Discover a secret Gamification trick to make your employees happy at work

Discover a secret Gamification trick to make your employees happy at work

Companies are putting a lot of effort to improve employee engagement and thus create a better working environment, reduce turnover and ultimately improve business outcomes. Nevertheless, according to recent Gallup research, only 15% of people are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work, while a stunning 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job. Worrisome for any business leader or HR manager for sure!

In The Octalysis Group, we see a huge potential for Human Resources Gamification to bring value and help companies gain a competitive edge. We have already shared some of the amazing results we achieved with our clients, including the sales team of a major FMCG distributor in Europe. Let me share some further tips on how can you create a better employee engagement program that drives long-term motivation. I will introduce you to the magical world of  Boosters

Extrinsic rewards do not create long-term engagement

Extrinsic Rewards

Employee engagement programs mostly offer extrinsic rewards to motivate employees. Think of pay raises, bonuses, benefits, promotions, coupons, free stuff and so on. Companies continue to use extrinsic motivators because they are easier to implement and because managers believe that people work mainly in their companies for money and status. Often, in the short term, extrinsic design can create some engagement for sure. In the long-term, however, extrinsic motivators do not bring good results. Even worse, over time, larger and larger rewards are needed to sustain the same level of motivation in people and if rewards are removed, the desired behavior is often extinguished, leading to employee disengagement and a decrease in morale. In addition, extrinsic design limits creativity, selflessness and cooperation, which are hallmarks of successful companies in the 21st Century.

An interesting example of how extrinsic rewards can decrease employees intrinsic motivation to perform a task, something known also as the Overjustification Effect, is the 9-month attendance award program implemented at an industrial laundry plant in the USA. The main goal of the program was to reduce employee absenteeism and tardiness and thus improve productivity.

During the program, employees with perfect attendance (no unexcused absences and no tardies) for the past month had the right to enter into a draw and win a $75 gift card. Quite unexpectedly for the management of the plant, at the end of the program, it was discovered that there was actually a 1.4% decrease in average employee daily productivity. The most productive and punctual workers suffered a total of 6-8% decrease in productivity, workers were 50 percent more likely to have an unplanned single absence and while employee punctuality improved during the first few months of the program, old patterns of tardiness started to emerge again in later months.

We will explore the reasons for this results at the end of this article (see if you can figure them out yourself) but as we can see, also, in this case, extrinsic rewards failed to deliver long-term results. Having said that, I certainly do not think that you never design for extrinsic motivation when designing your employee engagement program. What I want to point out is that if you hope to achieve long-term results, you want to gyrate towards more intrinsic motivation.

The advantage of using Boosters to improve employee engagement

Employee Engagement

Some of the most powerful game techniques to help create an intrinsically motivating employee engagement program are Boosters. Boosters are rewards, usually limited under certain conditions (time, quantity, etc.), that make your employees more efficient at their work and help them be better at what they do.

Here are some examples of using Boosters at work:

  • Giving a cab driver a brand new cool car or access to VIP clients for a limited time;
  • Hiring a famous guru to spend some time with an employee and serve as his or her mentor;
  • Giving scientists a limited access to a supercomputer that could help them solve problems much faster;
  • Supplying well-performing employees in a call center with a more technologically advanced headset that would help them serve clients much faster and in a more efficient and convenient way.

As you can see, the reward itself is not something people can just spend or take home and forget about in a couple of weeks. It is something that makes them better or helps them excel at work. Boosters empower people within your organizations with a new bonus or advantage that will increase their motivation towards doing their work better. Employees will be putting even more energy and effort to take as much advantage as possible from the situation and thus they will do their job better, faster and more efficiently. Moreover, as people usually have only a limited access to boosters, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience would motivate them, even more, to perform better (or do any other Desired Action) so that they could gain access to Boosters again and again.

Why do Boosters drive long-term employee engagement?

Let’s explore the reasons why successful Boosters engagement design has higher potential to drive motivation than programs based mainly on extrinsic rewards.

Boosters design is a game technique that sits under Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback in the top right corner of the Octalysis Framework. This means that Boosters are at the same time White Hat and Intrinsic in nature. White Hat motivation makes people feel powerful, fulfilled, satisfied and most importantly in control of their own actions. Intrinsic motivation makes the task more enjoying and fun to do. Embedding White Hat and Intrinsic motivation in your employee engagement program will make people feel empowered and long-term happy in what they are doing. This sounds like a jackpot, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, designing a successful Boosters Engagement Program is not an easy task and requires a thorough business analysis and knowledge of behavioral science.

How could the industrial laundry plant have used Boosters to reduce employee absenteeism and tardiness?

Before I give you a couple of examples of how Boosters could have looked like in the laundry plant, let’s explore some more information about the business processes in the company:

  • Cleaning services occur at five plants of approximately 35 workers, supervised by two managers who focus on worker efficiency and overall plant productivity.
  • Payments are the same across all plants. Workers receive a guaranteed base hourly rate and hourly wage bonuses based on daily efficiency scores above the expected performance score of 100.
  • Workers are cross-trained on many tasks but tend to specialize in a few, amongst which they alternate throughout each day.

Booster Example 1

Employees with perfect attendance and no absences for the past five working days can choose which tasks to do on day 6. Moreover, day 6 brings an additional 20 % bonus on efficiency scores above 100.

In this example, on day 6 people will feel empowered to choose the tasks which they are best at and like the most, while at the same time they will work harder to take as much advantage as possible from the efficiency score booster. Giving people an added choices to how to execute their work is Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback, responsible for long-term motivation.

Booster Example 2

Employees with perfect attendance for the past 2 weeks have the right to use the newest equipment for a week. Also, they have the right to ask for a “Job Swap”, and take the position of one of the plant managers for an hour.

In this case, the newest equipment will help employees achieve better results and be even more efficient. Moreover, the opportunity to swap jobs with one of their managers will not only help well-performing employees learn more about the job but also bring some fun to the day-to-day plant activities.

Booster Example 3

Workers in the plant with the lowest percentage of employee absenteeism and tardiness for the past month win a 5 % bonus on all efficiency scores above 100 for a period of one month.

This will bring a little competition between different plants potentially adding some Social Influence and Relatedness (Core Drive 5) which will make workers even more involved in following and striving to reduce absenteeism and tardiness rates. Just keep in mind that to be successful in embedding competition in your design you should make sure that it fits the profile of your staff as some people hate competition.

As you can see there are many and different ways in which you can use Booster to motivate desired behavior in your workforce. However, it’s important to note that you cannot just add some game mechanics to your experience and expect it to blossom and become engaging. To be successful in your design, you should embed Boosters throughout all four phases of the user’s journey – Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame.

So why did the attendance program fail?

Although the attendance reward program did not mean to do this, it created some very  unexpected outcomes in the industrial laundry plant:

  • The award demotivated the most productive and punctual workers because they believed it was unfair to recognize people for something like attendance while their hard work seems to be neglected.
  • Unplanned single absences increased because employees started “gaming” the program, by showing up on time only when they were eligible for the award and, in some cases, even calling in sick rather than reporting late to avoid disqualification.
  • Old patterns of tardiness started to emerge in the later months because in time, workers got used to the extrinsic monetary rewards and they started looking less and less appealing.

Had the company known about Octalysis secrets, they would have designed the program differently. Boosters would have been incorporated in the design for sure, as well as other Octalysis design gems.

Want to know how we can help you design high ROI employee design? Are you struggling to get your employees motivated and engaged in their work? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The Octalysis Group has a long track record of creating high ROI workplace engagement designs.

Contact us for a free consultation.

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Your business priorities are wrong

Your business priorities are wrong

Your business priorities are wrong

When Zynga tried to maintain their #1 position in the mobile gaming world, they were only trying to improve Daily Active Users and Monetization.  All that mattered was near term results. All day every day. Zynga became very good at creating mechanics to lure and keep a user addicted in the short term. Signing people up fast and making getting them to pay was the name of the game. In Octalysis terms: they added more and more Black Hat techniques to their games every day.
Then Zynga found out that their dark ways came at the expense of a very high churn in the Scaffolding phase and huge player dropout before the Endgame.  Players were burning out and Zynga’s revenue stream dried up with it.
It turned out that Zynga had their priorities wrong and, hence, the design was off…
I’m sure you have heard of prioritizing. And we all have, right? But did you know that almost ALL our clients are finding out what their real priorities while they work with us? Some find that they have way too many priorities, but some find that they simply have the wrong business objectives all together!
What is it that we see and they don’t? Because we don’t just focus on a particular aspect of the user journey (like getting them to sign up). The Octalysis Group focuses on design that gets getting people to use your product for the long term, from the Discovery phase to the End game! If we do not know what key longer term success factors we design for, our end game is null and void.


Transactions versus Happy Sellers

When we were called in by eBay, we noticed several things.

eBay could have chosen to emphasize transactions (since they make fees per transaction), but instead–in the early days–they focused on better seller ratings.

If buyers and sellers had strong ratings, they could increase trust on their platform.

Trust led to more transactions.

Without trust, transactions would decrease.

Knowing trust was their key metric, eBay shifted its focus to designing an experience that encouraged buyers to leave seller reviews. Additionally, they encouraged sellers to provide amazing experiences for buyers, from appealingly designed product detail pages to shipping and delivery experiences.

Near-term and long-term health (and growth)

Are you venture-backed and seeking fast growth? Are you an incumbent business trying to hold on to marketshare against small competitors?

There are many places in between these two extremes, but identifying the most important metric for the near- and long-term health of your company or product line should be derived from your vision in the context of the marketplace and industry dynamic where you do business. A company looking for an exit will plan business activities differently from a company engineering themselves for longevity.

Once you identify your North Star, you will have the freedom to pursue varying strategies to achieve it.

Examples of Business Metrics

Here are several examples of business metrics:

Daily active users: If you are a growth startup featuring a mobile app, this metric tracks engagement on a daily basis. You will have to define what active means to you. Is 5 seconds active? 5 minutes? It turns out that defining this at a very granular level will force you to make important tradeoffs that will influence design decisions.

Recurring revenue: Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is a standard way to measure subscription model businesses. If you are a high-investment driven business, then consistent cash coming into the bank account might be your highest priority metric. This metric also helps you to understand your business’s retention, and, when combined with churn rate as a secondary tier metric, helps you understand the ratio of customers acquired to customers retained.

Lifetime Value: The liftetime value of a customer, or LTV, is also a useful business metric. If you spend on advertising and understand your cost of acquiring a customer and also have a solid understanding of how long you can retain him, then the LTV becomes a great first priority metric.

The key thing to remember is that these business metrics will be achieve if your users perform the desired actions leading to the user win-states. These win-states correspond to your underlying business metrics.

What’s more, you will, through the exercise of properly reassessing or defining your business metrics, be forced to establish a priority of metrics, including those that on the surface seem contradictory. This is where the magic and creativity of design begins.

Which Core Drive is Driving Your Business Metrics?

Many companies (even ones that are in good financial positions) choose business metrics that can be forms of vanity metrics or the Points, Badges, and Leaderboards Fallacy.

Don’t fall into this trap.

Defining your business metrics and their priority is only the beginning. What comes next–the Strategy Dashboard–is critical to implementing behavioral design into your product or service or overall experience.

We have helped hundreds of companies improve their design process and paved a road to design implementations that grew their business.

Let us start helping you today.

Contact Joris Beerda:

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The Real Reason Pokemon Go is Failing

The Real Reason Pokemon Go is Failing

It was fun, but…

We previously wrote about what Pokemon Go did well, but why did the Pokemon Go hype not last? How did the game lose millions of players, seemingly overnight?

Only a few months ago Pokemon Go looked like a huge success: 750 million downloads; 1 billion dollar in revenues in 2016; 28 million daily active users in 2016 in the US alone. Nothing seemed to be able to bring the mighty Pokemon down.

Yet only a few months later, its grandeur has faded. Seemingly forever. Its active player base has evaporated. Globally, only 5 million people now play the game on a daily basis. And the number seems to be falling continuously.

What went wrong in a game that seemed to be such a huge success? Find out below how basic design flaws brought the Pokemon Go down.

404 error: no endgame

Pokemon Go was very successful in engaging a huge number of people through a mix of extrinsic design (XP, Collection Sets, Scarcity design and some unpredictability in finding new Pokemons). This help to get many people to jump on board.


However, for a successful end game to exist, the design needs to switch to intrinsic motivational design to create the needed unpredictable fun (Core Drive: 7 Curiosity and Unpredictability), autonomy (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity  and Feedback) and meaningful social interaction (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness). Unfortunately Pokemon Go failed in this aspect almost completely.

Many players began scratching their heads after realizing they were constantly picking up similar pokemon time and again in their area (it is only so exciting to find the same Ratata or Pidgey or even, though I love them, the Magikarp). This predictability led to a decrease in Core Drive 7 Curiosity and Unpredictability. There was just less and less to wonder about and explore in Pokemon Go.

The Pokemon Gyms would have been a great place to create exciting social interaction between players through combat and collaboration. However, new players find the top 1% of players have already created “monopolies” in gyms. Essentially, these hard core monopolist gamers spent more time and effort, significantly so, to level their Pokemon, essentially preventing interaction from other players in this game element. This has created a scarcity overkill: it was just to hard for most players to do any meaning social game interactions. No Core Drive 5 either then…

Finally, the way combat is designed is pretty lame and lacks the ability to strategize (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback). Most players are disappointed that combat doesn’t feel like the Pokemon games of their youths.

So what we are left with is mainly extrinsic design:

  • You keep adding Pokemons to your collection of Pokemons
  • You gather XP and level up
  • And high scarcity of available Pokemons cause you to grind (walk, travel) a lot to get more Pokemons.

The above is a fully extrinsic experience design: you mainly play the game because you expect a reward for your activities. Great for short term motivation, but…


Extrinsic ruins intrinsic motivation (in long-term)

Walking in nature is intrinsically interesting, but Pokemon Go is making players feel like this: “now I have to go for a walk just to collect Pokemon.” The extrinsic design bias in the game motivated us to start walking in our surroundings to add to our collection set. But after a while the extrinsic motivation has completely taken over our intrinsic desire to explore our surroundings. Now going out to hunt for Pokemon feels like a chore rather than a fun game. Motivation wanes.

Black Hat

Core Drives, 6, 7, and 8 represent the Black Hat parts of the Octalysis Octagon, and Pokemon Go veers too much toward these drives, and in particularCore Drive 6: Impatience & Scarcity. Here’s a few examples:

  • It is overly difficult to obtain certain Pokemons. The scarcity is just too high and when it is, your initial motivation turns to Core drive 8: Loss and Avoidance. You just give up.
  • Gyms are zones of high competition, the Black Hat expression of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. It is great for highly capable, competitive Alpha players, but for the majority of players it is not motivational. So a potential intrinsic design feature turned into a fully black hat experience (Core Drive 6: Impatience & Scarcity as well as Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance)

What does the CEO believe?

When asked, the CEO mentions the collaborative gym raids as the most important recent update.

If I had to single out one, I think it’s the [gyms and raids update] that we just put out. It really is the first new mechanic that gives people motivation to keep playing, to keep leveling up pokémon, to continue to get out and be active. The collection mechanic was something that was really the heart of the game, and it still is the heart of the game for new users, but this [improves] the game for players who have reached a certain level. I think that’s the single biggest change because of that challenge and opportunity of fun that it presents to more experienced players. And also, it’s designed to encourage cooperative play, which is core to our mission.


I understand the emphasis on cooperative play, which invokes social influence, but the change doesn’t address the lack of creativity in the game and tries to smuggle in some achievement and epic meaning (health), which are secondary motivators. It seems Niantic would do well to consider their flaws and omissions instead.

Okay, let’s fix this with common sense and Octalysis

If you’ve gone through the trouble of enabling a vast global location-based tech infrastructure, adding just a little game design on top is totally worth it and will improve your ROI. Here are some recommendations to improve the Endgame.

  • enable trading between players
  • varying types of pokemon found even if searching in same area
  • improving the collaborative raids
  • center on gyms for player interactions, and make the gyms customizable via location-type tags
  • create group or friend quests
  • provide a more items that influence collaboration between high and low level players (option, give lures additional strength when players of varying levels are present)
  • trading or crafting items from home
  • add load out slots for additional combat strategy (CD3)
  • add distance-based quests: a sequential quest starts after a given length of walking, but can then be played while stationary later

These are just to get you started thinking about simple design updates to improve Niantic’s business metric of more daily active users. This video from Extra Credits has even more.

Making a stronger endgame

You’ve got people using your app or website, but you can’t keep them engaged? We’ve helped hundreds of companies think through these Endgame scenarios.

Get in touch right now.

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How Octalysis boosts a Boring Simulation Game

How Octalysis boosts a Boring Simulation Game

A boring Game?

I recently played a rather tedious Business Strategy Simulation Game in my MBA program  The Game is an attempt to create engagement with a potentially bland topic: business strategy.

Although I mildly enjoyed playing the Simulation, I noticed several motivational problems. My in-depth knowledge of Octalysis gave me the tools to analyze the experience and uncover insights about how to improve the game.

Let’s find out what I’ve discovered!

The Setup

The game is played by a team of around 4-6 players simulating the business strategy of a shoe factory.  This simulation is incorporated in business schools and corporations to improve team-work and strategic decision-making.

In the simulation, you’re competing against 2-5 other teams in real time, where 1 year corresponds to 1 week in the game.

Business Strategy Simulation Game - Leaderboard

You make decisions each week (which equals one year in the game) which will change the feedback towards what’s happening in the marketplace and how successful your company will be based on country-based and international ratings. Main indicators are Net Revenue and Profit and Ending Cash but also Image and Credit Rating, based on CSR efforts and customer feedback.

See below the screenshot of the rather overwhelming experience:

Business Strategy Game

After the year is over you’ll get to see a report that mentions your position in the marketplace indicating your strengths and weaknesses, which helps you identify your niche and competitive advantage. This is good Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment design and gave us a sense of autonomy in the experience (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback).

Business Strategy Simulation Game - Graph

So-so simulation fun

Well, let’s just say it could have been a lot more engaging. Did I ever feel the need to come back to the experience? Absolutely, because losing the Game wasn’t an option (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance) and I was curious what the feedback to our actions would be (Core Drive 3 and Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity). Also, having to wait every week for the next decision gave you a sense of impatience (Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience).

So, if urgency wasn’t the problem in the experience, what was?

Team Work - Business Strategy Game

The relationship to my teammates (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) was of growing importance to the fact that it made us find more diverse and creative Solutions and Strategies (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) not alone, but together in a team. The problem was, that we felt the need for communication and autonomy and the system did not empower that. So we wanted to have a more intrinsic design but the simulation did not offer it.

We couldn’t comfortably play together and the system usually crashed when trying to be on the server at the same time. It’s like trying to have a meeting on Skype and half of the team can’t hear you. It’s frustrating and destroys intrinsic motivation.

This Octalysis Octagon summarizes the player experience from motivation or Core Drive perspective. In short, the experience was overly extrinsically-motivated and lacked well-designed intrinsic motivators (The analysis can vary by player).

Octalysis Graph Business Strategy Game

There was a huge amount of motivation in the onboarding phase of the experience because of the unpredictability of the outcome. The game is designed around that core drive but executed rather poor. The outcomes become rather predictable and repetitive and cease to engage. In real businesses, your strategy needs to be agile enough to act in any kind of situation. For a fact, our team had expectations based on Simulations like Civilization or Sim City and we expected to see something like a plant burning down or experience employee turmoil. Unfortunately, it all stayed quite plain and there were not that many exciting challenges that we could take.

The exciting bits

To me, the most exciting part of the game was my team’s decision to build a whole strategy around the game, which was actually not incorporated within the game itself but motivated by the lecturer and the course content. In short, my team applied our own intrinsic need for creativity (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) into the overall experience, because it didn’t feel like we had enough autonomous choices.

While tapping into our creativity and giving the players within the team feedback (from their teammates), this decision also gave the game some Epic Meaning (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling), which was highly needed. Maybe an additional idea could have been that you can choose your quest in the beginning of the game: World power, Corporate Social Responsibility or Elitism, something which helps to define the objective of the game and assists you in creating a company culture.

We built our visual branding, chose our mission and vision and created a company culture.


Below you can see how defining our objectives in the game created Creativity and Epic Meaning. We even did some extra work creating a video for the company.

The culture (a blend of epic meaning and calling, ownership and social influence) helped my team to make in-game decisions and was the most crucial part of the experience. Again, this design should have been integrated into the game experience itself and not outside of it.

The simulation should have motivated us to look at it not just from a game perspective but giving us the feeling of running a real business. This also means the feedback mechanics based on your decisions need to make sense, which they don’t always do. For example, the game has no customer focus. If you decide to run a marketing campaign with printed posters and your audience is 13-16 years of age, it wouldn’t make any difference than doing a community driven social media campaign, as long as you spend the right amount of money in the correct part of the world and endorse the right celebrities. If the game really wants to empower strategic thinking, that should be part of the design.

On the other hand, winning the game doesn’t mean you have created a responsible, working business strategy. It just means you discovered how best to win this game.

Defining our Key Business Metrics early on helped us to understand what success means for our company and what our vision is. That’s why our team strategically decided not to go for the win, but to hold on to our culture and motivation to run our business and play the game our way. An interesting anecdote which can also be applied to real life. Maybe that’s what the simulation is good at, it’s limitations create a need to think further than the game itself.

Below you can see the presentation of our project, highly motivated by CD1 and CD5 to create a sense of fighting for the same cause together and making the viewer be part of the experience we’ve had.

4 lessons learned:

The future of the game definitely lies in the strength of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness and the ability to bring people together to help them build a vision and Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling by exercising Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

1. Allow people to fail: 

The urgency the simulation creates based on Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance makes the player feel anxious about any interaction, especially if the experience is marked in the end. Giving the user the feeling that he can’t make mistakes destroys the whole learning experience and the main purpose of playing a game. Removing some of the CD8 elements and leaning more towards the Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity aspects will make it more engaging to play while still creating urgency.

2. Leaderboards are not the easy way out: 

Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment is applied in a lazy way. The ‘Let’s put some leaderboards there and that will make it more fun’ approach destroys intrinsic motivation. The end of year report is very handy and reflects much more accurate who’s in a leading position and who are competing against each other. Our team was highly motivated by the CSR Reward of the year, but there should be more feedback attached to it – what did this reward change, why did we get it and most importantly, why is this of value for us?

3. Give the player a sense of progress: 

The Game could flourish by giving more flexibility and reward efforts regarding Marketing and Customer Experience, how does the Customer feel, why do they feel that way and how can you improve. Giving the player some indicators about how to use the platform with a glowing choice and some useful hints during the Onboarding phase and when the user is lost would make the experience less daunting and less CD8 driven. Stop making the player feel anxious, make them feel clever and that they’re learning something during the experience.

4. Create unpredictability:

Further, if the game incorporated random events indicative of a real environment, we can implement mechanics that draw on CD7 – like weather changes, catastrophes and other mechanics that will change a player’s or team’s strategy and will make teams remain agile. These CD7 events could include positive outcomes like new legislations and inventions (like 3D printing) relevant to modern businesses.

Want to improve your own product?

At The Octalysis Group, we have thousands of hours of practice using Octalysis to better understand experiences, from training simulations to marketing campaigns. Many of clients have benefitted tremendously from the power of Octalysis.

Want us to do the same for your product?

Contact Sabrina Bruehwiler 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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Broken Product? Still successful! The power of Octalysis Epic design

Broken Product? Still successful! The power of Octalysis Epic design

Why Epic Meaning and Calling Matters

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling can be the Core Drive that keeps your users with you for the long term regardless of flaws in your product.

In Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, Yu-kai explained how Waze (which you might think is “just” a GPS tool), used Epic Meaning and Calling to inspire users to outsmart traffic every day and know what’s ahead: accidents, police, hazards, jams.

The idea of collaborating to slay the evil Traffic monster was so powerful, that instead of uninstalling the app when encountering a broken map, users clamored to fix the errors in the app and help others avoid that same problem. Now THAT is user engagement!

Faith in the vision

Yu-kai Chou was actually one of these early evangelists, forgiving the app for bringing him to the wrong locations on several occasions:

How powerful is that? When you fail in your core competency, instead of deleting the app in anger, users actually rush to solve the problem for you. Again, when it comes to Epic Meaning & Calling, what makes you happy is irrelevant. It’s about the bigger meaning and higher vision. And when you see a crack in that higher vision you believe in, you become fearful that others will see that crack and lose faith in the vision. As a result, you take it upon yourself to fix it.

Now Waze has 85 million users

In a few short years, Waze was acquired by Google for USD $1 billion. Not bad for selling a vision.

The Onboarding for Waze doesn’t shout epic meaning and calling (beyond the cute little Waze bubbles backdropped by hearts), but instead calls the user’s attention to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment and Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession through the following:

  • Know what’s happening on the roads in real-time (CD4)
  • Avoid traffic with route updates as conditions change (CD2)
  • Get alerts about accidents, hazards, and police ahead (CD2/4)

Interestingly, Waze’s next screen–the Waze(TM) End User License Agreement–begins with a Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling message:

You’re about to join the first network of drivers working together to build and share real-time road intelligence (the “Service”). Since Waze(TM) is 100% user generated, we need your collaboration and patience!

The policy goes on to read that usage of the app is your sole risk and that Waze (Google) will be collecting your data, including “a detailed history of all of the journeys you have made while using the Waze application”.

The Core Drive 1 message can help to get users to enter into this bargain (especially if the user is particularly concerned with privacy).

Keeping 85 million users satisfied

An 85-million strong user base can’t only be held together with Core Drive 1, so Waze has also grown their feature list:

  • Automatically reroute around traffic as conditions change on the road (CD2)
  • Get police and speedcam alerts while you drive (CD2/7/8)
  • Hear road directions by celebrity voices or the average Joe (CD4/7)
  • Record your own custom voice directions to guide you on the road (CD4)
  • Know how long your drive will take before you start driving (CD2/4)
  • Find gas stations and the cheapest gas prices on your drive (CD2/8)
  • Earn points and gain status as you contribute with road info (CD2/5)
  • Low data usage from your phone (CD2)
  • Waze works anywhere in the world (CD4)

For drivers who really don’t like to waste time or money:

  • Get notified when it’s time to leave for your destination by setting your drive in advance (CD2/4)
  • Let Waze tell you when it’s time to leave for your events by syncing your calendar with Waze (CD4)
  • Save time looking for parking with Waze parking suggestions by your destination
  • Choose to be routed on toll roads or to avoid them (CD2/3)
  • Get a sound alert if you exceed the speed limit with the speedometer (CD8)

Could Waze Lose its Way?

Epic Meaning and Calling brought and kept many Waze users, and Waze still feels different to many other equally capable GPS apps on the market.

As Yu-kai describes,

This ties back to the core of Human-Focused Design. You play a game not because you have to, but because you enjoy doing so. You use Waze not because there aren’t any other good GPS apps out there that can report to you traffic conditions, hazards, and watchful policemen; you use it because it’s fun and you enjoy the experience the most. And just like Mjolnir, Thor’s mighty hammer known for leveling mountains, this is no ordinary tool- it evens slays traffic!


But even Apple could lose its way if it doesn’t stay true to its ‘Think Different’ mantra, Waze could lose users if it doesn’t maintain the Epic Meaning and Calling it instilled from the beginning.

Gaining and maintaining your position

Many of the 85 million users are now in the Scaffolding or Endgame phase of their player journey. So long as they believe in Waze’s Epic mission and as long as they have build up enough Core Drive: Ownership and Possession, they will probably stay with Waze. It could be possible for other GPS apps to provide more Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback and provide a better GPS choice, but because of Status Quo Bias (Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance) most Waze users may not switch.


Contact us today to hear how we can help you maintain your position with additional Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling.

At The Octalysis Group, we know that no product, service, or app is safe from competitors, and we’ve helped hundreds of companies break into and remain leaders in their competitive marketplaces.

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Making Facebook Better with Octalysis Gamification

Making Facebook Better with Octalysis Gamification

Facebook versus Snapchat…Fight!

Back in March, millennials were checking Snapchat before Facebook. From a product standpoint, Facebook had two primary options. Build features that were better than Snapchat’s, or clone their effective features. Which did they do?

Only a few short months later Facebook launched Stories in Instagram and reversed their negative trend versus their fierce competitor.

Facebook is actively innovating (and even copying other products), but they aren’t throwing features at customers without thought. Instead, they are using their data and analytics and observing the behavior of their customers on mobile, where the consumption of the internet is going.

But Facebook, as a marketplace for attention between consumers and businesses, also needs to innovate in its business products. To keep businesses’ attention on the Facebook Business platform (Facebook Workplace and Advertising) for the short- and long-term, Facebook is using the 8 Core Drives and a deep understanding of gamification and human-focused design to make decisions.

Facebook Workplace and Facebook video advertising are two areas Facebook seems likely to innovate continuously.

Facebook for Everything

Facebook Workplace and Facebook video advertising are two areas Facebook seems likely to innovate continuously.

Before analyzing the business side of Facebook, let’s look at the consumer side from an Octalysis Gamification Lens.

Facebook relies heavily on intrinsic motivational design, which is crucial for long-term engagement. If Facebook was a game, it would be considered a game with tremendous replay value. That’s the power of product gamification.

People (consumers) go to Facebook when they are bored, excited to share something, or want to know the news. Increasingly, people spend time in interest-related groups or watch live stream video or interact with team members.

Basically, people are going to Facebook for a lot of motivational reasons. However, it still stands strongest in Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness and Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity. We can post whatever we want, in the way we see fit (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback); for others to see and admire (CD5); and we are always wondering what is next on our home feed (CD7).

Facebook could use the following to resonate with consumers even more:

  • CD1: building in causes which I can contribute to (at the level of Wikipedia’s knowledge sharing…Facebook wants a more connected world, but that isn’t why most people use Facebook)
  • CD2: making me feel smart for engaging with my friends’ posts
  • CD6: limiting my engagement to a few likes or comments per day (and building a habit in the process)

But consumers are only one part of the Facebook’s marketplace for attention.

The business side is where Facebook gets really interesting.

So, what about Facebook for Business? Implementing Product Gamification

Facebook recently added Facebook Workplace, bringing its businesses a collaboration and productivity suite.

At a glance, features which improve collaboration between companies (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) are a really smart play:

Enabling communication like this will facilitate cross-promotion, collaboration, sponsorship, and other branding opportunities.

Imagine being able to search a library of businesses to find just the right business (with the appropriate audience) to co-advertise or cross-promote (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) and open creative discussions about how to best execute the vision (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback).

Facebook Video Advertising

Facebook understands that attention is on the mobile phone and that short-form video is in direct competition with television advertising, but also its own medium in itself.

They are helping businesses understand that native mobile video is its own medium and creating an infrastructure to distribute this form of advertisement on their platform.

Can Facebook Advertising be improved?

I did some research to see if I could improve it. Of course, I’m doing this blind (without analytics), which the hundreds of engineers and analytics people at Facebook would have access to. I started by looking at comments from businesses on Facebook.


Expressing lack of transparency in ad products could be a problem, but as long as Facebook’s ROI for advertising is strong, advertisers probably won’t leave the platform in droves.

Facebook could probably provide additional FAQ-esque copy in their Facebook Advertising Onboarding (for new businesses trying Facebook Ads for the first time) to clear up any confusion and prevent businesses from “bouncing” to other ad platforms with their advertising budgets.

To Skip or Not to Skip?

This is a tradeoff between business and consumer experience. No Skip button means you must watch, a negative for the user.

Including a Skip button empowers user but decreases run-time and effectiveness of a Facebook ad, and in the end, diminishes the conversions for the business and the profit for Facebook.

Since consumers are on Facebook anyway and aren’t leaving, Facebook will probably cater toward the business side of its marketplace on the skip video debate. They already have an overload of consumer-only users in their marketplace.

What about Instagram?

Instagram is a huge piece of Facebook’s for-business play. Its visual and scrolling format is a remarkably powerful Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity driver. Maybe we will cover this in a future post.

Improving Products that Already Seem Great with Product Gamification

Like Facebook, your product may already be Great.

But staying relevant in a fast-changing consumer and B2B environment means experiments and new features are required. But rather than experimenting blindly, your experiments need to be based on solid scientific foundations and behavioral design. Use the power of a framework that works, on the human mind: Octalysis.

Need help with deciding on how to do this? Talk to us today, we are here to help you out.

Contact Joris Beerda.


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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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Is the health crisis an engagement crisis?

Long road

In the 21st century we have the largest, oldest and longest living population the world has ever known.  In 2014, the world population totaled around 7,3 billion people. In developed countries, 20% of the population was aged 65 or above, with a life expectancy of around 80 years old.

What is the cost of this expanding and ageing population? Well, developed countries now have health expenditures between 10% and 12% of their Gross Domestic Product. The greatest spender? The United States, with 17% of its GDP, or a staggering 3 trillion dollars. Wow…

Naturally not all health costs are age related. The point is that many diseases and conditions that lead to health expenditures can be avoided by something very simple: changing people’s lifestyle habits. If we all ate healthier and exercised more, these costs could be drastically reduced (there are a lot of articles corroborating this affirmative. If you want to know more, you can start by reading here, here or here.)

Big companies and startups have tried thousand of different initiatives to tackle this issue. By the end of 2015, there were 165,000 mHealth apps available for download in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores. Unfortunately, a mere 36 of them (or 0,02% of the total) generate nearly half of all downloads. And none of these have conquered the market in any significant way. Not even Apple, Facebook or Google managed to be really successful with their mHealth apps.

The reason? A clear lack of engagement in these apps. Habit changing takes time, months or even years, and it is not an easy task to keep users engaged for a sustained period of time. Crafting an engaging app requires thorough understanding of human motivation, and cannot be achieved by simply adding a few game mechanics or nice visuals.

The Octalysis Group is known for designing long lasting user engagement using the Octalysis Framework. So let’s use Octalysis to analyze Fitbit, one of the biggest players in the healthcare and fitness market, and see how they fare in creating long-term engagement.



Fitbit (NYSE: FIT, valued in $2,6B) is an American company that sells activity trackers that measure data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep and stairs climbed. The company’s value proposition is that by measuring the user’s vital data and presenting it to them, it is possible to grow awareness for their own health and incentivize the adoption of healthy habits.

This data driven approach is a mainly Left Brain strategy (CD4: Ownership and Possession for measuring your own health and CD2: Development and Accomplishment for achieving your own goals). There is also a small Right Brain touch of CD7: Unpredictability and Curiosity, since you never know, for instance, how many steps you actually take in a day or what distance you have walked.

The Discovery Phase of any product begins when users first hear about the product or experience. If I search for “exercise tracker” on search engines, Fitbit is always one of the top 3 options. If I search for “exercise app”, it is also usually well ranked among the top 10.

When I click on Fitbit’s webpage, the first image I see is a shining and beautiful new tracker that triggers both CD4 – Ownership and Possession (“I want this!”) and CD7 – Unpredictability and Curiosity (“What does it do? How much it costs?”). These are effective prompts for me to commit to Fitbit`s desired action here: buy their trackers. The app itself is not considered of main prominence on their website and it is only mentioned after some scrolling down.

If I go directly to the Apple Store and search for “fitness” or “exercise tracker”, the results are not very encouraging for Fitbit. Their app appears on top 30 in the first search and top 50 in the second.

Fitbit website

Their presentation in the App Store is consistent, tough. They have a decent number of qualified reviews (which triggers CD5 – Social Influence and Relatedness) and they show some cool screens containing progress bars, badges, graphs and others (that resonates well with CD2 – Development and Accomplishment).

Fitbit app 1

In a nutshell, Fitbit`s Discovery Phase is strong in CD2 (follow my health developments with the progress bars, points and badges) and CD4 – Ownership and Possession (build my complete fitness profile).



The second phase of the user’s experience to Octalysis is called Onboarding and it has the goal of teaching the rules of the game to new players. It starts when users download the app and ends when they have learned the fundamental skills needed to play the game and achieve early win-states.

After installing Fitbit, I am presented with a sequence of colorful screens that keeps transitioning in my phone with different value propositions for me: get active, eat better, manage weight and sleep better.

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I guess we want all of that, right? The call to action is very clear here too: Join Fitbit or Log In. Since I do not have an account yet, let me see what happens when I click the “join” button.

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Oops! Apparently I must own one of the shining Fitbit trackers to join the party… and I do not. Fitbit could use this screen to try to convince me of the importance of having a tracker for a complete experience, but it simply shows me a list of all their trackers. They all look nice, but I am still not convinced why I should buy one to count my steps if my phone accelerometer can do that for me and even estimate how many calories I have burned.

So I guess this is game over for me with Fibit, right? Oh no, wait! Take a look at the above screen again. Hidden in the bottom, there is a timid “No Fitbit Yet? iPhone 5S tracks the basics” message. Well, I guess I will have to satisfy with the basics then!

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After choosing to use my phone, Fitbit decides to tell me about what their trackers can actually do. This is not a smart decision. During the Onboarding Phase, the product/system must do everything possible to make the users feel smart and accomplished (CD2), and not questioning their choices.

I know Fitbit’s business is very dependent on selling their tracking devices, but I am sure they have better places to show me how my experience can be enhanced with their trackers.

Proceeding with the Onboarding experience, Fitbit asks me to input some vital data:

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The interface for inputting data is very clear and intuitive (even fun!) and I do not feel bothered for sharing some personal data, since I hope this will make my experience more personalized. How could I trust a health app that does not even know my height and weight, right?

Since I am still onboarding in the app, it would be smart if Fitbit asks me only for the most relevant data for personalization purpose (spoiler: they do) and also shows me some sort of progress to have an idea of how many more inputs lies ahead of me (spoiler: they don’t).

After some Terms of Service and Privacy Policy screens – I assume mandatory for this kind of app – I finally arrived at the promised land: Fitbit’s main screen!

If you are not familiar with Fitbit and are following this experience with me, I propose a small exercise. Contemplate the screen below for 8 seconds – the usual attention span for mobile phone users – and answer me: where would you click first? Important: If you are under 18, you can contemplate the screen for 4 seconds or less. I don’t want to keep you waiting for endless 8 seconds. And if you are a goldfish, you can take your whole 9 seconds, don’t worry. I will wait.

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So, what is your answer? Where would you have clicked?

  1. In the “red alert” email verification label?
  2. In the “number of steps” counter?
  3. In “calories burned”?
  4. In “Track exercise”?
  5. Somewhere in the inferior Dashboard/Challenges/Friends/Account menu?
  6. Anywhere else?

You could argue that it depends on the user goals with the app, but let’s assume that it is just a user trying to know the app better, like you and me. What we are trying to figure out here is: according to Fitbit, what is the desired action in this screen, the first one the users see and probably the most important in their entire experience?

The correct answer is clearly letter A. Or B. It could be C also. And maybe D… I think you got the point. There is no clear desired action in this important screen and since all of the elements are new to the user, it is easy to feel lost here. “Feel lost?”, I can hear you and Fitbit’s UI designers scream, “this is the simplest app screen I have ever seen! It is simply a dashboard!” Exactly. It is simply that and nothing more. What kind of action a dashboard prompts you to do? Look at it and if nothing changes (hopefully, otherwise you would probably not understand what is happening), then you are gone. Imagine that we – the users – are like Homer Simpson in front of a power plant control panel. If there is not blinking, we will assume everything is fine and we will keep eating our donut. If everything is blinking, we will panic and probably will not act either.


This is the feeling Fitbit’s above screen gives me: it is all fine and static, so I can go eat my donut safely.

Since I am not planning on doing an exercise right now, I am prone to leave the app now and return to it later, after some steps. Or maybe return in the end of the day. Or after some long random walk to see how many steps I did. If I remember that I have downloaded the app, of course. The point is that a successful app should never leave the users with this kind of decisions or might risk losing them.

For Fitbit’s fans, a comment: Fitbit app has hundreds of things that are done right in their main screen. It is visually simple; the colors are great; it lets me login first and verify my email later; it shows me some progress and many more good designs. Take a look at the following screen, for instance.

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Pretty cool, right? This is the “Challenges” section of the inferior menu bar and it presents me with a series of challenges I can commit myself to. If I click on the first one (apparently the only one I can do alone), it challenges me to hit my “daily step goal”. Not sure what this is, but let’s do it! By the way, very nice and thoughtful option of “starting tomorrow”. Probably by choosing this option the user will be reminded of the challenge first thing in the morning. This is a great use of the Choice Perception (Game Technique #89). If a user clicks in a challenge out of curiosity, for example, he is presented with two main options: start now and start tomorrow. If he does not want to start now, the Start Tomorrow option seems tempting; after all, it will not sound as if he is not willing to take the challenge. But if you stop and think, both options are the same: start! And certainly this is the desired action in this screen, so way to go Fitbit!

If I choose any other challenge that demands at least one more participant or click in the “Friends” option in the inferior menu bar, I end up in the following screen.

2016-04-10 17.10.38-6508

Is it just me or this is the cutest fox ever? She just wants to play and is even offering me ice cream. And I do not even need to worry about her safety, because she has her helmet on!

Every app with any kind of social interaction (in other words, every app except for you lantern) deals with the problem of making the user invite their friends to use the app or showing them their friends that are already using the app. The latter is easier and is usually achieved by social login. But how to prompt users to invite their friends for something they do not even know yet?

The simple answer is: let them know the app first. The best way to ask users to invite their friends is after the First Major Win-State, that moment when the users reached a ‘wow’ moment and would almost automatically think: “Cool! I wanna share this with my friends!” When the app allows user invitation at any moment, like Fitbit does, the most important advice is to never leave the users with the bitter taste of a bad experience like “You have no friends” and nothing else. There are at least two much better options to dealing with this problem.

The first you can find out in most of The Octalysis Group projects (do the words Scarcity and Curiosity sound familiar to you?), but the second is exactly what Fitbit has done: use some sense of humor.

Using humor is a great UX practice and makes users wondering, “When the next joke is coming? Are there more funny screens?”, which resonates with CD7 and help in the engagement process.

The second phase of the user experience – Onboarding – ends when the user has done all the main desired actions at least once and is familiar with the game rules. Fitbit app has a lot of desired actions, but we will consider this phase finished with the following screen.

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This is the “Account” tab of the inferior menu, the last main option. My eyes are immediately caught by the first half of the screen, where I can review my profile, sync and set up new trackers and also buy a Fitbit tracker if I am convinced they are essential to my experience (and so far, I am not). My eyes were not attracted to what is below the “Shop Fitbit” button, mainly because they are colorless and not attractive. Keep that in mind, because this will be decisive for my future experience with the app.

Having done the main desired actions at least once, now it is time to start walking and running with my phone to see how Fitbit will help me to be healthier.


My plan was to keep the cellphone in my pocket for a whole week and check Fitbit at the end of each day to see how I was doing. Unfortunately, this plan only lasted three days (check the screens below).

Screenshot 2016-04-15 09.05.50-12844  Screenshot 2016-04-15 09.03.09-12815

They look like three days of complete failures, right? The problem is that I was walking! On Tuesday I have even walked more than usual, parking my car more distant than where I usually do just to take some more steps. Nevertheless, it was a failure again.

I have decided to explore the app one more time to try to make my experience more rewarding, because I am still on the first steps and feeling accomplished remains a priority. If I get a whole week of failures with no explanations, the sense of development and accomplishment (CD2) is gone and probably I will be gone too.

My first try was to go back to the “Goal Day” challenge screen to see if I could change the challenge parameters in some way or at least find out what the step goal actually is, but that was in vain. Then I have tried the “number of steps” in the first screen, but all I could see was my step count history. I was about to give up when I clicked in the infamous “Account” tab once more, simply because it was the only one I have not clicked yet. And there it was.

2016-04-10 17.15.57-7037  2016-04-13 14.49.13-12943 

You are probably thinking that I am stupid for not seeing this before, right? I mean, in case you have already seen where I am supposed to click to change my daily step goal in the above screen (it is still not obvious!). In my defense, when I am testing a new product, I like to turn the “stupid mode on” to make sure the experience is crystal clear to the user. Sorry to say this, Fitbit, but yours is not. The customization of such an important feature is hidden in the bottom half of the last tab screen, vaguely named “Account”.

I was curious to see how many opportunities Fitbit had during my Onboarding to link me directly to the above screen. Count with me, please: I can see one, two, three…

Screenshot 2016-04-15 07.43.35-12685 Screenshot 2016-04-15 09.29.38-13099  Screenshot 2016-04-15 09.29.55-13133

… and an obvious fourth one! There is absolutely no reason for not having a button like the one below in my main ‘Steps Dashboard’ screen:


I have decided to change my daily step goal to an easy 1,000 steps count just to (finally) feel accomplished. I did this, put my sneakers on and hit the road as if I were Forrest Gump, determined to stop only when I had reached my goal.

Ten minutes later and victory was mine.

2016-04-13 18.08.15-13683

Something as simple as that helped me feel more accomplished and willing to try new goals. If the app value proposition circles around accomplishment and measurements, why not making your users feel accomplished as soon as possible?

Addendum: I have decided to explore some more about this step count goal and I have find out in Fitbit’s blog that the default goal is 10,000 steps a day, something recommended by the CDC, but definitely not an easy task to sedentary people. Nevertheless, it would not hurt Fitbit’s app to explain this to the users in simple terms without redirecting to their blog. It could even shows the users some sort of guiding table like the one I have done after a rigorous 5-minutes research on Google.

Screenshot 2016-07-26 01.22.04

The ironic part of a fitness app that does not like to give their users easy wins, is that Fitbit actually has some cool badges and rewarding screens. Take a look at this screen solely dedicated to show me my personal best number of steps in a single day.

2016-04-13 18.09.47-14132

Fitbit has several other cool functionalities, like calories count, eating goals, sleep quality control, GPS tracking during exercises, friendly competitions and more. I could go on and on writing about these, but if you have reached this far, you probably got the idea of the kind of app analysis we do in The Octalysis Group and would be happy with some wrapping up, I suppose. So hold on for three more minutes, because we have reached the Endgame.



The Endgame Phase begins when the users have completed the activity loop of desired actions → win-states → rewards so many times that they are true veterans of the experience. Instead of letting these players leave – after all, they have already used the app a lot -, the system should recognize their value and adapt itself to be even more engaging to them.

Since Fitbit app is daily collecting health information from their users – even if they do not have any trackers -, it is understandable that they reach the Endgame Phase with a CD4 – Ownership and Possession and CD8 – Loss and Avoidance combo. They have already stored so much information in the app that it gets less and less attractive each passing day to change it for some other. Fitbit has also some improvements to do towards Endgame: their experience becomes predictable as time goes by (no CD7) and the the users do not experience any form of Epic Meaning and Calling (CD1).

In The Octalysis Group, we usually conclude the analysis of each of the four phases of a product experience with a summary of the main takeaways and a list of quick fixes. Since I am not planning on sharing more screens with you, I will share some of the Endgame suggestions we have done for Fitbit so you can have a better understanding of the kind of work we deliver:

  • Use a combo of CD4 and CD7 to give users a surprise discount in a new and more advanced Fitbit tracker. For instance, if the user completed all the challenges using a simple step counter tracker, he could get a huge discount in a tracker that also monitors sleeping, so he will be motivated to try the Fitbit app again with a more powerful “weapon” that will work as a booster.
  • Use CD2 to unlock more powerful and “almost impossible” challenges to players that have completed all the available challenges.
  • Use a combo of CD3 and CD7 to allow veterans players to create their own challenges that could be available to all other players. This would motivate CD3 for the creation process and also CD7 to keep coming back to the app to see the new challenges.



The healthcare wearable’s global shipments are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 24.8% over the five years, reaching 162.9 million units in 2020. Not surprisingly, great names like Apple, Google and Microsoft are already launching its first products in this attractive market.

But what is the final verdict for Fitbit experience? Did they solve the ‘gold pot’ problem of the long-term engagement? There are good and bad news for the competition. Fitbit has the upper hand in this market and sells a lot of tracking devices options; so it is not going to be easy to steal its market share. Every day that Fitbit collects data from their users, it enhances the feeling of Ownership and Possession (CD4) and leaves the user afraid of losing precious health history and a system they already know so well (CD8). As long as the years keep ending in December 31th and people keep making new-year resolutions to be fitter and thinner, Fitbit will thrive.

The good news for competition is that Fitbit has not solved the long-term engagement problem. It certainly has a great app that is useful to be combined with its physical trackers, but so far the experience is mainly focused on just one player type (Level 3 Octalysis) and has not been able to adequately balance the eight Core Drives during the four experience phases of the player journey.

The history of the tracking devices for healthcare is in its first pages and Fitbit is helping writing them. As long as user motivation remains a relevant problem for behavior changing, The Octalysis Group will keep tracking this market.

Final note: This blog post is a small sample of an Audit, one of the services The Octalysis Group offer to his clients.


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



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Swiping for love…Tinder through the Octalysis Gamification Lens

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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:

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis


Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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.

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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:

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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!
Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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.

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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”.

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis
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”.

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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:

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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:

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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:

Octalysis Gamification: Tinder Analysis

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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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 [tooltip tip=”The Left Brain Core Drives involve tendencies related to logic, ownership, and analytical thought..”]Left Brain Core Drives[/tooltip], which deploys Extrinsic Motivation to reel in and keep their customers. The Left Brain Core Drives include:

But unlike other companies that apply these [tooltip tip=”Motivational drives within us that push us towards certain activities. If no Core Drives exist behind a Desired Action, there is no motivation, thus no behavior.”]Core Drive[/tooltip], Starbucks went a few steps further and tied them in with Right Brain Core Drives, which deploy Intrinsic motivation such as ([tooltip tip=”Core Drive that really emphasizes on ‘Play’ and creativity (i.e, strategy, problem solving, art, etc)”]Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback Core Drive 3[/tooltip]; [tooltip tip=”Core Drive that is related to activities inspired by what other people think, do, or say. This Core Drive is the engine behind themes like mentorship, competition, envy, group quests, social treasures and companionship.”]Social Influence and Relatedness (Core Drive 5)[/tooltip]; and [tooltip tip=”Core Drive that is the main force behind our infatuation with experiences that are uncertain and involve chance.”]Unpredictability and Curiosity (Core Drive 7)[/tooltip] 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 [tooltip tip=”Core Drive where people are driven by a sense of growth towards a goal and accomplishing it.”]Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment[/tooltip], 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 ([tooltip tip=”Core Drive that is related to activities inspired by what other people think, do, or say. This Core Drive is the engine behind themes like mentorship, competition, envy, group quests, social treasures and companionship.”]Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness[/tooltip]).

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.

Starbucks Card DesignsWhat 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. [tooltip tip=”Core Drive that motivates through the fear of losing something or having undesirable events transpire.”]Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance[/tooltip] 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 [tooltip tip=”Feedback Mechanics that trigger users to commit more Desired Actions.”]Triggers[/tooltip] 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 ([tooltip tip=” Core Drive where people are driven by a sense of growth towards a goal and accomplishing it.”]Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment[/tooltip] and [tooltip tip=”Core Drive that motivates us simply because we are either unable to obtain something immediately, or because there is great difficulty in obtaining it.”]Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience[/tooltip]).

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 [tooltip tip=”Core Drive that is the main force behind our infatuation with experiences that are uncertain and involve chance.”]Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity[/tooltip] within the customer.


Leveling Up

The 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).

starbucks-profile-view starbucks-rewards-viewThe 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  [tooltip tip=”Game Technique where people are given a few items, characters, or badges, and you tell them that this is part of a collection set that follows a theme. This creates a desire in people to collect all the elements and complete their selection set.”]”Collection Set” Game Technique #16[/tooltip] 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)!

starbucks-for-life-mapGiving 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.

starbuck-for-life-gift-boxAnother 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 [tooltip tip=”The Right Brain Core Drives are characterized by creativity, sociality, and curiosity”]Right Brain Core Drives[/tooltip] (intrinsic motivation).


Star DashStarbucks Star Dash Example

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 [tooltip tip=”A Core Drive where people are motivated because they believe they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves.”]Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling[/tooltip], 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 The Way I See It Quote 289Starbucks 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:


Original System New System
Bonus Stars 1 Star per Swipe 2 Stars per $1
# of Stars to reach reward 12 Stars 125 Stars
# of Stars to Gold Level 30 Stars 300 Stars
Levels Welcome, Green, Gold Green, Gold
New Monthly Double-Star Days

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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