Automotive UX, autonomous driving, gamification

In-Car-Gamification: What Do We Actually Do When the Car Drives Itself?

Autonomous driving is making progress. In the foreseeable future, autonomous driving will become the norm. Gamification is an important sales factor here, because what could be more boring than driving a car without actually having anything to do? Here's a little anecdote about today's topic: when a friend bought a Tesla a few years ago, we all wanted to go for a ride. Not because we were so interested in the car or the technology, no. We just wanted to go for a drive to hear the blinker noise that the friend had manually set in his Tesla: a farting noise. Even with different variations. A great example of gamification in the automotive sector.

06 MIN

What is gamification?

Gamification has several dimensions that are more or less obvious. Based on the word, we associate gamification with games, but this can be somewhat misleading. Gamification does not mean that something is a game, but only that game elements are used in a non-game context.  

This can be an actual game, as with VR glasses (more on this below), but also something less obvious. We encounter the method of gamification (game thinking) everywhere: the cash back card when shopping, the award for a particularly active week in the sports app, a progress bar when filling out an online form, competing with friends for points in the language learning app - it's all gamification.

What effect does gamification have? Why does it work so well?

Some love it, some hate it: the automatic start-stop function in cars. In a blog post, author Sam Liberty talks about how much he hated this function. Whenever the engine stopped, so did the air conditioning and he felt like he had no control over his car's functions. That all changed when he discovered that the moment the engine stopped, a bar appeared on the driver's display. This visually illustrated how much fuel he was saving thanks to the automatic start-stop function. This saving was not limited to just one journey, but was paid into a "lifetime score", which increased with every use. This little detail turned the annoyance of this function into fun, so that he is now happy every time the automatic start-stop function kicks in. (

This is a very clear example of how gamification works and what it does to our brain: neutral, but even negative emotions can be transformed into positive emotions through a playful context, leading to more engagement and participation, as well as loyalty to a brand. Our brain craves cognitive rewards, which can be triggered by simple stimuli such as an acoustic signal, a flashing light or the filling up of a status bar. This has a very motivating effect and can therefore be used in a targeted manner. Various motivations can be activated through gamification, such as

  • Collect (score)
  • Competition (comparison with others)
  • Status acquisition (accumulation of awards, rewards)
  • Cooperation (cooperation with other participants)
  • Challenge or social interaction.

In which areas is gamification already being used?

In the automotive sector, gamification is already being used in various places, such as in the aforementioned automatic start-stop status display, which addresses the motivation of "collecting". A few more examples:

  • In the Nissan Leaf, growing leaves on the display show how environmentally friendly the driving style is at the moment. There is also a social network with ranking lists where you can compare yourself with other drivers. This triggers several motivational factors at once: competition, social interaction and challenge.
  • When you were a child, did you always imagine that you were a little character jumping over buildings and fences on boring car journeys? With the help of VR goggles and games, this is also possible, e.g. with the "Holoride" from Audi. As soon as the goggles are put on, you are immersed in a colorful world, can fly and shoot at figures ( Steering, braking and acceleration movements can be transferred to the game world, preventing annoying motion sickness. (
  • Tesla takes the term gamification a little more literally and has integrated "Tesla Arcade" into all newer models ( This turns the car's control panel into a games console. It is even explicitly designed for gaming: The latest Tesla model is advertised as having 10 teraflops of computing power and can therefore keep up with the latest games consoles such as the Playstation 5. Another new feature is the yoke control, which looks like a square, half steering wheel, as used in motorsport ( The steering wheel can also be used to play games on the console, such as car racing. Otherwise, wireless controllers are used. In other words, gaming in the car at the highest level.
  • Service providers also work with this approach, e.g. the ADAC (German automobile club). Driving behavior is measured via an adapter and evaluated in the corresponding app. An evaluation is displayed after each journey. This not only has an entertainment factor, but also a financial one: If you regularly drive "well", your car insurance premium is reduced (
  • Digital assistants or mascots can significantly increase driving enjoyment. In the Asian market in particular, the digital assistant NOMI from the manufacturer NIO was very well received by drivers. NOMI responds when spoken to and can answer questions in a similar way to Alexa and Siri, but unlike its digital relatives, it has a display that shows an animated face, making it much more approachable. Find out more in our blog article "Digital Companion or Minimalist Assistant - How Much Is Too Much for German Drivers?".

Gamification as a sales argument that makes a small difference

In our blog article "The Future of the Car: My Smartphone on Wheel", we already reported that our cars will soon be able to do everything that our smartphones can do. This will have an impact on car sales, where other criteria may be decisive in future. If design, performance or price are currently the deciding factors, computing power, entertainment factor or integrated equipment could soon tip the scales. This is because with over-the-air services or services on demand slowly becoming established, there will no longer be much to be gained from traditional equipment, as this can be booked flexibly and at will via the OTA. In the long term, this possibility could lead to manufacturers no longer differing greatly from one another in terms of equipment features. Innovative and entertaining concepts are needed to stand out from the competition.  

This is particularly interesting for the customers of tomorrow. Media consumption is increasing in all generations and is particularly high among the young Generation Z, who have grown up with a lot of media consumption since childhood. This generation, i.e. the customers of tomorrow, will certainly place much more value on entertainment, games and distraction in the car, especially if they no longer have to drive themselves.

You may now be thinking: "Well, that won't be a decisive selling point, whether my car can do karaoke or not". But that's exactly what a field study in China found. The karaoke function was so well received there that for some it was an absolute selling point.

Just how effective and useful such "little gimmicks" can be is shown not only by the initial example with the fart sound instead of the typical blinker sound. When Tesla became popular and increasingly hit the roads, various videos went viral in which drivers (in the USA) converted their horn into a customized sound and got very creative in the process. Tesla got a lot of attention and reached completely new target groups. A perfect, free marketing campaign, triggered by just a little gamification.

Conclusion: A look into the future

We jump a few years into the future. You are driving on the highway and look into the other, autonomously driving cars and see all the occupants wearing VR glasses. They dread arriving at their destination, because then they have to gently tell their children that they have unfortunately arrived and that they have to take off their own VR glasses. They briefly long for the time when the annoyed "When will we finally be there?" could still be heard from the back seat. But only briefly, then they turn their attention back to the movie playing on the main console. Just before they become completely engrossed in the movie again, they see one of the new flying car prototypes flying overhead, which are currently being tested (  They decide to see if there is a flight simulator app for their car.

It could go something like this. What is certain is that gamification is an effective method of building customer loyalty to a brand and also has the potential to act as a powerful tool for various other areas: From instruction manuals and driving training to ergonomically correct sitting posture when driving, gamification can be used everywhere. Any topic, no matter how boring, can become entertaining with the right use of gamification. And there will have to be entertainment if cars are to drive themselves in the foreseeable future. Gamification is therefore the sales argument of the future and will play an increasingly important role in the automotive industry.



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Contact person

Jan Panhoff

Jan started working as a UX professional in 2004 after completing his M.Sc. in Digital Media. For 10 years he supported eBay as an embedded UX consultant. His focus at uintent is on automotive and innovation research.

Moreover, he is one of uintent's representatives in the UX Alliance, a global network of leading UX research and design companies around the globe.

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