The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#1): Epic Meaning & Calling

Epic Meaning and Calling The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#1): Epic Meaning & Calling

Epic Meaning & Calling

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 8, Epic Meaning & Calling

Epic Meaning & Calling is the First Core Drive of the Gamification Framework Octalysis. This is the drive where people are motivated because they believe they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves.

Have you ever wondered why people contribute to the non-profit website Wikipedia? What would make someone spend hours updating a site that doesn’t pay them or even help them build their resumes?

People spend hours and hours of their lives doing that because they believe they are protecting humanity’s knowledge. This is something that is far bigger than just getting paid a few bucks or building your credentials.

Sounds like a worthy cause, doesn’t it? That’s when we see first core drive of Octalysis Gamification: Epic Meaning and Calling in action.

What is Epic Meaning & Calling?

Epic Meaning and Calling is the need or the urge to be a part of something much bigger than just yourself. When this drive is activated, participants choose to be members of your system and will take action not because it necessarily benefits them directly, but because it turns them into the heroes of the company’s story.

This core drive is activated when your system inspires people and gets them excited about being part of a bigger purpose or plan.

Figuring out how to activate this drive is similar to how an entrepreneur might pitch his startup—it all starts within.

When your system or product demonstrates deep and sincere passion towards a higher vision, others will want to believe in you and be on the journey with you, even if it means foregoing financial compensation (which is our Left-Brain Core Drive #4 – Ownership & Possession).

This is where the magic happens. By activating Epic Meaning and Calling, you’ll gain active participants and grow your customer base or audience through their passion and commitment to your cause, sometimes to an irrational degree.

Epic Meaning and Calling can possibly be implemented anytime within a player’s journey (link to 4 Experience Phases post), but is most often introduced when people are starting to interact with your system, which is the discovery phase and the onboarding phase.

But how do you instill Epic Meaning and Calling into your users or customers?

In this article, I’m going to share with you five game techniques to incorporate Epic Meaning and Calling into your system in ways that will build engagement, motivation, and loyalty. For each concept, I’ll also provide examples of organizations across all different industries that use these concepts to improve user interaction within their systems.

Game Technique #10: Narrative

Most games start with a narrative that gives the player some context about WHY s/he is playing the game. Many of them are related to saving the world, a princess, solving a case, or even just helping a dragon or crocodile take a bath.

So why don’t we use narrative to give people content in other things?

One of the most straight forward ways to install Epic Meaning & Calling into your userbase is through narrative, which allows you to introduce a story that gives people context for a higher meaning in terms of interacting with your company, product, or website.

One company that does an incredible job of creating a narrative is TOM’s Shoes, which sends one pair of shoes to a child in a third-world country.

The idea that you can put shoes on someone else’s feet every time you make a purchase gets people motivated because they are able to help others by helping themselves. Additionally, when they wear the shoes they let others know that they are helping the world, which is part of the 5th Core Drive: Social Influence & Relatedness.

Tata Motors is one of the fastest growing automobile companies in the world because they’ve figured out how to design the world’s most inexpensive car (less than $2000). In doing so, they are able to bring automobiles to third-world countries and continue to expand into developing nations as their technology becomes more efficient and affordable.

That vision of providing cheap and powerful transportation everywhere attracts employees and investors to participate more in the company’s vision.

Zamzee, an activity tracker for children, tells a different narrative that is disconnected from the reward.

It gives kids fantasy quests, like becoming the sorcerer’s apprentice if they run up and down the stairs 15 times. Even though the action is disconnected from the narrative, just having them believe a magical meaning inspires the kids to exercise more because now they are motivated by their own imaginations.

Zamzee shows that kids who participate in these imaginary missions move 54% more than kids who don’t.

To truly incorporate Epic Meaning & Calling, you want to not only have a story but also make sure your story is about a larger purpose that will make people’s lives better. These stories resonate the most.

Game Technique #27: Humanity Hero

If you can incorporate a world mission into your narrative, you can gain even more buy-in during the on-boarding process. The way this works is you tie the actions you want people to take to something that will make the world a better place.

TOM’s Shoes is a great example of a company that implements a humanitarian narrative into their business model, but there are many more companies that use the first core drive of gamification to get people to give more of their time and money to those who need it.

For example, FreeRice is a website that donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer on their site. They make money from the ads and the number of page views, then turn around and spend it on ending hunger.

Foldit is another website that asks you to solve puzzles for the greater good, but this time it’s for scientific advancement. You can contribute to scientific research by looking for patterns in various configurations of protein folding diagrams. By competing with other users on the site, you can attempt to fold the best proteins (there’s an infinite number of ways to do this), which helps biology researchers find cures to major diseases that plague humans, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Going back to the original example, Wikipedia is one of the largest websites in the world and relies on user-generated content and donations to keep the company going. People contribute because they are working towards a larger goal of getting all of the world’s knowledge onto the site as accurately as possible.

If you tie your system to a cause that a lot of people care about, you can build an entire business on the good will of others.

Game Technique #26: Elitism

Epic Meaning and Calling 300 The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#1): Epic Meaning & Calling

Allowing your users or customers to form an elite based on ethnicity, beliefs, or common interests makes them feel like they are part of a larger cause. Elitism instills group pride, which means each member tries to secure the pride of the group by taking specific actions. The group also attempts to frustrate its rivals, which can lead both groups upping their actions to beat the competition.

Kiva, a micro-loaning platform, has used the concept of groups by allowing its users to create teams with which to loan money.

The company put out statistics to show that a group of atheists was outperforming a group of Christians, which fueled a rise in loans from both groups as they each tried to demonstrate their beliefs by beating their rival.

One group needed to prove they were generous because they believe in a merciful and loving God, and the other group needed to prove that they didn’t need to believe in a God to be kind to fellow human beings.

A more light-hearted implementation comes from sites like GiveToCollege, which lets students easily donate to their alma mater and compete with other schools to see who has the most school spirit. Schools with long-standing rivalries against each other will try to outdo one another in total donations to demonstrate the wealth and success they’ve achieved after college, proving once and for all which school is better.

Apple is one of the rare companies that managed to instill Epic Meaning & Calling into consumers without pushing for “a good cause.”

I have had friends who tell me, “I am going to buy the next iPhone.” And I would respond, “But you don’t even know what’s in the new iPhone! What if it sucks?” And my friends would respond, “I don’t care. I want the next iPhone.”

This means that these people have self-identified as an “Apple Person” and therefore they need to do what “Apple People” do, which is to buy the newest apple product.

As long as Apple can continue to make people think that Apple is a vision worth believing, they will continue to buy Apple products. But if Apple breaks the trust of being a vision worth believing, people will stop behaving irrationally about the products and decide whether to buy it on the merits of the products themselves.

You can gain a lot by forming groups of your users who care about protecting a higher purpose in that group, but you’ll do even better if you can pit two opposing groups against each other in a friendly competition, where they win by taking the action you specify.

Game Technique #23: Beginner’s Luck

 The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#1): Epic Meaning & Calling

This is the “Calling” in Epic Meaning & Calling. Beginner’s Luck makes people feel like they’ve been one of the few chosen to take action—which makes them much more likely to take it!

The best example of Beginner’s Luck is in gambling. For example, a novice poker player happens to win a bit of money his first few times playing, which makes him feel like he should consider playing poker on the weekends.

He thinks to himself, “Hey, I keep winning against people who have played it for longer! Must be a sign that I am gifted in this game.” Even if his “luck runs out,” he still feels like he’s simply hit an unlucky streak.

Other examples include winning early on in anything that has randomness (powered by Core Drive #7), including sweepstakes, contests, and lotteries.

A great example of how a company might implement Beginner’s Luck by introducing randomness comes from Kohl’s, a Midwest department store chain.

They send scratcher coupons to all of their VIP’s with the option to get 15%, 20%, or 30% off their purchase during a certain promotional period. If you are a customer and happen to scratch off a 30% coupon, you are much more likely to go in and spend it because you feel like the lucky one.

It doesn’t matter that you have no idea what your chances were of scratching a 30% coupon, just that you feel the odds are in your favor.

Of course, you can’t make everyone feel like they are your #1 customer, but promotions that implement Beginner’s Luck give people motivation to participate, because they wonder if they’ll “get lucky” too.

Game Technique #24: Free Lunch

Giving freebies to certain people in a way that seems random or exclusive can make customers feel special and encourage them to take further action.

For example, Spoleto, a Brazilian restaurant chain with over 200 restaurants throughout Brazil, Spain, and Mexico, gave a free lunch (literally) to any female who told them she was beautiful, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

This helped promote a positive message and made the women feel special for that day, and it will probably bring them back on other holidays, just in case there is another special promotion.

Another great example of a free lunch is credit-card company Chase’s promotion to pick up random tabs whenever someone swipes with their Chase card.

Although there’s only a small chance that you’ll get your tab credited, the idea that it could happen will motivate you to pay with your Chase card whenever possible.

How You Can Fail at Epic Meaning and Calling

As you use these concepts, keep in mind that there is one quick way to really turn people off when you’re trying to get them started with your system. You can do this by appearing disingenuous in your efforts to create Epic Meaning and Calling.

Examples of this are found everywhere, but a great hypothetical example would be if a major gasoline company tried to convince people to use their brand by saying, “pumping with us protects the planet.”

Customers would be skeptical, since gasoline usage is a major source of pollution and the major gasoline company hasn’t changed its product, just its branding.

You can avoid messages that don’t resonate by testing your message and seeing if it resonates with your customers or users using beta groups and early feedback.

In terms of marketing, there are two criterias for a message to inspire Epic Meaning and Calling:

• The message must be to participate in something bigger than you
• The message must be to participate in something bigger than the company

If you meet these two criteria, and you have a cause that instills passion in others, then you have a good chance of using this core drive effectively.


The Gamification Core Drive #1, Epic Meaning and Calling, is a critical piece of your system’s success. We’ve talked about five possible game techniques of Epic Meaning and Calling, but there are plenty more opportunities, including implementations that haven’t necessarily been seen in the business world yet.

There are still plenty of opportunities to build new business models on the foundation of this drive alone.

(Thanks to Monica Leonelle for tremendously helping me on this post)


I've been reading other experts and some of them consider that stories/narrative are not needed. Just sit down an design a good interaction. On the other hand, I find narratives more engaging and some experts do also. If we look at games of any kind I would say most of them have a narrative.

Why people don't want to bring narratives to gamification?

What is your opinion about this?

Alfredo Prieto
Alfredo Prieto

This drive reminds me the advice: "think big, but start small and go for an early win". "The think big" is the great cause that moves you, the holy grial, the source of dream and long term motivation. It represents the possibility to contribute to that great good, the possibility to participate in an epic contest and to obtain an "epic win". ¿Sounds well?

But when you start, you neeed also short term reinforcements, that is,  "early and easy wins".  I think that the techniques #1, ·#2 and #3 operate on creating the sense of  the long term "epic win" but  techniques #4 and ·#5 are different, they simply make easier obtain "easy wins" that contribute to motivation in the short term  (and that reinforces long term motivation but here is no  epic sense in this short term motivation). So for a complete motivation you need both sources of motivation: the sense of long term "epic win" possibility and the probable fact of "early and easy wins" .


This is the most important step as far as I'm concerned. People spend hours and hours of their lives playing and building themselves in the game. If you don't let them sprout and grow themselves how would they get hooked?


Hi Yukai, you say "Epic Meaning and Calling is the need or the urge to be a part of something much bigger than just yourself" Does that mean that it should be used mainly on non-profit companies/organisations?

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

@victorvj  It's all about context. You shouldn't use every game element in every product. You figure out which game elements satisfy your goals more.

Narrative are often great ways to motivate people during the Discovery and Onboarding stages. It emphasizes on WHY instead of HOW. Even if your product has great usability, if users have no reason/motivation to move forward, who cares if its easy?

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

@kensavage Haha, sorry - but which step you are referring to? Introducing epic meaning & calling?

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

@HiSocial No necessarily so. It works the easiest in non-profits, but for-profit companies can create "causes you can believe in" also. Or just like Coca Cola makes people think that drinking coke is like being on a magical journey, or that buying Apple products puts you in this higher group of Apple Fandom. 

There are all types of ways to implement Core Drive 1