Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

yukai chou gamification

The 10 best social products that use Gamification to literally save the world (2024)

Click here to view our full list of Gamification examples.

As a Gamification Pioneer, one of the most common responses I get when I tell people about Gamification is some version of, “Interesting. But how can something like video games really create value in real-world important things?” In other words, “I’m going to be polite to you, but I think this is a gimmicky fad that has no impact.”

Instead of trying to convince people with the same arguments over and over again, I’m going to settle this issue here once and for all – Gamification not only has real-life value and impact, but it even saves lives and could ensure our future as a race!

Earlier I wrote about Old Spice’s Genius Gamification Marketing Campaign DIKEMBE MUTOMBO’S 4 1/2 WEEKS TO SAVE THE WORLD. While I think it is brilliant and does a lot of things well, I can assure you that it does NOT really save the world, outside of making more men smell like an adventure and bake gourmet cakes with the kitchens they made with their own hands.

But the 10 Examples below will blow your mind away and show you why Good Gamification, or “Human-Focused Design” (as opposed to Function-Focused Design”), undeniably has a role in “adding more lives” to our future.

Many thanks for the help of 周唯中 for making the work below possible.

Gamification Example 1: Puzzle Game FoldIt made breakthrough in AIDS Research that Scientists couldn’t solve


By 2009, AIDS had already killed 30 Million people, or close to the equivalent of the State of California. As of 2010, there are still 34 Million people who have contracted HIV. For 15 years, many of the top PhD Scientists in the world were trying to decipher a crystal structure for one of the AIDS-causing viruses called the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), but could not solve it.

Luckily, the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science (yes, such a center exists) collaborated with the Biochemistry department and created FoldIt, an online puzzle video game about protein folding. Foldit utilizes a game-like puzzle interface that allows people from all over the world to “play” and compete in figuring out various protein structures that fit a researcher’s criteria.

To everyone’s surprise, with over 240,000 “players” registering for the game and competing viciously against each other, a solution to the structure of the M-PMV was found in 10 days, creating a major breakthrough in the AIDS research field. 15 Years vs. 10 Days? I would say for this alone Gamification added extremely concrete value to the world and could one day save a loved one.

Gamification Example 2: RPG Diary Game Pain Squad helps Patients Combat Cancer by providing both Purpose and Data


Along the lines of FoldIt, Pain Squad is a “mobile game” designed to help kids fight cancer better by providing the patients with purpose and the researchers with data. In 2007, cancer was the cause of 13% of all human deaths (or 7.9M people). Fighting cancer is not only painful, it can be lonely and full of despair. To better treat children patients, doctors need patients to keep a “pain journal” every day to see what is working and what is not.

However, kids are generally too tired to keep a journal and only record data occasionally, which makes the data completely useless. Toronto-based company Cundari created a role-playing cop game with missions and rewards, as well as police encouragement videos to motivate these children to log their pains twice a day for 2 weeks.

It turns out, that this game not only provided doctors with all the data they needed for better research and care, but it made children excited and fought their pains with a purpose. They now are not simply victims of cancer but detectives that is baring some pain to help humanity defeat cancer once and for all!

Pain Squad was a massive success in a few hospitals in Canada and is going through more test cases in a lot more hospitals in 2013.

Gamification Example 3: Zamzee makes Kids active by running around Epic


Studies show that the activity rate for children between 9-15 has decreased by 60%, leading to obesity, diabetes, or even worse diseases. I introduced Zamzee in an earlier blog post, along with an Octalysis analysis, but basically, Zamzee is a device that clips onto kids and tracks their activities when they run around – somewhat like the Nike+ FuelBand but cheaper for kids and has missions that are designed to get kids excited.

Kids can upload their activity data onto a website and see how many points they received and whether they have accomplished interesting challenges as well as earned badges. Amazingly, Zamzee has concrete data to show that the activity rate of children increased by 59%, a very sizeable increase that will help encourage kids to go to the gym more when they grow up.

Gamification Example 4: Khan Academy makes people fall in love with learning through Gamified Online Education

When you ask kids these days, “What is work?” They will say, “School.” If you ask them “What is play?” they will often say, “Video games!” I believe humans have an innate DESIRE to learn, but for some reason, current school systems do not motivate children to learn the way they’re supposed to. What makes matters worse is that many schools are getting their budgets cut, with teachers being laid off and children not getting properly educated.

In comes Khan Academy. What used to just be a guy teaching math on YouTube became a huge collection of over 3000 educational videos on math, physics, chemistry, finance, and a lot more, with millions of people learning from it. Khan Academy utilizes lots of game mechanics such as “skill-growth trees” to unlock new classes and learn new skills. Many have said that they couldn’t imagine themselves ever enjoying or being good at math, but now their world has changed, thanks to some great teaching skills by Khan, and a little bit of Gamification.

Gamification Example 5: CrowdRise turns Charitable donations into a Game


The Founder of once said, “The biggest competitor to Kiva is Zynga.” When people are occupying their minds with games, they are less concerned about helping the world through philanthropy. This is why an aspiring entrepreneur named Edward Norton, along with some other friends started CrowdRise together.

CrowdRise is a platform that gamifies charity. People create their pages and profiles, and they can accumulate points and match up against others on a leaderboard based on how much they can fundraise.

Of course, they don’t use very advanced Gamification techniques and simply stick to basic PBL (points, badges + leaderboards), but with some Epic Meaning & Calling on top of some celebrity power, CrowdRise managed to attract over 33M players and have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for non-profits worldwide.

Gamification Example 6: SuperBetter makes you Recover from Setbacks and Supercharges your Life.


This is a website created by game designer and known speaker Jane McGonigal. This site is unique because Jane herself once got into a brain concussion (hate those concussive shells!) and doctors were not very optimistic about her conditions. To her credit, Jane used her game design skills to create the first version of SuperBetter, a site to help people accomplish their goals by building physical, intellectual, emotional, and social resilience.

Through the process of forming alliances, using power packs, and defeating bad guys, she recovered from her illness and is now spreading the healing power of games to everyone who needs it.

The site is generally well-designed, but it has some Ocean Paralysis towards the end of Onboarding. Of course, when you are curing people from a life-changing illness or setback, that hardly is an obstacle.

Gamification Example 7: OPower makes people responsible for their energy consumption

Energy is a serious issue in the world. It powers a nation’s efficiency in producing and transport, but also leads to war in some cases. OPower works to solve these problems by utilizing gamification to encourage people to use less energy. OPower works with utility companies to provide households with data on how much energy they are consuming, how they match up with neighbors, and if they are close to any new milestones.

Compellingly, people are consuming on average 2% less energy, which in 2012 led to over 1 Terawatt of energy savings in the world. This equates to $120,000,000 in utility bill savings, and decreased pollution equivalent of keeping 100,000 cars off the road.

Gamification Example 8: RecycleBank saves the environment by rewarding points that can be redeemed for goods


Perhaps not obvious to many, but there’s also a serious trash problem in the world. 195 Million Tons of Trash are tossed out by Americans alone each year. The trash needs to go somewhere, and they generally go into landfills. The problem is, that many products can take 100-400 years to decompose, and we are slowly running out of landfill space. In 1988, there were about 4,000 landfills in the United States. Just 10 years later, in 1998, we only had 2,514 landfills left. In 2010, we dropped to 1,908. Starting to sense a problem here?

RecycleBank was created to encourage people to recycle more and reduce landfill trash by awarding points for recycling, saving energy, and answering sustainability quizzes and pledges. Points are redeemable for actual goods at WalMart, BestBuy, and more places, as the city government pays RecycleBank for reducing landfill waste. The project is backed by Al Gore and how won numerous awards in innovation, sustainability, and business. It now has 3 Million members and over 180 employees pushing the recycling envelope further.

Gamification Example 9: m.Paani aims to solve the clean-water problem in third-world nations through an innovative loyalty program


In many third-world countries, many people lack clean drinkable water, while others walk over 4 hours every day to get clean water for the villages. A billion people in this world (that’s 1/7th of the world) do not have access to clean water, with 2.2M of them dying every year due to water-related diseases.

The crazy thing is, that people in these third-world countries own mobile phones. More people own mobile phones than toilets. m.Paani implements a very innovative loyalty program, whereby purchasing mobile credits from sponsoring companies, individuals earn points towards sanitization products or water-related infrastructure for the entire village.

Gamification Example 10: FreeRice Feeds the Hungry by Quizzing the Intellect


Along the lines of solving the water problem is solving world hunger. Every year, 15 Million children die from starvation, while another billion people have less than $1 a day to buy food. Almost 50% of the human population live on less than $2 a day.

Similar to what was said about Kiva, people are spending their time playing games instead of helping the poor, so FreeRice created a quiz game where each time you answered a question correctly, FreeRice will buy 10 grains of rice, which are paid for by the sponsors of the site. Now here’s a win-win, the user improves his/her education by answering these questions, hungry people get fed, and sponsors get their promotional bang for the buck.

The site was later donated to the United Nations World Food Programme. To date, FreeRice has donated 6100 metric TONS of rice, consisting of 93 billion grains of rice and enough to feed 10 million people.

With so many Gamification examples, this is too legit to quit

It’s hard to argue against these examples being extremely positive for our society and well-being. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of new examples are being created every month. Gamified products that help with fitness, getting out of debt, doing chores, cleaning up the environment, you name it.

What we’re seeing here is a complete shift from things we “should do” to things we “want to do.” But instead of shifting the tasks, we simply make what we should do fun.

Imagine a world where kids can save lives, get healthier, bond with family, and even make a living by playing World of Warcraft. My vision for Gamification is a future where no one really works, but everyone plays and contributes to a happier and more productive society.

Let’s hope this is not just a fad.

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74 responses to “The 10 best social products that use Gamification to literally save the world (2024)”

  1. Greetings from Shanghai!  Just found this post as I was researching the relationship between Khan Academy and gamification.  Great examples here of how gamified strategies can literally make the world a better place, Yu-kai!  Will share it on our LinkedIn Group – Gamification Network China! 

    Fad or no fad, I’m all in on the gamification movement!

    Thanks and look forward to the release of your new book.


  2. The best example, FreeRice Feeds the Hungry by Quizzing the Intellect is Alone the lines of solving the water problem is solving world hunger.-

  3. I’m so thrilled I found this post – great notes on some deeply inspiring examples of gamification. Thank you for sharing 🙂 And I’m totally with you, looking forward to the day when working is truly playing.

  4. Great examples, Yu-kai! Gamification is a powerful concept and it’s nice to see it be used for social good. One of my favorite examples is “The Speed Camera Lottery,” where drivers were randomly rewarded for safe driving habits.

  5. 7_dials Zappos adds a lot of Core Drives into their entire experience of dealing with “people” which is mixed into both customers and employees.
    If you are looking for things that are more structured, then it’s usually stuff that involves customer feedback (thumbs up and down, rating) for employees, like customer service that is attached to a score customers give out, or the Target example where they are pretty much playing a kind of gun-game and processing everything faster (though need to be careful about losing qualitative stuff…such as human touch with customers).

    A mentorship type of gamified system would actually be a huge win for both employees and customers…or perhaps crowdsourcing employee work with customers together etc.
    More often than not, most gamified solutions have 1 motivation goal in mind though, or at least it’s something like buyers vs sellers, which is a asymmetrical game.
    There’s a TON of great discussions happening here btw:

  6. Yu-kai Chou 7_dials  I thought Zappos only created a gamified employment culture, and the customers followed because they wanted to be part of it. 

    Did Zappos also create a gamified experience for customers (not employees)? Thanks for your help – this helps understand the topic a great deal. 

    On related note, what’s your all time favourite gamification failure?

  7. Hi Yu-kai, great post and great examples. 

    I am looking for examples of firms that have done a two-sided gamification, where they change the experiences of employees and customers at the same time. 

    I can only think of American Idol (where singers sign an employment contract before they go on stage), and where audience members (consumers of the experience and buyers of the music) are more deeply engaged in the talent search through voting etc. 

    Can you think of other two-sided examples? Thanks so much. 

  8. regarding the Pain Squad game: we see that gamification is suitable not only for adults but also for children. what is the minimum age limit. i mean, gamification works because of human behavior patterns. are those patterns also true for 2 years old or 6?

  9. Hi Yukai,
    Your example of Khan Academy is very similar to Wheeldo, a company that allows businesses to create social games in minutes. This is very useful when training employees! Want to learn more about Wheeldo? Check out

  10. What a great collection; my nonprofit Net Impact is working on something similar. Our Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge just launched it’s second semester – last semester, we had thousand of college students competing to take as many small social and environmental steps as they could to rack up points and prizes, all while contributing to CO2 reduction, materials recycling, volunteering, and more. It’s been really interesting to see what the students respond to: in many cases it appears that while the gasification techniques keep them engaged, it’s the desire to make a genuine positive social and environmental change that gets them motivated in the first place.
    We’re still working hard to improve the system and understand what resonates most with our students to create the greatest impact, but having worked with some of these other organizations you’ve listed above (m.Paani and RecycleBank), we’re really excited by the possibilities! Thanks for focusing on this.

  11. madoui20032003 Haha, just look at any offline standalone game, and you’ll get better ideas 😉 (And obviously look into my Octalysis Framework)

  12. As a developper how to use Gamifcation with small business offline standalone applications ( user log in and complete a speciefied task)?

  13. Hi Yukai, Thanks for sharing this. I’m absolutely fascinated about the possibilities & reach that game elements & game design techniques have to change our lives & save the world. 
    I started with Gamification almost 3 months ago, but since then everything I’ve read or researched have made a lot sense & as you expressed it: Gamification: too legit to quit.
    We are starting a, Australia with a friend who is working on a Gamification thesis for his Phd. It will be great one of these days to have you as a speaker, or meet next year in the GSUMMIT.. All the best.. & +10pts – (1pt for every example worth sharing).. Good job

    • jdlf01 Thanks for the response! I’m glad that there are more activities in gamification worldwide! Marigo is one of the top experts in gamification in the world, and in Australia – have you met her before? (I can make a connection as I work with her). Also, OzSilverfox below wrote a comment I think it is meant for you: “If you happen to live in Brisbane, it will be great to have you onboard for our next meetup and chat about the pains, experience and ideas you’ve tried so far. Cheers”

      • Yu-kai Chou jdlf01  Thanks Yu-kai, 
        Absolutely interested in connecting with Marigo.. that will be awesome (I’ll send her a linked in request commenting our conversation here)! 
        Apart from the meetup, in the next few weeks I’ll be introducing Gamification to the IT Consultancy I’m working for; I’m really exited about & have prepared some few ideas to get us starting with. I’ll be definitely tapping on your Octalysis framework & the rest of the knowledge here.. Thanks again for your quick response.
        PS: I wrote the message below inviting OzSilverfox to our meetup 🙂 but thanks for bringing that up.

  14. Hello! Nice compilation here! =)
    We have a startup in Brazil exploring gamification (or whatever) area. We encountered some difficult in explain the concept and find some early adopters to help us to grow the market. For now we’re just spreading the country about it with our blog and some speeches.
    Would be nice to hear an opinion from outside (from you or your readers)… We know, soon or later, gamification will be everywhere, but how can we accelerate this?

    • Marcel Leal Thanks for the comment! I think it’s just like what you are doing – talking about it a lot, and giving great examples that drive actual ROI numbers, as well as inspires people.

  15. BrentonGieserHey Brenton,Thanks for the comment! Whether gamification can engage ongoing behavior depends on how good the design is. Many of these sites above have been around for years (5-10 years for some), and they continue to create a lot of good for people and change behaviors. Of course, some like the Pain Squad is only used for a few weeks to collect data at each place

  16. Gamification in Australia is slowly being acceptable but by using the term Digital Motivation its have people trying to find out all about gamification

    • ozsilverfox That’s great! Next year I’m doing a speech in the GSUMMIT in Australia. Maybe I can meet you there?

    • ozsilverfox If you happen to live in Brisbane, it will be great to have you onboard for our next meetup and chat about the pains, experience and ideas you’ve tried so far. Cheers

  17. There is this one here:
    Gamification by Kevin Werbach
    is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques
    to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges.
    This course will teach you the mechanisms of gamification, why it has
    such tremendous potential, and how to use it effectively.

    • DanielHolmes Kevin Werbach has a great course. It spreads the net very wide so you will have a good understanding of the gamification landscape. Some people have noted that learning about the gamification framework Octalysis ( is more actionable into their own projects.

  18. SBansal Hello SBansal,
    The point here is focused on gamification “concepts” that “will” (future tense, of course possibly exaggerated in terms of confidence) change the world. It doesn’t need to have the best track record today to one day change the world.

  19. Question for the group: My son is interested in studying gamification (Junior in HS) as part of his curriculum as he enters university.  Does anyone know of any universities that are going deep on this on the West Coast?  Appreciate it.

    • Hello Chris,

      There aren’t a lot of universities that teach about gamification, as the academic world is often a bit behind on the latest technologies that don’t have real text books yet. However, I know Stanford and UPenn have good chances of a professor knowing the stuff. Also, all kinds of psychological studies are fine too, as well as game design specializations like USC.

    • Chris MeyerHello Chris,
      There aren’t a lot of universities that teach about gamification, as the academic world is often a bit behind on the latest technologies that don’t have real text books yet. However, I know Stanford and UPenn have good chances of a professor knowing the stuff. Also, all kinds of psychological studies are fine too, as well as game design specializations like USC.

    • Chris Meyer 

      He could follow an course Gamfication on Coursera. The university of Pennsylvania is offering a free course (including a certificate of accomplishiment). The course is already started but you still join.

  20. I blog often and I genuinely appreciate your information. This article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your website and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.

  21. It is interesting that you have included unproven model like m.Paani in your top 10 list. While all other examples have a proven track record, m.Paani has yet to prove a model even at a small scale. It is true that they have won few BizPlan competitions and have had some PR, but I would encourage you to please find out any metrics of their success. They are still in very early Pilot Phase and I could not find out anything about what they have done (not even in their websites, news articles, press releases etc).
    In my opinion they do not deserve this mention among proven models because they still have to prove their impact. Considering the space in which they operate, they might not be able to even prove whether their model works.

  22. Hey Brenton,Thanks for the comment! Whether gamification can engage ongoing behavior depends on how good the design is. Many of these sites above have been around for years (5-10 years for some), and they continue to create a lot of good for people and change behaviors. Of course, some like the Pain Squad is only used for a few weeks to collect data at each place.

  23. Brilliant job chronicling fantastic examples of gamification for social good.  Do you think gamfication can be a catalyst that helps create conscious action takers on an ongoing basis?  Do you find in some of these cases that the actions being taken are transactional and not performed with the proper intent that can create sustainable change?

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