Foldit | Gamification Insider.

Fold It | Inside Scoop

Welcome to the ninth edition of the Gamification Insider Inside Scoop!

What is the Inside Scoop?

A monthly deep-dive into an organisation, product or service and how they are using gamification in their business.

We’ll talk about the specific gamification techniques used, explain what they are, why we think that business is using them and give you some ideas as to how those tools can be used by small businesses.

This issue of the Inside Scoop will be discussed in more detail at our monthly Codebreaker Club, available to Codebreaker level members and higher at 1pm on 17th May 2024. 


Foldit is described on their homepage as “a revolutionary crowdsourcing computer game enabling you to contribute to scientific research.”

One of the bigger accomplishments of Foldit according to Wikipedia:

“In 2011, Foldit players helped decipher the crystal structure of a retroviral protease from Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), a monkey virus which causes HIV/AIDS-like symptoms, a scientific problem that had been unsolved for 15 years. While the puzzle was available for three weeks, players produced a 3D model of the enzyme in only ten days that is accurate enough for molecular replacement.”

That’s right, by playing games, people were able to solve a problem in ten days that had been unsolved for 15 years.

I often use this as an example of gamification being used for the greater good.

They are well known for using gamification well so let’s look at some of what they’re doing… 

Spotify offers an extensive library of free music to explore. With lots of different music genres to curate the best playlists full of your favourite songs, Spotify is like a huge music store but absolutely free!

Why choose Spotify as your go-to music and podcast app? Here, you can:

  • Listen to over 80 million songs and 4 million podcasts
  • Discover music, albums, playlists and podcasts

Leaderboards | Gamification technique 1.

Wait? Didn’t we cover this in a previous Inside Scoop? Yep! There will sometimes be repeats in the Inside Scoop as organisations use the same techniques. It’s always a good thing to see more examples of how different businesses use the same technique, or how they use it differently. Here’s a refresher:

The Cambridge Dictionary Definition: Leaderboard noun; a board or list showing the names and scores of those who are doing best in a game, competition, etc

Leaderboards and points are likely the first thing that most people think of when considering gamification. A way of ranking people by actions taken. They are something we see a lot in games, sports, gameshows, competitions and more. They can be a fantastic tool to motivate people to take action if the people taking part are the kinds of people who like competition.

However, be careful as not everyone is a fan of competition and so a leaderboard could be demotivating for them. I would suggest that you allow people to opt in or opt out of leaderboards for this reason. 

Where do you see Leaderboards in the game world?

In video games, there might be a leaderboard if you are playing against others locally or even globally. These are common in mobile games too. In sports league tables are essentially a giant leaderboard. In athletics, there are leaderboard to see where you are against competitors.

How does Foldit use leaderboards and why?

On the homepage after explaining what Foldit is, the first thing you see is two leaderboards. One is for ‘soloists’, or groups’ and another for ‘top new players.’

When you start playing Foldit you play alone, as a ‘soloist’ but you can join groups. There are various ranking systems, which are quite complex. In fact there is a whole fandom wiki dedicated to Foldit and how it all works, but I’ll get into that more later!

The leaderboards add an element of competition to the game which keeps players interested in playing. Some people love a leaderboard and will be eager to get to the top! The aim of this game is to help with scientific research and as lots of studies have shown it’s easier to retain existing customers than attract new ones. The leaderboard game element is being used for customer retention, to reduce time and money spent on marketing, as well as to reduce effort required to onboard new players. Their existing players know how to play the games, and enjoy them, so why not keep them around!

Is the technique of Leaderboards something you could apply to your business?

As we’ve covered leaderboards before, make sure you check out or revisit the ideas suggested in the Inside Scoop about Litter Lotto about using leaderboards to motivate yourself, in challenges, memberships and groups.

You may have heard this quote “The only person you should compete with is you.”― Debasish Mridha.

So why not create a competition with yourself and update a daily, weekly or monthly leaderboard with your progress!

Grab a whiteboard, or even a big piece of paper and set yourself a challenge. Let’s say how many emails can I get through in 25 minutes per day for a week, or how many sales follow ups can I do this week or .. you get the idea. Then each week you pop your numbers up on the leaderboard. Did present-you beat past-you? Which week won this month? What did you do differently?

If you’re not easily motivated alone, try buddying up with a friend for some friendly competition!

You could use leaderboards to motivate customers or clients, awarding them points for purchases, referrals, engagement, comments or anything you would like to encourage more of! You can offer rewards or prizes for reaching the top of the leaderboard too. 

Relatedness | Gamification technique 2.

Wait? Didn’t we cover this in a previous Inside Scoop? Yep! There will sometimes be repeats in the Inside Scoop as organisations use the same techniques. It’s always a good thing to see more examples of how different businesses use the same technique, or how they use it differently. Here’s a refresher:

Time to talk about self-determination theory. This is a psychological theory concerned with motivation and in terms of gamification specifically, we focus on three things mainly: autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected.

Humans are innately social creatures and for some, being connected to others can be highly motivating. Relatedness comes down to a feeling of belonging.

Where do you see Relatedness in the game world?

Some games will ask you to work in teams, this is relatedness. You may have to help someone in order to get to the next level in some video games, again relatedness. In other games, you can gift items to other players, or request items all in the name of relatedness.

How does Foldit use Relatedness and why?

As already mentioned, you can join and create groups in Foldit to work together to solve puzzles as a team. It would be easy to assume that the groups function was added to encourage existing users to play more, just like the leaderboard mechanic. However they have been found to be useful in training new players too.*

Groups bring people together as communities with a shared aim, they bring existing players back to play more frequently to work together and those players attract their friends, peers, family, coworkers and more to join in, and show them how to take part.

In addition to groups, Foldit has forums where you can talk about Foldit news, bugs, general discussions and more. This allows even more of a community feel and a sense of belonging. 

You can also look at other player profiles, their ranks, scores, levels and achievements.

The Foldit community can continue to contribute and learn outside of the Foldit site on the Fandom wikipedia ** where you can find everything you may want to know about Foldit.

It’s considerably more comprehensive than the main site and allows the community to explore more and comment or edit the wiki pages; enhansing that feeling of being part of the movement.

Foldit also has a discord channel and I’m sure there’s more if you start to delve much deeper into the Foldit world!

Foldit have built a loyal fanbase and this is excellent news for retaining that user base, reducing marketing spend, attracting funding and more.

Is the technique of Relatedness something you could apply to your business?

We’ve covered relatedness a lot in previous Inside Scoops, why not pick a card to see an example?

(These cards are slightly experimental and as such best viewed on a non-mobile device to get full effect). 

Relatedness Example
Relatedness Example
Relatedness Example
Relatedness Example
Relatedness Example
Relatedness Example
Relatedness Idea
Relatedness Example

Your Relatedness Example

If you intend to use this kind of technique in your business please do so ethically; with the intention of gamification that benefits the end user and their wants/needs (be that your audience, students, members, customers, whoever) as well as your business objectives.

Novelty | Gamification technique 3.

Wait? Didn’t we cover this in a previous Inside Scoop? Yep! There will sometimes be repeats in the Inside Scoop as organisations use the same techniques. It’s always a good thing to see more examples of how different businesses use the same technique, or how they use it differently. Here’s a refresher:

Novelty is an important gamification technique. It doesn’t matter how exciting or interesting something is, after a while, the novelty will wear off.

Let’s use some business examples, a new social media platform opens and you rush over there to join in the hype. A few days in and it’s already become boring despite being the newest and most interesting social media platform around, you’re already bored of it. (Think Clubhouse and Threads)

Have you ever found yourself getting into a great new consistent routine of scheduling posts, or getting to inbox zero every day or engaging on social media, but then… you just… stop? Once again, the novelty has worn off.

This is because when you do the same thing over and over and over again you get bored. Even if you do something fun or novel to keep yourself engaged you are going to get bored of that thing eventually because you become accustomed to it.

This is called habituation. The idea of habituation comes from studies of the animal kingdom. Initially, an organism responds a certain way to a new stimulus or change in its environment. We’ve evolved to notice and react to things that could be a threat. However, if the same stimulus is repeated over time, as we get used to it, it no longer causes the same reaction in our nervous system and so we stop paying so much attention. This is my very brief summary however and I encourage you to have a quick Google if you’d like to learn more.

This is where you need to add Novelty, to reignite that attention! 

Where do you see Novelty in the game world?

Using a dice to decide how many spaces to move on a board game, shuffling cards to randomise the pack, adding in hidden rooms in video games and so much more!

How does Foldit use Novelty and why?

According to the Foldit about us page “Every week, Foldit scientists post new puzzles focused on the latest problems in protein folding.”

This is great news, as one singular game would get boring quite quickly and there is a chance that Foldit would haemorrhage players. New games each week keeps their experienced players interested and engaged.

Since Foldit is funded by grants, and donations (with occasional commercial partnerships) it’s vital that they are able to demonstrate good stable user numbers. By adding new games each week and mixing it up they are maintaining those user numbers. 

Is the technique of Novelty something you could apply to your business?

Consider adding the concept of novelty to your business strategy building on the suggestions previously mentioned in the Inside Scoop about Spotify, our Festive Inside Scoop and the Inside Scoop about Barbie.

Novelty is needed in your business when you, your audience, your team etc is bored of a task to the process to the point of stagnation of procrastination.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • What part of my business bores me to tears?
  • Is there a novel way that I approach it to mix it up?!

No part of your business is off-limits here, internally or externally.

It doesn’t have to be a big change either. I love that feeling when you move a piece of furniture in a room and it completely transforms the whole space. That is only a small change, but it’s novel and makes a big difference every time you walk into the room!

Could you change one simple step in a process, try working on something in a different room, or use a different device, maybe swap tasks with someone else for a day to see how they do it as you might learn something.

Novel doesn’t have to be difficult!

We’ll discuss more ideas in this month’s Codebreaker Club. 

Competence | Gamification technique 4.

Wait? Didn’t we cover this in a previous Inside Scoop? Yep! There will sometimes be repeats in the Inside Scoop as organisations use the same techniques. It’s always a good thing to see more examples of how different businesses use the same technique, or how they use it differently. Here’s a refresher:

The Cambridge Dictionary Definition: Competence. Noun: the ability to do something well.

Another important part of self-determination theory is competence.

Competence is an intrinsic motivator (Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are covered in the Inside Scoop about The NHS Blood Donation service). For some people, achieving and feeling competent are huge motivators.

Where do you see Competence in the game world?

With almost every game you play, you start with zero knowledge and as you play the game your knowledge and therefore competence grows. This is an integral part of game design.

How does Foldit use competence and why?

Foldit is about science. Here are some things I’ve taken from the website:

“By playing Foldit, you can contribute to advanced research on human health, cutting-edge bioengineering, and the inner workings of biology.” 

As you can see the Foldit aims are quite strongly focussed on helping people to feel more competent when it comes to science. Either learning basic concepts and tools, understanding protein folding or helping solve real life science problems. The goals and aims of Foldit align with the gamification technique of competence beautifully

As well as of the puzzles themselves, and the gamification techniques already mentioned, Foldit encourages users to create ‘Recipes’ of their own to help solve problems. If you create a recipe that works, it will save you time with puzzles and adds to that feeling of competence.

Any discoveries made in Foldit are published and players are credited for their contributions which also adds to that feeling of competence too.

Is Competence something you could apply to your business?

As we mention in the Inside Scoop about Amazon shopping; not everyone will be motivated by constant achievement, but most people enjoy feeling smart.

You may not be teaching something in your business but you can still use competence for all sorts of things!

For motivating yourself; you could combine the leaderboard technique with the competence technique, setting yourself progressively harder challenges. With each one you complete you will feel more competent and confident too!

You could use the technique of competence to encourage your audience to help you to solve business problems. Start small by asking them which product or service you should bring out next (give them options in the form of a poll), allowing them to feel competent by contributing but also help you to make decisions.

Alternatively, competence can be a great tool for team onboarding. Make sure that you build in some quick, small, easy wins at the start of any new team member training so that they have that feeling of competence from the start.  

Time to wrap this up!

Time to wrap this up! We’ve covered a lot in this issue. A deep-dive into Foldit and how they use gamification to retain users, to train new users, to attract funding and to meet their business aims.

We’ve covered four gamification techniques; Leaderboards, Relatedness, Novelty and Competence.

We’ve also given you some ideas of how you could implement these in your business.

We will be discussing these techniques in more depth and workshopping how you could apply them in your business in the Codebreaker Club on 17th May. 

In pursuit of truth,
Kimba 🔍 

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