Gamify Your Life for 2015 – Up For the Challenge?

Lifestyle Gamification

(New to Gamification? Check out the Octalysis Framework that I am internationally known for.)

Gamify Your Life for 2015 – Up For the Challenge?

2014 seems to have gone by pretty quickly. But now we have a fresh new start at a brand new year. Most people are inspired to set some type of New Year’s resolution. If you’ve been following our blog posts, you are probably quite familiar with the Core Drives of game players that make up the Octalysis framework.

These drives specify the chief sources of motivation that games should ideally cater to in order to be thoroughly immersive, fun and engaging. When used in a balanced fashion, these factors  motivate individuals to keeping playing and overcome setbacks.

Now, think about what it would be like to experience this type of momentum with your own personal development goals. Although most people have the best of intentions when setting their New Year’s resolution. However, it is a normal tendency for individuals to quit their New Year’s resolution within a few days, weeks or months.  But what if you not only  learn the lessons of what it takes to create truly fun experiences but also apply these principles to your very own life?  You might actually be one of the rare individuals persist with their resolutions to the end December, ready to successfully tackle an entirely new resolution for 2016! You will be the New Year’s resolution master!

My passion as a gamification consultant extends beyond best practices and principles in game design. Ultimately, I want to see this world become a more fun place. Imagine what it would be like to be so engaged with life, including work and school. We would get through the things we “have to do.” with less resistance and a greater sense of fulfillment and meaning. We would also be motivated to create new, exciting and beneficial solutions instead of just getting by through the “daily grind.”

Life is too short for most of our waking hours to be spent experiencing the feelings of drudgery and utter boredom.

I firmly believe that if we can empower ourselves to actually create more opportunities  for fun. And games can be one of our best teachers for doing this. Rather than depending heavily upon them as a source of enjoyment, we can choose to reframe our perspective and learn important lessons for creating our own sense of fun. Think of how powerful it would be to actually harness  your inner resources and transform life’s seemingly mundane situations into truly engaging quests and challenges? We wouldn’t have to feel so bogged down by feelings of resistance, frustration and aversion which sabotage our ability to truly enjoy our lives.

Imagine what it would be like to realize at the deepest level of our being that we are the heroes of our own stories, not someone else’s. And as we align ourselves with this perspective, we can better position ourselves to look deeper past the surface of our existence to see and create opportunities for living each and every moment to it’s fullest.

Beyond learning the Octalysis Framework

Up until now, you may have been eager to learn more about Octalysis and how it can be applied to design better games. But in light of this upcoming new year,  I want you to consider a new challenge of using this framework within the context of your own life. Whether you are interested in advancing your career, succeeding at your own business, becoming more fit, saving money, improving your personal relationships, learning developing greater confidence or cultivating a new hobby, all these endeavors will require consistent action and dedication. And if game principles can motivate effortless perseverance, why not apply these concepts to everyday situations where you can benefit from this mindset?

Most people consider their New Year’s resolution over and done with as soon as they make a mistake or miss one day of not doing what they are supposed to. But this is where I’d like you to redefine what it means to keep a resolution. If you falter with your consistency, just forgive yourself get back on track and don’t quit. The rewards in the end will be worth it.

Now keep in mind that the eight Core Drives of Octalysis specify human motives within a game context. And if you are to see your life as an adventurous game, it would be valuable to see how this framework can apply to personal progress and development. Therefore, Octalysis can be a helpful reference to re-imagine the achievement of your goals and keep you motivated as you would with your favorite game.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling

If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time”- Zig Ziglar

Think of your life as being your playing field. Without an ultimate inspiring vision for your grand purpose or smaller goals, it can seem like you are just going through the motions of what you are supposed to be doing. Your daily actions are just reduced to completing a bunch of tasks simply to get by and stay clear of problems.

Your Epic Meaning and Calling starts with a meaningful vision. As the hero of your life’s journey, you are strong enough, capable enough, smart enough and creative enough to rise above circumstances you are not happy with and create new ones. Sure there are challenges and obstacles. But you can use your inner resources to overcome them. Being rooted in a strong sense of purpose and meaning can help you see things in a whole new light and fuel the motivation that you need.

If you have not thought about defining your Epic Meaning and Calling, here are some questions to think about:

  1. What do you feel deep down is your life’s purpose?

  2. What principles do you stand by?

  3. What would you ideally like to do to make a positive impact in this world?

  4. What are you uniquely good at?

If you simply want to lose weight and become more fit or achieve a more simplistic goal for 2015, your Epic Meaning and Calling doesn’t have to be some deep profound answer. It can simply be a vision of how you would enjoy the experience of reaching your goal.

However you choose to define this Core Drive in your life, what’s important is that it truly evokes a lasting and genuine feeling of inspiration within you.

Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment

More often than not, it is the case that your grand vision will require that you achieve smaller steps, reach certain milestones and master a set of skills along the way. And of course, this will require consistency and discipline which may seem difficult, challenging or daunting. But if games can bring out these qualities in people, why not use gamification concepts to cultivate the momentum you need.

Create a written plan that specifies what actions you need to take. Go a step forward and break down these steps into clear tasks and actions that you will need to accomplish on a day to day basis. These can even include learning goals and questions that you need to find the answers to.

Choose to see your achievement strategy as fun. And remember that every task that you complete is like a stepping stone or a jigsaw puzzle piece that contributes to your overarching vision. Therefore make it a point to celebrate your small accomplishments as you achieve the items on your lists. And even if you happen to miss days or certain objectives, simply learn from these incidents, resolve to do better and keep working on your objectives.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

No matter what you’ve set out to accomplish, you will undoubtedly need to solve problems and come up with new and novel solutions. Using your creativity to actually create new possibilities for your own life can be exhilarating if you choose this to be the case.

Even the process of reframing old, seemingly boring or even adverse situations into new opportunities for growth will require creativity and outside the box thinking.

As you exercise your creativity to reach milestones, you may not only feel internally rewarded, but also you might garner positive feedback and recognition from others and have new doors open for you along the way.

Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession

Naturally, you expect to earn tangible results from your endeavors  that you can actually possess or accumulate. In real life, this commonly takes the form of financial rewards which often translates to material acquisitions like:

  • a new car

  • a dream home

  • nice clothes

  • bigger savings

  • an overall higher standard of living

The drive towards Ownership and Possession may also involve pursuing credentials such as a degree, diploma or certification.

Also, think about how well known entertainment professionals will vie for an Oscar or a Grammy. Athletes will compete for medals at the Olympics and so forth. I’m sure you get the picture.

Whatever you choose for your New Year’s resolution and self development, personal and professional goals, determine what tangible rewards you would like to own or possess. And think of this and other rewards to motivate you along the way to your ultimate vision.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness

Rather than achieving successes and wins in a silo, most people find it more gratifying to have their efforts recognized by others.

There are a number of different ways this can be realized. A person could decide to enter a contest or competition. If they are primarily motivated by altruistic objectives, they may choose to become very active in a charity and impact as many lives as they can. This would naturally generate a considerable amount of positive attention, not to mention appreciation from other people. Joining a Meet Up or other type of support group would be another way to connect to others while striving towards a personally cherished vision.

Also with today’s social media tools like Facebook, You Tube and Twitter, attaining Influence and strengthening one’s relationship to others is within everyone’s reach if they are dedicated to creating new content and sharing on a regular basis.

Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience

The Core Drive of Scarcity and Impatience is about the motivation to pursue what you can’t immediately have. For example, you may want to live an affluent, stylish lifestyle. Or you may want to own a item made by a luxury brand that is known for catering to the rich and famous.

Even if you are not the type of person who is particularly motivated by materialistic pursuits, think of what you might ideally want, but is not within easy grasp at the moment. Challenge yourself to aspire towards what seems to be an unattainable dream. The experience of actually reaching what seemed to be nearly impossible will be a victory that is all the more gratifying.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity

Achieving anything worthwhile requires that you move out of your comfort zone.  For some people, this can feel scary. But this is a matter of perception and a matter of choice. Each person can choose to look upon their new journey with a sense of adventure. It’s all a matter of attitude and perception. The unpredictability of it all can be viewed through an open minded attitude of curiosity and a willingness to explore rather than through the lens of fear or aversion.

And with this perspective taking unchartered steps in new directions doesn’t have to feel risky, frightening. Nor does it have to feel like you are adding more tasks & obligations to your busy life.  Rather, moving beyond your comfort zone can feel like an experiment or an opportunity to expand your horizons and venture beyond familiar boundaries.

Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance

When creating change in your life, it is usually best to start off with a reasonable degree of moderation. For obvious reasons, you probably would not want to spend excessive amounts of time and financial resources in trying to leap into the life and career of your dreams.

As an example, if you are considering the idea of one day leaving your day job to become a successful entrepreneur, it is recommended that you have at least up to about two or three years worth of savings to support your basic living expenses. It will take some time to establish the right foundations for your business before you can reap the benefits of a desired stream of revenue. Therefore, it is best to probably stay at your job until you’ve made enough to support yourself during the very initial stages of your business.

Perhaps you don’t want to start your own company. But in 2015, you may decide to implement Core Drive 8 into your life to avoid loss by simply saving more and spending less. Therefore your personal challenge might involve finding new strategies for enjoying your life or getting the important things done while reducing spending.

Although I’ve developed my career as a gamification professional, some people might find it surprising that I don’t promote the gaming culture.

Yes, I support excellence in game design. But I regard this as secondary to what I consider my  my Epic Meaning and Calling, if you will.  My fondest desire is to contribute to a world that  helps people  become so engaged with their real lives that they don’t have time to immerse  themselves games. What a wonderful place this would be for everyone when we are finally able to appreciate our lives to the fullest extent and all the opportunities we have for creating new experiences of  enjoyment and adventure with what is already in front of us and around us!

I hope all of you take these considerations to heart and have a most  fun filled and fabulous new year!

Power of Unpredictability & Curiosity: Sweepstakes and Raffles

Extrinsic Motivation

(Below is a manuscript snippet of my 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).

Sweepstakes and Raffles in Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

In Chapter 5 on Epic Meaning & Calling, I mentioned how I started my first business because of a small raffle held at a UCLA barbeque. Raffles are fairly popular because they add an element of “fun” to an event, as people are drawn by the possibility of winning a prize. Most of the time, the “Desired Action” is for people to stay until the end of the event, and therefore the results of the raffle is announced towards the end of the schedule. Though primarily driven by Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity (in the Octalysis Framework), these events draw power from CD5: Ownership & Possession (the desire to win a prize), and a bit of CD8: Loss & Avoidance (if I leave too early, I’ll lose my chance to win…)

As you remember when I first recounted my story, when I drew my own name out of the hat, I was also hit by a strong sense of *Calling* (from Core Drive 1) as I felt I was destined to start my own business.

My perceived *calling* compelled me to be persistent in the face of some dark days and difficult challenges throughout my entrepreneurial career. Many times at the brink of failure I felt like giving up, but because I believed that I was meant to walk this path, I pressed on and became more convinced that I could persevere in the startup world as a young entreprenuer. As you can see, being “lucky” in a scenario of chance can install a higher sense of mission and purpose. The same goes with the effects of Beginner’s Luck (Game Technique #23), where people who are extremely lucky the first time they do something feel that they are somehow destined to do it.

As you can see, the power of the raffle is more than the value of any individual reward. Beyond the prize itself (which is extrinsic in nature, stemming from Core Drive 4), the intrinsic motivation behind the “will I be lucky?” thought plays an important role in ensuring people remain engaged with the process.

Companies that use Sweepstakes and Raffles

On a larger scale, many companies that utilize social media marketing are now successfully deploy techniques such as sweepstakes to engage users with their brand and message.

Often times, these companies will give out a quest where those who commit the Desired Actions will have a chance at winning some promotional prize. Sweepstakes can vary quite a bit. The Desired Actions can be as simple as “liking” the company website on Facebook (an example of such a campaign is Macy’s marketing campaign where “liking” their Facebook profile gave fans a chance to win $500-$1,000 in gift cards.

Kellogg’s The Great Eggo Waffle Off Sweepstakes

The Desired Actions can also be something more complex, such as Kelloggs’ “The Great Eggo Waffle Off!” challenge, where entrants submitted their best waffle recipes for a chance to win $5,000.

They also utilized Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness by incorporating the Social Treasure game technique into their sweepstakes. The odds of an entrant winning the competition could either be entirely based on, or at least partially affected, by community voting.

In that way, an added Desired Action of “promoting our brand to all your friends!” comes into effect. This works great for a challenge like The Great Eggo Waffle Off since users are sending images of guilty-pleasure waffles to their friends, asking the friends to vote up their submissions. Eye candy works like a charm.

Some Sweepstakes are theme-based, tying in some Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession or even Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling.

Dove’s Real Beauty Should Be Share Sweepstakes

Dove applies a theme-based sweepstake that is visually appealing to users. In their “Real Beauty Should Be Shared” contest, Dove asked their fans to share why their friend “represents Real Beauty.”

Instead of receiving monetary prizes, the winner gets to be the new “Faces of Dove” at various local Shoppers Drug Mart.

Dove Sweepstakes


This is a great design, because the campaign involves photos of beautiful/confident women that attract attention, a cause that contestant friends can all get behind and support contestants on, and a prize that appeals to status while giving users a higher sense of ownership.

Tires Plus Father’s day Clock Giveaway Sweepstakes

Another example of a theme-based sweepstake is Tires Plus’ *Father’s Day Clock Giveaway*, which used an essay contest asking contestants to write about who they think qualifies as the best dad. Then participants voted for their favorite dad to determine who would ultimately take home a Michelin Man clock.

The good part about the sweepstake’s design was that its theme fit Tires Plus’ target demographics- guys who like cars. The slight flaw in its implementation was that the Desired Action required significant effort: although they used the same gamification techniques as Dove, the writing and reading of essays is a Desired Action that requires a lot of time and non-car-related effort just for a simple extrinsic prize. Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance prevented many people from participating. This is known as an Anti Core Drive in my framework which we will cover in detail in Chapter 16.

Coca-Cola’s Chok Sweepstakes

Some brands decide to double down on Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity by making everything about the sweepstakes unpredictable. Coca-Cola is one of those brands that has been at the forefront of developing creative and innovative product promotions.

You can often see that Coca-Cola commercials often try to turn simple acts of drinking carbonated sugar water into a Core Drive 1: Epic meaning and Calling experience through using magical kingdoms, promoting happiness, and using friendly polar bears.

Coca-Cola launched an especially appealing sweepstakes contest for teenagers in Hong Kong. Users are offered a free app called “Chok.”

During each evening, a television commercial will run, asking fans to open the app and shake their phones to catch virtual bottle caps and earn mobile games, discounts, and sweepstakes entries.

This prompted users to enthusiastically shake their phones in front of the television screen, hoping for prizes that may or may not pop out. Because the time of the activity, whether one will win or not, and what the winner will get are all unknown, there’s a strong sense of excitement. Even in the campaign’s Discovery Phase (the phase where users decide to first try out a product or experience, which works hand-in-hand through marketing and so-called *growth hacking*), if you are watching TV with a group and you see someone suddenly shake her phone when a commercial comes on, your curiosity will surely be piqued and perhaps compel you to join.

Coca Cola strategically aligned this campaign with its brand strategy and Chok received 380,000 downloads from Hong Kong users alone within a month of launch. The beverage conglomerate claimed this campaign was their most successful marketing effort in Hong Kong for 35 years.

Commercially Unskippable: Power of Super Bowl Ads

Super Bowl Ads

(Below is a manuscript snippet of my 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).

Commercially Unskippable: Power of Super Bowl Ads

Another system that has successfully implemented Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is the iconic Super Bowl championship of American Football – however, I’m not talking about the game itself.

Super Bowl commercials have generated a strong reputation for being very creative, funny, and interesting. Even people who don’t like to watch football want to catch the Super Bowl commercials because it’s well-known that companies had to pay millions of dollars just to snag a 30-second spot. With such a high price tag, it’s expected that the commercials will be high quality and shareworthy too.

Super Bowl commercials even receive attention from big media sites such as Yahoo! and Google which upload snippets of each commercial immediately after they’re aired.

This is very unique because for most of the time, television viewers purposely try to avoid commercials — some even pay to receive programming that allows them to skip commercials entirely.

However, because of the suspense factor, instead of turning the channel away from the commercials, people are tuning in to watch them. And because these ads are seen by millions of people, the National Football League can continue to charge high prices for their Super Bowl commercial spots.

Make your experiences suspenseful and unpredictable, and users will make sure they don’t miss what you launch next.

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#7): Unpredictability & Curiosity


(Below is a manuscript snippet of my 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).

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

Unpredictability & Curiosity is the seventh Core Drive in the Octalysis Gamification Framework and is the main force behind our infatuation with experiences that are uncertain and involve chance.

As mentioned in earlier chapters, our intellectual consciousness is inherently lazy, and if tasks at hand do not demand immediate attention, the neocortex delegates the mental legwork to our subconscious mind, or “System 1” according to Economics Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

The intellectual consciousness only wants to be disturbed when it is absolutely necessary, such as when a threat is present or when the brain encounters new information it hasn’t processed before.

Indeed, Oren Klaff, author of Pitch Anything, states that during meetings, people pay attention to what you say until they can fit you into a pattern that they have previously recognized. Once they fit you into a recognized pattern, they immediately zone out. Therefore, it is important to give a pitch that continuously serves unexpected and unpredictable information to keep people engaged.

Coupled with this is our natural curiosity to explore. Exploring the unknown, though dangerous, helped our ancestors adapt to changing environments and discover new resources to survive and thrive.

Jesse Schell, game designer and author of Art of Game Design: A book of lenses, even goes as far as defining the word “fun” as “pleasure with surprises.” Why is the “surprise” element so important in *fun*?

In this chapter, we will explore how this Core Drive of Unpredictability & Curiosity drives our behavior and how a system designer can effectively design this into their experiences.

Gambling and Variable Rewards

If I told you to play a game, where you continuously press a button and every ten times you press it, you give me $5, would you play it?

The rational reader would not only turn down this offer but would feel utterly insulted that I tried to dupe you into playing in the first place.

Now what if the terms change, and I told you that out of a hundred people, two people who play this game will win $10 back?

You may ponder this a little bit, but still reject it. The offer is not as insulting as before though, just not economically attractive.

But what if I told you that every time you press the button, you may periodically win some money back, and there is an extremely small but possible chance of winning $10,000?

I can’t exactly predict what my smart rational readers would do in this case, but I do know that every single day millions of people throughout the world play the game I mentioned above. Most commonly known as slot machine gambling, players are consistently losing money every time they pull a lever or press a button, but are engaged, even addicted, to the unpredictable chance of winning a lot of money back. With the *right* risk/reward incentive, the game suddenly becomes so much fun!

Studies have shown that we are more engaged in an experience when there is the possibility of winning than when we know our odds for certain.  If we *know* we will receive a reward, our excitement only reflects the emotional value of the reward itself. However, when we only have a chance to gain the reward our brains are more engaged by the thrill of whether we will win or not.

Gamification and the Skinner Box

There’s a substantial amount of research on how the unknown and the unpredictable intrigues and engages our minds. One of the most famous motivational design case studies that explored this phenomenon is the Skinner Box

Skinner Box Gamification

The Skinner Box was an experiment conducted by the scientist B. F. Skinner, who placed rodents and pigeons in a box with a lever in it. In the first phase, whenever the animal presses the lever(the *Desired Action*), food came out. As long as the animal continuously pressed the lever, food would continue to be dispensed. The end result is that when the animal was no longer hungry, it would stop pressing the lever. This makes a lot of sense – the animal is no longer hungry and does not need food anymore.

The second phase, however, introduced unpredictability into the test mechanics. When the animal pressed the lever, there was no guarantee that food would be dispensed as it did before. Sometimes food came out, sometimes nothing came out, and sometimes even two pieces of food came out.

Skinner observed that with these mechanics in place, the animal would constantly press the lever, regardless of whether it was hungry or not. The system was simply messing with its brain: “*Will it come out? Will it come out? Will it come out?*”

Here we see that satisfying our burning curiosity is intrinsically motivating to our primitive brain, sometimes more so than the extrinsic reward of food. Have you ever seen a person so addicted to gambling that he forgot that he was tired, hungry, or even thirsty?

I often hear critiques of how the Points, Badges, and Leaderboards in gamification simply turns the world into a large Skinner Box, where people are manipulated to mindlessly doing meaningless tasks. I feel the more profound lesson from the Skinner Box is not that Points and Badges motivate people, but that unpredictable results stemming from Core Drive 7 can drive obsessive behavior. 

Glowing Choice (Game Technique #28)

Within Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, the game element “Glowing Choice” (#28) is an often used example of how to lead players in the right direction by appealing to their curiosity (this is especially utilized in the Onboarding Phase).

Most players don’t enjoy reading a huge manual or watching a long video before beginning a game; players would rather have the option to jump right in and test things out- this is where the Glowing Choice comes into play. In many role-playing games, when a player is uncertain what the next Desired Action is, a specific computer character might be highlighted with a glowing exclamation point that prompts the player to engage with him/her.

Once engaged, the character will reveal the following quest or the next clue to help the player move forward in the game. The player now knows the next Desired Action.

Contrasted with the Desert Oasis game technique mentioned in the Core Drive 2 chapter where the designer highlights a Desired Action by clearing out everything surrounding it, the Glowing Choice technique is about making the Desired Action shine like a bright star in the midst of a complex environment.

You can apply this method with apps by placing a strong emphasis on a key feature that represents the Desired Action that users need to be guided towards. Many apps do this by having a question mark on top of the key feature, or an arrow that points directly to what they want their potential customers to focus on.

I always tell my clients, “Never allow your users to accidentally stumble upon a bad experience.” If users cannot figure out what to do within 4 seconds then they will become disengaged. If a user clicks on any button or tab and reaches a dead end, they are penalized for doing the Desired Action.

A great implementation of the Glowing Choice technique is seen in the game Candy Crush.

Like we discussed previously, if the app detects that you have not made a move within a few seconds, it will start to show you a possible action by having the option glow. Now any person who has spent some time on Candy Crush will know that following those actions will mostly likely lead you to failure, as they are almost never the optimal move. Some people wonder if these choices are there to purposely guide people into failure.

In reality, Candy Crush is not purposely trying to lead users to failure; they correctly recognize that having users move swiftly through the game even if this leads to a loss is far better than having them feel stuck and uncertain of what action to take. When a player loses, she plays again. When a player is stuck, she may very well leave the app and go check her email. The Glowing Choice helps keep the game flowing.

The key to good design is that users don’t need to think about committing the Desired Actions. In fact, users should have to think hard and decide to not take the Desired Action if they don’t want to do it. If there was a huge animated pointing arrow that tells you to click on a certain button within an app, the user can still choose to not click it, but her brain has to work harder to avoid it.

Once your customer clicks on the question mark or the arrow, the question mark should disappear. The players can then click on the next highlighted feature to find out what it does and why it helps them.

There are many successful apps and games that implement the Glowing Choice game technique to guide users through the Onboarding experience and the discerning designer should examine how they implement it.

Mystery Boxes (Game Technique #72)

One of the most common ways to utilize Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is through reward structures. Instead of giving users Fixed-Actions Rewards where the steps to obtain them are well-understood- a strategy that focuses on Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession through the “Earned Lunch” Game Technique- you can build unpredictability into the experience by altering the context of how the reward is given or the nature of the reward itself.

In games, there are “loot” or “drops,” which are random rewards that appear once the player achieves a win-state such as opening a treasure box or defeating an enemy. Often times, this unpredictable process is what drives players in the Endgame Phase. I call this technique Mystery Boxes or Random Rewards.

With random rewards, the participant receives an unknown reward by completing a required action. Using this technique recreates the excitement that children have on Christmas Eve. They see the gifts under the tree and know that they won’t find out what they are until Christmas morning. The anticipation of getting the gift, even though they have no idea what’s in the boxes, is part of what makes the experience so exciting.

One example of this technique can be found at holiday parties in the form of  the White Elephant gift exchange. Also known as the “Gift Swap”, this game provides a mechanism for distributing inexpensive or undesirable gifts (often from previous holiday seasons) among participants.

The exchange starts with each participant providing a wrapped gift for the gift pool, and then drawing (unpredictability in itself) a number to determine the order in which they will select a gift. The first person selects and opens a gift from the pool. The next participant can then either select from the pool of unopened gifts or “steal” the opened gift from the first participant, who then has to reselect a replacement gift from the pool.

The next player has the option to select from the pool or “steal” either gift from the previous players. This goes on until the last player selects the last gift or steals from one of the others, which causes the individual whose gift is stolen to open the last gift. Again, in this case, everyone knows that once they complete the game, a reward will be earned, but what the reward is can only be known at the end.

A second example of Random Rewards can be seen with the company Mystery Box Shop. Customers join the service via subscription and pay a monthly fee. Similar to Woot’s “Bag of Crap,” at the first of each month a package containing 5 to 10 “fabulous curiosities,” is shipped out to the customer.

The contents of each package follow the theme for that month. Recent themes include “Never Grow Up,” “Hallowawesome,” “Another World,” and “Old School.”

Promising to be cool, curious, odd, or even bizarre, each Mystery Box provides an element of curiosity. Consisting of a mixture of clothing, toys, gadgets, snacks, electronics, and who knows what, each delivery is like opening your presents on your birthday. It keeps customers coming back for more.

Easter Eggs (Game Technique #30)

Different to Mystery Boxes, Easter Eggs (or Sudden Rewards) are surprises that are given out without the user acknowledging it beforehand. In other words, where Mystery Boxes are unexpected rewards based on a certain expected trigger, Easter Eggs are rewards based on unexpected triggers.

Participants love the element of surprise and because these rewards are so unexpected, the added feelings of excitement and good luck make the experience truly enjoyable. Sudden rewards incentivize customers to keep coming back in the hopes that they can inadvertently feel the same excitement again.

Easter Eggs are effective in two ways: They get great word-of-mouth because everybody loves to share something exciting and unexpected that happened to them that day. They’ll tell their friends about what they got and their friends will want to participate in the hopes that they’ll get an Easter egg as well.

Easter Eggs also create speculation of what triggered it in the first place. If the Easter Egg seemed to be random, participants will wonder how they can replicate the experience in order to “game” the system. They will start to develop theories about how they won, and they will commit the assumed Desired Actions over and over again to either prove or disprove these theories.

A good example of an Easter Egg is the “Chase Picks up the Tab” program. Once enrolled in the program, whenever a Chase customer swipes their Chase credit cards (the Desired Action), there is a very small chance the customer will get a text from Chase that says (paraphrased), “Chase just picked up the tab! Your $5 will be credited back to your account. Have a nice day.” Though the reward dollar amount is not great, it compels consumers to regularly swipe with their Chase cards instead of other cards because customers want to see if they can “win” again this time. Oftentimes, users will also tell their friends about their win, which may compel them to sign-up to this “game”.

Rolling Rewards (Game Techniques #74)

Another type of reward context that is fueled by Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is the Rolling Reward, or sometimes called the “Lottery”.

The key idea of rolling rewards is the rule that somebody has to win each period, and so as long as you “stay in the game” for long enough, the chances of you winning increases linearly.

In small settings, Rolling Reward designs are seen in forms such as “Employee of the Week” where employees work hard, hoping that one day they will be the one that earns that status and recognition (note: Mario Herger in his book, Enterprise Gamification, suggests that Employee-of-the-Week programs won’t work in countries and cultures that frown upon individual recognition).

Another form of Rolling Reward is when an employer or big client states, “After this project, one of you will get a free vacation to Maui for two weeks!” In fact, at most workplaces, the thought of being promoted one day is in itself a Rolling Reward – someone has to become the new Vice President: I hope its me.

On a larger scale Rolling Reward programs have low barriers to entry and the rewards are substantial (think state or national lotteries), but there’s a very slim chance to win, regardless of how long you spend playing the “game”.

Yes, individuals can increase their odds of winning by performing more of the Desired Action, such as purchasing additional tickets, or collecting additional entries but again, the larger the program, the more difficult the odds.

The reason why lotteries work so well is because our brains are incredibly bad at processing small percentages. We can’t conceptually understand the difference between “one in ten million” and “on in a hundred million.” We just register both odds as “a very small chance” without really comprehending that you could be winning the “one in ten million” prize ten times before you can win the “one in a hundred million” prize!

Robert Williams, a professor who studies lotteries at the University of Lethbridge states, “we have nothing in our evolutionary history that prepares us or primes us, no intellectual architecture, to try and grasp the remoteness of those odds.”

And as a result, as long as there is some chance, people are willing to invest small amounts of money to obtain a gigantic reward.

Rolling rewards work on a number of levels. For starters, because they have moderately low barriers to entry, they can easily attract a large number of participants. Furthermore, if a participant actually wins, they may easily become a fan for life, simply because they feel that they were chosen to win. Like described before, this is the “calling” part of Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling.

Core Drive 7: The Bigger Picture

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is a powerful black hat core drive that is intrinsically thrilling. For any engagement design, it is productive to ask yourself, “Is there any way to add a little bit of randomness and chance to the process?” By using techniques that generate curiosity, companies can drive their customers to engage with their product and with techniques that design for unpredictability, companies can retain these customers for much longer into the Endgame Phase.

Working with White Hat Core Drives, Core Drive 7 is a great way to inspire Epic Meaning & Calling, complement Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, and improve and increase the values of Ownership & Possession. Working with other Black Hat Core Drives, Unpredictability & Curiosity matched with Scarcity & Impatience, creates obsessive and addictive behaviors, while generating the negative emotions of fear and worry if properly matched with Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance.

Commitments: the odd power of writing things down



(Below is a manuscript snippet of my 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).

Based on Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession, our need for consistency becomes even stronger when we create a commitment, especially when we write it down. Psychology Researcher Robert Cialdini gives many insightful examples in his book Influence: Science and Practice. 

Commitment: a contract with yourself

Social Psychologists Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard once did an experiment where they asked groups of students to estimate the length of lines that were shown.

One group of students only had to think in their heads an estimate, while another group had to write it down on a Magic Writing Pad but would erase it before anyone could see it; a third group would not only write down their estimates, but would publicly announce their figures.

Afterwards, the researchers gave new misleading information that suggested the students’ initial estimates were incorrect, and gave them a chance to change their answers. Interestingly, the students who just made mental notes of their initial judgement were the least loyal to the judgements and changed their answers quickly based on the new information.

The students who wrote it down without anyone seeing were far more reluctant to change their answers when new contradictory information came along. And of course, with a little bit help of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness that we will cover in the next chapter, the group that publicly shared their estimates were the most stubborn in changing their answers, insisting that they were correct the first time along.

Using Commitments to Drive more Business

This level of consistency to commitments is why car salespeople often try to pin you down by saying, “I can’t promise anything until a dreadful plea with my manager, but if I could get you this price, you will buy the car today correct?” Once you commit to that and he sure enough comes back with the price, you would feel a great need to stay consistent with what you said earlier, despite having full right to say “no.”

Similarly, a restaurant owner shared that after he switched from “Please call if you have to cancel” to “Will you please call if you have to cancel?” during reservation calls, the no-show rate dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent. This is because when people answer “yes” to the question (and most people would feel like a jackal if they said “no” to such a reasonable request), they emotionally feel more committed to take more responsibility for their reservations.

Often times, asking users to fill out their own forms increases commitment towards a behavior. When door-to-door salespeople started to ask their new customers to fill out the sales form instead of doing it for them, less people took advantage of the “cooling-off” laws where they could regret and return the product after being persuaded by Black Hat motivation techniques. Based on that, hospitals would also likely decrease cancel rates if they asked their patients to fill out the next-appointment sheets instead of doing it for them.

This is also why companies like Procter & Gamble and General Foods often run contests where people write “25-, 50-, or 100-words or less” testimonials for them, starting with, “I like the product because…”. As people describe enthusiastically how amazing these products are, they start to own up to their statements and start to see the products more favorably. Of course, they also start to see themselves as, “People who like the company product prizes so much that they are willing to participate in a testimonial contest.”

Consistency, Commitments, and Identity can be subtle forces in Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession

This type of ownership over your identity, past decisions, and commitments can be one of the most subtle elements of motivation within Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession. After all, you already know that you are heavily motivated by making more money, collecting stamps, or protecting your expensive assets; but you likely recognize that your decisions were simply based on what your name is and what you ate last week.