The Science of Gamification
Gamification works because we have a constant need to compare ourselves with others. We have a need to be higher on the list, no matter what that list is.
In a deceivingly simple study, researchers wanted to find out how salary affects a person's happiness. They quickly found out that higher income does not necessarily equate to more happiness.
In fact, a person's salary is not the deciding factor on its own, at all. As social animals, we humans love to compare ourselves with the salary of others. We want to make more money than our peers, more than we want to make money on our own.
The research found that people would prefer to make less money absolutely, if it means they can have a larger gap of income compare with their co-workers.
This is true in all fields where people are compared to each other based on a set of rules. It doesn't much matter what the rules are. Who'e the best singer, who has better gear in a game, or who's grass is greener, it's all the same.
Once we accept a set of social rules, our first step is to look left and right in search of comparison. We place ourselves in the ranking, and then work tirelessly to scale up.
So if your website has a social element to it, why not add some indication of rank to your user's profile image. This way, everyone can see who engages more, helps more, pays more, and so on.
In a fitness app, users can be compared by the amount of effort they put into their workout. Placing those who workout once a week, against those who do a little more. Soon, users will be pushing themselves harder to reach a higher place in the ranking, and engaging more with your product as they do.
Here's a short video that explains it perfectly: