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

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

Unpredictability & Curiosity, Core Drive 7 of 8.

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 16, Unpredictability & Curiosity

Unpredictability & Curiosity is the 7th core drive in my gamification framework Octalysis, and it revolves around the idea of consistently staying engaged because you are unsure of what’s going to happen next.

A common example of  this Core Drive in play is the world of gambling.  Casinos are successful in not only drawing in their players, but keeping them continuously engaged. Unpredictability and curiosity coerce players into continuous extended play – even if they know as a fact that statistically they are screwed as the Casino always make a bunch of money.

Also, whenever a company runs a lottery system or sweepstakes, this drive comes into strong play.

Gamification Examples of Unpredictability and Curiosity

The Skinner Box Experiment

There’s a massive amount of research regarding this core drive, and one of the most famous is the Skinner Box. The Skinner Box was an experiment conducted by a scientist by the name of Skinner, who placed an animal in a box with a lever. In the first phase, the animal would press the lever if it was hungry. The longer it pressed the lever, the more food would be dispensed. When the animal was no longer hungry, it would stop pressing the lever.

The second phase, however, revolved around the same concept, but with a switch in the mechanics. When the animal pressed the lever, there was no guarantee that food would be dispensed 100% of the time as it did before. What Skinner observed was that the animal would constantly press the lever – not out of hunger, but out of curiosity and the need to find out.

This simple, yet powerful force can be seen in many of the decisions we make every day. For example, although most people understand that their chances of winning the lottery is extremely slim, they continue to purchase tickets based on the slight chance of winning. People understand that there is almost a guaranteed lost, and that alone is enough to compel them into buying lottery tickets, no matter how slim a chance they have.

Unpredictability and Curiosity through Gaming

In RPG games such as Diablo, traveling and collecting items is a vital element of the gameplay. When you kill a monster in Diablo, the monster randomly drops a different item every time. The catch, of course, is that you don’t know what item you’re going to get. This is powerful because it drives the player to keep playing each stage, so that they can be lucky enough to gain another powerful item – a clear source of Unpredictability & Curiosity.

The Superbowl and Its Successful Branding

Most of the time, people purposely try to avoid commercials — some even pay to receive programming that allows them to skip commercials entirely. However, the Superbowl is very successful at branding their commercials as being the most creative, funny, and interesting ones. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves football fans tune into the Superbowl just to watch its commercials.  The popularity of these commercials even receive attention from big news websites such as Yahoo! or Google that both upload snippets of each commercial immediately after they’re aired.

This is tremendously important because the commercials heighten the viewership of the game, thus making the Superbowl increasingly valuable. The commercials also increase viewer engagement. Viewers are curious about what kind of Superbowl commercials marketing agencies will produce in order to outshine their competitors; therefore, viewers continue to watch the television screen specifically for the commercial breaks.

Compared to most other shows where people switch away to other channels to commercial breaks, people switch in to watch the commercials. This is why the Superbowl is the most successful at monetizing their eyeballs.

Unpredictability & Curiosity is the most common drive in the The Discovery Phase

Unpredictability & Curiosity is one of the core drives that is utilized heavily in the discovery phase. The discovery phase serves as a catalyst for people to find out about your app and give your product a try.

Oftentimes, people refuse to use a new app because they’re trying to avoid something – whether it’s having to learn about the new product or invest time into it. A strong solution to this problem is to showcase or advertise small, noteworthy fragments of your product at the very beginning in order to get your potential client to say, “Hey, I might actually give this a shot!”

This is why oftentimes the best movie trailers are the ones that have a great amount of suspense but very little detail on what the movie is about, or even who stars in them.

Gamification within Waze and eBay and Why it Works

Another interesting example of this core drive, is the GPS app, Waze. Beyond the obvious value of direction, Waze has many features that make and keep people interested, such as warning a driver if there’s a car parked on the shoulder a mile ahead, if there’s a patrol officer close by, or if there’s trash obstructing the road.

Now oftentimes, when people see that Waze “predicts” that there will be an item on the road a mile down, people will start to pay close attention to if it will actually be there or not. Once they see it, they get a endorphine shot – “It’s there!” But if the item is not there, then they think, “Hmm, maybe next time I’ll see what’s reported.”

We can also take this Core Drive and apply it to bidding websites like eBay. One of the key elements of eBay is not fully knowing how much you are going to sell or buy a product for. This is a great way of utilizing Unpredictability & Curiosity, because it attracts customers back to the website in order to see where the product price stands. For example, an item that was listed for 19 dollars can easily increase by 20 cents, 40, or even 80 cents within a couple of days, or even just an hour. The number may not significantly change, but people will continuously return to eBay, simply because they are curious as to what the final price will be, are there extra bidders, when can they secure the position etc.

Within the Core Drive Unpredictability & Curiosity, the game element “Glowing Choice” (#28) is another solid example of leading the player in the right direction by appealing to their curiosity. Many players usually don’t enjoy reading a huge manual or watching a long video before entering a game; instead, players would rather have the option to engage or invest in it – that’s where Glowing Choice comes into play. There are many times when a certain character is highlighted with a glowing exclamation point that prompts the player to talk to that character. After engaging the character, they will reveal the next quest or the next clue into moving forward with the game.

In terms of apps, you can apply this method by essentially forcing people to click on your app with a glowing feature. Do this by having a question mark on top of the feature, or an arrow that points directly to what you want your potential customers to focus on. Once your customers click on the question mark or the arrow, the question mark will disappear. The players can then click on the next highlighted feature to find out what it does and how it’s different from the other feature.

There are many successful apps available that already implement this method. When you first sign up with an app, you’re automatically directed to a tutorial that allows you to learn how to use it. Your app should engage users in a friendly and informative way, allowing them to feel knowledgeable, rather than lost and confused.

Worrying about potential outcomes is a natural human process that can be used to attract clients or customers. In terms of gamification and applying it toward building your new app, Unpredictability & Curiosity is a dynamic feature to include. This will allow you to effectively market your product in a manner that not only draws people in, but establishes lifelong users.


Huge fan of unpredictability :) One thing I've learned though is that there needs to be just the right balance of certainty and surprise. Too much surprise/unpredictability and people get spooked. Too much predictability and people get bored.


My favourite Back Hat Drive for sure!

Andrea Harpen
Andrea Harpen

I never thought of highlighted questions marks as motivational. How can this principle be used in the classroom..even without an app? Will. Ponder that.


@Andrea Harpen  I guess curiosity drives motivation to unveil what is hidden under somewhere. I don't think you need an app. You can drive your students attention to what is under a box that they can unveil after doing some things. Curiosity will make them progress towards it, I would say.

Yu-kai Chou
Yu-kai Chou moderator

@Imersia Hey Imersia! Thanks for the comment! Waze is great/fun, but it is true that sometimes because it is user generated, the information is incorrect. It's a good service nevertheless, and I'm just giving an example of gamification where something boring is made more fun.

Btw, I made 2 full videos talking about how Waze gamifies their app: