Gamification Design: 4 Phases of a Player’s Journey

Gamification Onboarding Gamification Design: 4 Phases of a Players Journey

New to GamificationCheck out my post What is Gamification & my Gamification Framework: Octalysis

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 5, The 4 Experience Phases of a Game

Treat your product as Four different products

Most people talk about a product as one summed up experience – the product is good, bad, interesting, easy to use, funny or boring.

But in reality, a user’s interaction and journey with a product is continuously evolving. The product that people use on day 1 is a VERY different product to them on day 100. The features they see are different, and the reasons why they are using the product are different.

If a product attracts people at the beginning, but as time goes by becomes boring and uninspiring, that’s a failure in design.

Similarly, if a game offers an amazing experience only after 20 hours of play, but before the 20 hours it’s a grinding and boring experience, that’s a failure in design too.

Thereore, a good gamification designer will look at one product as 4 different products, which emphasizes on the 4 Experience Phases of a Game: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame.

A Level 2 Octalysis Gamifier can then gamify each of those 4 phases in an innovative way that adapts the 8 Core Drives.

Note that the 4 Phases in Octalysis is a little similar to Kevin Werbatch’s theories of Identity, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Mastery. In fact, I modified my original concepts to become more like his because we definitely don’t need more semantics and systems that say the same thing in our industry. It’s much better to have a common language and less confusion. My framework is slightly different due to my experience as a gamer but I do want to give him credit for doing amazing work in the industry.

The First Phase in the Player Journey is: Discovery

The first phase of a player’s journey start when the player first discovers and learns about your product or service.

This relates to Marketing Gamification, and addresses questions like, “How did they find my product? Did they hear about it from a friend? Through the news? Or a clever marketing campaign that you devised? And why do they even want to try my product?”

Just because people see your website doesn’t mean they are motivated to engage with it. Just because people are trying out your service doesn’t mean they are mentally prepared to start the journey. You need to think about and optimize the motivation people have when they discover your product or service.

Most people discover your product through Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity. They were just curious about it, or they read about it through some media outlet. This is a relatively weak source to start a player’s journey.

Nowadays many startups optimize for Core Drive 5: Social Pressure & Envy, trying to get people to pressure their friends to try out your product. Other B2B solutions use Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance, as employers generally force their employees to use certain software and therefore users try out your service so they don’t lose their jobs (but end up being very resistant or lukewarm about it).

But there’s a lot of space to introduce innovation here. Some companies introduce Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling into the Discovery Phase by creating a charitable cause to the company mission and people try out the products because it’s for something bigger than themselves. Google HR gets talents to discover their hiring process by utilizing Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback with the way they post difficult programming problems for people to solve before they can even get their first interview. Kiip, a startup company that raised close to $20M, is founded entirely on the premise that people will value something more if they feel like they have “earned” it, which is heavily utilizing Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment in the Discovery Phase.

Gamifying the discovery phase is a great way to improve your brand name, sign-ups, and conversion rates.

This phase ends when your client STARTS to use your product. Once the user tries out your product or service, s/he has officially started Phase 2.

The Second Phase in the Player’s Journey is: Onboarding

During the onboarding phase, you train the users to become familiar with the rules of the game, the options, the mechanics, and the win states.

This is what most companies focus on the most because everyone thinks once customers use their product for a little bit, everyone would fall in love with it.

When users are learning about the tools to use your product, they do not want to read a big guide to begin – no one likes to read the manuals. Nor do they want to watch a 8-minute video tutorial. Users want to quickly start trying it, and they want to feel SMART doing it. The Development & Accomplishment Core Drive (#2) is essential at this phase.

Generally at the beginning of the Onboarding process, you only want a quick graphical way to introduce the value proposition of your product, perhaps 3-4 images with 1-2 sentences each. At most you show a 1-minute video. After that, you want the user to immerse into your product instead of doing a one-way preach. This is best accomplished through means of an interactive but step-by-step tutorial where you get the user to commit to the Desired Actions you designed, and rewarding them with small High-Fives once they accomplish it. A game element called “Glowing Choice” is particularly useful in this process.

As an example, LinkedIn used a very simple progress bar to help users get through the onboarding process. When users fill in some items in their profile, the progress bar will move up to 30%, 40%, 60%. This makes it very clear what the site wants users to do, how to do it, and rewards them for doing the Desired Actions.

The LinkedIn progress bar just took 2-hours of work to code in, but increased profile-completeness, a LinkedIn core metric, by more than 50%.

Mastering the Onboarding Process can get your users to start participate in your game with more excitement and motivation.

The onboarding phase ends when your client are fully equipped and ready to be on the journey on their own.

The Third Phase in the Player’s Journey is: Scaffolding

Scaffolding is a term that Kevin Werbach uses to describe the third phase, or the on-going and regular activity of the game. I tend to like the term “midgame” better, mostly from my chess background (I also used to be a chess coach). I switched my own semantics to the same as Werbach’s so there can be more consistency in the industry in terms of language. Amy Jo Kim, another respected gamification professional, refers to this phase as “grinding,” which I am not against either, but feel like it unnecessarily sounds like a painful process for people who have never “grinded” in a game before.

Anyhow, scaffolding is the phase where players use all the rules and options they learned during onboarding to try to achieve as many Win-States as possible.

This is supposedly where the most “fun” should happen, and could be relevant for any of the 8 Core Drives, depending on what your product actually does and who is it designed for.

In Diablo 3 and Plants vs Zombies, the game designers heavily utilize a game mechanic I call the “Milestone Unlocks,” which keeps people engaged as they unlock more possibilities every time they hit a milestone.

Once you have a well designed win-state in scaffolding that appeals to the 8 Core Drives in Octalysis, you will start to see increased player engagement and motivation.

Generally you know you are successful at this phase if you have a high engagement and retention rate for your users. In the gaming world, many people like to use the formula DAU/MAU (Daily Active Users over Monthly Active Users) to determine how sticky is a product and how often users are coming back.

The Scaffolding phase ends when your users have tried everything that your product offers at least one time and has become a veteran user.

The Fourth and Final Phase of a Player’s Journey is: The Endgame

The Endgame is when players have done everything there is to do at least once and are starting to see more repetitive actions to achieve the win-state.

Many product designers don’t think about this phase when they are designing their products, which I think is a gigantic mistake. In this phase, if the designer didn’t create a good endgame, people easily get bored and quit the game, when in fact these veterans are generally the product’s biggest evangelists, best community managers, and best monetization sources.

The hard part of this phase is to continuously give meaning, interest, and excitement to these veterans so it never becomes bored to them. Often times this is achieved by giving the veterans SAP in Gabe Zicherman’s SAPS model – Status, Access, Power, and Stuff (appealing to the Core Drives: Social Pressure & Envy, Development & Accomplishment, and Ownership & Possession. If the veterans have higher status, access, and power, they will have a sense of pride and stay in this game for longer, as opposed to become a newb again in another product.

Another example is through evergreen mechanics, often derived from Core Drive 2: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, where users can take the core tools/building blocks in a game and come up with infinite creative forms on their own, as well as having a system where the game producers can easily add new content into a system consistently. One example of this is when people become “verterans” of Farmville, they start to use their farms to produce creative art, such as the Mona Lisa or heart pictures.

Oftentimes, the most powerful element in The Endgame is what I call the “Sunk Cost Tragedy,” which appeals strongly to Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. This is when a user has spent so much time in a game, it becomes incredibly difficult to let go of all the levels, skills, assets, points, currency, and face the tough loss of having all those hours become nothing. Facebook has a strong element of the Sunk Cost Tragedy incorporated in its Endgame – if I quit Facebook, not only will I lose touch with all my personal friends that I don’t have phone numbers and emails to, I will also lose all the points, badges, and currencies I spent so much time building in the Facebook Games! This may be another reason why Facebook would like to own your Photos – quit Facebook, and you risk losing your photos that you didn’t backup on your own hard drive.

If you mastered the endgame, you will create a lot of contributors, evangelists, and long-term customers.

Applying the 4 Experience Phases into Level 2 Octalysis

Up to this point, I have mostly been sharing about Level 1 Octalysis, emphasizing on the 8 Core Drives. Once you also understand the 4 Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey, you can incorporate that into Level 2 Octalysis, where you can make sure that for each user, there is something that appeals to his/her core drives at each stage and make sure your users will stay to the very end and become your champions.

Level 2 Octalysis Gamification.017 Gamification Design: 4 Phases of a Players Journey

Thanks to William Baeyens for helping on this post.

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Andrea Harpen
Andrea Harpen

Thanks. Still trying to put it all together for my secondary chemistry classroom.

Alfredo Prieto
Alfredo Prieto

I model these four phases in my university courses. 

First discovery in the first day of class. Then I try to show the students  an on line world of topics to learn and skills to develop in the course and I also try to sell them the epic journey: the project of the course  and speak about the easy weekly wins by study and exercises.  I also show them leader boards and records from past students who achieved excellent results in the course.

 I also facilitate the on boarding phase in the first days of the semester telling the rules and showing the recommendations and tricks of students who earned As in the last years.  In the onboarding phase we develop  weekly  challenges and a half semester exam.

In the end game at the final part of the course  we use stronger challenges problem based learning and work in cooperative groups.







This is fresh air, and inspirational to the core [:\]


Excellent blog, thanks for sharing!

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

@Alfredo Prieto Haha great! Keep in mind, I think the Discovery Phase would be "Why they would take this course in the first place?" or "What Core Drives that push people to take your course." Of course, your "marketing space" is limited....but still something to thin about to make it a more popular course and make sure students come in with the right mentality context excited to LEARN. 

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

 @AndrzejMarczewski Thanks! I actually have not seen that post but it makes a lot of sense. I was doing a talk once and one of the audience members asked if I think there will be gamification fatigue a few years down the road. My answer was that there might be fatigue on certain game elements, "badges fatigue" "points fatigue" "progress bar fatigue" but there won't be "gamification fatigue" as long as it is constantly improving. The only way gamification cane be in fatigue is if you believe games can be in fatigue, where many years down the road people stop playing games - I don't see that happening.And of course, it might not be called gamification anymore if it becomes mainstream, just like today you wouldn't look at a site and say, "Hey look! The design of this site is SO Web 2.0!!"