27 June

Email marketing gamification: Bringing fun into emails

Dmytro Kudrenko
Dmytro Kudrenko Founder and CEO of Stripo
Table of contents
  1. Benefits of email marketing gamification
  2. Definition of email marketing gamification
  3. How we began our journey with email marketing gamification
  4. The psychology of gamification, or why gamification in email marketing performs well
  5. When email marketing gamification is relevant
  6. Classification of games in email marketing
  7. Traits of a good gamified email marketing campaign
  8. Game development process
  9. Wrapping up
Benefits of email marketing gamification

Which of the following would you rather send to your customers: a standard promotional email packed with great deals and useful information or the same email enhanced with fun gamification elements?

(Source: Email from Kärcher)

If you chose the second option, you’re in good company! It’s a wise choice, as gamification can not only make emails more enjoyable but can also boost your conversion rates by 400%.

With this encouraging insight into how email marketing gamification enhances your campaign performance, let’s delve into some additional statistics.

Benefits of email marketing gamification

Gamification offers numerous advantages across different business sectors. Here’s how it can transform your email marketing efforts:

  1. Conversion rate:
    • increases the click-to-open rate by 100% for SaaS companies;
    • boosts CTOR by 220% for eCommerce businesses;
    • increases the conversion rate by 27% compared to regular discount emails for electronic companies.
  2. ROI and revenue enhancement:
    • boosts ROI by up to 225% for the eCommerce sector;
    • increases the average check for 15% for eCommerce.
  3. User engagement and virality:
    • elevates engagement with gamified elements;
    • increases email virality.
  4. Open rate:
    • simply the word “Game” can increase your open rate by 25%.
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This all sounds promising, but there’s a catch — simply adding a game to your email doesn’t guarantee a revenue boost. Before diving into gamification in email marketing, it’s crucial to understand the important guidelines and strategies that will help you fully leverage its potential.

Definition of email marketing gamification

Gamification does not mean “game” per se, but it refers to applying typical game-like components to non-game activities to encourage user engagement with your product or service. Simply put, email marketing gamification entertains your customers, motivates them to participate in the task at hand, and keeps them coming back for more. 

Game-like components are essential elements of, or aspects that constitute, a game, ensuring that it operates seamlessly while providing an engaging experience to players.

Here are key game-like components of gamification: 

  • achievements: Points, badges, and rewards, or content unlocking, allowing access to specific content only upon goal completion;
  • goals: Defined objectives or endpoints that players strive to achieve;
  • challenge: Boss fights and competition to engage and motivate players;
  • room for growth: Opportunities for players to improve, advance, learn something new, and develop within a game;
  • rules: Clear, structured guidelines or stages that players follow to navigate through a game;
  • feedback: Information for players on their progress and areas for improvement;
  • leaderboards: Rankings that showcase players’ standings and foster a sense of competition;
  • community: A sense of belonging among players, encouraging interactions and relationships;
  • heroes or storytelling: Use of narrative elements to engage players, making them feel like protagonists in a compelling story;
  • countdown timers: Time limitations or constraints that add urgency and pace to a game.
Ultimate guide to email gamification

How we began our journey with email marketing gamification

A few years ago, at Litmus Live, I listened to “Making Emails Fun,” a report by Chris Vasquez, chief product officer at AWeber, and Nicolas Garnier, then with Mailjet and now head of product and advisor at Primary Venture Partners. Their influential work ignited our curiosity and enthusiasm, motivating us to further explore email gamification. 

Our first attempts

We decided to dive right into gamified emails without hesitation. Our first campaign, an Easter-themed email, involved an A/B test in which half of the recipients played a game to win a discount, while the others received a direct discount code. In the game, participants collected figures hidden behind chocolate eggs and entered their sums to unlock a discount code.

Example of one of our first gamified emails _ Easter email

(Check the web version of this email)

To our delight, this gamified approach doubled our sales compared to a regular discount email.


higher sales were achieved with gamification.

The positive feedback from our recipients and doubled conversion rates encouraged us to include more gamified elements in our future emails. However, we recognized the need to understand the best contexts and types of emails for effective gamification, starting with what motivates people to play. Our exploration of these areas yielded intriguing findings worth sharing.

The psychology of gamification, or why gamification in email marketing performs well

We can’t force people to do what we want — we need to motivate them. Psychological studies categorize motivations as either intrinsic or extrinsic. In “Reality is Broken,” Jane McGonigal identifies several key emotions that gamification taps into:

  • desire for achievement;
  • excitement and intrigue;
  • social interaction.

Drawing from McGonigal’s observations and blending them with psychological insights, we see that:

  • desire for achievement is driven by both intrinsic motivations, such as the personal satisfaction of overcoming challenges, and extrinsic motivations, such as rewards or recognition;
  • excitement and intrigue engage our intrinsic curiosity and desire for novelty, providing thrilling surprises that keep participants engaged;
  • social interaction serves as an extrinsic motivator, enhancing connections, competition, and social recognition, thereby reinforcing community ties and personal identity.

Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter suggest in “For the Win” that balancing these intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is crucial to maximizing the effectiveness of gamification strategies.

Now that we knew why gamification works, we proceeded to when we should apply gamification.

When email marketing gamification is relevant

Gamification in emails can significantly enhance customer engagement across various scenarios:

1. Holiday celebrations

Holidays definitely are a good time to use interactivity as they are special events that you can incorporate into the game.

Nicolas Garnier

Nicolas Garnier,

Head of Product and Advisor, Primary Venture Partners.

Typically, eCommerce businesses mark holidays with discounts and festive greetings. However, constant sales can lead to consumer fatigue and reduced spending over time. To rejuvenate your approach, consider going beyond traditional coupons and messages to actively engage your customers.

For SaaS companies, which often avoid holiday discounts, incorporating fun elements into emails can be especially advantageous. Moving away from standard “Happy Holidays” messages to more dynamic and memorable communications can enhance engagement and leave a lasting impression.

Gamification email marketing _ Giving away coupons through games

(Source: Yakaboo)

2. Regular engagement

Best practices emphasize regular communication to keep your brand top of mind. However, during slow news periods or when you simply want to enhance regular updates, engaging your audience can be challenging. Email gamification addresses this by enlivening communications; gamified emails maintain customer engagement, intrigue your audience, and strengthen the connection between your brand and its customers.

Email marketing strategy _ Engaging customers through email gamification

(Source: Really Good Emails, BBC)

3. Budget constraints

When deep discounts aren’t feasible, gamification offers an alternative. For example, a “wheel of fortune” game in emails can allow recipients to win varying discounts, from modest to substantial, without straining the budget.

Gamified email marketing campaigns

(Source: Stripo)

4. Product launch announcements and teasers

Teaser and product launch announcement campaigns with gamification elements can spike interest and anticipation for new products. Instead of just announcing a product, involving recipients in a game can make the launch more engaging.

Gamification elements in teaser emails

(Source: Really Good Emails)

5. Educational content

Learners remember up to 90% of what they learn in a gamified task, the Social studies say.

Gamification email marketing can also transform educational content into a fun learning experience, making it an effective tool for education.

Gamified email marketing campaigns for delivering educational content in a fun way

(Source: Email from Stripo)

6. Feedback collection

While not strictly gamification, interactive elements such as NPS score collection in emails are often likened to gamification due to their engaging format. This approach has been proven to generate up to 520% more user responses compared to traditional forms, demonstrating the effectiveness of interactive techniques in feedback collection.

Gamified elements for collecting customer feedback

(Source: Email from Stripo)

We didn’t stop there. Instead, we considered whether, if gamification is relevant in some cases, there might also be specific gamified elements suited to those situations.

Classification of games in email marketing

Dive into the variety of games you can use in your emails. From luck-based games to creative challenges, see how each type engages your audience and adds fun to your campaigns. 

1. Luck and chance games

Luck and chance games captivate players with the allure of instantly winning something unexpected, leveraging the thrill of unpredictability and the excitement of chance for quick engaging interactions.

Email gamification _ Game types _ Luck and chance _ Scratch cards

(Source: Stripo)

Why use luck and chance games: For lead generation, data collection, customer acquisition, and sales and revenue growth (by promoting impulsive purchases).

2. Educational games

Educational games combine learning with play, engaging players by weaving knowledge into interactive experiences. These games appeal to those interested in developing skills or acquiring new information while having fun.

Email gamification _ Game types _ Educational games

(Source: Yakaboo)

Why use educational games: For increasing brand awareness, customer engagement, and product promotion.

3. Puzzle games

Puzzle games challenge players with tasks that require problem-solving and strategy, attracting those who enjoy testing their logic and ingenuity through complex scenarios and brain teasers.

Example of a puzzle game for customer retention

(Source: Email from Stripo)

Why use puzzle games: To increase customer loyalty, customer engagement, and product promotion.

4. Creative games

Creative games engage the artistic side of players, allowing them to create or design something unique while interacting with your brand.

Great example of a creative game for long term customer engagement

(Source: Email from Stripo)

Why use creative games: For brand awareness (especially when email subscribers share the results of their games to their social media), customer engagement, and customer retention and brand loyalty.

Gamification allows cross channel engagement

5. Challenge and competition games

These games stimulate a competitive spirit by offering various contests and challenges that are perfect for players who thrive in direct competition and aim to outperform others or beat high scores. These games might also require daily or weekly brief interactions, perfect for keeping customers regularly engaged with your brand.

Email games to increase user engagement

(Source: Email from Stripo)

Why use challenge and competition games: For user engagement, customer retention, product promotion, and sales and revenue growth

6. Discovery games

Discovery games immerse players in environments where exploration is key, appealing to adventurers eager to uncover mysteries, explore unknown territories, and experience new worlds.

Discovery games in email gamification

(Source: Stripo)

Why use discovery games: For customer engagement, to build brand loyalty, to increase brand awareness, product promotion, and sales and revenue growth.

In our article, “Classification of games and the marketing goals they fulfill,” we thoroughly explore each game type, covering descriptions, marketing objectives, play duration, and popular examples.

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where-is-one-game-better-than-the-othersWhere is one game better than the others?

After uncovering what motivates people to play and identifying when email marketing gamification is most relevant and which game to use, we thought we had mastered gamification. However, we soon realized that there was much more to learn; we were just scratching the surface.

What made us realize this? And what conclusions did it lead us to?

Traits of a good gamified email marketing campaign

A few years ago, we launched a newsletter game in which email subscribers were supposed to catch spam emails. Unfortunately, we omitted crucial details: the rules and a timer. Without a visible time indicator, players didn’t know the game was time-limited. This oversight led us to deeply explore the essential traits of a successful game.

To understand what makes a game appealing to customers and complete, we thoroughly explored Jane McGonigal’s bestseller Reality Is Broken, alongside For the Win and The Gamification Toolkit: Dynamics, Mechanics, and Components by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, as well as Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou. We also analyzed our own and our clients’ experiences.

1. Goal

The goal should be clear, moderately engaging, challenging, achievable, and resonate with participants’ values. It can appeal to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Communicate a single goal to maintain focus and prevent overwhelming players with multiple objectives.

2. Rules

Rules are essential in guiding recipients toward the goal and encouraging strategic thinking and diverse approaches that enhance engagement and fairness.

3. Feedback (Progression)

Feedback in gamified emails boosts intrinsic motivation, as it allows players to adjust their behavior based on the received input, enhancing the overall engagement and effectiveness of the gamification strategy.

4. Character or narrative

Use a consistent character or a continuous storyline to enhance the coherence of your games. Allow interactions like feeding or rescuing, which can tie into your brand’s narrative or stand independently.

5. Community

Foster a sense of community by comparing player achievements and encouraging social sharing. This builds a sense of belonging and can be highlighted by phrases like “You did better than 80% of all recipients.” Appeals to extrinsic motivation.

6. Discovery/Element of randomness

Introduce elements of randomness and choice, such as different outcomes based on the player’s decisions, to boost engagement and maintain curiosity.

7. Voluntary participation

Recognize that not all subscribers may want to engage with the game for various reasons. Provide easy options for them to skip the game and proceed directly to other content or shopping.

Gamification email marketing _ Example of a game with all the traits included

(Source: Email from Stripo)

This example embodies all the traits of a successful game:

  • goal: Test your skills by finding as many words as possible and discovering which cupid you are;
  • rules: Find words arranged vertically or diagonally;
  • feedback: Every click triggers a reaction. Once all three words are found, a "Determine" button appears;
  • character: Each player is the protagonist of the game;
  • community: After discovering their cupid, players can share their results on social media;
  • discovery: Players encounter unexpected results with each new word combination, ensuring a fresh experience every time;
  • voluntary participation: The primary aim here was entertainment with no monetary rewards or content unlocking. Players can opt out by simply closing the email. Yet, this game was among our top 3 successful games, achieving a click-to-open rate ten times higher than our regular newsletters.

Game development process

The game development process unfolds as follows, encompassing several critical steps:

1. Choosing the goal of the gamified email campaign

  • define the marketing goal — content depends on this goal;
  • decide on the sales funnel stage;
  • identify your target audience;
  • decide on the final action your players are going to take;
  • decide on what the players gain;
  • determine how you will measure the campaign’s success.

Ensure whatever you’re creating is measurable so that you can understand its impact on your email program.

Jordan Pritkin

Jordan Pritkin,

Head of Growth Marketing at Mento | ex-HubSpot marketing leader.

Marketing goals and corresponding game types:

  • customer retention and loyalty: Creative games, puzzle games, educational games, challenge and competition games, and luck and chance games;
  • product promotion: Discovery games, educational games, puzzle games, and challenge and competition games;
  • brand awareness: Educational games, puzzle games, and discovery games;
  • sales and revenue growth: Luck and chance games and puzzle games;
  • customer engagement: Creative games, puzzle games, educational games, and challenge and competition games.

Educational games _ Trivia questions

(Source: Email from HubSpot)

2. Adding emotional touch to your game

In addition to essential goals that must resonate across all games and motivate subscribers to play, consider incorporating versatile game boosters that you can combine in various ways.

Key game boosters to enhance your emails:

  • leaderboards: Foster competition with global or thematic leaderboards;
  • badges and awards: Offer virtual or physical rewards for achievements;
  • personalization: Customize game scenarios and avatars to individual preferences;
  • risk of progress loss: Intensify the gaming experience by introducing potential progress loss or penalties, heightening the stakes and engagement;
  • countdown timers: Add urgency with timed challenges;
  • storytelling/heroes: Build emotional connections through stories and character development;
  • growth and development: Encourage continuous engagement with skill trees and level systems;
  • cause-driven engagement: Connect games with personal values or causes.

Game boosters _ Cause-driven engagement

(Source: Email from Stripo)

In the “Game boosters” article, we explored how to combine boosters and when and how to apply them for maximum impact along with real-life examples.

3. Launching the game

At this stage, you’ll design your game, ensuring that all recipients, regardless of their email clients and your ESP, can fully engage with the experience. You will also test the game, implement anti-hack measures (crucial if offering monetary incentives), and establish post-launch support.

Streamlining these processes can save significant time, a topic we’ll explore in a future article.

In our next piece, we will discuss:

  • technical requirements for the game and interactivity per se;
  • strategies for designing games fast;
  • methods to save time during development;
  • testing approaches for gamified emails;
  • post-launch support.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, integrating gamification into email marketing not only makes your communications more enjoyable and engaging but also significantly boosts conversion rates and ROI. By leveraging emotional and psychological triggers and applying gamification to diverse marketing scenarios, businesses can create dynamic and memorable email experiences. Moving forward, the thoughtful use of gamification elements, robust game design, and clear objectives will remain vital in distinguishing your efforts in the competitive email marketing landscape. Keep up with best practices and continually innovate to maintain audience engagement and excitement.

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