This post is a high-level introduction to Octalysis, the Gamification Framework I created after more than 17 years of Gamification research and and Behavioral Design study. Within a year of publication, Octalysis was organically translated into 16 languages and became required literature in Gamification instruction worldwide.
What is Gamification?
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.
The challenges with Function-Focused Design
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.
Why games drive human behavior
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.
So in the past decade, I have been digging deep into forming a complete Gamification framework to analyze and build strategies around the various systems that make a game fun.
I saw that almost every game is fun because it appeals to certain Core Drives within us that motivate us towards certain activities. I also noticed that different types of game techniques push us forward differently: some in an inspiring and empowering way, while some in a manipulative and obsessive manner. I drilled down to find what differentiates one type of motivation to another.
The end result is the Gamification Framework called Octalysis, designed as an octagon shape with 8 Core Drives representing each side.
With many years of trials and adjustments, I believe that, besides a ninth hidden Core Drive called “Sensation,” everything you do is based on one or more of the 8 Core Drives.
The 8 Core Drives of Gamification
1) Epic Meaning & Calling
Epic Meaning & Calling is the Core Drive where a player believes that he is doing something greater than himself or he was “chosen” to do something. A symptom of this is a player that devotes a lot of his time to maintaining a forum or helping to create things for the entire community (think Wikipedia or Open Source projects). This also comes into play when someone has “Beginner’s Luck” – an effect where people believe they have some type of gift that others don’t or believe they were “lucky” to get that amazing sword at the very beginning of the game.
2) Development & Accomplishment
Development & Accomplishment is the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges. The word “challenge” here is very important, as a badge or trophy without a challenge is not meaningful at all. This is also the core drive that is the easiest to design for and coincidently is where most of the PBLs: points, badges, leaderboards mostly focus on.
3) Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is when users are engaged in a creative process where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations. People not only need ways to express their creativity, but they need to be able to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and respond in turn. This is why playing with Legos and painting are fun in-and-of themselves and often become Evergreen Mechanics, where a game-designer no longer needs to continuously add more content to keep the activity fresh and engaging.
4) Ownership & Possession
This is the drive where users are motivated because they feel like they own something. When a player feels ownership, she innately wants to make what she owns better and own even more. Besides being the major core drive for wanting to accumulate wealth, this deals with many virtual goods or virtual currencies within systems. Also, if a person spends a lot of time to customize her profile or her avatar, she automatically feels more ownership towards it too. Finally, this is also the core drive that makes collecting stamps or puzzle pieces fun.
5) Social Influence & Relatedness
This drive incorporates all the social elements that drive people, including: mentorship, acceptance, social responses, companionship, as well as competition and envy. When you see a friend that is amazing at some skill or owns something extraordinary, you become driven to reach the same level. Also, it includes the drive we have to draw closer to people, places, or events that we can relate to. If you see a product that reminds you of your childhood, the sense of nostalgia would likely increase the odds of you buying the product. This Core Drive is relatively well-studied too, as many companies these days are putting a lot of priority on optimizing their online social strategies.
6) Scarcity & Impatience
This is the drive of wanting something because you can’t have it. Many games have Appointment Dynamics (come back 2 hours later to get your reward) – the fact that people can’t get something right now motivates them to think about it all day long. This is the Core Drive utilized by Facebook when it first started: at first it was just for Harvard. Then it opened up to a few other prestigious schools, and eventually all colleges. When it finally opened up to everyone, many people wanted to join because they previously couldn’t get in it.
7) Unpredictability & Curiosity
Generally, this is a harmless drive of wanting to find out what will happen next. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, your brain is engaged and you think about it often. Many people watch movies or read novels because of this drive. However, this drive is also the primary factor behind gambling addiction. Also, this core drive is utilized whenever a company runs a sweepstake or lottery program to engage users. The very controversial Skinner Box experiments, where an animal irrationally presses a lever frequently because of unpredictable results, are exclusively referring to the core drive of Unpredictability & Curiosity, although many have misunderstood it as the driver behind points, badges, and leaderboard mechanics in general.
8) Loss & Avoidance
This core drive is based upon the avoidance of something negative happening. On a small scale, it could be to avoid losing previous work. On a larger scale, it could be to avoid admitting that everything you did up to this point was useless because you are now quitting. Also, opportunities that are fading away have a strong utilization of this Core Drive, because people feel like if they didn’t act immediately, they would lose the opportunity to act forever.
Within Octalysis, the Core Drives on the right are Right Brain Core Drives, being more related to creativity, self-expression, and social aspects.
The Core Drives on the left are Left Brain Core Drives, being more associated to logic, calculations, and ownership.
Note: the Left Brain/Right Brain Core Drives are not considered true brain science; they are merely symbolic as it makes the framework easier and more effective when designing. It’s useful dividing things up between the logical and the emotional, and I just named them Left Brain/Right Brain Core Drives so people can remember them easily.
Interestingly, Left Brain Core Drives are Extrinsic Motivators – you are motivated because you want to obtain something, whether it be a goal, a good, or anything you cannot obtain; on the other hand, Right Brain Core Drives are Intrinsic Motivators: you don’t need a goal or reward to use your creativity, hangout with friends, or feel the suspense of unpredictability – the activity itself is rewarding on its own.
This is important, because many companies aim to design for motivation based on Extrinsic Motivators, such as giving users a reward at the end. However, many studies have shown that once you stop offering the extrinsic motivator, user motivation will often decrease to much lower than before the extrinsic motivator was first introduced.
It’s much better for companies to design experiences that motivate the Right Brain Core Drives, making something in of itself fun and rewarding, so users continuously engage in the activity.
White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification
Another element to note within Octalysis is that the top Core Drives in the octagon are considered very positive motivators, while the bottom Core Drives are considered negative motivators.
Techniques that utilize the top Core Drives are called “White Hat Gamification”,while techniques that utilize the bottom Core Drives are called “Black Hat Gamification”.
If something is engaging because it lets you express your creativity, makes you feel successful through skill mastery, and gives you a higher sense of meaning, it makes users feel very good and powerful.
On the other hand, if you are always doing something because you don’t know what will happen next, you are constantly in fear of losing something, or because there are things you can’t have, even though you would still be extremely motivated to take the actions, it can often leave a bad taste in your mouth.
The problem with Zynga games, according to the Octalysis framework, is that they have figured out how to do many Black Hat Game Techniques, which drive up revenue numbers from users, but it doesn’t make users feel good. So when a user is finally able to leave the system, they will want to, because they don’t feel like they are in control over themselves, just like gambling addiction.
Keep in mind that just because something is Black Hat doesn’t mean it is necessarily bad – these are just motivators – and they can be used for productive and healthy results or malice and manipulative ones. Many people voluntarily submit themselves into Black Hat Gamification in order to go to the gym more often, eat healthy, or avoid hitting the snooze button every morning.
A good Gamification expert will consider all 8 Core Drives on a positive and productive activity so that everyone ends up happier and healthier.
Keep in mind that a good gamified system doesn’t need to have all of the Core Drives, but it does need to do really well with the ones it does implement. Some extremely successful products do very, very well with Social Influence, while others just utilize Scarcity.
In order to come up with an Octalysis score, you take how good the subject of analysis is in each core drive, assign a number between 0-10 based on personal judgement, data, and experience flows, and then square that number to get the Core Drive Score. Once you add up all 8 Core Drive Scores, you will get your final Octalysis Score.
Of course, the Score itself is not very useful or actionable, so I always tell my clients to focus on what Core Drive is lacking, instead of being obsessed with their “score.”
How to apply Octalysis to actual systems
Now that we have the Gamification Framework laid out, the next step is to figure out how to utilize this framework.
Generally, any good and engaging product or system will have at least one of the core drives listed above.
The way to use Octalysis is to identify all the game mechanics that are used to appeal to each Core Drive and list it next to the Core Drive of the Octagon.
Afterwards, based on how strong these game mechanics are, each side of the Octagon will expand or retract.
If a side crosses the inside Octagon, then that side is extremely weak and the Gamification expert needs to improve on that area.
Of course, this is all very abstract, so lets look at a few examples.
A few Gamification examples with Octalysis
Here’s an Octalysis done for a few products online:
Farmville: 414 and generally Left Brain Black Hat.
Diablo 3: 284 and pretty balanced
Facebook: 448 with very strong Right Brain Drives (notice it focuses on opposite ends compared to Farmville)
Twitter: 267 while being pretty balanced but more Right Brain.
Candy Crush: Fairly Balanced
And this is just Level 1 Octalysis
10 years of Gamification study and implementation results in a very robust framework that can become actionable towards driving higher user metrics. As people get more and more advanced in Octalysis, they can learn higher levels (up to 5 Levels…there are only a handful of people in the world who know what is level 4 and above), which incorporates much more advanced design principles and in-depth analysis.
Level 2 Octalysis
Once level 1 is mastered, one can then apply it to Level 2 Octalysis, where we try to optimize experience throughout all four phases of a player’s journey:
- Discovery (why would people even want to start the journey)
- Onboarding (how do you teach users the rules and tools to play the game)
- Scaffolding (the regular journey of repeated actions towards a goal)
- Endgame (how do you retain your veterans).
Factoring in the 4 Phases of a Player’s Journey
Getting a feel about what players feel across the journey.
Level 3 Octalysis
Once you mastered Level 2 Octalysis, you can then push it one level higher to Level 3 and factor in different player types, so you can begin to see how different types of people are motivated at different stages of the experience.
Pushing up a level further – Factoring Bartle’s Player Type
This way the Gamification Designer can feel out that there’s something for everyone at every stage.
The Octalysis Tool
A learner of Octalysis, Ron Bentata from Israel, kindly made a public Octalysis Tool for me and other Octalysis Enthusiasts. The tool is not 100% refined yet, but it has been a very useful tool for my own clients and many people practicing Octalysis non-commercially. Click here to check out the Octalysis Tool.
The Long Journey to GOOD Gamification
As you can see, creating a rich gamified experience is much more than simply slapping on various game-mechanics to existing products. It’s a craft that requires a lot of analysis, thinking, testing, and adjusting.
While there are 5 Levels in total, Level 1 is usually sufficient for the majority of companies trying to create a better-designed gamified product and experience. Higher Level Octalysis processes are really there for organizations that are truly committed to making sure that they push their metrics in the right direction, while improving longevity of a gamified system. Many games are only popular for 3-8 months, but ones that have good Endgame design can last over decades or even centuries.
If the world adopts good gamification principles and focus on what truly drives fun and motivation, then it is possible to see a day where there is no longer a divide between things people must do and the things they want to do. All people have to do is to play all day. This way, the quality of life for everyone will be significantly higher, companies will perform better because people actually want to do the work, and society overall will become more productive. This is the world that I have dedicated my life to enabling.
Check out the video walk-through of the 8 core drives
Check out the video walk-through of Octalysis
Watch all of the videos in the Gamification Video Guide here.
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