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How to use rewards in Gamification without killing motivation

My most recent post for The Octalysis Group about rewards and motivation

pizzahutslayerIn 1984 Pizza Hut launched it’s (in)famous “Book It!” reading incentive program for children. In the program, students who read books according to the goal set by the classroom teacher were rewarded free pizzas from Pizza Hut. Many psychologists criticized the program on the grounds that getting children to read using rewards would reduce children’s existing interest in reading. In other words: extrinsic rewards kill intrinsic motivation. However, in reality the program had no effect whatsoever on reading motivation. Not positively, nor negatively.

Also today, extrinsic motivation is the target of critique from a variety of scholars and quasi scientists. The main tenet is to vilify extrinsic rewards and to glorify intrinsic motivation, all set in a sort of zero-sum game of winners and losers: when extrinsic motivation rules, intrinsic motivation loses.

Is it really this clear cut? What is the story behind rewards and motivation? And what does it teach us about using rewards in Gamification? Let’s have a look what the experts say shall we?


What is motivation?

We normally make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that arises from performing the task itself. So someone may be eager to do a task because doing so gives them a feeling of accomplishment, mastery and/or self-fulfilment.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from outside the individual, and results from the expectation of receiving external rewards such as salary, benefits, incentives, promotions and recognition in exchange for performance. This means the tools of compensation and benefits professionals are extrinsic rewards.

Scientists behind the Self-determination Theory (SDT), like Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have long espoused the negative relation between extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation. Popular writers like Daniel Pink, have championed this now dominant claim of an undermining effect of extrinsic rewards. In his famous book “Drive” he talks about the “seven deadly flaws” of extrinsic rewards and speaks of their capacity “to extinguish intrinsic motivation” and “to diminish performance”. Pretty stern warnings huh?

Other writers and psychology scholars (like Cameron and Fang) have been less convinced however, and even have championed the case for the use of extrinsic rewards in order to establish intrinsic motivation where there was none to start with or when extrinsic rewards give focused feedback about performance and competence of the user.

So who is right?


600full-all-in-a-nutshell-posterWhat we do know….

Great, so the experts don’t even know themselves what’s correct? What else is new? Well, let’s see what they at least agree on:

  1. Motivation is the sum of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation taken together: there is no zero-sum relation. Even scholars who think that extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation do not hold that the effect overwhelms extrinsic motivation and makes overall motivation negative.

According to DST front man, Edward Deci:

“There is no lack of agreement … about the power of rewards to control behaviour. It is clear that rewards can be used as a technique of control. CET specifically proposes that it is because people are controlled by rewards that they become less intrinsically motivated.”

  1. It is possible for extrinsic rewards to increase as well as decrease intrinsic motivation. If users/employees see rewards as being associated with increased competence and self-control, they can increase intrinsic motivation.
  1. Rewards have no detrimental effect on intrinsic motivation for boring, routine and tedious work. That is because these tasks lack intrinsic motivation to begin with. Jobs with low intrinsic motivation include many in fast-food restaurants, offices, factories, retail stores and call centres. Even professional jobs that are highly intrinsically motivating typically include a mix of tasks that are interesting and boring, and managers do not want skilled employees to ignore the boring tasks. In this case, performance contingent rewards actually tend to increase intrinsic motivation for less interesting work.
  1. Some rewards have positive to neutral effects on intrinsic motivation. Verbal rewards (praise) significantly increase intrinsic motivation according to multiple reviewers from different camps. Rewards that are provided simply based on participation in an organization and that are not contingent on performance typically do not affect intrinsic motivation because they convey no information about employee competence or self-control. Employee benefits and service awards are examples of rewards that fit this type.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the research is that the effects of the reward depend on the social context in which it is provided. If the reward is appropriately implemented, it should enhance, rather than undermine, intrinsic motivation — making the incentive effect that much more powerful than if it relies on extrinsic motivation alone.


When do rewards workArticle Lead - wide6659889513ng48image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.13ng1b.png1424750991496.jpg-620x349

Gamification projects are often about learning. Whether it is getting to know a new product; learning a language; a novel manner of social interaction or absorbing new knowledge to create environmental awareness.

One key aspect of learning is that it is not always a pleasant activity and involves feelings of anxiety. This is often the case when the challenge faced is greater than the skills thus far accumulated (read the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on this and in particular his epic work “Flow”). The fact that your brain needs to create new nodes to enable learning may physically contribute to your psychological feelings of unease when a new task feels rather difficult. In such scenarios, a combination of extrinsic rewards (points, badges, leaderboards, monetary rewards) may be needed to maintain users’ engagement across periods of learning, especially when complex learning is to take place in a rather short time span.

Secondly, extrinsic rewards like XP give users a sense and measurement of progress, which is an innate motivational drive that all humans share (together with finding purpose and enjoying autonomy or autonomous choice). When users find that rewards give feedback on their performance, it will enhance their motivation (both extrinsic as well as intrinsic).

Finally, the use of rewards is important when people have no initial interest in tasks they get. In other words, people do not have enough information yet to “know” that they are intrinsically motivated in wanting something. In education, where the use of extrinsic motivation has been most under fire, a subtle use of extrinsic rewards to ‘lure’ students into engaging with the subject matter will be much more effective than just waiting for them to ‘stumble’ upon their intrinsic motivation. It seems very much the case that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can coexist.

So what does this mean for Gamification projects?

So in certain circumstances, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can coexist and are at times mutually reinforcing. This does not mean that we should be content with focussing on points, badges and leaderboards to in our Gamification efforts. Far from that. A heavy emphasis on extrinsic rewards has shown to lead to cheating and other ethical misconduct, something we do not wish in the Gamification environments we create.

Also, exclusive and long term focus on extrinsic rewards runs the danger of people adapting to the rewards, wanting more and more of it for the same activity next time or replacing their social or ethical views of their behaviour with market-price related views. For example, volunteers in charitable organizations work less if they receive payment for their efforts, and tardiness in day care centres increases if parents are fined for being late in dropping off their children. In these cases, the reward signals that the person’s relationship with the organization has been transformed from a personal choice into an economic arrangement.

In the end it is all about balancing the right rewards depending on the user or player types that will use our product, as well as situational environment in which our product will operate in. There just is not one-size-fits-all Gamification solution that fits all for all user groups. In addition, it is fine to rely heavily on using extrinsic rewards to bolster initial knowledge and nourish intrinsic interest, as long as you balance your design with intrinsic motivation design as well with an eye for longer-term motivation.

Some Gamification companies have made it their business to sell of the shelf solutions to their customers and they are doing quite well of it financially it seems. However, they are doing their customers a disfavour as their products are, almost by definition, not specific enough to deliver the right motivation and engagement.

Gamification, then, is still and will always be an art form. An intelligent and creative form of human focused design, that crafts strong engagement from the delicate process of balancing extrinsic and extrinsic rewards, with the human core drives of the specific user groups we want to engage with.

We live in an era where, for better or worse, more and more of our economy activity is outsourced or automated. Luckily, good Gamification (by its very nature and in a similar vein as art) is immune from this development. There are some things you cannot automate. Engaging an individual is a case in point.

The Octalysis Group has been creating balanced Gamification for clients and we have achieved consistently high ROIs with large and small clients.

If you want to know more about how to craft a truly balanced Gamification project, contact me or Yu-kai Chou: or

Millennials Work Floor needs: Octalysis Gamification


We are going from an economy from execution of tasks (Daniel Pink would call this Economy 2.0), to an economy of creativity, thinking outside the box and problem solving (Economy 3.0). On office work floors, where this new economy is given shape, we will need people who are connected, yet creative; driven by goals yet conscious of their surroundings; individualistic yet communicative. Basically all the things that do not fit in mainstream corporate working cultures…

Are Millennials the answer? Do they hold the key to changing our Economy from 2.0 to 3.0? And if so, how do we fit them in? How do we motivate them to bring the best out of them that our new challenges need?


Millennials are probably the most researched generation in history. Sociologists, psychologists, economists and marketers have been focused on Gen Y (a.k.a. Millennials) for more than a decade. So we should have a rough idea who they are and what they want.

Most researchers adopt 1995 as the dividing year to define who is a Millennial and who belongs to Generation X (the generation before Generation Y). So everybody who in 2014 was 18 – 30 years old. This dividing line is quite arbitrary, and it will be hard to argue that the age group born in 1994 does not share most characteristics of the group born in 1996 of course.

However, let’s roll with the dice we are given and let’s take a stab at the question: how do we arrange work floors in organiations in such a way that they cater to the motivations of Millennials? Let’s look at motivation in general and then to generational differences in motivation.

time_millennialsMyself, My Group and My Purpose

All human beings are most motivated (and most happy) in settings where they experience Autonomy, some sense of Purpose and Connectedness. This is the same for all generations and through the ages. Knowing that you have a large degree of autonomy in your actions, that your life and work means something and that you feel socially connected is what drives our longer-term happiness.

But if this holds true for all humans, how do we differentiate our motivational strategies from one generation to the other? Well, to put it simply: boomers respected authority; Generation X respected capable authority and Generation Y in general only respects authority if it supports their life goals and ambitions. This is another over-generalization of course and maybe says too little about what Millennials need in to be motivated.

Octalysis to the Rescue: The Millennial Player Type

In order to know what motivates Generation Y and how to best approach them on the work floor, let’ s do an Octalysis analysis on them (and let’s restrict ourselves to the most applicable ones). Do check and for more information on The Octalysis Framework.

Level_3_Octalysis_Player types

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling

Despite their low pay checks and unsteady financial situation, Millennials
 care about being philanthropic. Three-quarters of Millennials contributed to their causes in other ways. More than 70% percent raised funds and 57% did volunteer work for non-profits – more than any other generation.

When they care about a cause, Millennials spread the word! Roughly three quarters of Millennials have shared information on events from a non-profit on Facebook and 69 percent have shared stats on their favorite causes. Which brings us to Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness

Millennials LOVE their social networks to which they are constantly connected online. “TMI” isn’t part of the Millennial vocabulary. Almost a third or 32 percent of younger Millennials (age 18-24) use social networking while in the bathroom. And, 51 percent of older Millennials (age 25-34) use social networking at the office–more than any other age group.

At the same time they have gone through one of the biggest financial crises ever, which makes that they care about their families, friends and philanthropic causes. They are connected, but not in a sheeple kind of way: they LOVE their uniqueness. Which brings us to Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

They value authenticity and creativity, have a natural interest in customization and individuality and are cherish their uniqueness more than any other generation:

  • they buy local goods made by members of their communities (Core Drive 3 leading to Core Drive 5)
  • Millennials like to handle their finance themselves, primarily online.
  • Also, given their techie nature, it’s not surprising that they are the heaviest Internet bankers and most likely to purchase insurance online. And they want feedback…immediately (traditional bankers…beware…)
  • Millennials want to express themselves and form a unique identity. They love music and art and value creativity–specifically rap, hip
hop, alternative and reggae music and fine art.
  • More than a third of Millennials have chosen to create their own unique body: 38% have a tattoo and 23% have body piercings, compared with 15% and 1% respectively of Baby Boomers.

Core Drive 7: Curiosity and Unpredictability

Results of studies show that the Millennial generation have a high motivation to learn, higher levels of proactive personality, and greater conscientiousness than  previous generations.  Finally, relative to Generation X employees, Millennials reported higher post training motivation to transfer what they learned during training back to their jobs.

This higher learning motivation is possibly due to Millennials constant exposure to information than people of older generations. If you have an I-phone, you can look something up online immediately and even find a useful app to help with your problem or quell your curiosity.

Core Drive 2: Progress and Development

Millennials share a sense of entrepreneurship. When young people are asked about the most important factors that contribute to success, they say that the real path to wealth is through business innovation—not through investing. So this is mainly Core Drive 3.

Often their entrepreneurial venture is a philanthropic cause. According to a 2012 survey of investors, almost 60% of the youngest age listed “social responsibility” as one of the most important factors by which they selected investments, far more than their older counterparts. So, even though Millennials carry a stigma of being money oriented, the real picture is more complex.

Salaries and bonuses are still important but autonomy, respect and fairness, are just as important. Millennials want employers to be able to provide these conditions in their workplace. Their access to digital information has also made them much more aware of what their peers and superiors are earning as well as what they themselves are worth, and what their rights and privileges are in the workplace. So the short motivational period of extrinsic motivation is getting even shorter, decreasing its timebound impact. You already couldn’t motivate Generation X with money for long, but even less so for Millennials. Employers, beware!

millennials work bench green

Octalysis Gamification: Millennial Engagement on the Work Floor

In our work at The Octalysis Group we design Octalysis Enterprise Gamification (Human Focused Gamiifcation that strengthens employee motivation), for all dominant player types. With 25% of the workforce being Millennnials, they are a major player category (note that within this general player category, there can be many sub category player types: Millennial Competitive; Millennial Cooperative etc etc).

Octalysis design for Millennials means creating a lot of room for employee initiative and influencesocial activities (quests, group work etc); transparency and feedback as well as creating links between corporate goals and global or community issues. As you can see, there is less emphasis on Points, Badges and Leaderboards (although we do design for these short term motivators as well).

Gamification for Millennials cannot be done off the shelf. Creating engagement for Millennials means following a custom made model, where intrinsic motivational design is central. Have a look at the Octalysis Framework and if you think we can help, contact us at or


By the way: are you ready for Gen Z??

A whole new ball game with people under 18…coming to you soon at a work floor near you!


Gamification: Great Game, Awful Name

Homo Ludens engReal Games?

Ever since people have tried to define the term “game”, it has led to heated debates about what a Real Game is.


“What makes something a real game or not? Do we need to be able to jump up and down? To shoot? To conquer obstacles?” Although academically interesting, it didn’t help game designers much. It was pretty much the same thing as discussing whether experimental poetry was still poetry. Or: is an e-book still a book and is graffiti on subway trains still art? Great topics to talk about over a drink, but pretty useless when your objective is enhancing experiences of people. Your product either does, or it doesn’t, regardless of how you call it.


Hundreds of articles, thousands of hours of discussion have focused on game definitions and there is just not one good definition that fits all. It’s like a scientific exercise of chasing your own tale. More and more game designers are letting go of the debate of what is a real game and what is not. They have grown tired of the debate and they realize it can and will never be solved. It distracted from making cool designs, it limits what designers think is allowed and made game designers look rigid and inflexible.


Gamification: the Awful NameGamification Next exit

Just like with games, there is certain academic benefit in discussing the definition of Gamification too. I guess most of us agree that the term itself is pretty awful and badly chosen. And for years now people have tried to change it, and it is a discussion that flares up again and again. Sounds familiar?


“Serious Games are not Gamification!” “Games are not Gamification” and the list of debates goes on and on.


However, although academically interesting, there is no real benefit in trying to define Gamification again and again. First of all the term has now been around so long that it is unlikely that it will go away.


More importantly, it’s time to move away from Gamification Definition discussion I think. If something adds to our experience, makes us explore new things then let it be.


Questions about whether a term like Gamification is right or wrong are just not that helpful.


Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu.


MuMu means “no thing.” Like “Quality” it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, “No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given. Unask the question” is what it says.


Why don’t try to more open in the way we see the world. If someone wants to call the unique experience they designed Gamification, then let them do it.  Art definitions do not help us to make better art in the same way that better definitions of Gamification will not help us design better Gamification.


People will not stop buying computers because they are named after fruits or cars after bugs. Let’s take a cue from Buddhism here and unask the question about Gamification definitions. Let’s ‘Mu” it and spend our energy on building awesome engaging experiences for people. Let people say: “Wow, what was that?” and the answer be: “Who cares what it is called, I want more off it!”








The Final to the Guide to Gamification Glory, Part 3.

guide to gamification 3.001

In part 1 and 2 we discovered how to do Octalysis Gamification Design for clients and how to make sure that we advise clients correctly and efficiently. We ended with our Octalysis Concept Wireframes and now we are going to develop a real functioning product on the basis of our design. It is so exciting to see your product come alive!

minecraftThe power of colour and animations?

Just a quick warning to those designers that are very attached to the features, colours and themes they have designed for: these may all be scrapped during this phase. Yes, all the work that you did to make the Gamification design come alive, may now be binned. Yaiks!

Sure, it is important the way your avatar is designed or how it moves and sounds like. Ultimately though it can only help to enhance the engagement that we created through our Octalysis design. Not the other way around. The engagement flows from the correct and timely use of the core drives that drive human motivation. We specialize in human focused design, not feature, game mechanic or colour design remember?

Your task is to safeguard that the underlying power of your Gamification design gets translated into an awesome and engaging product. Nothing more, nothing less! Don’t get sold on people that want to tell you that it’s all about game mechanics or the power of the colour red, or bleu or whatever. All important in itself, but engagement is not dependend on it. Look at Minecraft, with its ridiculously simple design and gurgling monsters. Highly engaging, low audio-visual appeal.

Gamification Design developed

Many developers will want to classify and compartmentalize the experience you designed for. They feel confident when structures within the architecture are being drawn on pieces of paper or whiteboard, so that the process becomes logical and ready to operationalize. They often work from the bottom up, while we often work top down. So somewhere in the middle, where IT meets creative, is where we will meet. This is an exciting discovery where you will learn a lot about your own assumptions about how a design can work. So pay good attention when you are working with development teams and learn.

green guardianGuardian of Engagement

While learning and absorbing ew knowledge is important, do remember that you are the Guardian of Engagement. You need to make sure that the Gamification design is incorporated in the development work from the start and throughout the process. The work of development professionals is extremely important to ensure that the product is fully functional and good looking. Your task in the development phase is to check for any gaps in the flow experience of the gamified product.

You need to ask yourself things like:

  • Is my design translated in such a way that we do not loose flow?
  • Does the user/player continue to feel motivated to stay in the experience. And does he/she feel that way in all phases?
  • What are the trade-offs between cost effective IT solutions and my design?

world of warcraft artwork 1024x768 wallpaper_www.wallpaperto.com_51Not just one product, so relax

A product does not just get developed in one go. Normally we need to test a whole range of assumptions (our assumed player characteristics; learning aspects, flow aspects, players’ needs etc), and we normally do that by developing simpler versions of the product: prototypes and MVPs.

Prototypes, can be classified as early version of the final product, but not necessarily a fully functioning product. So if a gamified product has a learning area, and an area for experienced users, we could start by building a small prototype that only has the learning elements in it. With that prototype we can test whether our approach to learning works for our target users. Prefereably we develop two prototypes wherein we test our major assumptions in a test and control group set up (we call this a/b testing).

MVPs (Minimum Viable Product) are a step more advanced than the prototype. The MVP in principle has so many features that you could put it on the market as a viable product. It should incorporate all the lessons learned from the prototype testing process, including survey feedback, data flows, and user interview results. Typically the MVP will be released to a large group of (potential) users, so it should be engaging, look good and work well.

1.0, 2.0, 3.0 After the product has been fully released as a functional product to a larger audience, work may begin on a next release where even more advanced features are incorporated. Ideally smaller parts of these features will have been tested on parts of the user group.


Neverending Storyneverending story

So we have come to end of our journey, there is a functioning product on the market with the Power of Octalysis and we love our client and the client love us (hopefully).  Done, next product! Maybe, yes….but we have designed for long term Gamification engagement. Multi year engagement, if we have done our job well enough…

So you’ll probably be part of seeing your baby grow up to an adult, carefully making sure that the motivation that it was designed for grow with each and every new release. Happy parenting!

Joris Beerda: “Guide to Gamification Glory” – Part 2

steps map.001In my last Gamification blog piece ( I discussed analytics and basic Octalysis Design and how to create a good experience design framework that appeals to different core drives, different players and in different stages of the experience (from discovery all the way up to the end-game).

We also talked about how to develop game techniques / features that appeal to key core drives, so that people stay engaged mid-to-long term as well. When designed well, you have landed in Octalysis Heaven!

Now, we descend down to earth again though. We have some important issues to solve before we can hand our design to game developers.


How do we:

• Get a working product while keeping in mind the limited budgets of our clients?

• Get people to acquire skills throughout the experience?

• Get them to reach a state of Flow, where players forget time and space and become completely engaged in the experience

• Know what feedback works and what feedback doesn’t?

budget greenBack to Business

We have an ideal scenario wherein our gamification features are optimally paired for the impact we want to have on player engagement. But, wait, is there enough budget to cover the development of all these features? And how do we decide what to leave in and which features to leave out? In the end, your client will decide what he or she is willing to pay to get an optimal experience. Having cool 3-D avatars that can sing, dance and interact may be a really cool feature, but is your client willing to fork out the extra 20,000 USD it will take to develop it? Or would he rather spend that money on other features?

To facilitate the choices our client has to make, we prepare a PES list. This list states, for each feature, how powerful it is and how easy it is to implement:

P Power of the Feature: how much effect does the feature have?

E Ease and cost of development/implementation of the feature

S Total weighted score: if the client has a large development budget at its disposal, we will assign greater significance to P. It’s the power/effect that matters most. However, if the client doesn’t have a lot of budget, it may choose to go for less powerful features: less effect but more befitting their budget.

The advantage of using PES is that you force your client to make key decisions before development of features takes place. The last thing we want is that a client discovers midway that the budget doesn’t fit with what we have designed for. This is part of your responsibility of being a Professional Gamification Designer too!

OK, back to design…

green flowAcquiring skills and reaching Flow

Activity Flow Cycles

By now many people are familiar with the concept of Flow, coined by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state of optimal motivation where skills and challenges are approximately equal and where players forget time and space and become completely engaged in the experience. The point where challenges are a little bit more difficult than skills is where cognitive development (aka “learning”) takes place.

Our activity cycles are aimed at touching these super-optimum points in the experience time and time again, but not continuously: we call this “progression stairs”, which symbolizes the players learning journey at meso levels of the experience. The macro level is the Octalysis analysis. Later I will talk about feedback loops at the micro level).

Progression stairs

The learning experiences we design are structured in such a way that we allow players the greatest possible freedom in choosing how they would like to learn. They can start with assignment/game A, B or C and preferably in whatever order they want (if possible).

In the end, every player reaches comparable end goals though so that business objectives are covered. After an amount of learning has taken place, players normally encounter a very difficult assignment, where they have to out what they have learned in practice (in games this is the “Boss Fight”). Completing this assignment bring you to an Epic Win State, where we allow the player some time to enjoy the mastery he or she has acquired. Hey, learning is fun! From there on, new levels start and new progression stairs are formed. As you can see skills are formed, approximately in line with the levels getting more challenging. This is flow in practice.

Levelling up is always increasingly more difficult and normally we do not design for progress in linear fashion, but in a way that looks linear but isn’t. Progression is skewed heavily towards being easily achieved in the beginning and more difficult to achieve at later stages. So you will progress quite easily at level 1 or level 3, but levelling up to level 45 from 44 may take a very long time.

green baby plantMicro-levels: Feedback Loops: how are rewards structured best?

In order to motivate people to learn and progress to mastery we give them feedback on their actions by handing out rewards. The Gamified experience should provide these rewards at the micro level of the experience in order to facilitate the path to mastery and to keep people primed while coming into or being in flow.

I like to use a definition of rewards in its broadest sense:

“A stimulus or possitive feedback given to someone who obtains a response or outcome that increases the probability of occurrence of the response or the probability of a similar activity leading to a similar outcome”

In this definition, rewards are not just extrinsically originated rewards (money, badges, ranking, experience points), but it also encompasses rewards that follow intrinsically originated behaviour (the feeling of pride, of being content or feeling smart when your choice of actions leads to results). Yes, these are also rewards, even though they cannot be quantified so directly as extrinsic motivators.

But make no mistake, our gamified system provides us with a lot of quantified information about intrinsic behaviour too: amount of times players try an assignment; amount of different solution possibilities tried for an assignment; amount of shares while in the experience etc etc. And although you cannot always measure progress one-on-one with these intangible intrinsic rewards, they are very important for player motivation especially for mid to long run motivation. This is where the staying power of your crafted experience lies, so don’t just rely on XPs, Leaderboards and Badges to motivate players.

So what’s next?

The next step is development of the product. Because we have created awesome wireframes of how the experience will look and feel like, we now have a product that we can go to game developers with.

That’s something we will discuss in my next blog issue: How to Develop an Awesome Gamification Experience!

I will focus on:

• How do developers translate Gamification Design into a real working product or platform?

• What role does the Gamification Designer play in the Development phase?

• What kind of releases can you expect: from MVP, to release 1.0, 2.0, 3.0…

• How is developing a Gamified experience different from developing a game?

Do you have a Gamification topic that you want me to discuss?

Contact me on:

See you next time.

Till then: Keep the faith!

Joris Beerda: “Guide to Gamification Glory”

Last week I shared my thoughts with you about arguably the best Gamification framework in town: the Octalysis Framework ( Many people came back to me asking whether the Framework is just an analytical tool to describe how human focused design works. Also many of you wanted to know how to make actually make a Gamification Design yourself.

OK, you have asked for it and here it is: The Guide to Gamification Glory (in easy steps).

Number_1_in_green_rounded_square.svg.medUnderstand the business objectives of your client

Well, in my work at The Octalysis Group, I always start with developing an understanding what the business objectives of the client are. Starting your Gamification journey without knowing what client objectives will take you on a road to nowhere. You may get very engaged players, but a very disengaged client! Start by asking your client to limit objectives to 5 at the most. You’ll be surprised how many clients have no clue what their main objectives are. Often this question leads to interesting debates, crucial to getting a shared and supported statement about what it I that we are trying to achieve here. This step is often underserved and will come to bite you in your behind later on if you don’t get agreement on what the real business objectives are…

two-green-square-rounded-edge-hi-300x300Define the business metrics of on the basis of business objectives

Once you have the key objectives defined, you want to split them in measurable output: your business metrics. These are the quantifiable output indicators that support the broader business objectives of your client. So, if your client is interested in having many new players (the business objective), you will need to focus on new sign-ups (the business metric). Beware: there may be more than one business metric for one objective…

Great, we are getting somewhere now! We now know where our journey is going and how to measure how we are doing and how fast we are going too.  Take a breath, and enjoy that moment of mastery… It’s going to get more difficult!

number-three-green-square-rounded-edge-mdDetermine Desired Actions players need to take?

In order to get to measurable metrics, we will determine what exactly players need to do (on screen) to get a measurable metric. You may want someone to push a certain button; or share a certain fact or win state; or fill in an email address. We need to collect all these desired actions, and make sure we create engaging design for each individual action. This is hard, but it is possible, and we will use user group characteritsics and experience phases to lead us in how to design for each and every desired action in the experience (short term and long term).

green-number-4-mdDefine your target user groups (players)

Next we want to see who our key player groups are. Like every driver on the road is different, every player is not the same either. Many theorists have developed helpful schemes and typifications on players: killers, achievers, explorers, socializers and there are many more. Such generalizations are useful as an introduction to player types. However, we want to keep in mind that grouping your target (or expected) players under broad pre-conceived headings almost never really works. People’s behaviour just isn’t that easy to box in. Nobody is really always a ‘killer’ (a player who wants to be (recognized as) number one at the expense of others) and not every person who likes to share and interact with others is always a ‘socializer’.

In fact, depending on the phase of game, and the acquired skills of the player, players can be explorers at first, and then become achievers and turn out be to socializers later on. Make up your own classification of players. In one of my designs, in a Japanese Samurai setting, the player types were: Heroes, Ninjas, Empresses, Advisors and Shoguns for example. Each had different dominant personality aspects in various stages of the experience.

green-icon-5-mdDefine what core drivers of motivation are most dominant in each phase of the experience.

Now we are getting into my favourite field of work: the analytical might of the Octalysis Framework! For every phase we are thinking of very creative Gamification Features that will appeal to intrinsic or extrinsic motivators of players. In every phase of the experience, we will design for different motivators. In the onboarding phase, we may want players to quickly discover all the basic possibilities and features of the game. Extrinsic motivators (rewards, XP, badges, leaderboards for example) lead the way here.

But very soon we need to start bringing in intrinsic motivation (creativity of feedback, socializing, designing for epic calling). This is where a lot of creative power leads the way. And this is also where The Octalysis Group consultants excel and provide substantial added value for medium to long term player engagement, compared to off-the-shelf and out-of-box solutions.

green-icon-6-mdTweaking for different players

We now know broadly what kind of motivators, game mechanics and features will be incorporated in the experience, and in what phases we are going to emphasize what. What follows is an elaborate schedule of how we think each player type will come to accomplish each desired action, for each phase. This is the work of chess players and monks: forward looking and paying attention to every little detail possible. In the end we are left with an 3D model of players, phases, and motivators that encompasses the whole experience, with its players, phases and motivators and in all its desired actions, metrics and objectives! It’s Octalysis heaven…

But we are not done. There is so much more to learn!

  • How do we get people to acquire skills throughout the experience?
  • What feedback works and what feedback doesn’t?
  • How do we get them to reach a state of Flow, where players forget time and space and become completely engaged in the experience?
  • And how do we do this with only limited (clients) budget at our disposal?

Join me for my next blog piece. I will then reveal the remaining secrets to real best practice Gamification.

Not just more examples of Gamification, but real lessons learned from a Gamification designer

Next week on!

Keep the faith…

Who Needs Gamification at Work?

  1. The majority of workers believe that Gamification programs would help them to be finally motivated at work
  2. The lack of employee engagement remains a major problem for businesses and non-profit organizations
  3. The Octalysis Group creates engagement for its clients through solid Gamification implementation
  4. Contact me on how we provide value:

Employee Motivation for Gamification

The basic science behind the best Gamification Framework in town.


We know that Gamification works. There are now dozens of case studies wherein Gamification resulted in dramatic increases in customer and employee engagement.

But Gamification only works when it is executed correctly. So only when extrinsic motivators, like rewards, badges, leaderboards are used wisely, sparsely and mainly to get people excited and to let them get feedback on their progress in the gamified experience.

And only when intrinsic motivators (like giving users freedom of choice, feedback on what they have chosen, creating communities and letting them join a cause bigger than themselves) are designed to be the mainstay of Gamification. That way, it will keep users interested and motivated to engage for a long time with gamified products (websites, e-products, or even government policies). 

yin yangOK, easy enough huh? A pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper…and your dish is ready. But how do we achieve such an intricate balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation? The scientists behind the Self Determination Theory have demonstrated in numerous studies about what motivates people, that extrinsic motivators can actually kill intrinsic motivation ( .

In my own life I have experienced this with a game I designed for my daughter, which was heavily reliant on extrinsic motivators (prices to win) to get her to play violin. Not only did her motivation go down, but she even stopped playing violin all together when the game was not forthcoming fast enough…. So I knew a long time ago that achieving a balanced approach in Gamification is crucial.

In search of this balance, I spent a lot of time going through all available Gamification concepts, approaches and ideas. There are many good ideas out there, and many intelligent people explaining them to you. None of them, however, really offered an integrated framework for Gamification. It was either a loose combination of keywords and vague concepts or it was too strict and just relied on slapping XP systems, leaderboards and badges to existing products.

I found that only Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework offers a complete approach towards Gamification that is encompassing, balanced and backed by science.   ( ).

Science? Who needs science? I mean if it works, it works right? I don’t need a scientist to tell me that the sun rises, right? Shouldn’t it be enough proof if Gamification just works?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it’s great to have empirical proof that engagement improves with, say, 120%. On the other hand, you do want to back up your findings with a solid theory (or combined theories) that explain WHY it works. This way you can replicate your efforts and see whether the theory holds up in different environments as well!


intrinsic extrinsicSo what is the science behind The Octalysis Framework?

I already mentioned Intrinsic Motivation (and the Self Determination Theory). This is whenpeople are motivated from within, by interests, curiosity, care or abiding values.  These intrinsic motivations are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but nonetheless they can sustain passions, creativity, and sustained efforts. In a gamified environment, these are your medium- to long-term drivers of motivation and give you the staying power of your user.

In the Octaysis Framework, intrinsic motivation is represented by:

Core Drive 1             Epic Meaning and Calling

Core Drive 3             Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

Core Drive 5             Social Influence and Relatedness

Core Drive 7             Unpredictability and Curiosity

Octalysis designs for these core drives keeping in mind every user group, every phase of the game experience (discovery, onboarding, scaffolding, and end game) and for every desired action. Even though the Yu-kai Chou does not group Epic Meaning and Calling under intrinsic motivation, I choose to do so. Joining a cause is something that people would want to do, even if there are no extrinsic rewards connected to it (charity work, religious activity etc).

The challenge with intrinsic motivators is that you may be naturally motivated to save the world, but what’s the rush in doing it now right? In order to propel people to get off their seats, and out of their comfort zones, we need to use extrinsic motivators as well. These motivators generally lead to outcomes extrinsic to the behaviour itself.  So in a gamified environment, picking up a  trash may get you a badge or  a medal or a cash prize. Extrinsic motivation is powerful, but often the effects wear out  and users disconnect or want stronger extrinsic motivators. So we want to use them sparsely and when intrinsic motivators can take over, we shift emphasis to intrinsic motivational triggers.

Octalysis embodies extrinsic motivation in Core Drives:

Core Drive 2             Progress and Development

Core Drive 4             Ownership and Possession

Core Drive 6             Scarcity and Impatience

Core Drive 8             Fear and Avoidance of Loss


Not coincidentally, two of these motivating drives give people a bad feeling after having acted on these motivators (although also an overload of Unpredictability, from Core Drive 7, can leave you with a bad taste). Here you can argue whether Fear and Avoidance of Loss should be under extrinsic motivation or not. Often people are motivated by fear of loss of economic security (jobs, finances, housing), which is part of extrinsic motivation.

i-level-up-greenHigher Octalysis Levels

OK, so now we know what underpins the Octalysis Framework at its most basic level (Level 1). But there is a lot more: how to design for different user groups; how to design for each phase of the experience; how to design for each desired action and how to design to balance available development budgets with the biggest engagement possible for that budget. These topics ar covered in Advanced Levels of Octalysis. Welcome to the world of Octalysis!

Check out below links to advanced level courses by Yu-kai if you want to get deeper into Octalysis. Not much space left last time I checked.

Europe/US time zones

Asia/US time zones

Keep the faith!

Gamification, Flow & Blue Collar Work


Gamification has been receiving a lot of attention. Its promises for a future that holds more rewarding and meaningful engagement in any social sector have been debated intensively over the last few years.

Closely related to the concept of Gamification (applying lesson learned from game to real life situations), is the concept of Flow. Flow is characterized by a state of active being during which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Although Flow can exist without Gamification, one of the key goals of Gamification is to bring people in flow to create an engaging an memorable experience. Here we will treat them in conjunction.

stock-footage-coal-miner-blue-collar-worker-actual-suit-in-kentuckyBlue Collar Gamification Blues?

But is Gamification applicable to all sectors and all strata of society? Surely obviously boring, repetitive and non-inspirational jobs will be just that: boring, repetitive and non-inspirational no matter what sauce you add to it?

In fact some of my Gamification colleagues have been suggesting that Gamification and reaching flow cannot really be achieved in blue-collar situations (e.g. assembly line work). They claim that blue-collar work situations are radically different from other (let’s call them white-collar) work environments. In their view blue-collar workers don’t learn anything new in the end and therefore you cannot Gamify their work, nor can these people really achieve flow. Their work is just too boring and monotonous.

Now, at first glance, the argument sounds logical. Since achieving optimal work experiences through flow depend mainly on the ability to invest mental or psychic energy into activities, it is hard to see how an assembly line worker could ever achieve flow (let alone that we can apply Gamification to his tasks).

People are Peopleimgbluecollar-300x230

However, a closer look at scientific proof falsifies this seemingly obvious assumption completely. Most notably, even without any externally devised workflow optimization scheme, around 40% of blue-collar workers report being in flow on the job more than in their leisure time. So, not only can you help blue-collar workers help reach very satisfying and memorable moments in their work, they are already doing this in droves themselves!

Just as white-collar workers report more satisfactory experiences when they are able to learn and employ newly learned skills to challenge new obstacles and challenges, factory workers experience the same. Denying this is not only unproven, it also would mean supporting an elitist viewpoint that blue collar workers are somehow fundamentally different human beings with radically different motivational triggers.

We know, however, that the amount of mental energy that can be embedded in an activity determines whether that activity is experienced as rewarding or not. The more an activity is dependent on external input (machines, engines etc), the less it leads to memorable experiences.

So how have blue-collar workers created flow and memorable experiences in seemingly repetitive, non-inspirational work? Has it been possible for them to input enough mental energy to make their jobs rewarding? Studies from the early 1970s already show that those who succeeded in their efforts did as follows. They managed to:

  1. change the constraints they were facing into opportunities for expressing freedom and creativity;
  2. discover new challenges: e.g. perfect what you are doing; do it faster; do it different; do it in different team settings;
  3. change the job itself until its characteristics were more conducive to flow: create more flexible challenges, clear goals and immediate feedback.
  4. develop new skills to complement or to supplement the new activity;
  5. develop new obstacles.

As you can see, these elements put together relate inter-alea to some of the key building blocks used in games: challenges, fun, obstacles, problem-solving. Moreover, since they are applied to a real world setting they in fact constitute (non-intentional) Gamification. Hey, Gamification and Flow CAN be reached in blue-collar working environment after all!

farmer-and-tractor-tilling-soilPreparing the soil.

Now, not everybody can easily attain flow easily, whether you work in a factory or in an office setting. Your (perception of) abilities to identify opportunities for action, hone your skills and set reachable goals is also important. If you feel that any new challenge is too hard for you, you will always feel anxious. If you feel that any increased challenge is still not hard enough, you will still feel bored and non-engaged. Influencing these perceptions seems often forgotten, but is as important as our Gamification framework itself. For seed to grow, we need to plough the soil first…

After that, make sure to include the foremen, and other bosses. They may be most concerned about speed, efficiency, and numbers and may be sceptical about creating more flexibility in operation procedures. Luckily there are many examples and success stories that we can use to show that people can be more content AND more productive at the same time. In fact, the one leads to the other!

Keep the faith.