build an active sports community and strengthen the offline community.

We collected initial insights about the short-term impact of gamification for Sportspal and found them promising. Now we are looking forward to seeing the long-term impact.To this end we will keep observing our key performance indicators and will inform our users whether this entertaining system helped us to foster users’ loyalty. We can already say that it is a lot of fun and that it is worth the effort.

Are you facing a similar decision in your online business or have you tried to encourage people to interact with each other? We are always open to exchange experiences, so just drop us a line.


By Irene Tordera

Irene Tordera originally comes from Italy and is a co-founder of Sportspal, a student startup company in Maastricht. The Sportspal team is composed of four other students from Germany and Belgium, currently doing a master’s in Entrepreneurship at Maastricht University. You can meet them in person  at the Sportspal soccer tournament on 22 May 2013, for which registration is open via


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