Building a Reward System in Mobile Apps: Best Practices for Gamification
Mobile Marketing

Building a Reward System in Mobile Apps: Best Practices for Gamification

Building a Reward System in Mobile Apps: Best Practices for Gamification
Mark Polskii
Author @ InAppStory

Have you ever found yourself glued to your phone, diligently completing tasks in a mobile app? This captivating experience might be due to the power of gamification. Gamification is the art of incorporating game-like elements into non-game applications. By using points, badges, leaderboards, and other engaging features, apps can transform mundane activities into a fun and rewarding experience.


One of the key ingredients to successful gamification is a well-designed reward system. A well-crafted system motivates users, keeps them engaged, and ultimately helps them achieve your app's goals. This article will delve into the best practices for building a reward system that supercharges your mobile app's gamification strategy.


Setting Goals and Understanding Your Users


Before diving headfirst into designing a reward system, it's crucial to take a step back and establish a clear direction. Here's why:


Goal Setting with SMART: Gamification thrives on purpose. Define clear goals for your reward system using the SMART framework. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals ensure your system effectively drives the desired user behavior. Do you want to increase daily app usage? Boost completion rates for a specific task? Attract new users? Identifying your goals will guide the design of your reward program.


Understanding Your Users: A one-size-fits-all approach won't cut it. Understanding your target audience is paramount. What motivates them? What in-app activities are they most likely to engage with? Consider conducting user research through surveys or focus groups to gain valuable insights. By tailoring your reward system to their preferences, you'll create a more engaging experience that resonates with them.


Popular Reward System Mechanics




Now that you have your goals set and your users in mind, let's explore the building blocks of a compelling reward system:




The cornerstone of many reward systems, points offer a simple and universally understood way to track progress. Users earn points for completing tasks within the app, such as finishing a workout or logging daily entries. The value of points needs careful consideration. Awarding too few points can feel discouraging, while showering users with points can cheapen their value. Strike a balance to keep users motivated and working towards their reward goals.




Badges are digital trophies that users can collect for achieving specific milestones or demonstrating mastery of a particular skill. There are different types of badges to consider:

  • Progress Badges: Mark milestones along the user's journey, like completing a level or reaching a point threshold.
  • Mastery Badges: Recognize exceptional performance or in-depth knowledge acquisition.
  • Challenge Badges: Reward users for completing difficult tasks or overcoming obstacles.


Badges not only provide a sense of accomplishment but can also act as status symbols within the app, fostering a sense of community and friendly competition.




For those with a competitive spirit, leaderboards offer a thrilling way to compare progress against others. Users can see their ranking based on points earned, tasks completed, or other relevant metrics. This fosters a sense of healthy competition, motivating users to push themselves further to climb the ranks.


Considerations for Leaderboards

  • Fair Competition: Ensure a level playing field by segmenting leaderboards based on relevant factors like user experience level.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Highlight top performers while acknowledging the progress of others to maintain a positive atmosphere.
  • Visibility and Frequency: Strategically place leaderboards where users can easily see them, but avoid overwhelming them with constant comparisons.




Levels provide a clear sense of progression within the app. As users complete tasks and earn points, they unlock new levels. Each level can offer increased challenges, new features, and of course, more rewards. The concept of levels taps into our inherent desire for growth and accomplishment, motivating users to keep engaging with the app to reach the next level.


Virtual Goods & Unlockables


Take your reward system beyond points and badges with virtual goods and unlockables. These digital items exist solely within the app and can enhance the user experience in several ways:

  • Customization: Virtual goods can allow users to personalize their app experience. Imagine earning cool avatars, unique outfits, or themed backgrounds. This fosters a sense of ownership and individuality within the app.
  • Progression and Utility: Unlockables can introduce new features or functionalities as users progress. For example, a language learning app might unlock new conversation topics or games at higher levels. This keeps the experience fresh and motivates users to keep learning.
  • Status Symbols: Certain virtual goods can act as status symbols within the app. Earning rare or exclusive items showcases a user's dedication and achievement, adding a layer of social validation to the reward system.


Examples of Virtual Goods & Unlockables:

  • Gaming Apps: New characters, weapons, or power-ups
  • Productivity Apps: Themes, stickers, or custom backgrounds
  • Fitness Apps: New workout routines, virtual clothing for avatars, or early access to features


By offering a variety of virtual goods and unlockables, you can cater to different user preferences and create a more engaging and rewarding experience for everyone.


Examples of Successful Mobile App Reward Systems




Let's see how some popular apps leverage reward systems to keep users engaged:


  • Starbucks: The Starbucks Rewards program is a masterclass in gamification. Users collect "stars" for purchases, unlocking free drinks and food items at specific milestones. The program also offers tiered membership with increasing benefits, motivating users to spend more and climb the loyalty ladder.
  • Nike Run Club: This fitness app uses a points system to motivate users to stay active. Users earn points for completing runs, joining challenges, and hitting personal bests. These points can be redeemed for virtual rewards like trophies and badges, or even exclusive discounts on Nike products. The app also features a robust social leaderboard, allowing users to compete with friends for bragging rights and extra motivation.
  • Khan Academy: This educational app understands that learning can be fun. Students earn points and badges for completing lessons and mastering concepts. Streaks incentivize consistent learning, and a mastery meter provides a visual representation of progress. Khan Academy also incorporates leaderboards to foster friendly competition and encourage students to keep learning.


By understanding how successful apps like Starbucks, Nike Run Club, and Khan Academy utilize reward systems, you can gain valuable insights to design a program that propels your own mobile app to new heights.




A well-designed reward system is the engine that drives a successful gamification strategy. By setting clear goals, understanding your users, and implementing the right mechanics, you can create a compelling experience that motivates users, boosts engagement, and ultimately helps you achieve your app's objectives. Remember, the key is to find the right balance between challenge and reward, keeping users engaged and progressing towards their goals. Don't be afraid to test and iterate your reward system – constantly gather user feedback and adapt your program to maximize its impact. By following these best practices, you can transform your mobile app into a captivating and rewarding experience that keeps users coming back for more.