How I gamified Instagram

Gamifying Instagram

We’ve all resisted the urge to tap everything we see on Instagram. From cats following a laser pen, irresistibly cute labradors covered in snow to those images we know we shouldn’t be tapping, the app is compulsive to say the least. Instagram has fast become one of the biggest social sharing platforms around, and the crux of its success is its supreme simplicity of use and functionality. Unlike it’s wordy sister site Twitter (one that’s just added a raft of functionality, ostensibly to bolster its future and make the shareholders happy), Instagram has been able to hold onto its central conceptual theme; to capture and share the world’s moments. Something it does gloriously. 

With a staggering 400 million monthly active users all fighting for followers (myself included), I wanted to see if there was a way to break free from the day-to-day use of the platform and inject some interactive fun into things. I created something, a fun quirky game called ‘Tap the Gap’, to do this.

All the “game” involves is a simple image with a heart missing, which players then ‘tap’ to make it complete. This in its simplest form is ‘gamification’ — taking a piece of functionality and turning its intended use on its head, making the user feel more involved with a clearer sense of participation. Obviously Instagram doesn’t log how many taps you give an image after the initial like, but overall this didn’t concern me. I simply wanted to engage people through an action intended for something completely different. Similar to the ‘swipe up to fly’ effect seen on Twitter.

After bashing out a fair few ‘tap the gap’ images, I felt like the idea had run its course: people were liking them and even leaving ace comments of enthusiasm — WIN! So, next I decided to start looking at how I could expand on this and increase the longevity of the experiment.

I was working on a Super Mario piece recently for a book and it got me thinking about how platform games can be an ace source of inspiration. Take Outrun for example, the most amazing racing game ever (in my eyes at least) on the Sega GameGear. At its core is a background graphic that has a road weaving from left to right and a car (controlled by you) pinned to the bottom of the screen. Your goal is simple: press left or right to keep the car within the road as it weaves.

Keeping the Outrun approach in mind, I thought “why can’t Instagram be a platform game?” I mean, it has the method of interaction ‘Tap’ and the ability to house video. What’s more, it doesn’t use just any video though, it use a looping video! Perfect for gaming. All I needed to do was create a rolling scene which has the heart appearing periodically and pow! We’ve got ourselves a platform game.

To begin with I scribbled out some quick storyboard thumbnails of what the rolling scene could be. I decided on a few of my illustrations that would be pushing down the screen from top to bottom to give a sense of motion, each dropping at different speeds to add a sense of depth. The heart impact area itself had two instances, a normal version and then a bonus version. Why a bonus version you ask? Why frickin’ not?! Everyone loves an in-game bonus. Then, after a few illustrations and a bit of motion dabbling — the Instagame was born!

I was on a mission. I spent huge amount of my time in my younger years contemplating these kinds of experiments and, nine times out of ten, never seeing them come to life . Either through lack of reasoning for the project, not having a ‘real’ client or goal or just simply lacking the motivation, I let them slip. No more. I now treat these things like mini MVPs — a product that you need to get to market with the least amount of energy and effort, just to prove that it works. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a very visually-led being and will never let anything go out looking like a bag of spanners, but the lucky thing is: I’m an illustrator, designer, animator and director with a stupid amount of work available for me to play with. I had all the tools.

During the exploration of the ‘Instagame,’ I also had a brain-fart moment which led to me disrupting the platform’s sponsored posts. This resulted in a video which saw the sponsored text and social name dismantle itself and become part of the visual post. All I had to do was take a screengrab of the sponsored post and rehash it in AfterEffects. 

The amount of people who sent me messages asking me if advertising on the platform was worth it (100+ by the way. I never pay a penny for it) was huge. To me though, this was just a silly, quirky experiment. It was a direct response to the repulsive, intrusive sponsored posts from ‘some’ brands out there. There’s so many companies doing it completely wrong. All you need to do is get someone creative to whip you up some awesome content!!

So to cap it off, what have I learnt? If you have an idea, don’t wait. Find the time. Plan on the bog, strategise while making a brew (don’t get those mixed up), then jump straight in and unleash it on the world. If no-one likes it, who cares? At least it’s out of your mind and into the ether. Secondly, don’t pay for advertising on a platform which people use to consume imagery: it’ll look contrived and shit. True, there’s always the nice side-effect of more followers from these kinds of things, but don’t let that be your primary goal; you’ll end up looking like a tit and people won’t want to talk to you.

Find an interaction, any social platform, disrupt the hell out of it.


Colour and Lines x Instagram


Like me, your probably one of those people who can't stop taking pictures of their food and posting it to Instagram, the addictiveness is so immense. Being such a visual person I wanted to try a little experiment using my Colour and Lines combined with the mechanics of the liking system found on Instagram. This probably sounds a bit vague, but stay with me...

With Instagram being such a visual platform - I wanted to create a piece of communication that would allow me to give back to people who 'like' my work - thus Tap the Gap was born, view the project here - Colour and Lines x Instagram


The mechanic itself was really simple, it needed to be. The thing people always get wrong with social sharing is putting too many stumbling blocks in front of the user - remove these barriers and make sharing an effortless approach. I'm hugely thankful to all the people who have stuck with me and my work - all the ace words and emails requesting prints have spurned me on to craft more and more images.


The shelf life of the project is quite limited as when it's done, it's done - proud to say that a fair few people have been making their own TapTheGap versions - go forth and conquer!