Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 40 Number 2 2023 pp. 401-439

Explaining the Outcomes of Social Gamification: A Longitudinal Field Experiment

Zhang, Jun, Jiang, Qiqi, Zhang, Wenping, Kang, Lele, Lowry, Paul Benjamin, and Zhang, Xiong


Social gamification, which allows technology users to interact with each other in gamified tasks, has drawn increasing interest due to its effectiveness in facilitating users’ game engagement and task efforts. In social gamification, users can compete or cooperate with other users or teams to complete game tasks and achieve game goals. However, it remains unclear how various social interaction mechanisms (SIMs), such as cooperation, interpersonal competition, and intergroup competition, influence gamification outcomes when they are separately or jointly implemented. In addition, the effects of SIMs on experiential and instrumental gamification outcomes have not been well differentiated. In this study, we systematically investigate the influences of these fundamental SIMs, as well as the possible interaction effects among them, on fitness app users’ game engagement and fitness behavior. Using a fitness app custom-developed for the Chinese market, Fitness Castle, we conducted a longitudinal field experiment to test our proposed model and hypotheses. The results indicate that when separately implemented, cooperation and interpersonal competition can lead to differential instrumental gamification outcomes in the fitness context. We also systematically compare the differential gamification outcomes when cooperation, interpersonal competition, and intergroup competition are combined in various coopetition settings. Our study offers a theory-based framework and design principles for social gamification. Our findings help practitioners better design SIMs in their gamified technologies with the purpose of achieving optimal experiential and instrumental gamification outcomes simultaneously.

Key words and phrases: Mobile fitness applications, social gamification, interpersonal competition, intergroup competition, online cooperation, coopetition, social interaction mechanisms, field experiment, game engagement, gamified tasks, online gamification