Using videogames & gamification to promote pro-environmental behaviour in consumers

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The number of gamers worldwide will reach 3 billion by 2023, according to Newzoo. With this spectacular growth in the gaming audience, it is important to point out that the gamer demographic is extremely diverse. The average gamer is 34 years old and 45% of gamers in the US are women (source: ESA).

An increased focus and interest in the climate crisis and initiatives, such as the UN Environmental Programme Playing4theplanet, has led to an increase in green video games, these have an environmental focus on the gameplay and promotes awareness, knowledge and pro-environmental actions. Some examples of successful environmental games are: Alba, Eco and Civilization VI. The question is now how brands can use gaming techniques from the gaming industry, to encourage and engage consumers in pro-environmental behaviour in other industries.


Gamification is the application of game elements in non-game frameworks to achieve certain results and promote desired behaviors. It uses competition, actions, rewards, leaderboards and points. The benefits are a fun, engaging, social and educational experience for the consumer. It is used in all industries with famous brands such as Duolingo (making learning languages fun with points and social interaction), Fitbit (competing with the users network to reach fitness goals) and Tripadvisor (increasingly difficult to collect awards over time).

Some successful pro-environmental app examples are JouleBug (share eco-positive actions with friends, earn points and badges) and Reduce Your Juice (teaching residents behavioural change to save in energy use). The Chinese company Alipay has developed Ant Forest, an app where users collect “green energy” for pro-environmental behaviour and activities. The energy is exchanged for virtual saplings which are planted in the real world, more than 200 million saplings have been planted so far.

The risk with gamified apps is that if not done correctly they can be very boring and consumers will not be motivated to come back.

Motivation & Behaviour Change

In order for a gamification campaign to work it has to appeal to the consumers’ extrinsic motivation for rewards and incentives. The problem with extrinsic motivation is that it does not normally support goals that require long-term behaviour based change.  Intrinsic motivation is linked to long-term success, and gamification theory is grounded in the self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). We do things because of the internal pleasure it gives us, and games tap into fundamental psychological needs. Self-determination theory explains how individuals become motivated and engaged in an activity, creating the need to become better at it. Gamified motivation results from three needs:

  • Competence – knowing how to achieve your goal and continously progress, the more competent you feel the more likely you are to pursue goals in the long run
  • Autonomy – independence and self-efficiacy, you need to have a certain level of control and be able to decide what to do next.
  • Relatedness – feeling of importance and connectedness to others, the need to connect with others, receive feedback and be part of a social community

To change consumer behaviour a gamification element is not enough. The company needs to understand what the consumer actually wants and how it aligns with the business environmental goals. Brands need to ask questions such as: Where and how do the consumers engage with the brand? What are they looking for? What makes them engage? What kind of actions are they willing to take?


It is important to see gamification as part of a company strategy and set clear goals. For gamification to be effective and authentic it must be based on consumer data and analysis, this is crucial in order to understand the real motivations of the target audience. The right element of gamification will help brands engage with consumers and to create a more fun and interactive experience and encourage positive behavioural change. 

About the Author

Malin Wagner Malin Wagner
Malin is an experienced market researcher with a focus on sustainability, environmental issues and consumer behaviour. She has expertise in gamification, games & app development as a tool to create sustainability awareness and behavioural change. Circular Economy & Sustainability Strategies graduate at University of Cambridge.
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