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.

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Keep the faith!

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