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Octalysis: Complete Gamification Framework

Gamification

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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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.

When to use Black Hat Gamification Design

Black Hat Gamification

When to use 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).

On the other hand, when people are doing sales or running eCommerce sites, they often don’t care about long-term engagement and motivation (though they probably should). All they want is for the customer to come in, buy something as quickly as possible, and then leave.

As a result, they often involve Black Hat Gamification techniques: “What’s going to be the surprise launch tomorrow? The chance to get this deal will expire in four hours. If you don’t buy, you will end up being worse off than others!”

In an earlier chapter we looked at how Woot.com became an extremely successful eCommerce site based on two Core Drives: Scarcity & Impatience, as well as Unpredictability & Curiosity. Because Black Hat gamification creates urgency, when you need someone to take immediate action or a transaction, Black Hat techniques often become the most effective solutions.

This dynamic also holds true for sales and fundraising. One of my clients, Morf Media, provides a gamified training platform designed to make SEC compliance training more engaging and fun for employees of financial institutions.

By nature, financial institutions are risk-averse (Core Drive 8), and they are not inclined to work with new technology companies. You can give them a great deal of White Hat motivation, and they will be interested, intrigued, even excited, but they will likely take forever to make a move because there is no sense of urgency to take on any perceived risk.

The key here is to convince the company that, none of their employees like doing SEC compliance training (hardly a difficult sell), and *every single day* their employees’ aren’t compliant increases their risk. Lawsuits are literally laid out ahead like land mines. In that sense, it is riskier to *not* work with Morf Media than it is to work with them. We’ve turned that Black Hat Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance around. (Note: we will likely explore the strategy and process of turning Anti Core Drives around in a future book).

Black Hat Motivation within Fundraising

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.

How I was forced to take $450,000 more than I wanted to

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. 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.

When to use White Hat Gamification Design

White Hat Gamification

When to use White 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).

Because of their natures, there are dominant strategies to determine when and how to use either White Hat or Black Hat gamification. Since employee motivation and workplace gamification are about long-term engagement, companies should use White Hat designs to make sure employees feel good, grow with the enterprise, and are there for the long haul.

Workplace gamification is often about the top three Core Drives in Octalysis: creating meaning, providing a path to mastery, and ensuring meaningful autonomy. You may identify these as components of Self Determination Theory and the concepts within Drive, which we will cover in more detail in the next chapter.

Most large corporations make the mistake in believing that, because they pay their employees, their employees *have* to do their work regardless of exploitive policies, unappreciative bosses, and bad workplace culture. As a result, employees only work hard enough to get a paycheck (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession) and not lose their jobs (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance).

Google’s White Hat Gamified Culture

One company that challenged this trend is Google. Very early on, Google started with the assumption that every one of their employees was either an entrepreneur, or wanted to be an entrepreneur. As a result, if these employees did not feel “happy” being at Google, they would simply leave and start their own businesses instead, maybe even becoming a Google competitor.

Remember I talked about how Gamification is Human-Focused Design and that games were the first to master it because no one *has* to play a game? When you design an experience with the underlying belief that, the moment your experience is no longer engaging, people will leave your system – you will likely create much better Human-Focused Designs.

In the case of Google, they implemented many White Hat designs into their company culture.

The first thing Google did was implement Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling. Google is widely known for having the mission statement, “Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” as well as the catchy slogan, “Don’t be evil.”

Because of that, many talented engineers felt that, “I could earn a paycheck anywhere, but at Google, I’m creating an impact in the world. Not only that, I’m part of the good guys, and that’s really valuable for me!”

In regards to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, besides the usual raises and promotions, Google realizes that not every engineer can become a manager, but every engineer needs to feel a sense of progress and development. As a result, they introduced eight levels of engineers so that engineers who either shouldn’t or don’t want to become managers can continue to “level up.” In 2013, Google even introduced a ninth level titled “Senior Google Fellow,” allegedly because they needed a way to give legendary engineer Jeff Dean a promotion.

In terms of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, we discussed in Chapter 7 how Google introduced 20% time, which allowed employees to spend 20% of their time to work on anything they wanted, as long as the intellectual property belonged to Google.

They also use some Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession by allowing employees to take full ownership of their projects (and of course taking home nice paychecks too). They utilize Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness by creating a university-like campus and a workplace culture that makes laziness and stagnation highly undesirable and disparaged within their healthy social dynamics.

All these examples are White Hat influences that help their employees to be engaged in the long run. Unfortunately, there seems to be a weakening of Google’s playful culture as Google becomes much larger and restructures their policies to be more like those of other large corporations that are more efficiently focused on profits.

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Gamification, Manipulation, and Ethics

Manipulation

Gamification, Manipulation, and Ethics

(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).

During my conference talks, I regularly get questions from people who ask me whether gamification is a form of manipulation and therefore unethical to use. While there is no “correct” answer on this topic, and while the focus of this book is on effectively designing for behavioral change rather than ethics, I will attempt to share my own thoughts on the issue.
My quick answer: yes, gamification is a form of manipulation.

However, even though “manipulation” is a strong word with immense negative connotations, we regularly accept it in our daily lives and even expect it.

If you think about it, saying “please” is a form of manipulation. You weren’t going to do something for your friend, but your friend said “please” in a sincere manner (Core Drive 5), and even though nothing tangible has changed about the transaction, you now willingly and happily agree to do it for them.

That’s manipulation.

And when your friend says, “Thank You,” that’s an emotional reward that makes you feel like the action was worth it. If your friend offered you payment (somehow paying someone to do the activity is one of the only ways that people don’t complain as “manipulation” these days), you may even become offended.

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