eSports and Octalysis Gamification: a great match!

eSports and Octalysis Gamification: a great match!

eSports are a Big Item

Big business is increasingly interested in eSports. Companies like Daimler Benz and others sign million dollar contracts to sponsor eSports teams. The Octalysis Group likewise passionately sponsors Team Octalysis ( in Heroes of the Storm.

eSports are video games competitions mainly organized around multiplayer games, particularly between professional players. Some of the most famous game (like League of Legends) have almost 100 million daily players. And millions more are watching LIVE games that are broadcasted via Game media like Twitch. Because of such numbers, eSports (once just a playground for gamers), is now a serious investment and marketing proposition.


Games but not sports?

However, despite the fact that big corporates are increasingly involved in eSports; and the fact that its games are played by hundreds of millions of users, the general public is sometimes unaware of what eSports is and the reach it has. But make no mistake: eSports is sports that is implemented at the highest levels of professionalism. It requires rigorous training and strategy sessions, that can last up to 10 hours a day.

It’s funny, then, that I sometimes have to explain why I think that eSports are a serious sports category and even worthy of Olympic status. “It’s not a sport! It’s a game! They don’t move! It’s addictive!”


Gamers don’t move!

Probably one of the most heard arguments: if you don’t move much during a sport, it cannot be a sport, and therefore it cannot be an Olympic Sport. Sounds like a fair point right? Sports are associated with physical activity by many people.


Reality is different though. The fact that you don’t physically exert yourself much can also be said for Olympic disciplines (games, really) like shooting and archery. And did you know that the International Olympic Committee recognizes both chess and bridge as “sports”? Maybe that is why these games are found on our sports pages.

So, what is a sport and what is not, is not clear at all. And we are not even talking about internationally recognized other “mind sports” like Go, checkers and xiangqi.


How to solve this conundrum then? Well, you either remove all the sports that fall below a certain physical exercise level (who determines that though and what happens to individual athletes who take it easy 😉), or you give eSports its rightful place as a sport. A VERY popular sport worldwide, with a lot more viewers than most Olympic sports.

The latter movement seems strong (…/asian-games-e-sports-players-no-longer…) and I do expect eSports to be a full Asian Games medal candidate in 2020.




The discussion about what is sports is highly subjective, even hypocrite, as is the discussion about what is “good” addiction and what is “bad” addiction to games and activities in general.


A chess player who practices day in, day out? Passionate! Brilliant!


A bridge player constantly talking about his latest tricks? Intelligent! Mastery!


A football player practicing 8 hours a day with a ball? Focused! Driven!


A gamer playing games all day long? Loser! Addict! Worthless!


With eSports now a billion dollar industry, our perceptions about (the value and acceptance of) games and addiction will change rapidly. I will soon call my dear mother a gamer for playing bridge so much.


And Ronaldo? A high earning addict playing a dangerous game. What a loser. A geek!

There is a very fine, imaginative line between passion and addiction…


I am not saying that addictions should be ignored. Digital experiences have great feedback mechanics and can cause full immersion and addiction. We need to keep informing people about the dangers of addiction. Any passion that leads you to forget the importance of socializing, creativity and taking care of your daily needs can become destructive. If that passion/addiction is your career it can lead to divorce, suicide even.


It’s our joint responsibility to show people what creates true and lasting happiness. Finding a passion and mastering that passion is definitely part of that. Whether it is drawing, setting up a business, playing chess or becoming a serious gamer. No need to condemn one passion over the other.


Learning from successful games

So eSports is a sport that warrants serious global and professional attention, but why would we care? What can businesses learn from this phenomenon (rather than just getting exposure to millions of viewers)?


Well, the more enduring the popularity of a game is over time, the more powerful its design is likely to be. eSports center around games that a lot of people play, and have often played for a long time. The design of these games is well advanced and caters for deep and long-lasting engagement. In Octalysis terms: the experience is balanced throughout the Four Phases of the Experience and for its main player types.


The Octalysis Group is always learning, refining and expanding its knowledge about human focused design and game mechanics. Watching eSports and getting involved with the community allows us to learn even more secrets about how these games have been designed and why they are so engaging.


We incorporate these lessons learned in our designs, so that they can become even more successful and lead to even higher ROIs for our clients. So not only are eSports a serious business opportunity for corporates, they are also an excellent way to innovate our gamification services.


So next time you have the opportunity, go and watch an eSports match. It’s fun, highly professional and you may just learn a bit of Gamification knowledge on the fly!


If you are interested in serious Gamification design to empower your products or people, you can contact me via


Game on!

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Octalysis Licensing Model Success: the Navo Orbico Case

Octalysis Licensing Model Success: the Navo Orbico Case


Bored sales team before Octalysis Gamification

The Octalysis Group is known for its successful Gamification projects in Employee Gamification as well as Product Gamification. Client and peer recognition of the value we bring means a lot to us, but we also want to share the value that our Licensing model brings to our partners.

In fact, while implementing the Octalysis licensing/consortium model,  the prize for Best Gamification Project 2017 was during the Europe Gamification Congress . Time to give some insight into how this highly successful project was implemented.



As the Octalysis Framework is IP protected, companies can only use the methodology for commercial purposes if they have a License. The Polish company Funtiago, one of our earliest Licensees, recognized the benefits of having a License a few years ago. They applied for Licensee status and underwent rigorous training in the Octalysis methodology.


To ensure meticulous Quality Assurance (QA), The Octalysis Group always fronts leads the design of the first project that the Licensee undertakes. The QA is necessary as implementing Octalysis is a complex, multifaceted process and even our own experts need up to 18 months to be able to achieve good design results.


Navo Orbico

Funtiago introduced a new and promising client to us: Navo Orbico, a major FMCG distributor in 19 countries. With a headcount of 5,500 employees it is distributing 512 brands: Ariel, Pampers, Oral-B, Pringles are but some of the famous brands they carry.

Navo Orbico was looking for an innovative way to engage their sales workforce in a bid to raise sales, employee happiness and internal brand awareness. Through Funtiago the company came to us for initial project discussions. They were looking for Octalysis Power to make sales Fun and Engaging again!


The Implementing Consortium

As the project was to be implemented in Poland first it was important that most of the client facing roles would be filled in by our Licensee (Funtiago, led by Tomas Cisek) and Blue Horizon, an experienced Project Management company. Blue Horizon is a long-standing partner of Navo Orbico and knows the company well. The Octalysis Group was responsible for the Gamification design, implementing the tried and tested 5 Step Octalysis Implementation Method.


Through this set up we could guarantee the quality of the design. Funtiago would excel at the development and art design of the experience, while Blue Horizon would play an important client facing role. All in all, a challenging set up with many players involved, but the cultural and language differences involved made this tiered set up necessary.


The Results

After the concept design had been finalized, Funtiago and Blue Horizon got the notice that they had to deliver the project within 2 months. An almost impossible task, but they did it.


The project (now called Master Of the Endless Sea (MOES) was a success right from the start. The employees loved the integration into the existing CRM, so the app became the workflow as such. There was much faster feedback on their actions, and “The Tavern” (the social community place in the app) became an engagement point for sharing ideas, best practices and management information.



In general people were happier in their job, had more social interaction and were more successful with their clients.


The results have been widely shared on social media, but let’s repeat what Navo Orbico’s ROIs were:


SALES up 21.6 %

Activity KPIs up 60%+

Participation rate: 99.5%

(one person was on pregnancy leave)


So a very good result indeed, despite the fact that not even all the design concepts have been implemented. The future for Navo Orbico looks bright!


Curious to see how we can get similar results for your company? Contact us for a COMPLIMENTARY consultation:


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Easter Eggs Want to Be Found: Using Easter Eggs to Motivate Employees

Easter Eggs Want to Be Found: Using Easter Eggs to Motivate Employees

The Easter Egg I Never Found, But Could Have

When you think of Easter Eggs, you probably first think of colorful eggs hiding around the house or your backyard, carefully hidden by your parents.

Almost everybody who has looked for these hidden eggs, can still recall these experiences years, even decades, later. Easter Eggs create fun, creativity and friendly competition.

Many games incorporate Easter Egg techniques in their designs. Here is one:


Training Oneself to Look for Easter Eggs

The Witness is a game by Jonathan Blow which taught players how to be attentive of their surroundings.

The gameplay experience of The Witness worked so well that players started seeing patterns outside of the game.

This is an example of incredible habit formation. It’s an example of a game which succeeded in one fascinating way: how to form habits through Easter Eggs.

This is all well in good in a game, but how do we use Easter Eggs in serious business settings? And can it help Innovation? How can we make employees more engaged?


Letting Employees Plant the Seeds of Innovation

Some companies pay extravagant amounts of money for consulting on everything from strategy, process, to innovation.

But what if you could design into your culture a way to reward employees for insights into innovation?

What if innovation seeds could be planted?

Noticing and Building a Collaborative List of Problems (And Working Toward Solutions)

Employees notice problems in the business every day. But I bet many of your employees keep these problems to themselves.

Some employees aren’t assertive. Others are worried about speaking out. Some, when they do offer solutions, get discouraged when you don’t apply every single suggestion.

But what if employees were trained to look at problems as Easter Eggs? To look out for them with curiosity and pleasure? And to share them with the team and the leadership regularly? (Just like a child shows her mom and dad all the eggs she found!)

Before designing Easter Eggs, let’s review how we look at them from a gamification lens.

Sudden Rewards (Easter Eggs)

Octalysis has build up a large body of knowledge about rewards. With regards their context as well as the Core Drive motivation connected with it (The Six Contextual Types of Rewards in Gamification). Let’s look at some rewards that drive curiosity.

Sudden Rewards are rewards that are not advertised and that the user doesn’t expect to receive for taking a specific action. In other words, whereas Random Rewards are unexpected rewards based on a certain expected Trigger, Sudden Rewards are rewards based on unexpected Triggers.

Participants get the element of surprise and an emotionally positive boost. This unexpected reward can lead to repeated behavior in the seeking of the elusive and unexpected reward.

Two reasons why Sudden Rewards work:

  • They get great word-of-mouth because everybody loves to share something exciting that happened to them that day. They’ll tell their friends about what they got and their friends will want to participate in the hopes that they’ll get an Easter egg as well.
  • They cause speculation if done correctly, yes even obsessive behavior. If sudden rewards seem random, participants will wonder how they can replicate the experience for hack the system. They will start to develop theories about why they won, and other participants will be interested in testing these theories to either prove or disprove that the Easter Egg is real.

They can also lead to Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback when users try to test and replicate the experience but  in different ways.

Help Your Employees Find More Easter Eggs

The Octalysis Group loves helping companies think about how to better engage their employees. The people working for you matter and they will make your business thrive if you motivate them correctly.

Give us the chance to help design unforgettable experiences for your employees.




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How Rebel Soldiers Created my Octalysis Journey

How Rebel Soldiers Created my Octalysis Journey

It was clear that the young rebel fighter did not know what to make of us. Our car must have seemed such easy prey. A white SUV without a military escort. All alone in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. A peace accord had been signed only weeks ago, but clearly some people hadn’t received the memo.

He had jumped on the road with his gang of 8. Armed with home-made guns, bombs and spears, they looked like rag tag tribal Robin Hoods. From the back of the car I was staring into the muzzle of something that was a mix between a vacuum cleaner and an old canon. I could feel the sweat on my forehead as he nervously moved the gaping hole left to right in front of my face.

Our driver was a Bangladeshi. The tribal people did not like Bangladeshis. I fact they had fought a bloody war with them for over 20 years and thousands had lost their lives. As a Dutch diplomat I had been tasked to go around the newly pacified areas to look for ways to build post-conflict peace solutions. Setting up joint tribal–Bangla radio programs, joint governing bodies, community activities. Anything that could help foster trust.

The man with the home-made gun did not look very trustworthy, especially not after seeing our driver. Suddenly he started gesturing to his colleagues, and all 8 of them got really excited. “Bangla! Bangla!”, they shouted. I didn’t like how the situation was evolving at all.

What is it that they wanted? How could I defuse this explosive situation I found myself in? I needed a to find a way to understand his motivations. Why was he doing what he is doing?


From rebels to non-lethal motivation

When I give Octalysis Workshops, Keynote speeches or lead client Kick Off meetings, people often wonder how I got from being a diplomat to being an Octalysis Expert. I often tell them that, in essence, there are no real differences between dealing with rebels and dealing with reluctant, distracted users of an application, workfloor or website.

This may sound strange to you. How can civil wars and user engagement be in the same league? Well, it all boils down to understanding motivations, fears and perceived needs. If I want rebel soldiers to shake hands with a former enemy, the design of the peace program needs to address their deepest feelings and needs. If I want users to get motivated by my Octalysis design, that design needs to address their feelings and needs in a similar vein. Obviously, the consequences of potential failed design are much bigger in war time. I don’t think many people got hurt because our app was not engaging enough.

Nevertheless, my deep interest in behavioral science, and why people do what they do, derives very much from my experiences in war zones and post-conflict areas. Luckily the violent encounters with Rocket Propelled Grenades, exploding tank mines on airport runways, car jackings and public lynchings did not damage me too much. They did spike my interest in human behavior and empowered me to crawl into the skin of the people involved and really feel their experience.


Feeling the Experience

When I design for true engagement, I need to “feel the experience”. It’s almost an artistic feeling and fully immersive. Creating Octalysis Gamification design is not just adding a few cool mechanics in the hope of creating a nice dopamine or serotonin spike. No. When you design, you ARE the user. You feel what they feel. You fear what they fear. You need what they need.

A long time ago I was carjacked in Nairobi.  Carjacking is when they steal your car with you in it, often using weapons. It was an awful experience. It was violent. There were guns and threats. Although I was really scared, I somehow I found a way to get to talk to the criminals. I immediately told them they could have whatever we possessed. At the same time, I wanted to create a social connection.

So I talked about my underwear and other non-valuables that were in my suitcase. I wanted them to feel connected with me. They were scared I am sure (and they would surely die if caught by the police) so making that connection on harmless things that we all possess helped to ease the tensions somewhat. I tried to feel what they were feeling and design my responses in a way that made me look human. Not just another victim, but a fellow human being. In Octalysis terms: I crafted some “Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness” design.

In the end we got lucky, and we were released. Did my ‘design’ help? It may have, it may not have. At minimum I got some very intensive training in analyzing emotions and designing features that connected with these emotions. I carried that experience with me while working in other parts of Africa and in Afghanistan, where I made other interesting encounters that blew my mind (well, almost).


Back to the real world

I did not last in diplomacy. The conflict world was too stressful in the end, and the Ministry (where I was posted for a while) too boring and bureaucratic. Civil war turned to political battles. Time to leave.

I joined the private sector and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, still focusing on how to create engagement in the United Nations, World Bank and developing nations. The journey continued via HR and virtual HR engagement solutions till the point that I met Yu-kai Chou. We clicked instantly and The Octalysis Framework blew me away. Soon enough we had founded The Octalysis Group and the rest is (successful) history.

I do carry the lessons learned with me from the violence and war I experienced. How it forced me to really feel what the other is feeling. How it forced me to design to other people’s needs, fears, and wants.

The good thing is: nobody has to experience the same things as I have, in order to know what human motivation is made up and how you need to design for it. The Octalysis Framework makes all of this insightful already. In fact, I wish I had the Framework with me 20 years ago. It would have been a massive help for sure.


And what happened with the Tribal Rebel?

Well we got lucky (again). Our Bangladeshi driver survived, we managed to get the rebels to smile and let us through unharmed. We were allowed to continue on the road for peace. Little did I know that that road finally would turn into an exciting Octalysis journey, where I could use my experience to help clients on a daily basis.

In a sense I am grateful for the mishap that happened in my life. I am now able to apply my lessons in motivation for the benefit of companies, governments and NGOs.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Life is good.


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Yukai Chou: Voted Gamification Guru 2017

Yukai Chou: Voted Gamification Guru 2017

Yu-kai Chou has been voted as Gamification Guru of the Year 2017 by his Gamification practitioner peers. The memorable vote took place during the Gamification Europe Congress (28 – 29 November, in the United Kingdom).

This is the 3rd time that the leading global Gamification practitioner has been elected by his peers and a great tribute to the ever ongoing efforts by Yu-kai to be a front runner in the Gamification Industry. His Gamification Journey has now entered it’s 12th year, which possibly makes him the current practitioner with the longest track record in the Gamification space.

During the Congress, Octalysis received even more accolades. The Octalysis Group, co-founded with fellow Octalysis Guru, Joris Beerda, was also elected. It received the honours as Best Gamification Project 2017 for their work with a Procter and Gamble Distributor. This project resulted in high ROIs of up to 300%.

A separate notice (with full details and speech) shall be published for this achievement on this site at a later date, so stay tuned!

Finally, Octalysis won the prize for Best Gamification Community 2017 for it’s active Facebook Group Octalysis Explorers. This group is now counting close to 5,000 members and is the largest (non course related) Gamification Community.



We are very happy with the accolades received and looking forward to an even more stunning 2018. The client growth over the last few years has been phenomenal and we are content that we can now make a truly global positive impact with Octalysis. And we have just begun!


Curious to find out why clients are content with our work for them?

Contact us for a FREE consultation:


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Why Lean, Agile and Gamification Design Don’t Always Mix

Why Lean, Agile and Gamification Design Don’t Always Mix

Why You Shouldn’t Fail Fast

The dogma of scrum, lean, agile and failing fast to learn is flawed.

Designing a motivating experience isn’t always achieved through the strict application of agile. Small iterations sound nice in theory but they also can break up the experience power of designs.

What users want is a seamless experience that keeps them motivated throughout.


Why the Fail Fast Convention is Flawed (It Builds Frankensteins)

Do you really want your product managers to fail , and fail often, and fail fast?

Silicon Valley has spewed this rhetoric for a few years now. Sure, like any philosophy, it may have helped to create some giant successes. But when applied to Gamification design, it can be a recipe for wasted time, wasted effort, and wasted resources.

If you want to produce a truly engaging user journey in a gamified product, you need a cohesive design to create it. Agile is good at producing an arm, then a leg, then a head, then a body. You may achieve a working Frankenstein, but is that the experience you want for your user?

The Octalysis way, the entire journey

We aren’t saying we don’t believe in the power of iterations. Striving for constant improvement will help almost any design. We too are wary of building a tanker that can’t change course anymore.

But, as a baseline, we at least need an engaging activity loop to be present in all four phases of the experience.

We bring our design lens from the multifaceted Octalysis Gamification Framework to every one of our hundreds of business consultations and designs. Because our framework hones in on human ‘s deepest motivational needs, we are able to increase the success rate of product designs precisely because we can address user needs across the 4 phases of an experience (for several different player types at once!).

Even better, we can predict the success of our designs based on our application of the framework across hundreds of projects, across numerous industries.

“Our product is different.”

You may think you are building something new, something special. Something different. This may lead you to build fast, to favor iteration over planning. Why? If you are doing something new and different, why not take your time to design for the correct human motivations?

But even if your product is different, the human beings that are using your product are the same human beings that are using every other product on the planet.

Analyzing human motivation, then designing for it.

Understanding the motivations of humans can be tricky.

That’s why we build the Octalysis framework and tested it rigorously against many of the best products , from Facebook to Snapchat to Self-Driving Cars.

The secret sauce.

Most experiences are either too extrinsic or too intrinsic OR either too White hat or too Black hat (the user feels too much control or too little control).

These 4 areas represent quadrants of motivation that you definitely want to play with in your product design. This way, you will be harnessing motivation to generate desired actions, the beginning of a core activity loop.

Now, as you iterate, you’ll have a context within which to iterate. Your user journey can remain stable while you tweak the design to provide the right motivational nudges for the different types of users in your experience!

The result of patient design: people eventually start coming back for more and more.

Talk to us today and we’ll give you an audit of your entire user experience from the Octalysis design perspective.


Contact us right now.

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Find out how Octalysis design supercharges your sales team…

Find out how Octalysis design supercharges your sales team…

Many of our clients are enthusiastic when they see Octalysis for the first time.  One of my clients recently said that the Framework totally transformed the way he saw his business, yes even life itself. I can vouch for these statements myself. Octalysis has completely changed how I see professional and personal life too. It’s awesome.

However, and this is a question our clients ask us a lot, does it work? Does Octalysis lead to more engagement? Does it result in motivated teams? Does it lead to higher sales? Higher growth and productivity?

Obviously the answer is yes.  Normally we are under strict Client Non-Disclosure Agreements so we can almost never share the great results we achieve. We were allowed to do so last year for one of our hotel chain projects, which resulted in sales growth of  712% and a Social Coefficient of 512%. I am thrilled that I am now allowed to share some amazing results from one of our HR/Employee Gamification projects as well. Enjoy!

Check out the results below. If you cannot wait any longer, just scroll all the way down (warning: you may miss out on some Octalysis Design gems by doing so).


The Challenge

We (and our Polish Octalysis Licensee Funtiago) were approached by a Navo Orbico a major FMCG distributor in Europe with about 5,500 employees. They faced major challenges with their sales teams that had to go out and sell Procter and Gamble products to their clients. The main issues:

  • Low employee motivation
  • Low and stagnating sales numbers
  • No feedback on their activities
  • No group feeling
  • No new sales ideas

Sounds daunting huh? Yeah, we thought so too. This is a company that had been selling stuff to clients for decades. If they couldn’t maintain sales and motivate their teams, this was truly a massive issue…

Nevertheless, we accepted the challenge to improve the professional life of the sales teams and to increase sales in the process. We knew that the people themselves were not to blame for this daunting situation. It was all about the way their sales processes were designed. Time for Octalysis Human Focused Design!


Our approach

We ensure high quality delivery by sticking to our tried and tested 5 Step Octalysis Implementation Process (Strategy Dashboard; Feature Brainstorm; PE Feature List; Battle Plan; and Concept Wireframes). This process is highly interactive with the client as we need to ensure that our assumptions about their business metrics, practices and target users are well aligned with the solutions we come up with and design for.

We also wanted to ensure that our designs were flawlessly integrated with the CRM application the sales team was using. It makes no sense to design an experience if it stays as a separate application. It needs to constantly be in sync with the wider CRM process.

We then decided to change the world that sales people had to live in on a daily basis. Away with the boring to do lists and endless repetition of sales steps without any overarching narrative or feedback. From now on sales people in the distributor are seafaring traders for a city state called Nabicopolis. You do not just go to clients but you sail there and trade with them for profit. For yourself, as well as for the city state.

Here are screenshots of the city state (the text is all in Polish, but the images are self explanatory).

The city grows whenever it is healthy and wealthy. When it is poor and weak, it is prone to pirate attacks and it will degrade. As you can see from the images above, both you and the city have a health (red line) and a wealth (green line) meter. You gain health by doing the right sales KPIs. Wealth by selling products.

There is a variety of social interaction design in the project. There are group quests; a tavern to socialize and for management to send out overall guidance and news updates:




Gentle Leaderboard

There is a leaderboard as well, although we made sure to not make it too intimidating. Often leaderboards are only motivational for the the top 5 people on it. For the rest the scarcity feel (Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience) is too high and they stop caring. However, by only showing a few people above and below you, you can mitigate some of that negativity and make it more engaging by bringing scarcity back to lower levels.


Dynamic Profile Pages

People tend to spend a lot of time (at least in the early stages of the experience) to upgrade and update their profile:

Not only can you update a photo, you can also choose the ship that you use to sail to clients with. The more activities you do in the application, the bigger and faster your ship will be and the faster you get feedback on your sales results from Headquarters.

Interestingly, when you sail with your ship, the navigation is fully integrated with Google Maps so you actually see yourself sailing to your clients along maps that look somewhat like this (this is a mockup, the real thing looks better):

Players have full autonomy of what actions and strategy they want to follow (so lots of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback), which is very motivational long term and often lacking in sales organizations. Now selling has become fun and creative.


Next to social aspects and creativity and autonomy, we also made sure that there is plenty to discover and that there are regular surprises in the experience (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity). Social, creativity, and unpredictability are all intrinsically motivational. Here is where all the fun is and where long term motivation is born!

So you will get secret codes


…that open mystery boxes:

In additional there is the Captain’s Wheel of Fortune where you can spend your trade energy to try get cool prizes and loot drop. This is a very popular design feature and engages people on a daily basis.

Oh, and did I tell you that participation in the experience was fully voluntary? And that 100% of all the 130 sales people joined in? Let’s look at some more results shall we?


The Results

OK, so what were the results of Octalysis Design for this client? Did it approach what they expected? Yes it did. In fact they told us that the results were extraordinary. Here is a small sample list:


  • SALES: UP 21.8%
  • KPIs: UP 59%
  • Social Interaction: UP 300%


These are good numbers indeed, especially for an organization that has been in the market for so long. What managers would not sign up for a 21.8% sales uptick? Or people actually doing their KPIs with a smile on their faces?

Octalysis works, IF it is implemented well. We feel that the design can be even more improved, but are happy with the results so far.


Curious how to get great numbers too?

We can do this for your company or organization too. It does not matter if you are working in a big corporation or a small start up. Contact me for a FREE initial consultation and find out what The Octalysis Group can do for you!


Speak soon.




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Gamification: not only icing on the cake…

Gamification: not only icing on the cake…

Why many gamification projects fail: Part 1

Gamification; Human-focused design, behavioural science, motivation, OctalyisGamification has grown to be more than a buzzword. We see many examples of Gamification being used in banking, education, retail, healthcare, entertainment, media and more. According to Credence Research, the Global Gamification Market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.4 percent from 2016 until 2023. Another research by Research and Markets shows that the Global Education Gamification market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 66.22 percent till 2020.

Clearly, the benefits of Gamification have now been recognised as a way to achieve competitive advantage and high ROI. That said, Gartner’s predicted that more than 80 % of Gamification projects would fail. Why such a harsh prediction? What do you need to know for your project to succeed? What are the most common errors in the industry?

In a series of posts, The Octalysis Group will address common misconceptions, misunderstandings and mistakes that occur during the design and implementation of gamification. Our goal is to address these issues. Why? Because we believe that gamification is not only business but also a cause. A cause to change the world for the better. The better we design, the more positive change we can bring to the world.


Gamification must be integrated into your product design


  • “So when does the Gamification come in?”
  • “After that, we will start with the Gamification”


We hear these types of statements all the time, coming not only from clients but also from industry experts, but this approach misses a crucial point. In The Octalysis Group, we know that Gamification is not just adding points, badges, leaderboards or other game mechanics. Designing engaging experiences has more to do with behavioural science and motivation, than just adding these add-on mechanics. It’s like building a game first, and only after starting to think about how to make that game fun!

Behavioural design and motivation are built into successful games the same way it should be in Gamification projects. Ideally, we build for long or even ever-lasting engagement.

Think about a game like chess. Its history can be traced back more than 1500 years, and there are still no signs that the game is getting boring or out-of-date any time soon. In fact, chess doesn’t need patches and updates, new bricks or badges for people to come back to play it. The game is designed to bring endless opportunities and possibilities to construct and test strategies within the game itself; it becomes unnecessary to add more features.

A truly engaging experience has motivation incorporated in its DNA, and that’s where great Gamification must start too. Engagement and motivation start by designing for human motivation throughout the experience and in all phases. Nearly all movies have movie elements in them (actors, sound, visual effects), but those elements alone do not guarantee the director a seat at the Oscars…


Why plug and play solutions often fail to increase long-term engagement

On the market today there are many ready-to-go Gamification solutions that boast of being able to achieve high ROIs in engagement, motivation, loyalty and so on. Unfortunately, the real return is mostly not that impressive, especially in the medium to long term.They may have incorporated a whole host of funky looking game mechanics, but they will not lead to much traction with your target users.

Why? The main reason is that ready-to-go solutions are designed and implemented without considering the specifics of your business and your target audience in full (What are your users motivated by? What’s the motivation for doing these actions already? What are the motivations not to do them?). They do not adequately address specific business metrics (your key goals and the desired actions you want the user to take) and do not take into full consideration power and motivational push of each feature.

In the end, ready-to-go solutions can help increase short term engagement. But due to their lack of customizability, they often become too general to increase long-term engagement.

Gamification, human-focused design, motivation, Octalysis, engagement

The game of chess has truly mastered human engagement and does not need regular patches, updates or new bricks to stay engaging.


How to design a successful Gamification project?

Successful Gamification should start from scratch with defining the business metrics first (the results you want to improve). This should be followed by a thorough analysis of the users you want to engage. If you do this correctly you are on the right path to set up the Strategy Dashboard.

  1. Define what actions do users need to take for your business metrics to improve. No step is too trivial; think about all the actions that require motivation from the user. Examples are entering a web page, creating an account, finding a product, and finally buying a product.
  2. Try to optimise the experience by grouping those actions the 4 different phases of the player journey (discovery, onboarding, scaffolding and endgame). Remember that the first time you open a Macbook you feel different from when you’ve had it for 2 years.
  3. Then think how those different player types will be motivated at all stages of your user experience and only after that start creating your visual and functional designs.

Levelling up the industry

So, great Gamification cannot be just added as a layer to an existing solution. It must be designed by following a meticulously laid out design path. It needs to address human core drive motivation, throughout all the 4 phases of the user experience and for your main user. Only in this way will you be successful in getting really high and sustainable return on investment for your business goals. Your employees will be engaged and your customers will be coming back again and again. For what product or service you bring but, even more so, to re-live the experience around your offering.

Curious to find out how we can help to design a truly engaging experience for your organisation?


Contact one of our experts:

Gaute [at]

Ivan [at]

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Octalysis Gamification to Better Equip Sales People

Octalysis Gamification to Better Equip Sales People

Sales gamification octalysis

Better equipping salespeople

Burnout and churn are common problems in fast-paced sales teams. Even among well-designed teams, productivity sustainability can be a pressing problem.

We know long term motivation suffers when there is an over-emphasis on Extrinsic Rewards coupled with Black Hat design. Sales jobs are often only about selling more and more, and competition with your peers. The lack of control on how to do the sales process through pre-made scripts and stringent KPI audits means that people do not feel empowered and leave. Many companies lose a lot of potentially good sales people and churn is close to 50% in many sales companies.

Extrinsic, Black Hat Design is not bad, but it has to be balanced with more White Hat motivational design into your sales teams set up.

Design for more balance in sales teams

Often sales design is all about showing how one person performs versus the rest of the team. The metrics used are all directly tied to more sales and in a short period (a day, week or month). Sub-optimal gamification solutions often just copy this structure and rely heavily on progress bars, leaderboards and intense competition. This is great to get people started in their sales process initially, but it doesn’t keep their engines running for long.

What is often missing is an emphasis on intrinsic design: being able to choose up to 3 paths to success that work and seeing your choices work in practice (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback), being able to achieve your own goals with the help of others (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness); or getting unexpected challenges and rewards (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity).


Don’t forget: extrinsic rewards and black hat can get people to pick up the phone to make calls. But it is the intrinsic design where all the fun is created. This is where people do the actions you want them to do voluntarily, even without getting paid for them. They have more fun and you as a sales manager have to pay and threaten them less to do the sales. It is a true win-win. If it is well designed!


Oh one more point, the sales grind can become quite disengaging when it does not seem to support any other goal than making more money and beating the competition. Adding a narrative that people can believe in (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling) can add powerful longer term design angles to your overall sales team structure.


Scaling a sales organization

Creating one standout salesperson isn’t enough to ensure the sales team succeeds even in the short run, let alone the long term.

How your accounts work together, manage territories, and manage deal flow in a synergetic fashion matter too. Your Stars will need to interact with Proto-Stars, Novas, and Black Holes or your business cannot function. You’ll also need to carry employees through Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame phases.


In a next post we will reveal a case study on how we managed to design a great Gamified sales program that lead to triple digit engagement numbers, over time and for high and low flyers. We did it by exactly the right balance between white hat and black hat; extrinsic and intrinsic design.

How exactly? Find out next week!


The Octalysis Group has years of experience across hundreds of companies.

If you want us to create short- and long-term engagement in your company as well, contact Joris Beerda:

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How to do gamification of Corporate Management Meetings

How to do gamification of Corporate Management Meetings

Visualize this: a client comes to you with the request to gamify an Annual Management Meeting of a large Chinese multinational.

The target group:

  • 13 older executives (55 – 65 years old)
  • IT exposure: minimal
  • Previous gamification exposure: nill
  • Opinion about games: for children and losers


Have we not heard over and over again that Gamification is not for older people and not for the board room? Can this even be done?

Oh yes it can! See below.


VINDA management meeting

Our client is Director of Marketing for Vinda Ltd. Vinda makes tissue paper on a big scale. You may know them from Tempo tissues, Libero diapers or Libresse hygienic pads. They are a big company, with a big history.


The Director attended a workshop with Yu-kai Chou and got excited about Octalysis. She really wanted to implement Octalysis in her company but needed help to make sure the top management also felt the same. So why not start with gamifiying the Annual Management Meeting (AMM) with our help?


AMMs (or AGMs) are normally not very exciting and are often used to tick off decisions that have already been taken in the run up to the meeting. Most attendants are mostly interested in getting the budget items approved for their own business channel. So Supply Chain will only pay attention during Supply Chain and Marketing only during Marketing agenda items. Often the meetings end up as boring affairs with little interaction or synergetic outcomes.

Was it possible to get people really interested in the AMM and get participants to share and become creative across business channels? That’s where The Octalysis Group came in.


The Set Up

Regular readers of this space know that an experience mostly consists of 4 phases: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and End Game. For short duration meetings like the AMM (which lasted 3 days), the End Game is less pronounced so we will focus more on the first 3 phases.

Because of the age and IT exposure of the target group, we decided to keep the IT components to a minimum. However, since all of them own a smartphone, we knew that an app would not by definition be a bridge too far.


Pulling the Executives in: Discovery

Annual meetings are often prepared well in advance. Participants know what is coming so there is little Curiosity push (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity) to take action. So this year we kept the meeting place and program completely secret.


Then suddenly participants were sent secret codes with which they could unlock the location and agenda. For this they needed to download and app (the experience vehicle) to fill the code in. So we used CD7 to empower a desired action: download and open the app.


After unlocking the app, the users got send messages by email that they were expected to leave questions/issues they wanted to have discussed. It was made clear that the Chairwoman of the company was already in the app and the she had already left some issues to be debated. This led to a big Fear Of Missing Out reaction (Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance), and all participants listed many ideas that they wanted to discuss. We used black hat design to motivate people to take action.


Onboarding: first little steps

We grouped the Vinda execs into groups with colleagues from various business channels. Their first assignment would be to cook dinner the night before the AMM in a cooking club. For many managers this was the first chance they had to actually cooperate with their colleagues. At this stage they were still new in the experience so the Social Interaction needs to be non-confrontational and light-hearted. Hence the cooking setting.


The next day the AMM was opened and the group objectives were laid out. We used a game mechanic called Message in a Bottle from the SelfDRVN app to facilitate the process. In the mechanic you see bottles floating in the sea and when you tap on one you can see the message inside and you can leave a vote.


The goal was for groups to try to post and reply to as many questions and ideas as they could. However, per group of 3 they only had 3 posts per session so they really had to discuss and strategize which topics to posts and which topics to answer.


Scaffolding: how did the executives level up?

The strategizing design was very motivational (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback) and led to a lot of cross business unit communication about each others business  channels interests.


The posts submitted were all anonymous, and only the most upvoted ideas were published on a big board with the name of the submitter. This way we overcame the fear of people posting a ‘bad’ idea (we create anti Core Drive 8) while at the same time rewarding (in public) great ideas.


The group with the most ideas upvoted would level up fastest (there were 4 levels). At the end of the meeting groups got handed out an amount of darts depending on the level they achieved. For Level 4 you got 6, while for Level 1 you got only 1. The winner of the AMM is the group that scores the highest total score after throwing all their darts on a dart board.

In theory, even Level 2 could still win if they would throw very well. Deciding who could throw the darts in the group created even more social interaction, as did the dart throwing game itself.

The reward, finally was also designed to generate more Core Drive 5 (Social Influence and Relatedness) motivation. The winning group won a dinner night out to which they had to invite all AMM attendees. So the reward allowed the losers to share the win state of the winners. Only  the winners got Champagne though…


Our approach was designed to make sure that:

  • people stay focused till the end of the meeting
  • they communicate a lot more, across business channels
  • they start caring about each other’s issues
  • the AMM is seen as a fun moment during which new ideas and cooperation are born


The result: was our Octalysis design successful?

Well, let me not bore you with facts and figures (I can tell you the ROIs were high according to Vinda). Here is what the participants gave as feedback:


I have attended many MLT meetings over the past years and this is the best meeting I have ever attended

it was so engaging and memorable


it was very disruptive and it opened our minds

If you want us to create short- and long-term engagement in your company as well contact Joris Beerda:

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Octalysis taking lead in the Academic world!

Octalysis taking lead in the Academic world!

Gamification; Westerdals; Octalysis; spillifisering

The gamification market is estimated to grow from USD 1.65 Billion in 2015 to USD 11.10 Billion by 2020. This increasing demand is bringing more and more actors to the global market. Since Yu-Kai published the Octalysis Framework in 2008, it has been organically translated into more than 20 languages, and the book was recently translated into Chinese and Korean(!).

But Octalysis is also making large forays into academia. For example, this year, Actionable Gamification was chosen as the curriculum framework for the first intensive Gamification course at Westerdals, the Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology.

More and more people are taking interest in Gamification, but the term is still not well-known in the Norwegian market. When we created the course last fall, we didn’t have many resources to market it to the Bachelor and Master students.

When the listings came late December we were happy to see that many people had applied and joined our course.

It was quite interesting to see the diverse background of our students, a reflection of the wide range of bachelor degrees and courses that Westerdal offers. The degrees range from game design to digital marketing and from programming to sound design.

Octalysis; gamification; Norway; spillifisering;

Norwegian Octalysis

What did we do?

The curriculum was mainly based on Yu-Kai’s book Actionable Gamification (get it here if you haven’t already). The course started by covering the history of games and play, and we did a fun game to see what (simplified) player types were most dominant in the class. With students from creative fields, it was no surprise that most students were dominant Explorers type categories, while the 2nd largest group were characterised as Achievers. A great balance of creativity and effort then!  From here we discussed behavioural economics and psychology with theories from Daniel Kahneman, Csikszentmihalyi and Daniel Pink.  

Each session led to a discussion or exercise where we’d discuss Norwegian products and cases and come up with improvements through the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis. We spoke about White Hat and Black Hat design as well as Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation. The Norwegian examples ranged from a grocery application launched this year by Rema 1000 (‘Æ’), Parked Piano (a cultural initiative placing pianos in public locations for anyone to play) to McDonald’s’ ‘Find a bacon clubhouse’  website.

In just a month’s time, the students had three different group presentations and one group exam in the end. Actionable Gamification is a thorough book and one you come back to over and over, but the students were all able to grasp the framework and implementation very well in such short time!

During our month we were also lucky to get visits by other lecturers, such as Game researcher Amit Ginni Patpatia, behavioural researcher  Asle Fagerstrøm and the Managing Director of TOG, Joris Beerda.

The final exam asked the students to describe an area of society where gamification should be introduced and to discuss how today’s solution can be improved through gamification. The students came up with their own cases ranging from improving the public transport system in Norway, to making elderly care a lot better and creating good habits for recycling plastic bottles!

We were very happy with the high level of engagement from our students, which also became evident with the close to 100% attendance rate. Big thanks to Assistant Professor Jannicke Johansen and Westerdals ACT for taking action and collaborating to set up the course. Westerdals has actually incorporated these intensive courses as part of their competitive strategy to interdisciplinary education for all students attending.  Thanks to all the students for taking part in lectures and making the first course a memorable one!

As more and more Norwegians are introduced to Gamification we at The Octalysis Group are excited to be in the forefront of the Norwegian scene, and that the course will be repeated next year!

Want help making your product, experience or workplace engaging?

Contact me:

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The Astronomy of Corporate Employees: Stars, Proto-Stars, Novas, and Black Holes

The Astronomy of Corporate Employees: Stars, Proto-Stars, Novas, and Black Holes

Using Astronomy to Understand Your Employees

Just as there are many types of entities in the universe, there are also many types corporate employee types. By recognizing these types of employees you can design your employee engagement and development can help them navigate to become stellar members of your enterprise.

First, let’s investigate our galactic employee types.

Stars, Proto-stars, Novas and Black Holes.

In this post, we examined what kind of employee types are often present in corporate settings. We used the names: stars, performers, politicians and survivors. But did you know that astronomy can give us additional insight into company culture and how to prevent corporate politics to overpower performance.  Have a look below.

The importance of Stars

In the Universe, stars are the catalysts for life and its main source of energy. Similarly in companies, high performer Star Employees are important assets. They drive innovation and they are also your internal and external brand ambassadors. Without Stars for your staff to follow, the main result will be mediocracy.

Proto-stars: almost there

Before they become stars, high performers are Proto-stars. They have all the elements in them to shine and become shining examples for the rest of the company, but they need the right circumstances to do so. In the Universe, the only thing they need to become stars is a lot of (positive) energy. If the energy is intensive enough, Proto-stars will turn into stars. In companies, we need to give Proto-stars skills and management training so that they can channel their hidden energy in a way so that they can shine.

The Black Hole: suck you dry

A Black Hole is a burned out (proto)star. It sucks all matter around it in itself and nothing escapes its negative gravitational pull. The corporate equivalent of the astronomical Black Hole is the corporate leech that plays corporate political games and sucks all energy from the company and its staff .

It sucks energy mainly from Performers and Stars (the ones with the highest energy in the company). If encouraged, it can lead to virtual collapse of innovation and performance in the enterprise

Nova: if only I…

Nova’s are burned out (proto)stars that will most likely never shine again. They just hang on to survive in their current low energy mode. They are neither good nor bad, they just sit and survive. In companies, many non-performers take this role. They are not good enough to be Proto-stars, and so they take the road of least resistance. In the Universe, Nova’s can turn into Black Holes if the negative environment is strong.

Similarly, in companies, if Nova’s are under the influence of Black Holes, they run the risk of turning into Back Holes themselves, thereby severely damaging the reproductive energy of the company. Less innovation, less performance, and more politics are the results. No good!

Designing your Universe

If you want to safeguard your corporate universe from collapse into a constellation with many black holes, you need to apply the right institutional HR design. This means that negative corporate political games need to be discouraged, while high performance gets publicly praised.

Designing an engaging work environment for people is a key challenge for even the very best organizations. However, such design goes well beyond giving extra bonuses to performers and scolding corporate players during appraisals. By applying Octalysis human focused design you ensure that  your corporate universe healthy will remain balanced and sustainable.

Sounds complex? Don’t worry, The Octalysis Group can help. We have been supporting companies across the globe to create high performance employee engagement. The expected results?  Less political games, more innovation and higher performance.

To learn how we can assist your firm in creating long-term employee engagement and get a stronger market position, get in touch with Joris Beerda right now.

Leading Octalysis Expert, International Keynote Speaker, Behavioral Scientist and Managing Director of The Octalysis Group.

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The why and how of Gamification in Education

The why and how of Gamification in Education


The need to restructure and create engagement in education is probably one of the biggest drivers of the meteoric rise in the interest in Gamification. Participation in digital engagement conferences like EduTech ( has grown to record levels. The amount of education providers that were present at the Gamification World Congress this year was also impressive.

So why is the education sector so interested in Gamification? Because it offers solutions to a sector often out of sync with current reality and in need of serious overhaul (as we wrote before in Octalysis Gamification: Changing the Education Game). Why does it need overhaul and how could we start to make education a lot more engaging?

Well, we have listed 3 issues that urgently need to be addressed if we want to keep educating our children for the future rather than for non-existing future jobs. We will close with good entry points for creating the engagement necessary in education.



The current system generates Fear of Failure
Today’s homework nowadays is pretty much like this: you either pass or fail and have to move on. You do your homework, hand it in and get a grade. Failed? Too bad son! No time to try again, as there is not time and we have to move on with new topics to learn. Homework is currently more like a zero-sum assessment than a learning opportunity.


Compare this to how we learn in game like experience: you fail to pass a level? Try again immediately, but now from a different angle. In a game, you are trained not to fear failure: you are conditioned to overcome it. What matters in games is that you get the solution to the problem in front of you, not getting it right at the first try. Homework is an opportunity to find ways to progress rather than to show how far you have progressed.



Lack of time
Teachers are often under massive time constraints. There is just enough time to go through the subject matter that they are told to go through. There is hardly time for any personalization or detailed attention to specific children. But all of this is mostly the fault of the system, not of the teachers. Teachers have no time to give the instant feedback that students need while they are learning.


In addition, if class size goes above 10–15 pupils it becomes almost impossible for teachers to track where each and every individual student is at and with what issue they are struggling. This is where games and gamification come in. Gamified systems as such can give the rapid feedback that students need and teachers can actually concentrate on what they are best at: teaching new things and exploring depth in topics. At the same time, the learning experience can be adjusted to every single student real time, while ensuring that the correct information is presented.


I remember that my father (and many other teachers and professors like him) spend endless hours correcting the work of students. Can you imagine what teachers can do with the time saved on correcting?

What if they could spend this time creating more learning opportunities, supported by technology, games, and gamified learning programs? It would revolutionize the way children would learn. It would create the space needed to focus on problem solving rather than knowledge assessment. In short: it would train our children to obtain the skills they will need for future jobs rather than jobs long gone when they will be adults like us.



Lack of 4Cs
So what are these key skills that people need in the new economy? They are often called the 4Cs of 21st Century skills:  Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity ( These are the skills that are needed for our modern society and can only be learned through experience, not by rote learning.


And when you play games you always employ these skills, so in a sense many children already are trained somewhat in these skills through games.

Think of when people team up to play a game of League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm with their friends: it is all about communication and collaboration.

When I see my daughter play Minecraft and she needs to find the best solution for the world around her? It is all about critical and creative thinking


So why not just have them play games then? No need to change the educational system right? Wrong.


What is missing is that the children that play these games, do not actually understand that they are in fact learning all these skills. They lack (educational) context. And this is where teachers come in. Teachers give perspective, give background and can create a broader framework for where the learned skill can be connected to real world applications. Games can get kids to be excited about the content and teach kids basic concepts. Teachers can make all that knowledge meaningful.

So how do we implement a Gamification strategy in education?
Well, we have to address some of the misconceptions and fears that many teachers have about the effects of Gamification in education. Contrary to what many teachers fear: gamification is about empowering the teacher, not making them less relevant. I do not believe in fully stand-alone game-education. The teacher is still very important.

In fact, some research from the USA has shown that just letting children play educational games in class has less impact than having children sit through conventional lessons (in fact conventional lessons had a 60 times higher impact). However, when the power of games and the teacher were combined, all of a sudden the children performed almost twice as well as in a teacher-only setting (and more than 100 times better than in a game-only setting.


Get started!
So it looks like Gamifying our curriculum/classroom can have exciting rewards. But, like other Gamification projects: it has to be designed correctly. We should never forget that playing a game is a voluntary activity. The experience itself needs to create the excitement and hunger for progress in children in order for them to want to even engage in the first place. Many educational platforms these days though are function focused: the games are just a digitalization of the content that is presented in books. It is neither more engaging, nor enriching, nor does the teacher get intensively involved. As shown by the mentioned case study in the USA, the teacher needs to get involved heavily as enabler, facilitator and coach.

In addition: do not try to “kid your kids”. Children see through games that are just used to test them (like the old system does). Just because the test is in digital form doesn’t make it more engaging. Think about creating experiences where they can make their own choices, and discover their own path to solving obstacles. Teach them how to search and analyze rather than getting ‘your‘ answer right.

In Octalysis terms: design for the Core Drives that motivate people to be creative, collaborate and communicate, whilst giving them a sense of progress. We would look into what design creates enough Core Drive 3 (Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback); Core Drive 5 (Social Influence and Relatedness), as well as Core Drive 2 (Development and Accomplishment).

What would be ideal is if we can also make the learning connected to Core Drive 1 (Epic Meaning and Calling): how about being able to practice your math to calculate the heating of the earth, whilst combatting this heating by identifying the main culprit-nations to be arrested by the Climate Change Police?

Throw in a bit of Core Drive 7 (Curiosity and Unpredictability), with some surprise moments in the experience (a sudden solar eclipse anyone?) and you have the recipe for a really fun, and engaging gamified education.


So, changing our educational system is not that difficult to do, but of course we need political will too. Now that is more difficult, I admit, and not that easily gamified…

If you would like to know how we at The Octalysis Group create really engaging experiences, contact me:






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Three Start-up insights from Octalysis Gamification

Three Start-up insights from Octalysis Gamification
Octalysis startup gamification

When I started up my first company I was, like many other entrepreneurs, constantly bombarded with tips, tricks and “how to’s” on making it in Startup World:

“Define your value proposition!”;

“Follow the Business model canvas”;

“Go lean or go home!”;

“Define the problem are you solving!”.

The problem is that startups are often so overwhelmed that they really have no mental and physical resources to follow these models. They are helpful for producing strategic documents and internal understanding, but for me did not help enough to really push my business forward.

It was not until I encountered the Octalysis Framework that my business started growing. Octalysis taught me some valuable lessons that I want to share with you. I hope they can help you as much as they have helped us!


1.  Don’t shout out all your features!

Even if you solve a problem for your user, if there is no motivation to use your solution to their problem nobody will use it…

Humans are not machines. We all have feelings that make up our motivation. So we have to focus on how we engage clients. It doesn’t matter that your product solves all the problems in the world. If you do not create engagement around the product. Don’t expect people to use it. We need to go from function (or functionality) focused design to human focused design.


Function focused design supposes that people are like robots and  automatically interact with a given functionality. It tailors for getting the job done efficiently. Human focused design, on the other hand, takes into account that people are led by emotions in their decisions on whether they want to do things or not. It recognizes that when we deal with human beings, we need to optimize our designs for their emotions and feelings.

By looking at your Start-up through the Octalysis Framework you can understand the feelings you want to engender with your users, and design accordingly. How do you want the user to feel the when they interact with your product? Will they feel part of something bigger than themselves (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling)? Is it the curiosity that makes people enter your website? (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity)? Or maybe it’s that so many people similar to them are already there? (Core Drive 5: Social influence and relatedness)

The first step towards human focused design is to realise that humans are not machines.



2. Prioritise your metrics!

“Strategy is your ability to know what NOT to do”, a friend once told me.

The first year in most Start-ups requires a 360 degree orientation of what it is that you are building and the direction you are taking. This often results in a lot more ideas and potential markets, clients or directions than that are realistic for your business. So you easily feel overwhelmed by the lack of focus. Launching a new product or experience demands prioritisation, and knowing what not to do.

Octalysis uses the Strategy Dashboard process as the basis for its engagement design.

Defining Business metrics is the first step in the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard. What’s the most important end result of what you want to improve? Is it the amount of sold units, amount of new user registrations, or perhaps it is the amount of returning users each week? Octalysis really helped me understand the importance of prioritizing our objectives and create mental and institutional space for focus.

Let’s look at how some really successful companies have focused on their Business Metrics and have adjusted their design accordingly.



Octalysis Gamification



It is clear that Facebook optimized its design for getting new sign-ups in their system: their key Business Metric at the time. Facebook wanted growth and wanted it fast, so their design is fully focused on making it easy for people to sign up.

The Sign Up UI is centered and stands out, while the sign in bar at the top is small.


Human focused design

Amazon clearly targeted their key business metric: making it easier for existing users to come back. On Amazon you can see the large yellow “Sign in” tab, while the “New customer? Start here” is barely visible underneath. The design is designing optimised for recurring users.

Although you may think these are minor differences in design, they can have a large impact on user behavior. Clearly defined business metrics underpinned by solid design that helps grow these metrics will help grow your business to the next level.

What are  your Startups’ top three metrics?



3. Meaningful does not mean urgent.

“I want to save the world, but first, coffee”.

Many Millennials want to become Social Entrepreneurs it seems (and I am one of them!). But often their dreams and wishes do not lead to actual activity. Less than 0.5% of Wikipedia users have actually contributed to Wikipedia for example.

The thing with craving to be involved in noble causes (White Hat Core Drive 1: Epic meaning & Calling ) is that it makes you feel good, fulfilled and in control,  but it doesn’t create any urgency to act immediately. Often for action to take take place we need what we call Black Hat Core Drives. These Core Drives drive obsessiveness and urgency. If I aimed a gun at you and said “Save the world or I’ll shoot!” (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance), it would be a major immediate trigger to start saving the world.

So use White Hat Core Drives to create that long term motivation, but get people to start with some Black Hat design. Epic Meaning and calling can be a powerful for long-term motivation as long as it is believable. If Shell promotes protecting the Arctic, a lot of people would shake their heads. Tesla, on the other hand has this believability. And it is so strong that even if Tesla cars have the same amount of mechanical faults as other cars Tesla owners are more forgiving towards the company. Perhaps because they really feel part of something bigger than themselves?

Applying the Octalysis Framework to my Start-up will helped me understand how I could combine short and long term motivational design. Now I can create urgency as well as long term engagement.

Think about how balanced your product is. Does it create urgency? Does it create longing or long term engagement?

Want more?

These are just a few of the lessons from Octalysis that I wished I knew before starting my own business. Learn from our mistakes, don’t make them yourself. Contact us for a talk about preparing your Start-Up for designing engagement that lasts!


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FREE lessons learned from Octalysis Design projects

FREE lessons learned from Octalysis Design projects

Ever did a project and thought: “Mm, I have seen this challenge before. Maybe with another client? Dang, I wish I had written down the things I learned then, to make my life easier now!”

We do a lot of projects and try to learn our lessons well: after every project we write them down. Now we have a handy database with lessons learned that all our team members can tap into!

Let me share two lessons here, just to give you a taste of what is in our database. Unfortunately, I cannot share a lot of client information or design slides due to NDAs, but the below examples will give you a taste of what kind of lessons we were happy to learn!



Many of our clients have awesome UI/UX designers working for them. Man, these people really know how to make functionality look good! So good, that some of our clients start to believe that the functionality is so beautiful that people will automatically want to engage with it. In addition, because clients spent a lot of time designing their product concepts, they have a lot of feelings of ownership over their products (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession). They are often so enamored with what the product functionality can DO, that they think everybody will automatically want to interact with it.


Unfortunately, this belief is misguided. Many games have AMAZING UI that works flawlessly when you interact with it. But many ‘beautiful’ games are still boring and financial failures. Yes, looks do matter, but in the end they do not determine whether users will interact with your product.

Minecraft is the classical example of an ‘ugly’ game doing very well indeed. In the non-game world there are examples aplenty too: many Alpha or Beta products that come on the market are not beautiful at all, but can nevertheless be hugely successful.


The secret sauce here is that these products have optimized their designs for maximum user engagement. They often allow user unlimited autonomy (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback) like in Minecraft. Often they also manage to create a curiosity push for the user to constantly want to experience more and leave them wondering what is next (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity). Facebook ‘s design is a good example here.

Add design that allows users to have meaningful interaction with others (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness), which Linkedin still doesn’t do that well, and you have a good base for your functionality to thrive in long term.




We often get asked: “Please make our product go viral. We need to reach 1000% growth in the next 6 months. Can you help us?”.

Virality has been a HUGE buzzword worldwide and many people are looking for the holy grail to grow their user base. A growing user base can mean the difference between an investor wanting to invest or leave you sitting in the cold (sometimes literally!).

Now, there are many ways to help a product go viral. SEO and effective marketing are very important of course. But we have seen most viral growth through User Referral Design. User referral is not as easy as just asking people to refer friends and reward them for their efforts. Straight up monetary rewards are expensive and giving someone a bit of extra XP wears off quickly after the initial second of happiness.


Also, people are very hesitant to include their friends in your database unless they are really convinced it is worth it and they do not look too silly. Only when you have a very large user base and MANY people use your product, a blank referral may work. Farmville did this successfully. Remember the requests for sheep, combines and other useful ‘offers’ we got through Facebook requests? Too annoying right?


For us the trick has been to make the referrals connected to mutually beneficial boosters. Boosters have the effect that the user can do more in the experience (and save more money for example) for a limited period of time. So we do not say: “If you refer a friend, we will give you a $5 discount on the $15 price”, but we make it so that every referral becomes a power up.


We design it so that people get a xx% of the price for every friend they refer, up to a 100% discount (referrals need to happen within 15 days for example). At the same time, your friend gets an immediate $10 discount on their first bill. We dangle the prospect of getting something for FREE which would make us feel very accomplished (Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment). It really feels like you are doing your friend a favor as he gets $10 off without having to do anything in return but just pick up the discount (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness).


Obviously this does not always work and if the product is irrelevant for your friend, it will still be annoying for him. No need to send me referral request if you are selling bikinis! Oh, and remember to always offer referral programs after the user has reached a Major Win State. This occurs when people have taken a major desired action the experience that is beneficial for the product owners. So for AirBnb, for example, the first major win state for renters would be hosting, and getting paid by, their first guests.


Oh, if you don’t believe the results: for La Quinta hotels and resorts we reached a K-factor of 700% (every user referred 7 other users). Another client now gets close to 50% of all its new users from our referral system.




At The Octalysis Group we have many more lessons learned that we use in our consulting work with clients. Let us know if you want us to advise you on how to grow your own user base through Octalysis Human Focused Design.




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Top 5 Lessons to Follow when Designing Octalysis Gamification

Top 5 Lessons to Follow when Designing Octalysis Gamification

hands counting from one to five isolated on white background

There we were. Speechless, and a bit ashamed at the same time. Did we really have to redesign the full Octalysis design set up we did for this client? How was this even possible? So much work, for naught…what a disaster!

We had spent weeks making sure we knew exactly what business metrics our client wanted to improve. We had analyzed who our primary users were and what motivated them. Ran through all desired actions, feedback mechanics and rewards (Octalysis Strategy Dashboard). And finally we had come up with amazing features that would be included in our visual wireframes. This would be an epic experience, filled with little gems and with great balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation!

“Everything in our system can be integrated and designed exactly the way you want us too. There are no limits to what we can do!”, said the Marketing Director. We had believed her. She spoke for the company! Surely she had checked all of this? We were happy campers…until that meeting with the corporate IT Manager: “Mm, well, you see…we are using this 3rd party CRM system. And…er…nothing is really adjustable, unless you are willing to pay BIG money”.

We just fell for the most blatant overconfidence bias ever. We should have checked with IT ourselves rather than relying on what corporate heavyweights were telling us. It felt like a beginner’s mistake. Luckily in the end we found a way out, and we managed to implement a very engaging experience. But it was a costly lesson, and one we will not repeat ever again (and we haven’t).

We don’t wish for other people to experience the agony we went through, or make other avoidable mistakes when preparing for design work. So, here are our Top 5 Lessons to follow when designing Octalysis Gamification. Learn from what we have learned, for free!


Narrow down your clients’ priorities

You always want to create a relationship of trust with your clients, but never forget that you have an advisory role. You are hired to give advice, discover possibilities and help set priorities. Many of our clients have a long list of priorities that they want to see implemented. But often it is better to be 80% great for the top 20% priorities, rather than being 20% good for the 80%.

Help them prioritize by creating Tier 1 and Tier 2 priorities to make sure that you have solid objectives to design for. Always ask them questions like: “If there is one Business Metric that would make this product a success, what would that one Business Metric be?”

Oh, and always make sure you take a firm stand on the priority setting during the design process and to avoid mission or feature creep: the tendency to want constantly more and newer features before even the basic product has been established.


Some of our first contacts with clients are through charismatic high level visionaries in companies. They are Octalysis fans and want to use the potential of our method to get an edge over the competition. Often these managers/owners are very persuasive. Since it is their role to advocate new directions in the company, they are more preoccupied with the big picture rather than the IT details. However, these details often matter a lot and can lead to huge obstacles.

So as a rule: always involve the IT managers or CTOs in your discussions from the outset. They are the people that can tell you what can and cannot be done in the app or site. Always double check with IT what is possible, lest you design a Ferrari sports car that has to drive on a 4×4 back end!


Insist on clear and timely feedback

Many start up leaders and corporate managers have many priorities that need to be addressed simultaneously. Gamification design may be important to them, but so are marketing, accounts, investments, personnel and many other areas. These can sometimes take full attention away from what you are trying to design for your client. Don’t blame them for it! Recognize that this is company reality and adjust.

Make sure that you insist on regular feedback so that you can move on with the design process. Even better, try to present a concrete deliverable to discuss with the core team every week. This way people will stay involved and constantly interested in knowing what is next (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity). Examples of deliverables: new features to be designed; the in game economy; levels, badges; and, of course, visual wireframes!


Stand behind your expertise!

A good Octalysis designer is an multi colored expert in its own right. Octalysis combines insights in behavioral science, UI/UX, project planning, game design and a few more! You have built up insights that other experts do not have: they are either too tunnel focused (maybe only on UI/UX) or are too general in what they know. Octalysis fills the gap between big picture and the overly detail-orientation of some experts.

Don’t get sold by people that say they already have created a User Journey, when all they have is a UI/UX deck of slides that show how you can get from function A to function B. That is NOT user experience, nor a User Journey. Explain them that we are interested in WHY people would want to use the UI/UX presented, not so much in the fact that this functionality is there. Also don’t give in to people who just want to add “this Gamification layer” to their existing product and expect it to be amazing or engaging (hint: it won’t). In your feedback, however, do not be patronizing. Just tell them what limitations their vision or choices will have on the ROI of their product. Remember: you are a consultant, not an oracle!


Recognize what your client really wants

Many clients hire The Octalysis Group because to recognize the power of Octalysis and how implementing it can set them apart from their competitors. However, it does mean that our products are more refined and need a bit more work than just slapping some Points, Badges and Leaderboards (PBL) on a product. Quality just needs a bit more time to shine.

It also requires setting expectations with clients. If they want something fast and launch quickly, we can still do a PBL design for them (and ensure they will have far superior in-game economy than most off the shelf products). It won’t be as engaging as the full Octalysis premium package, but it will be better, much better, than the average product.

So what’s next?

Well, that’s up to you! We showed you some of our lessons learned, but we have learned so much more over the years. Contact us to know how we can put those lessons in practice in your company or for your product. Profit from our lessons learned rather than making mistakes yourself!


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Swiping for love…Tinder through the Octalysis Gamification Lens

Swiping for love…Tinder through the Octalysis Gamification Lens

Global Internet access now connects people everywhere and on all levels, and our search for a suitable partner is no exception. If I google “dating”, I end up with close to 600 million hits. This is one hot sector!

Tinder has been one of the applications at the forefront of this development, and many people now use Tinder. The app matched 12 million people since its release and processed more than a billion swipes daily (HNGN, 2014). I must admit I had used Tinder several times before analysing the app through Octalysis, but the gamification framework has made me more aware of how Tinder make us feel and act. Why do Tinder users fall prey to obsessive swiping? My friend often does 100 swipes in a short period of time, says he’s “Throwing out the fishnet!”.

Let’s put on the Octalysis lens, start fishing, and find out how Tinder motivates us to use their app!

The four experience phases

In Octalysis, we view products and services through different experience phases. The first time you see a product is different from when you’ve used it over time, so for each phase we need to design for different expectations and motivation. The 4 experience phases of Octalysis are: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and The Endgame.


The Discovery Phase is when we are introduced or hear about a product for the first time. Seeing a commercial on a poster for the first time is different from a friend telling us about the same product.

Let’s first look at how users find Tinder. When we search for Tinder on Google Play we see this:

Tinder has been downloaded more than 50 million times! That is a lot of social proof, and it surely must create interest for people to use Tinder.

Most people are introduced to mobile dating through friends and acquaintances (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness). This was also the case for me, and I remember stories about hook-ups, late night Tinder meetings or other non-romantic experiences the first time I was told about dating online.

If you discover Tinder from their home-page, you’ll be greeted by a attractive woman in an air balloon, gazing out with a bright red blouse. She adds a personal feeling to my first impression (Core Drive 5: Social influence & relatedness). The introduction movie follows this woman on her travels, and we can see how she uses Tinder at several occasions. She meets a guy, who approaches her and they spend the last part of her holiday together.

The overall narrative tells of a dream state where Tinder helps you meet interesting people, and that love can actually happen in their app. My first-impression of Tinder was: “Hey, check out this f***-app”, so I experienced some doubt while watching the intro movie. However, the narrative of travel, unpredictability, fun, new people and new experiences renewed my hopes of finding Miss Right on Tinder!

Discovery Comments:

•    The discovery narrative tells the Tinder love story. 50 million downloads is a lot of social proof, but more can be done to reinforce this narrative. Maybe they can show people who have become a couple after meeting on Tinder?

•    Tinder’s discovery film is supposed to be about “real” love, but it did not fit with my first impression as Tinder being a one-night-stand service: it was just not believable enough for me.

•    Badoo trumps Tinder in SEO, even when you search for Tinder(!) None of the popular apps show if you search for ‘love’.


Onboarding starts as soon as the user decides to commit to the experience. In Octalysis we consider signing up as the first commitment. It ends when they’ve learned the basics to play the game. After you download Tinder, four simple screens show you how the experience works:


The “rules” of the game are easy to understand and I immediately know what to do. Swiping is intuitive and rewarding.  After two swipes I already get a preview of what my first win-state will look like in the app: “It’s a match!”.

A perfect Core Drive 5 (Social influence & Relatedness), Core Drive 2 (Development & Accomplishment) and Core Drive 7 (Unpredictability & Curiosity) combo. In fact, the experience has a bit of Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling here (Chosen one): maybe I have belonged to Tinder all my life but never knew it. Will Tinder be my destined place to find love in my life perhaps?

During the first few swipes of the experience, Tinder not only assures me that my swiping is anonymous (I don’t want people to know I rejected them – removing the Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance), but being introduced to the win-state (match-screen) also builds excitement (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment). Finally, Tinder has a lot of social proof early in the experience (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness). In all, this make me feel safe and excited to win that match!

There is only one simple way to sign up for Tinder: log in with Facebook. One button sign-up offers little choice, but what better social proof is there than Facebook? Some users might not be happy with only one way to sign-up, and if you are concerned about privacy, it might make you think twice. But overall the early steps seem both safe, exciting and that there are interesting people on Tinder.

Let me click that button!

Onboarding Comments:

•    The onboarding phase is smoothly executed by Tinder, by swiping the first screens you are familiar with the rules- and how a win-state looks! (#23 Beginner’s luck)

•    One button to sign-up creates ease for users, but the reason they do it could be made more clear for new users.

•    By creating cognitive ease at this point of the experience, there is little or no reason for users to not complete the onboarding of Tinder. And if you do; a few clicks will help you back in.


The scaffolding phase starts once a player has learned the basic tools and rules to play the game – and has achieved the First Major Win-State. The majority of the Tinder experience will be in this phase. Even though I didn’t experience a major win-state myself, Tinder has already shown me one before, and my hopes of getting such a win-state is firmly rooted in my brain!

Tinder wastes no time; as you log in via Facebook you are taken directly to the above screen: excited to start swiping! As I swipe the first time, a message pops up asking me if I made the right choice! Wow, this shows Tinder cares about my choices and make sure I don’t miss out or regret my choice! (Appealing to my Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance). One can see this as a start of The Alfred Effect (#83), where a product or service is personalised to the users’ needs. The Alfred Effect is at play whenever you ever feel that a product or service knows you.

As my swiping continues I tried to regret a choice again, but this time a message pops up: “Get Tinder Plus!”. Tinder neatly introduced me to this feature, but paying for it already? (It will always be dangling there for me if I should swipe too fast and regret a choice in the future..)

The main page also displays the “pile of people” that are waiting for me to browse through. This gives a feeling of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (How many are left after this one?) and Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity (always letting me know that there are more fish in the sea). I spend less and less time evaluating a girl before swiping left or right, and notice how quickly the swiping becomes a habit, with the repetitive act swiping and being rewarded with matches (reward loop). But over time I see these matches only as temporary wins, it is the activity itself that becomes the reward. I barely watch the the screen as I evaluate all these girls.. (Ignorance is bliss?).

As I keep swiping images of girls, the green heart seems to be emptying. I suddenly realise that I do not have unlimited swipes at all! In fact I only get 100 swipes every 12 hours (#68 Magnetic cap and #66 Torture Break). These are all techniques related to the Core Drives on the bottom half of the Octagon (Black Hat motivation). When something on offer to us is being limited (“you can only use 100 likes”), we are more likely to want to use all of those hundred in contrast to unlimited likes. We are drawn to the artificial limit: the Magnetic Cap.

The torture break forces us to leave the experience when we’re out of likes, but we will constantly want to check back on the countdown timer (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience, Game Technique #65). I want to start swiping again!

When the 12 hours are done, Tinder sends a push notification saying “New likes available, come meet your match”.

Yes! My first match! The back of the screen darkens and my profile picture is neatly displayed next to my match to enforce the win-state: Social pairing! Tinder offers two neutral choices: 1. Send a message, or 2. Keep swiping. I can easily one-click back to the game. Tinder also offers the possibility to share my match, but there is no obvious trigger for me to do that (I tried to share it with myself and the text displayed a SHORT-url to my matched profile, and which number she was). I decide to click “Send a message”.

Now what should I write? Tinder automates messages under my matches’ profile picture: “Everybody likes a thoughtful person”. This is social proof, but not very strong, and I am still not sure what to do at this point.

There are no clear actions for me to take, and my cheeky one-liners probably won’t hold. By clicking the GIF-button I can browse and search a selection of GIFS which does reduce the barrier of engaging with my match.. Tinder says GIFs sent are 30 % more likely to receive a response than messages (TIME, 2016).

Empowering users to use their creativity and freedom supports the evergreen mechanic, where a developer does not continuously have to add more content to an experience to keep it going (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback). When it comes to texting my skills are the worst, so I try clicking on her photo.

The integration with Facebook and Instagram comes handy at this point, and if we have common interests or mutual friends it shows. There are no obvious triggers for me to start writing a message or to send a GIF, and I’m a lazy chatter, so I leave my match to get back into the swiping game.

It takes some obsessive swiping before I check out other features in the experience: such as updating my profile, editing search preferences or settings:

The integration with Facebook (and then again with Instagram), already renders a personal profile for me! This reduces the time I have to spend filling in sign-up information. It also increases my feeling of ownership and possession, and some unpredictability and curiosity as I “discover” my profile for the first time. There is limited freedom in terms of editing my profile. The only things I can arrange are my quick bio and 6  profile pictures (to be be uploaded via Facebook).

After trying to come up with a smart introduction for a few minutes I realized I felt an upcoming urge to swipe again! The black hat compulsion won…. Back to the (very addictive) game.

Back at the home screen I notice a blue star at the bottom right, and I click it. “You’ve sent a SUPERLIKE!”. Wow, a nice animation pops up, and a star is sent up the screen! I am not sure exactly what this SUPERLIKE will do, but as I try to click it again a few swipes later; a huge countdown-timer shows in the screen.

11:59:59.. 12 hours before I can use another one, unless I buy Tinder Plus:

At this stage there is no obvious desired action to take, unless I want to buy unlimited likes with Tinder Plus. The red colour does not make this an appealing choice, and with no swipes remaining there is little motivation for me to stay in the experience.

Scaffolding Comments:

•    Tinder nicely takes me straight to the experience, and already after the first dozen swipes I experience cognitive ease, and the swiping becomes close to effortless.

•    Profile-editing and search preferences are open for discovery by the user. Tinder should consider integrating glowing-choices or obvious triggers explaining what the integration with Facebook means (“We built your profile!”)

•    I still miss a way to personalize my profile more (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback and Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession).

•    Instead of presenting users with Tinder Plus at the point where all likes are spent, and “all hope is lost” – they should seek more gentle ways of introducing Tinder Plus to users.


This is the phase where users have done everything there is to do at least once (according to their perception), and they are figuring out why they should stick around and continue to play the game (especially when there are newer, more exciting alternatives out there).

As I’ve spent my likes and superlike for the next 12 hours, there is no clear motivation as to what to do next. So I enter my matches page:

This screen systematically lists all matches with a clear focus on displaying each one as a face (Core Drive 5: Social influence & Relatedness). Entering this screen of matches, which for the most I have not exchanged a word with, seems to feel more like a trophy-shelf than a library of interesting people. I will give Tinder points for coming up with small quotes when you enter a profile, but the lack of triggers on this page create more incentives to leave the page (and go swiping). Guess I’ll be back in 12 hours…

Endgame Comments:

•    The endgame is fairly balanced, but as you keep liking and super-liking, the countdown timer as well as not wanting to loose my amount of daily likes does create a sense of urgency, where the swiping becomes the main activity of the experience (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience)

•    Tinder emphasises on Core Drive 5: Social influence and Relatedness throughout the experience, and they provide us all with the feeling of “being in the market”.

•    Tinder should consider using more positive and real-life social proof: Show and tell about the people of Tinder: What is the most common way to meet through Tinder? What do most people (that meet in real life) write? Have people fallen in love through the experience?

•    As motivation seems directed at users to collecting matches, and not as much to engage with them, obsessive or unwanted behaviour could occur over time. ) It is evident to some degree that the experience encourages starting conversations, but during the end-game there is a lack of incentives for meaning and long-term relationships (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling).

Where is the love?

Overall Tinder has designed a system for high engagement.

Tinder has built a great discovery narrative, with social proof (arguably weak) that love can happen on Tinder. With Facebook integration, the sign-in process is incredibly fast, you are shown a win-state and boom you can start swiping. But as you go through the experience, you feel less in control and more obsessed about spending all the available swipes you have, to collect an increasing amount of matches that you are not talking to. This is very similar to how slot machines work, it is the spinning that is addictive, the unpredictability of what will happen next; the matches are only temporary joy. Over time, the experience becomes a mindless exercise only to feel like I am “in the market” (Core Drive 5: Social influence and relatedness).

In Octalysis we balance White Hat (CD1: Epic Meaning & Calling, 2: Development & Accomplishment, 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) and Black Hat Core Drives (6: Scarcity & Impatience, 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, 8: Loss & Avoidance). Too much emphasis on Black Hat techniques creates a lot of urgency, but too much of it in any experience will make us feel not in control, obsessed or anxious. In contrast, White Hat Core Drives make us feel in control, fulfilled and satisfied. Tinder should think about this balance more, as I the experience is mainly Black Hat, leaving me feeling that I have no control over my obsessive swiping. For me online dating may already be more about swipes than looks!

If you want to know more about what Octalysis can do for your organization to drive engagement, contact us at:



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Gamification of Pensions: Octalysis advises UK Government

Gamification of Pensions: Octalysis advises UK Government

Gamification of Government

The subject of pensions is arguably one the most boring topics that you can talk to younger generations about. It is considered uncool and is mostly related to old people and finance. How could it get any less exciting? Many younger people do not seem to care one bit about pensions, and it is endangering their own financial futures as well as that of the pension system as a whole.

So could Octalysis Gamification come to the rescue? Can we perhaps make (preparing for) pensions fun and engaging?

The Octalysis Group just started some initial advisory for the UK Department for Works and Pensions to achieve just that. But why are they so interested in making pension systems fun and engaging? What has changed suddenly? My grandparents and parents surely did not need to be engaged.

Let’s find out!

The Pension Crisis

The population in the developed world is quickly getting older. This means that in the future, there will be more pensioners living off the tax contributions of others. In a sense, the pension fund acts like a benevolent Pyramid Scheme: it can only continue to grow if enough people keep contributing and the majority of the members do not take their money out of the system.

So far this has not been an issue, but we have now reached a state where the collective contributions to the pension funds system are increasingly lagging behind the uptake by pensioners of these funds. Average pension ages are being increased rapidly to try to stop the bleeding. For my age group it is expected that we will be able to take pension at age 73. This is 15 years later than the age that my mother retired at! But will it be enough to save the system? Many doubt it.

So with the future of the pension system (as we know it) in doubt, it is even more important that younger generations save more than their parents and grandparents. The problem is that they don’t. They save even less. Young people seem to have lost any interest whatsoever to start saving and governments around the world have no clue how to change it.

Luckily the UK Government and its charismatic Minister for Pensions, Baroness Altmann, are forward looking. The Baroness has publicly stated that she thinks that Gamification is the way forward for pension systems. Last month we did some initial advisory to help her department discover what Octalysis Gamification can do to create engagement for pensions.

The Discovery Phase of Pensions

In the 4 Experience Phases of Octalysis, the Onboarding Phase is where users find out why they even want to interact with your product. The product here is pensions (more specifically Workplace Pensions).

In this phase we want to create curiosity based on something new and exciting that is also supported by other people we can relate to. At the same time, we want to create some urgency to act/buy now (rather than to appeal to a vague ‘Good Cause’).

Unfortunately, Workie did not learn about Octalysis or Behavioral Science when he started his promotions, which meant the campaign was doomed to fail.

In fact, the video already fails within 10 seconds. The commentator laments about Workie (the embodiment of Workplace Pensions): “…at the moment, unfortunately, people are ignoring him”. The producers try to appeal to Octalysis Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness, to make people want to act (out of pity). In fact, what they achieve is the opposite. If nobody wants to engage with Workie, why should anybody? In this case, anti-Core Drive 5 leads to Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance. People have just become even less enthusiastic about pensions!

In Yu-kai Chou’s book Actionable Gamification, Yu-kai writes about a National Park in Arizona that was trying to prevent people from stealing their petrified wood. In an experiment, when they put up a sign that says, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” theft of the petrified wood not only did not decrease, it nearly triple! That is because when people see that it is the Norm that people are stealing, they think they should steal too.

So does the video at least bring anything exciting or a promise of future benefits for citizens? Strangely enough no. In the full 42 seconds clip there is no promise of anything that would make me feel accomplished or excited. There is no Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment.

In addition, the only thing that is (initially) mildly exciting, is Workie itself as he looks somewhat novel (but not necessarily slick or likable for a younger generation). But since he is actually a boring, slow-trotting and negative character, that excitement wears off within seconds. So we are left with no Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity push, and the lack of excitement adds to Anti Core Drive 8: let’s not waste my brain cell and valuable time to care about what this character has to say.

In the end we are only left with Core Drive 8 motivation, the type that makes you anxious and not in control. The final nail in the coffin here is that Workie starts to talk about fines and that you “need” to get a pension “by Law.” But obviously, if nobody is getting a workplace pension, why would you conform with the law huh? Social Proof tells your brain you don’t need to, so now the Big Brother threat sounds hollow. Also, by pointing out it is a legal requirement to compensate for  it not being appealing, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience will cause people (especially the younger generation) to want to rebel against it even more. “Oh, here is something that no one likes and you don’t want to do. Please have sympathy. But if not, Big Brother will force you to do it against your will!”

In fact, if there should be Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance (which generally drives urgency which is good), it would be much better to show negative consequences of these people ignoring Workie . “Look, everyone is ignoring Workie. They don’t care. But oops! Look what happened to them later.” The fear tactic should not be about making the government sound evil, but from the actual negative effects of such behavior.

Also, we know from Behavioral Science that when there is a fear tactic, there MUST be a simple direct action item that alleviate that fear, or else people move into denial mode and prefer to not think about it. At the end, the narrator talks about the website to learn more about the workplace pension, which is good. However, the Desired Action can be more clearly presented on the screen, as opposed to the passive message, “Don’t ignore the workplace pension.” It should be actively telling them to visit the website now with large fonts, preferably with a friendlier shortcut URL. We know that every action that the brain can’t comfortably process will hamper conversion rates. Having a long URL will create that cognitive dissonance and make people who have an intention to do something procrastinate until later (until they retire?). It is better to have a shorter link such as that continues on the story of Workie and how the audience can help him make the future better for everyone.

The future of Gamification in the UK Pension System

Baroness Altmann, the Minister of State for Pensions recognized the failings of the previous campaigns. She has come out as a fan of Gamification and we think that is a smart move. Pensions is a boring topic, so it is not easy to create engagement around the theme, based on content alone. You need to make the experience surrounding pension systems more engaging and Octalysis Gamification can help.

Just as we have achieved with other Governments Institutions and companies, the key lies in making the experience so engaging that people hardly feel they are focusing on pensions. It is the experience around it that creates the engagement push. The interaction with pensions will now lead to win states in the game, so all of a sudden it becomes fun and rewarding to deal with planning your financial future. We have designed Gamification for all sorts of boring and “unsexy” topics, ranging from healthcare all the way to SEC compliance training for financial firms. Before our designs, people would only learn about these rules because their boss told them to do it (Core Drive 8, you do it because you are afraid to lose your job or promotion). Now they learn in fun ways and even are excited to interact with the content when they are not at work!

It is not yet clear where our contacts with the UK Government will lead to. It would be great if the UK Government and the Octalysis Group could work together and resolve these challenges in engagement. Octalysis is ready to play its part. Pension systems are essential for societies. We are happy to help avoid a future where the elderly have no money and have to rely on family and friends to survive.

Let’s use the power of Octalysis to prevent this dreaded image from ever becoming a reality.

If you want to know more about what Octalysis can do for your organization to drive engagement, contact us at:


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Playing the Starbucks Game – An Analysis through the Octalysis Lens

Playing the Starbucks Game – An Analysis through the Octalysis Lens

Starbucks was one of the first iconic chains that transformed commodity consumption into a daily gratifying experience. For years, millions of coffee enthusiasts treated Starbucks as their “third place” beyond work and home. This is not only because of its culture and overall experience, but also because of their highly effective gamified mobile app.

The main structure of Starbucks’ loyalty program is a “stamp card,” where a customer gets a “stamp” every time they make a purchase. After a certain number of stamps, a free reward is given. Other stores have this type of marketing initiative, but these “cards” tend to be forgotten or thrown away. I have collected many of these but rarely have I followed through to receiving the freward, except Starbucks.

So why was I so engrossed with Starbucks? Why did I keep going back even when its coffee isn’t necessarily superior to coffee from other mom-and-pop stores?

After my constant visits to Starbucks, I noticed my motivation was fueled by its loyalty program’s gamified experience. I’ll be using Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework to analyze the reasons behind my motivation in this Starbucks Experience.

For those who are not familiar with the Octalysis Framework, you can read about it on The Octalysis Group Website. Throughout this article, I will also define keywords on Octalysis and gamification. Hover over underlined words to view the definition.

Overall, Starbucks incorporates mostly Left Brain Core Drives, which deploys Extrinsic Motivation to reel in and keep their customers. The Left Brain Core Drives include:

But unlike other companies that apply these Core Drive, Starbucks went a few steps further and tied them in with Right Brain Core Drives, which deploy Intrinsic motivation such as (Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback Core Drive 3; Social Influence and Relatedness (Core Drive 5); and Unpredictability and Curiosity (Core Drive 7) to increase sales.

I will analyze how this implicitly gamified design uses the 8 Core Drives in each of the 4 Experience Phases: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame. Let’s first start with the Discovery Phase.

Discovery Phase of the Starbucks Experience

The Discovery Phase is when a user, or in this case, the customer, becomes aware of and decides to try out the experience. For Starbucks, it is obvious that a Starbucks coffee shop is easy to find. Placing a shop every other block becomes a trigger that creates “cognitive ease.” This is a concept expressed in Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment, which allows the customers to easily achieve the desired action of buying their food/drink. This ubiquitous placement primes us with a sense of familiarity, and thus we subconsciously succumb to social conformity (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness).

But even if there’s a Starbucks everywhere I go, what really triggered me to make that first purchase and transition from hardly ever drinking coffee to becoming a coffee addict? What made me stop going to my favorite local coffee shop that used aromatic Peruvian coffee beans? Well, my friend gave me a Starbucks gift card.

But so what? There are other coffee chains and we all know that a gift card is not a novel concept, so why Starbucks? To answer the first part, let me reference Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational.” He states that Starbucks owed much of its success in the beginning by “selling fancy French coffee presses, showcasing alluring snacks” and offering their sizes as Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti along with “high-pedigree named” drinks.

Starbucks created a new anchor, an anchor that gave a different ambience, a different feeling — a feeling of “Elitism.” This sense of pride may be downplayed in the U.S. or European countries, but it definitely is strong in other areas of the world such as Asia where people would brag about buying a drink at Starbucks. Whether or not you have a sense of “Elitism” with Starbucks, it doesn’t matter, the brand has now become anchored into the minds of many coffee consumers as the go to coffee shop.

What made the gift card different was that it was synced to a mobile app. The owner of the card can sign up for a Starbucks membership to receive bonuses and rewards that links it back to the card. With the mobile app, you can store as many cards as you want virtually, allowing you to share your card with family and friends to help you score more rewards. In addition to this, Starbucks is well known for their cute, artsy cards that make them even more appealing.

One issue, however, is that there isn’t a strong push for the desired action of downloading the app. From my personal experience, I actually didn’t download the app until after I shared my card with my family and needed two ways to swipe my card.

This weak link exists among the three mediums: membership sign up, card registration, and app download. When a customer obtains a card, it isn’t very clear right away that they need to register their card and sign up to receive benefits. Also, if a customer who doesn’t have a card directly signs up on the site, they still don’t receive benefits because they need a registered card to swipe.

Then they’d have to make the effort to buy the card and register before earning a point on their next purchase. The process isn’t streamlined and can cause frustration within the user. Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance pushes them to avoid the action and eventually the customer may never go through the loyalty program.

Downloading the mobile app leads the user to the desired action of signing up but not visa versa. The push to download the mobile app is very low in the experience and can be a critical area where users don’t continue past the Discovery Phase of the loyalty program.

Starbucks needs to make the information about the membership and mobile app more transparent and noticeable in their overall experience through better application of Triggers and possibly Black Hat Design (since it drives urgency). But once the customer discovers the membership and the mobile app, it’s on to the Onboarding Phase.

Onboarding Phase of the Starbucks Experience

The Onboarding Phase occurs during the first few purchases the customer makes and includes the learning process of the menu, the decision to sign up for the membership, and finally learning about the loyalty point system.

The loyalty point system, mentioned earlier, mainly pushes the extrinsic core drives. The customer starts out at the Welcome Level, moves on to the Green Level, then to the Gold Level where you earn a physical shiny golden card. Each level has its own benefits and requirements to unlock the next level (Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment and Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience).

The onboarding phase of the membership is well implemented during this phase because the customer needs only 5 stars (5 swipes) to reach the next level. This makes the customer feel accomplished and progressing.

Once the customer has made their first few purchases, leveled up to at least the Green level, and earned a reward, they then enter the Scaffolding Phase.

Scaffolding Phase of the Starbucks Experience

Within Starbucks, the Scaffolding Phase occurs when the customer becomes a regular customer and makes purchases consistently. During this phase, the customer starts to learn not only how they can modify their drinks (Meaningful Choices – Core Drive 3) and purchase items habitually, but they also engage in more initiatives the company introduces. To list a few:

  • Leveling Up
  • Starbucks for Life
  • Star Dash

Starbucks also gained habitual weekly visits to the store by laying out different free-app cards from the iTunes store every week, and promoting new products seasonally, thus pushing Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity within the customer.

Levelling up

Level and reward system within the loyalty program increase Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment, pushing customers to make purchases to accomplish higher levels within the loyalty program to obtain rewards and privileges (defined to be Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession).



The interface of the mobile app has a feeling of extravagance, quality, and class to it as well as a fun interactive to-go cup to filled with Starbucks points, or “Bonus Stars,” in the form of gold stars that move around based on how the user moves their phone. The point system uses the common “buy X number of items and get a free item” technique. After a customer makes a person, they are reminded clearly that they have received a new reward – in their email, message box, and their history box within the app.

Once a customer registers their card, they are at the “Welcome Level” where they receive special Birthday Perks and a 15% discount off purchases. After obtaining 5 stars, the customer levels up to the “Green Level” where, in addition to the perks of the previous level, the customer receives free in-store brewed coffee and tea refills.

Finally, to obtain the last level, the “Gold Level,” the user has to work harder by gaining 30 stars within 12 months and maintain that level by completing the “30 stars in 12 months” requirement every year (Core Drive 6: Scarcity). This allows customers to receive a freebie of their choice every 12 stars and the beautiful shiny personalized Gold Card I mentioned earlier. The pairing of Core Drive 2 (Accomplishment) and Core Drive 6 (Scarcity) is so strong that even NFL Wide Receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson gave a video rant about how deeply disappointed that his Starbucks Gold Card was stolen because of all the coffee he had to drink to obtain it. He was even more disappointed about having his Gold Card than his credit cards stolen. And it was “not just any Starbucks card, but a Gold Starbucks card.”

Starbucks has elegantly implemented, what Yu-kai Chou calls the  “Collection Set” Game Technique #16 because:

  1. Stars are easy to obtain with a swipe of a card or a simple scan off your mobile phone and the feedback is instant and clear.
  2. Obtaining stars is tied into other Core Drives such as Creativity (a little), Social (a little), Ownership and Possession, Loss and Avoidance, and Scarcity

Starbucks for Life

“Starbucks for Life,” held during the winter season, is an initiative similar to McDonald’s Monopoly game that uses the “Collection Set” Game Technique. The customer, driven mainly by Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession, earns a chance to unwrap a virtual gift box after making a purchase and the gift box can hold a number of icons that belong to a section: starbucks for life/a year/a week/a month.

Collecting 3 icons under a group rewards the player with the respective prize. Many companies use this game technique, but players tend to stop playing after learning about the nearly impossible probability of winning. This behavior is the result of what Yu-kai calls an Anti-Core Drive, when a core drive prevents behavior instead of motivating it. The anti-core drive of scarcity makes the user feel that the chances of not obtaining the prize is so high that the player gives up. Starbucks, however, provides meaningful feedback to the user, telling them how much of each prize is available and uses Social Proof (Core Drive 5) through the “Map of Cheer” to keep customers motivated by showing winners from all over the nation.This allows customers to feel like they have a chance (Core Drive 2)!


Giving users the chance to open the gift box not only gives the obvious sense of Curiosity and Unpredictability (Core Drive 7), but it also a bit of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback by allowing the user to feel that they are being creative with the timing of their gift openings. Some players also feel they are more in control by thinking that if they spread out the openings, they are more likely to receive a new icon.

One downside of Starbucks for Life is that it’s not very well integrated

with the mobile app. It’s advertised on their website and emailed to customers who are registered, but there is no feedback on the app. What cutomers see most is their mobile app (assuming they use it, and many do) when they make a purchase. Emails usually get ignored and are considered as spam, websites go unvisited, but every time a customer takes out their phone to scan, they open the app and if this initiative is a mechanism the company wants to promote, then advertising it in the app would be highly effective.


Another improvement would be to also display that they earned that extra chance to unwrap the gift box when the customer earns a Bonus Star. By doing so, the company can also use this initiative to increase the number of app downloads and sign ups. Stores can give out tickets for those who don’t use the mobile app or are not registered, then place restrictions on these tickets to be only redeemed if they download the app and become members can increase the business metric of more app downloads and sign ups.

Overall, Starbucks’ approach stands out by taking a common game technique, which is high in extrinsic motivation that drive customer purchases, and ties it in with other mechanics that trigger Right Brain Core Drives (intrinsic motivation).

Star Dash

Star Dash is another initiative that uses the Bonus Star as the main game economy to drive behavior by giving out extra Bonus Stars for a certain number of purchases. At this point, the customer has gone through a few rounds of rewards and Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback may start to kick in for some people. Some customers start to get creative by trying to maximize on their Bonus Stars by spending as little as possible such as swiping for a little pack of almonds or the cheapest drink.

Also, if they’re close to receiving a free reward, they might purchase enough to get the extra Bonus Stars and gain the reward to redeem for the item they really want to have and then use that redemption as another “purchase” to stack more Bonus Stars.

The Star Dash acts as a booster to instill not only Core Drive 2 (Accomplishment) and 4 (Possession), but also Core Drive 3 (Creativity & Feedback). For Core Drive 3 to work well, the feedback needs to be quick; and the mobile app does just that — the reward shows up instantly, and can be redeemed right away with a simple scan of the phone.

Endgame Phase of the Starbucks Experience

After going through Starbucks Experience for a long period of time and experiencing everything all that the customers think they can, the customer then enters the Endgame Phase.

Luckily for Starbucks, caffeine is an addictive and a reward in itself so quitting may not be so easily done. However, nothing stops the customer from purchasing at another coffee shop and making that their new habit. This is why the Endgame is important.

Aside from the three dominant extrinsic core drives that exists in the overall experience, Starbucks mostly uses Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity in the Endgame Phase to keep the customer engaged by releasing new drinks and food items and other novel products such as seasonal drinks, mugs, coffee beans, and freebies.

A newly released feature allows the customer to order and pay via the phone so the customer can save precious time by skipping the line, triggering Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience.

In this phase, Core Drive 5: Social Relatedness and Influence isn’t very strong and overall, Starbucks is weak in this motivation. The environment itself welcomes social gatherings but the experience can be more compelling by increasing this drive.

Most customers in the Endgame Phase are motivated by this Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling, a core drive I haven’t mentioned much besides the “Elitism” Game Technique #26 and should be made stronger in this Endgame experience.

This Core Drive is implemented in the company’s business model, but is not at the forefront of the general experience, especially for the Endgame customers.


Starbucks used to have the “The Way I See It” initiative where its cups had meaningful quotes about life and social issues. Unfortunately, some quotes were removed because they were considered controversial, such as The Way I See It #289, an opinionated quote on global-warming. But despite its removal, they set a strong precedence to the Starbucks culture and connection to its customers.

Nowadays, though not very prominent in Starbucks’ mobile app, the company is very active in other higher purpose campaigns such as the 1912Pike commitment where they plant a tree for every bag of 1912 Pike coffee purchased.

Yu-kai Chou states that it is very important that the meaning and purpose a product presents, has to be believable to be effective. Otherwise, it can backfire. Starbucks works hard to make sure its statements aren’t false promises nor fluffy and they take action and connect to the community proactively (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Core Drive 5: Social/Relatedness).

The downside is that the average customer is highly unaware of these philanthropic programs. Higher visibility and integration of this core drive can push engagement further because Core Drive 1 (Epic Meaning/Calling) is a strong motivator within Endgame customers.

Overall the Endgame Phase for Starbucks relies heavily on Core Drive 4 (Ownership and Possession), 7 (Unpredictability and Curiosity), and 8 (Loss and Avoidance). The Bonus Stars play a major role and the desire to maintain the Gold Level keeps a lot of Endgame customers to continually engage in the experience.

Potential Improvements

Now that we’ve analyzed the overall experience through the 4 Experience Phases and 8 Core Drives in each, let’s see how Starbucks can improve. First, they already have many initiatives in place to trigger Core Drive 1 (Epic Meaning and Calling) and Core Drive 5 (Social Influence and Relatedness) which are the drives that are more lacking in the overall feel of the experience. To make it stronger, they can tie these weak Core Drives into its star system.

One idea is to use the “plant a tree” program by introducing it in the Onboarding Phase. Customers can start small by contributing with a cup of coffee instead of buying a whole bag of beans. Also, instead of a coffee cup, sometimes they can use images of a sprout that grows every time the customer makes a purchase.

Starbucks has another existing feature called “MyStarbucksIdea” where customers can input their ideas on how to make the Starbucks Experience better. This feature is similar to Lego’s LegoIdea initiative where customers input an idea, others vote and discuss about it, and see if the company will make the idea happen. A great feature, but lacks visibility. Again, Starbucks can take advantage of the Bonus Stars to promote more Social Game Techniques such as referrals or gifting a drink via the app.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback is usually difficult to implement in these types of environments where extrinsic motivation is the driving force for behavior, but we can take advantage of the point system and implement the “Chain Combo” Game Technique.

For example, Starbucks has seasonal themes such as holiday lattes. The customer can earn a buildup of 2 times (2x) or 3 times (3x) the Bonus stars if they order from the holiday lattes consecutively in a row within a certain time period.

Let’s say there’s 3 holiday lattes. The customer buys holiday latte 1, that’s 1 Bonus Star. The next purchase (Holiday latte 2) can earn them 2x so 2 Bonus Stars, then the 3rd purchase (Holiday latte 3) can earn them 5x so 5 Bonus Stars. If they break the combo, then the increase in weight reverts back to 1x.

The Bonus Stars and freebies acts as the system’s main economy and the desire to obtain these rewards, paired with a supporting core drive, pushes the execution of the company’s desired actions by the customer.

Starbucks’ New Point System and its Possible Impact

Starbucks has announced that they will be changing its point system to be revenue-based starting early April 2016. What it means is that instead of earning 1 Bonus Star for every swipe and earning a freebie after 12 Stars (Gold level), the customer will earn 2 Bonus Stars for every $1 they spend. However, a reward is given after 125 Stars. The table below shows a summary of the changes:


A customer will have to spend $62.5 to get that free item whereas in the original program, if a customer averages $1 per swipe, only $12 is needed for the extra reward. However, of course, it’s very rare a swipe will value at $1, but the customer will have to average over $5 per swipe in the original program in order to break even in the new program.

This changes the economy of the game and for those in the Scaffolding and Endgame phases, they could feel Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance if they usually make purchases below $5 because they would have to pay more than they usually do to earn a reward.

However, other feedback mechanics within the experience may be strong enough to overcome this issue. For customers who are going through the Discovery and Onboarding phases, they have no anchor system to relate to so this change may not affect their behavior.

We shall see how this pans out!

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Octalysis Gamification and the Hypocrite Brain

Octalysis Gamification and the Hypocrite Brain

Hypocrite apples

My friend told me the other day that she is really angry about the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest by palm oil producers. “It’s a shame! All these poor animals that die just because people want to buy highly processed food that is full of palm oil. It makes me sad!”

The following morning, I saw her prepare breakfast and she layered a nice sandwich with chocolate paste (which is full of palm oil).

Another friend (who is a diplomat) told me that she was very happy to go on a cruise with other diplomats to an island that was endangered by climate change. There, she would join a conference to discuss ways on how to mitigate climate change. She was well aware that cruise travel is highly contributing to climate change, but it did not seem to matter.

How come we are all so hypocrite sometimes? How come my friend wants to save the world’s forests by not eating palm oil products, but then cannot help herself to really really want to eat that processed chocolate bar (with a lots of palm oil in it)? What’s wrong with us? Let’s find out and maybe even find a few Octalysis angles!


Successful Irrational Beings by design?

We know now that we are highly irrational in our behavior and seemingly not completely in charge of what we want and need. Leading psychologists, like Benjamin Libet ( maintain that we actually do not have free will. We only have free won’t: the power to consciously not do things that we unconsciously want to do.

Great, so we are irrational weirdo’s? Surely there is more sense that we can make out of our brains? Isn’t there a very rational reason behind all this rationality? How can Homo Sapiens have become arguably the most successful creature ever and be an illogical being? Man cannot become the Top Dog on this planet by being mainly plain stupid and designed badly. Right?

Many of our decision biases, errors, and misjudgments might actually not be design flaws; instead, they may be great design features that have brought us where we are today. Moreover, our biases and inconsistencies may exist because we do not have one super brain that calculates a net motivation balance and then acts on it. Rather, our brain is fragmented in different components, all with different purposes and different time objectives. Some of these work together and some of these don’t. It explains our inconsistencies and biases and it explains why these biases are so important for us.

So why is this important? Well, once we accept the fact that we do not have one big centrally guided brain, but possess merely a collection of semi-independent parts, it becomes much easier to understand why people can be motivated simultaneously by, for example, Epic Meaning and Calling as well as Scarcity and Impatience. Or why we really want that last brownie in the shop now, while simultaneously are struggling to save every penny we can spare for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca. Also it makes it easier to know how certain design can empower certain motivation, while keeping other motivation “down” (even if they exist at the same time in our brains).


The Brain’s priorities

Text Brain
Lots has been written about the factors that determine what we find important in life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has become well known for detailing what humans think they need and in what order. According to Maslow we desire to fulfill in order: Physiological needs; Safety needs; Love and belonging; Esteem; Self-actualization and Self-Transcendence.

Deci and others have taken another angle and looked at needs that all human beings share. Their Self Determination Theory states that Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness are needs that are priorities for humans.

The Octalysis Framework has folded the analysis of what motivates us in a coherent framework. The 8 Core Drives for motivation show us what human core drives need to be present for any motivation to exist. If none of these Core Drives are present, there is no motivation and no behavior happens.

But the problem with motivation is that it is not a black and white picture: we are motivated by different needs at the same time. Maslow’s hierarchy nor the Self-Determination Theory cannot explain why some poor people without housing use their money for alcohol, rather than improve their house for example. This is where the concept of the Elemental Brain comes in.


The Elemental Brain

Fragmented Brain
Most people that think about their brain, think of it is as one unit that weighs options, needs and wants and then somehow autonomously makes the decision on whether to act or not. Some of us have accepted that sometimes we do or think things subconsciously and against our, what we then call “Self Interest”. But we still feel that The Brain is in power.

The problem with this thinking is that if The Brain makes these weighted decisions, what or who does the weighing and who is in charge? And if there is something in charge, what steers that something? Also, what is “doing things against our Self Interest”? Surely everything we do is for some reason or another? Isn’t eating that extra chocolate bar also in my Self Interest? Doesn’t it also fulfill a need that my Self, or should we say our Selves, has identified?

More and more it is clear that there isn’t a Something or Self that is making our decisions. Rather there are most likely different, often competing, parts of our brain that want different things at the same time. Sometimes these parts communicate with each other and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes their ‘wants’ get resolved and sometimes they co-exist.

In this way, Martin Luther King was known to have various mistresses, but at the same time he preached family values and sexual restraint. Obviously some elements did not resolve their differences…

In the same vein, there are elements in your brain that are responsible for communicating with the world around you (what Robert Kutzban in “Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite” calls your ‘Press Secretary’). Their role is to show to your friends and family that you are complying or even excelling to actions, norms and values that connect you to the group or groups you are part of.

So one part of your brain may want to “do” one thing, and another part may make you feel that you want to do the opposite, but meanwhile you tell your colleagues that you will actually do something else. An example: I tell my colleagues that I will work hard on my tasks in the weekend. Another part of my brain makes me feel that I should mow the lawn. What I do in the weekend is play games instead. All motivations exist at the same time, yet only one wins out over the others.


Designing to catch the elements

In Octalysis Design we use our knowledge of elementary motivation to create experiences that appeal to the users’ brain components that we want to be in charge. We know that motivation is a function of:

  • Environment: the way we design the user experience determines a large part of the motivation we create. By tweaking our designs to either more short term oriented brain elements or rather long term elements, we will get a very different motivational outcome.
  • History: we all carry a history of how we have been raised, what we have experienced before and how we always do things. Often you do not want to do new things because of this Status Quo Sloth situation (Octalysis Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance). At the same time  once we have done the “new thing” a number of times, it becomes a habit and it can supercede our previous habits.
  • State: the way you ‘feel’ determines what elements are more dominant. We know for example that ovulating women tend to have more affairs. And when you are hungry (or see pictures of yummy food that is out of reach) or stressed you often take more short term extrinsically motivated paths.

As you can see this goes further than determining a Player Type to see what “person” you have to design for. Johnny is not just an Explorer or Killer. In fact he can be both. He may be a “socializer” at work in between colleagues, a competitive “killer” at home and an explorer during his nature walks. The way we design and what state we can bring people in through our designs has a major impact on how the Player Type evolves along the way!

To conclude: there is a lot more fragmentation in our brains than we know. This makes that people can be seen as hypocrite or even weak. But in a sense, we are all hypocrites. Even the most distinguished people have contradictions in their behavior, even flagrant ones (as the abuse in certain religious institutions has shown us).

These kinds of excesses are awful and cannot be condoned. But they also have a positive flipside: you don’t have to be so hard on yourself the next time that you break your good intentions. It is part of human nature. More importantly: don’t be so hard on others whenever you feel they are hypocrite. You now know that all human beings are hypocrite sometimes.

From a design perspective, our insights into how our fragmented brains really work helps us designing better for really engaging experiences through Octalysis. This is what we do at The Octalysis Group, day-in and day-out. If you want our help in designing high quality design for your product, company or organization, contact us:



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