Gamification or Serious Games?

An Attempt at an Explanation for Non-Specialists.


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What’s the Difference Between Gamification and Serious Games?

Since the term has first been used, there is an ongoing debate about what gamification is and what it isn’t. We think this debate is quite pointless. Because it is rather silly to exclude innovative ideas just because they do not match one’s own perfect definition of gamification.

Gamification, like any other idea, evolves. It becomes more complex and constantly embraces novel approaches. This makes it increasingly confusing for laymen. So here is our approach to distinguish two often confused terms from each other: gamification and serious games.


The following definition of gamification has now prevailed:

Gamification is the use of gaming elements and processes in non-gaming contexts.

Gamification happens when you remove elements and ideas from games and apply them elsewhere. For example, when a progress bar is integrated in a homepage to show how much data is missing to complete a user’s profile. Or when actions are rewarded with points, rankings are created, and other things occur that would not be expected in that context. It’s all about the psychology behind games. It’s about motivating people and getting them to commit to something.

But just by using gamification you don’t create a game. Gamification does not mean making a game out of something that is not a game – for that, a decisive element is lacking: game mechanics. And that is the notable difference between gamification and serious games.

Serious Games

Serious games are games with a goal that reaches beyond pure entertainment. They have all the characteristics of an ordinary game, they look and feel like one, but have a clearly defined purpose, a desired effect, or a message that a game developer wants to convey.

Serious games fall into four categories: educational games, simulations, informative games, and targeted games. Educational games use game mechanics for the player to learn something. Simulations are virtual variants of something real for the player to test or practise in a safe environment. Informative games provide the player with meaningful messages that he or she might not otherwise come across. Targeted games produce real life results.

In specialist circles, there is still a lively debate about the exact distinction between gamification and serious games. Many even think that both terms are too broad to allow an exact definition. But what can be said is that gamification and serious games use different strategies and have different uses.

Read more on our poster about serious Games vs Gamification!

Gamification vs. Serious Games EN Blog


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Sascha Schmidt