Are You Elfing Kidding Me?! Elfster Gamifies Secret Santa

Are You Elfing Kidding Me?! Elfster Gamifies Secret Santa


I am very excited for this coming Thursday, when our office will be exchanging gifts for Secret Santa! Here at Gamification Co. we couldn’t just have our staff draw names out of a hat – that would be too fourth grade – so our editor Ivan set us up with a free online Secret Santa exchange called Elfster a social network which organizes Secret Santa lists for your employees.

Elfster is nothing new – it’s been around since 2004, (retailers Claire’s used the social network to power its social shopping app back in 2009).

What intrigued me about this platform is of course  its gamification features – cute badges, points and multiple levels that players can achieve while using the exchange to search for wishlist items and “like” the activities of other players – in this case, our colleagues.

Initially I thought Elfster’s game design was simply a case where Stuff (See SAPS) would be the primary movitation, and to some degree it was. For a few hours, as I searched for items on my wish-list using Elfster’s search function, imagining my name being drawn by someone at my company with more disposable income than I have,  who would of course disregard the $20.00 price limit we had set,  it became more addictive and distracting for me at work than checking Facebook. (I didn’t intend to write about Elftser for this blog, but I had to find a way to justify the amount of time I was spending on it).

Yet the social aspect of this game quickly became as much of a pull.

It felt like a much-smaller, online version of that rhetorical question “If You Won The Lottery, What Would You Buy?” The fun is both in imagining the possibilities and in seeing what your friends would choose. As my coworkers saw my wish-list pop up on their newsfeed, there was the immediate eye-roll – “really, you want that as your gift?”

But then when we realized we couldn’t spend anymore time on our wish-list, or when we thought of everything we could think of, the game sort of came to a bit of a halt. That’s where the game mechanics played a pivotal role.

The Explorer types in our office who wanted more points and were curious about what badges they might receive if they found ways to go further in the game began getting cheeky with the “Gifts I Don’t Need” section. One colleague put on his list that he doesn’t need “any brillo pads” or “any crazy women in my life.” For activity like this, he earned more points than a lot of my colleagues. Except for me: according to my Elf Score Ranking I am five points ahead of him.

User engagement aside, the gamification aspects of Elftser do a great deal to solve practical issues for the website and the user. The badges tell me what my activity on the site has been and what I have yet to do to get the most out of the experience. The leaderboard lets me know who among my friends are on Elfster so if I want to I can get a gift for them if their wish-list is made public. It also lets me know how active I am on the website as a whole. You earn a lot of points if you’ve made a lot of wishes, so the Overall Elfscore Ranking could (in theory) help gauge just how many wants you have this holiday season, helping Santa quantify his naughty or nice list with real metrics on selfishness.

Of course if you’re like me and your wish-list includes giving to charity (the Ali Forney Center, a homeless youth shelter network, was flooded during Hurricane Sandy and could use your donations – but no pressure), Santa would have to allow for a margin of error.

Before your team heads home for holiday vacation, perhaps your office should consider adding a little gamification to the Secret Santa experience!


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