You WON! How Rewards Affect Intrinsic Motivation and Self-brand Connections in Gamified Marketing Implementations.

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Gamification is a global phenomenon that has garnered much excitement across industry and academia. Powered in part by digital technology and online games, it has sparked a rapid fusing of utilitarian and hedonic systems prompting businesses to adopt, experiment with, and commit to gamified applications.

It is evident from the rapidly evolving multi-disciplinary gamification literature that the ultimate goal of all gamification is to motivate positive human behaviours and foster user engagement, outcomes that are increasingly being seen as strategic imperatives across a range of domains. However, mixed results and a widely acknowledged lack of high-quality empirical research grounded in theory underscore the need for continued research in the field. This is even more apparent in research on gamification in marketing.

From the marketing perspective, gamification is defined as a design approach that enhances systems, services, and operations through the application of gameful affordances (game design and game elements) that induce experiences supporting and motivating the user to behave in ways that deliver psychological effects leading to behavioural outcomes. The promise of bringing the excitement, entertainment, engagement, and persuasive power of games to the marketing domain is what inspired this research effort. A thorough review of the literature highlights the need for quality empirical research that can further illuminate and nuance the understanding of how gamification works from the customer’s perspective. Addressing this gap requires a focus on the effect of gameful affordances on both the psychological mediator and the behavioural outcomes.

Anchored in the marketing domain, this empirical research focuses on a key gameful affordance (rewards) and explores both the psychological mediator (intrinsic motivation) as well as the behavioural outcome (formation of self-brand connections leading to positive marketing behaviours like increased purchase intent, positive word of mouth, and positive attitude towards the brand). It also identifies two novel boundary conditions (mastery versus performance goals and high versus low achievement orientation) that can provide rich insights to marketers on how the user’s achievement goals (cognitions and beliefs) and achievement orientation (personality traits) may influence the effect of rewards in gamified marketing implementations.

Grounded in Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET), a sub-theory of Self Determination Theory (SDT) and drawing from Achievement Goal Theory, Achievement Orientation, Rewards literature, Self-Brand Connection literature, Self-Esteem Theory, Motivation Crowding Theory, Theory of Reasoned Action, and extant gamification literature, this research proposes a parsimonious model that can improve the understanding of how, when and for whom gamification works. Through three studies, a classification study and two experiments, the research then empirically tests this model.

Results suggest that gamification rewards do not directly influence the intrinsic motivation of users. Rather, this influence varies, based on their achievement goals (cognitions). This is further accentuated by their achievement orientation (personality). Achievement orientation heightens but does not alter the direction of the interactive influence of reward type and achievement goals. The joint effect of reward type and achievement goal on their intrinsic motivation influences the forming of self-brand connections which in turn influences their downstream marketing behaviours and actions.

This research uses a fresh theoretical lens to shine a light on gamification from the consumer’s perspective, making some important theoretical contributions. First, it responds to the call for effective empirical research on gamification in marketing that specifically advances the understanding of how gamification works from the user’s perspective. Secondly, the research presents and tests a novel gamification rewards taxonomy grounded in SDT that makes a very important theoretical contribution to gamification and rewards literature, as well as to CET. The Tangible Verbal Symbolic Scheme (TVSS) for gamification rewards classification provides a unique and valuable method of explicating all possible gamification rewards and extricating them from other gameful affordances so that they may be isolated and studied. This dramatically expands the canon of rewards that may now be meaningfully studied. Third, by studying the interactive relationship between reward type, achievement goals, achievement orientation and intrinsic motivation it extends rewards, motivation, and goals literature. This interaction does not appear to have been interrogated in the extant literature. Fourth, it extends recent work on gamification and self-brand connection by focusing on the customer rather than the focal organisation. Finally, by extending the model beyond the behavioural outcome (self-brand connection) to downstream consumer behaviours (purchase intention, word of mouth and attitude towards the brand), it delivers new insights into gamification.

This research also makes some important practical contributions that may assist practitioners to deliver better, more engaging, more persuasive and more effective gamified marketing implementations. The proposed TVSS for gamification rewards is a simple but powerful tool for practitioners to build reward inventories, test, iterate and select novel, optimal rewards for their gamified marketing implementations. It provides new insights that may allow on-demand activation of personalised and tailored rewards that tap into and support the goals and personality of their users. Armed with this framework, gamification designers, developers and implementations can (and should) consider innovative and exciting new rewards that may deliver better and more positive marketing outcomes.
Date of Award2 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKuldeep Kumar (Supervisor) & Rajat Roy (Supervisor)

Cite this