The History of Gamification


Gamification may seem like a modern concept, but gamification techniques have been in play for over a century!

The history of gamification illustrates that humans have always wanted to make “boring” tasks more enjoyable—be it for sales reasons or to motivate children.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. A Gamification History Timeline
  3. History of Gamification in Education
  4. CataBoom Can Help You Capitalize on the Future of Gamification

A Gamification History Timeline

When did gamification start? The answer is surprising!

1896: S&H Green Stamps

One of the first versions of a rewards program came in 1896 in the form of Sperry & Hutchinson (S&H) green stamps. When someone bought something from supermarkets, stores, or gas stations, the customer got a certain amount of green stamps. The number of stamps they received depended on how much money they spent.

Sound familiar?

When they filled a book of stamps (also provided by S&H), they could exchange the stamp book for prizes—everything from china and linens to sporting goods and furniture.

1908: The Boy & Girl Scout Movement

In 1908 and 1912, respectively, the Boy and Girl Scouts were founded. Both organizations shared similar goals of helping children learn new skills and improve their communities.

With each skill learned, activity completed, and good deed carried out, a colorful badge was sewn on the scout’s sash for all the world to see.

1973: Charles Coonradt and Game of Work

In 1973, Charles Coonradt established his company Game of Work to understand why people are more motivated when playing sports than at work. He compiled all his findings in The Game of Work in 1984.  

One finding was people try harder in sports because of shared goals they want to accomplish. This led to the workplace trend of setting goals and getting rewards for meeting them.

1981: One of the First Frequent Flier Program Starts/Academics Have Fun

The year 1981 saw two significant events on our gamification timeline for very different reasons. One of the first frequent flier programs was created by American Airlines. (Yes, they’ve been around that long.)

Using the same rewards style we use today, the program encouraged customers to fly with American to gain more points. Once enough are accumulated, a flier could redeem them for a first-class ticket to any destination.

That same year, the academic world realized the value of fun when Thomas W. Malone published Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction. The research paper included a handful of studies involving children learning by play, proving that when learning felt more like play, it achieved better results.

The success of the flier program and this official research paper were the beginning of proving gamification’s legitimacy.

1987: McDonald’s Scratch-off Monopoly

In 1987, McDonald’s started the first gamification marketing campaign that took off. This twist on the classic board game allowed players to instantly win menu items, with grand prizes of holidays, cars, and even 100k cash! What’s important about this campaign is there was gamification deployed every step of the way:

Encouraging people to buy by listing prizes

The act of peeling off the stickers to see the prize

Upsizing meals so a customer can get two stickers instead of one

1999: Fun Gets Legitimized

Let’s skip forward to the end of the century. Stephen W. Draper wrote Analyzing Fun as a Candidate Software Requirement, which details how amusing and motivating a user should be a central focus of all software development.

2002: “Gamification” Is Coined

So, who "invented" gamification? Nick Pelling, a computer programmer, was working on a user interface for different commercial electronic devices when he came up with the term “gamification.” He created the term to describe engaging users through gaming techniques. Some would say gamification was first used in 2002, although the concept has roots dating back over a century.

2005–2010: Gamification Takes Off

In 2005, businesses recognized the need to improve things like website engagement and customer acquisition. With these objectives in mind, gamification platforms started hitting the market and proved that gamification could help businesses influence customer's behavior and amplify promotional results.. Early gamification platforms allowed businesses to start adding interactive games to their website.

In 2010, Nathan Lands created the term “gamify” to serve as a word for when someone makes mundane tasks more fun and engaging using game mechanics.

2013–2023: CataBoom Catapults!

Beginning with a simple idea scratched on a napkin by industry insiders, the CataBoom platform has evolved to become the most powerful and intuitive gamification and rewards engine available. Within three months of its launch, the product was up and running, landing the prize client of NBC in just half a year. Over the past decade, our expert staff has created gamification mechanics for some of the most respected brands in the world. With over 300 million transactions and counting, it is easier than ever in 2023 to create and launch a digital campaign, driving dramatic improvements in engagement and loyalty as a result.

History of Gamification in Education

When did gamification start in education? The integration of gamification in education can be traced back to the early 1980s.

In 1981, Thomas W. Malone’s research paper, Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction, highlighted the benefits of using play and game-like elements in educational settings. His findings showed that when learning felt more like play, students were more engaged and achieved better results. This pivotal research laid the groundwork for incorporating gamification into educational practices, leading to the development of various educational games and platforms that make learning more interactive and enjoyable.

Today, gamification in education includes a wide range of applications, from simple reward systems in classrooms to sophisticated educational software that turns learning into a game-like experience. These techniques have been shown to improve student motivation, enhance engagement, and facilitate better learning outcomes.

CataBoom Can Help You Capitalize on the Future of Gamification

With the rich history of gamification, it's no surprise the gamification market is expected to be worth $25.7 billion by 2025. Now is the time to create gamification techniques to make your business more engaging to consumers.

And CataBoom is the perfect partner to start your gamification journey. With 200+ types of games to choose from in our Catapult platform, there’s one that’s perfect for your unique needs. Create highly engaging experiences by string multiple games together to make a cohesive campaign tailored for your brand and your brand alone.

Contact us today and schedule a demo to learn more!