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Octalysis: Complete Gamification Framework


Octalysis: Complete Gamification Framework

(This is the Gamification Framework that I am most known for. Within a year, it was organically translated into 9 different languages and became classic teaching literature in the gamification space worldwide. If you are interested in commercially licensing the framework, please visit our Octalysis Group Licensing Page.)

Gamification is design that places the most emphasis on human motivation in the process. In essence, it is Human-Focused Design (as opposed to “function-focused design”).

Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This process is what I call “Human-Focused Design,” as opposed to “Function-Focused Design.” It’s a design process that optimizes for human motivation in a system, as opposed to pure efficiency.

Most systems are “function-focused,” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes its workers will do their jobs because they are required to. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that people in a system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.

The reason we call it gamification is because the gaming industry was the first to master Human-Focused Design.

Games have no other purpose than to please the individual playing them. Yes, there are often “objectives” in games, such as killing a dragon or saving the princess, and sometimes saving a dragon, but those are all excuses to simply keep the player happily entertained.

Since games have spent decades (or even centuries depending on how you qualify a game) learning how to master motivation and engagement, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it Gamification.

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Gamifying Company Politics: Chou’s Corporate Player Types

Corporate Gamification Player TypesThe Corporate Environment is a Terrible Game

This post is a little different to what I usually write. It is not about my Octalysis Framework (but there are some core foundational principles derived from it), but rather on my observations after working with a significant amount of corporate companies.

Most employees dislike the politics and culture within their corporate environment for a multitude of reasons.

  • Your coworkers and allies are also your competitors.
  • You don’t know who is actually playing nice or pretending to play nice.
  • Sucking up seems to be more important than doing good work.
  • When working between departments, people would spend an hour explaining why they shouldn’t do something that would take 15 minutes.
  • People fight to claim credit and put the blame on others.

This has demoralized the motivation of many employees, which results in low productivity, bad-mouthing the company after work, and high turnover rate.

Of course, being a manager is extremely difficult too. You have to deal with this most fuzzy thing called human emotions. It’s confusing and irrational. Many of the smartest people in the world with ridiculous IQs were terrible at  figuring out human feelings.

I remember many years ago, when my friends first entered the workforce, they would complain how their bosses are incompetent idiots that didn’t understand the business at all. However, I’m almost 100% certain that, besides a few exceptions, now that these friends are managers themselves, people under them are calling them incompetent idiots.

Clearly, it is very difficult being a good manager.

Based on my observations, I’ve created a quick player type matrix for the corporate environment so managers would have a strategy guide to follow. Keep in mind, this is not meant to be some great gamified player type theory that I spent years perfecting. There are many others like Richard Bartle and Andrzej Marczewski who have more robust gamified player type concepts that I highly recommend.

Gamifying Company Politics: Chou’s Corporate Player Types

Corporate Gamification Player Types.001

The key principle in my Corporate Player Types, is that I divide all employees into two characteristics: performance, and politics.

Performance simply means how well the employee can carry out their responsibilities. This factors in work ethics but is focused on end deliverables. If an employee works hard but cannot produce good work, then performance is low. However, this should NOT factor “business impact,” simply because business impact is a result of having both performance and political skills.

Politics means how good (or proactive) the employee is at making friends within the organization. These are people who regularly say nice things to others, ask coworkers out for lunch, and proactively try to impress their superiors. They also tend to make something harsh sound more pleasant to the ear, even if it means sugarcoating the information a little bit, or having slight exaggeration or omission. They aren’t “liars” in most socially acceptable standards, but they are very driven by extrinsic goals and therefore pick what they say carefully and strategically.

Any 2×2 matrix divides people into four different categories: Low Performance and Low Politics, High Performance but Low Politics, High Politics but Low Performance, and High Performance and High Politics.

Corporate Gamification Player Types

Gamified Player Type: Survivors

For the Low Performance and Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Survivors.” Survivors are there simply to collect a paycheck (Core Drive 4) and not get fired (Core Drive 8). As a result, they usually just work hard enough to collect their paychecks and not get fired, and then they stop exerting effort.

Survivors are not necessarily dumber or less efficient at what they do. More often than they are just not motivated or incentivized to do good work. Survivors often like to say things like, “Why should I do this? I won’t get paid more to do it.” or “Last year I did way more work but I didn’t get a bonus. There’s no point.”

Gamified Player Type: Performers

For the High Performance but Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Performers.” Performers are people who do great work and finish their deliverables in efficient and reliable manners. They are often the people that solve problems that no one else on the team can solve. However, they have a natural dislike (or ignorance) towards corporate politics, and therefore never spend the time to make friends or work on other peoples’ feelings and motivations.

Performers also don’t suck up to their bosses and would do career suicide moves like telling their VP, “I can’t go to your dinner party because I need to think about how to execute on the plan next week.” Performers usually dislikes those who are good at politics, thinking them as “phony” and “insincere.” They inherently believe that, “As long as I do a good job, I will be given my fair reward. That will show those fancy-mouth ass-kissers.”

Gamified Player Type: Politicians

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Careful Transitioning between White Hat and Black Hat Gamification

Gamification Transitioning

Careful Transitioning between White Hat and Black Hat Gamification

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

So now that we’ve covered the nature and differences between White Hat and Black Hat gamification, how do we blend that knowledge together into our designed experiences?

In general (with some exceptions), it is better to first setup a White Hat environment to make users feel powerful and comfortable, then implement Black Hat designs at the moment when you need users to take that one Desired Action for conversion. At that point, users will likely take the Desired Action, but won’t feel very comfortable. This is when you transition quickly back to White Hat motivation to make them feel good about their experience.

An example of this is seen in the previously mentioned game Battle Camp. In Battle Camp, there are often scenarios where you are in a “Troop” with twenty-four other players and the whole group needs to battle a big boss. Typically, you would have eight hours to fight this boss, where everyone needs to come back every fifty minutes when their energy is recharged (remember this technique is called a Torture Break), and then use that energy to attack the boss.

At times, after seven and a half hours, the will boss still have 20% of his health, and you begin to realize that your troop will not be able to defeat him. At this point, you basically have two options. Option one: you lose to the boss, and twenty-five players all waste eight hours of their time, not to mention falling behind other troops that will be ranked much higher after they defeat their boss. Option two: spend $10 and purchase more energy in order to beat the boss.

Because it is such a devastating event when everyone loses eight hours of their precious time, there is a fairly high chance that you will feel compelled to take option two – buy the energy needed to defeat the boss, especially if you were also the leader of the troop.

Now, we see that you were motivated by Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance when making this purchase – again, very compelling, but you feel fairly terrible afterwards. After you defeat the boss, if that was all and nothing special happened afterwards, you would feel pretty demoralized and perhaps subconsciously wished you weren’t playing the game anymore.

However, this is when the game starts to shower you with White Hat Motivation by showing you how great of an achievement you accomplished (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment), and the rewards or trophies you have obtained (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession) because you have beaten the boss. On top of that, your teammate will often start cheering for you (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness), “Wow! You spent real money just to save our troop. You are our hero!” Being sprinkled by all this emotional confetti, people often start to think, “Hmm, maybe that was $10 well spent after all!” And this eventually trains their brains to be more open to spending the next $10 to buy energy and defeating the boss when necessary.

No Buyer’s Remorse from TOMS Shoes

Similar to the Battle Camp example, businesses should consider creating an environment of White Hat motivations, use Black Hat techniques to convert users, and then revert back to a White Hat strategy to make users feel more comfortable again.

The initial White Hat environment is for people to take interest and have a good opinion of your system in the first place. A venture capitalist wouldn’t want to invest in a startup if he didn’t first consider it world-changing and a smart investment (Core Drives 1 and 2), even if there was convincing apprehension that he may lose the deal. (Oddly enough, some investors still plunge under the pressure of Scarcity and Loss, even though they have previously determined it to be a worthless idea with no future).

Once people feel comfortable in your system but aren’t necessarily taking the strong Desired Action, such as making a purchase, you can then use the Black Hat techniques within Core Drives 6 and 8 (and sometimes Core Drive 5), to close the deal. If the user ends up buying the product, you want to reassure them that, if true, this is indeed the smartest purchase possible (Core Drive 2), that legions of others also made the same decision (Core Drive 5), and that it positively improves the world (Core Drive 1). This will likely ensure that customers don’t feel buyer’s remorse.

When you buy a pair of TOMS Shoes and begin to feel a little regret for making an expensive purchase, they hit you with reaffirming information on how your purchase has made a tremendous difference to a poor child in Africa – one who couldn’t afford a pair of shoes and had to walk barefoot to fetch water for her family. When you see that, you instantly feel good again about your purchase. Subsequently, whenever you see your shoes, it will remind you that you are a decent human being that benefits the world.

It is the same thing with donations to children in developing countries. When you make a commitment, the non-profit will continuously send you pictures, thank-you letters, sometimes even something written by the “adopted” child to make you feel that you have truly made an impact in their lives. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sending donors these pictures and letters for such a noble cause (unless they are falsely manufactured) as these donors are truly making a big difference in the lives of the less fortunate. In fact, it would be a mistake for any charitable organization to *not* show visual and social information on the impact they are making in the world. We would all like to see some Feedback Mechanics after taking Desired Actions.

As you design your experiences, never forget that if you want good Endgame design, you *must* immerse your users in White Hat Gamification techniques.

How to use Captain Up to implement the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis

Captain Up

Utilizing the 8 Core Drives within Captain Up

As you guys know, I have been a proponent of the engagement platform Captain Up for quite some time now. I have been using their platform and they have convincingly increased my website engagement metrics in many tangible ways – to the extent that I decided to get involved with them as their Behavioral Scientist. Recently, I helped them create a video tutorial series that is now branded as the Captain Up Gamification Academy.

While every platform has limitations – and in the past few months they have been focusing on making their product more ubiquitous by making implementation seamless on platforms like WordPress, Shopify and many others – there are still many ways to incorporate the 8 Core Drives into the experience.

Let’s review the different ways to accomplish this:

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

Core Drive 1 is mostly implemented by having a “theme” within the Captain Up program. Since you can customize all the levels and badges (even upload your own customized images), as well as the language you use on each interface.

If you have a gamified coupon site with a money saving-theme targeting stay-home wives, you could use the theme of being a “Family Hero.” All the levels and badges could be in the form of “penny saver,” “treasure hunter,” “bacon maximize” and get users to feel that every action they take on the site helps them save money and contribute tangibly to the family while having fun.

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

This is the easiest to implement with a platform like Captain Up. As long as the users consistently feels a sense of progress, and whenever they hit certain milestones they actually feel accomplished, you have accomplished your Core Drive 2 Objectives.

When you design your points in Captain Up, make sure that points are given from meaningful activities. Those should accumulate into meaningful achievement symbols – badges that are obtained not from blatant activities but ones that users actually can feel proud of. Also, beginning levels should be easy to level up to, but it gets proportionally harder as time goes by.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

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Bad Shifts from White Hat Design to Black Hat Gamification Design

Gamification TransitionBad Shifts from White Hat Design to Black Hat Gamification Design

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

When you switch from White Hat motivation to Black Hat Motivation, you need to make sure you understand the potential negative consequences. As an example, there was a day care center in Israel that had a problem with parents being late to pick up their kids. Researchers Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini decided to conduct an experiment and implemented a test policy where parents would be charged $3 every time they were late.

Now a typical economist will tell you that this penalty would result in more parents picking up their kids on time because they don’t want to lose money. However, the plan ended up backfiring – even more parents were now arriving late. Worse yet, when the daycare center realized this wasn’t working and decided to remove the penalty fees, more parents *continued* to be late.

The plan backfired because they transitioned the parents’ motivation from Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling (as well as Core Drive 5) to a weak form of Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. Originally the parents tried to pick up their kids in a timely manner because they inherently wanted to be *good* and responsible parents. They also didn’t want to burden the daycare center and its staff, so they tried earnestly to show up on time.

But when the daycare center put a monetary value on tardiness, it basically told parents that it was alright to be tardy as long as they paid the modest fee. Parents who were in business meetings or were preoccupied were therefore able to justify being late because a business meeting is worth more to them than the $3. Loss & Avoidance against leaving that meeting early was more powerful than Loss & Avoidance for losing $3.

Returning to the concept of proportional loss, we see that despite Loss and Avoidance typically being a powerful motivator, the $3 fee was just too low to properly motivate the parents in this situation. Remember I discussed about how when you use Loss & Avoidance, the loss needs to be threatening? If the daycare center charged a lot more than $3, the Loss & Avoidance motivation would become more threatening and more parents would likely comply (begrudgingly of course, which would lead to switching day-care centers soon).

Currently, there are some daycare centers that charge a $1 late fee for *every minute* the parent is late. This design actively gets parents to be on time more often. This is not only because the loss is more threatening, but also due to the parents feeling a combination of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience, as well as a bit of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback since they feel a stronger sense of agency over end results.

Black Hat Motivation within Fundraising (Gamification)

Fundraising GamificationBlack Hat Motivation within Fundraising (Gamification)

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

In the realm of fundraising, I regularly get approached by startup entrepreneurs who are looking for some support to help them navigate fundraising from angel investors as well as venture capitalists (I also get approached by many investors, but on an entirely different set of motivational challenges – mostly White Hat).

The thing about investors is that they are generally motivated by the forces of greed and fear. The force of greed – the intense desire to make a billion dollars (Core Drives 2 and 4); the force of fear – the apprehension of losing all their money (Core Drive 8).

At the beginning, the entrepreneur may promote many great attributes about the company, appealing to the investor’s sense of Core Drive 1, 2, 4 and even 5 if there is a good social proof. (Here you see the value of remembering the numbers for each Core Drive. Don’t worry if you don’t remember these numbers now, but just take note that they are mostly on the White Hat side of things.) The investor starts to show a lot of excitement, and the entrepreneur feels like the deal is sealed.

However, as the investor gets closer and closer to writing a check, the fear of losing all their money begins to preoccupy them, which is driven by Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. They start to ask for more metrics, traction, and further social proof. Often, six months go by, and still no funding is committed.

From my personal experience, investors generally only close deals quickly when they are *convinced* that they will lose the deal if they don’t commit. If an entrepreneur *convincingly* tells the investor that a lot of people are already in on the deal, and if the investor does not act this week the round will be full, only then will they finally react. Black Hat creates urgency and closes deals.

When I was trying to raise $600,000 for my gamification startup straight out of college, I found the experience to be extremely difficult and sobering. We were a very young team, and this “gamification” thing seemed like a half-baked crazy idea.

After struggling for awhile to raise a modest amount of money to keep our small team afloat, we were finally able to secure $650,000 from three investors. At that point, I wrote an email to all our potential investors, who for over a year continually “wanted to see more” and “weren’t sure about this gamification thing.” I simply told them, “We are going to close the round, but thank you for your continuous (and non-existent) support!”

At this point, many of these investors who didn’t want to commit for an entire year suddenly responded with passion, enthusiasm, and even anger. “Yu-kai. I thought we agreed that I could invest this much money in your company. Why are you telling me that you are closing the round without me?” I was thinking, “Well, you kind of had an entire year to do that…” but they oddly made it seem like I was burning bridges if I didn’t take their money.

As a result, we tried to cap the round at $800,000 instead of $600,000, and we couldn’t do it. We tried to cap it at $900,000 and couldn’t. We tried to cap it at $1,000,000 and we still couldn’t. Finally, I capped the round at $1,050,000, while rejecting some investor money, just to show that we were serious about the cap. (I’ve also heard this same experience retold many times by other entrepreneurs.)

This illustrates the irrational power of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience as well as Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance (while also serving as a fine example of the limits of White Hat motivation). All these “potential investors” clearly liked what I was doing. They were encouraged whenever I gave them good news. They saw that it could potentially make the world a better place. But they didn’t acted until they saw that the deal was being taken away from them. With White Hat motivation alone, people will always be intending, but never actually doing.

For the curious, eventually my startup launched RewardMe, a product that gamified the offline commerce experience. RewardMe was performing eleven times better than the numbers our closest competitors published. (Sorry – since these companies are still in existence, I won’t cite sources here in respect to their current success.) Towards the end of my time there, we even closed a $1.5 million sales deal with a national chain.

Startups are risky, and the unfortunate thing is, just having a stunning product doesn’t mean a company will be successful. A few years after RewardMe’s launch, we hit a combination of personnel, funding, and legal issues. I stepped down as the CEO, and eventually the company folded. If only I had my Octalysis knowledge back then, many things would likely be different, which is why I am hoping my readers learn these elements on motivation before they run into issues in their own companies.

Fortunately, by stepping down as the CEO of RewardMe, it freed up a lot of my time to further study gamification, human-focused design, and develop the Octalysis Framework.

Today, even though my Octalysis Group organization is becoming busier and busier, I’m a lot happier than when I was running a technology startup. That’s because I am now mostly motivated by White Hat Core Drives, as opposed to the Black Hat Core Drives of constantly counting our runway before dying.