The best way to really empower your employees

The best way to really empower your employees

How much control is too much?

Is your organization’s hierarchy and perspective on control decreasing or shutting down motivation for your employees?

As the Head of HR or in your role as a manager of people, understanding how to wield control is critical to employee motivation. You need to get your motivational design right to unlock productivity.

Throughout the 1900s and early 2000s, companies with centralized control and tiered decision-making ruled in a an efficiency first, machine-like approach to winning. This evolved into an outcome driven approach, where good outcomes were reinforced at the total level of the company, irrespective of their impact on employee motivation.

In the 2010s and beyond, there is a trend toward decentralization, the empowerment of teams, and the removal of strict managerial controls on processes and team workflow. Could decentralization be the missing piece of unlocking the motivations of your best (and worst) employees?

Control and its impact on motivation

There are several types of control in the workplace that relate to employee motivation.

Control over one’s tasks and projects.

This is the amount of autonomy an employee feels she has or actually has in the choosing and the method of completion of tasks and projects. Traditionally, roles were put in silos for the sake of efficiency, and employees didn’t have much choice over the tasks to me be completed. In these cases, giving autonomy to employees on how they accomplish the tasks can improve motivation.

When combined with Core Drive 1 and Core Drive 2, an employee can be quite independent and productive.

Control over HOW one performs her tasks and projects

As a leader, manager, or HR designer, if you have successfully gained buy-in from employees on the mission and/or vision of the team or company, then you can assign tasks by attaching the necessity of those tasks as part of accomplishing the mission and vision.

Then, you can give employees the freedom to explore the best ways to accomplish those tasks. In the Octalysis framework, this usually is done by giving employees a healthy does of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. Tactically, this can be achieved by offering meaningful choices or even a blank slate of freedom.

To increase the intrinsic motivation, you could build sharing systems where employees share the knowledge of new ways they’ve found to do great work. This would play on Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.

Control over career progression

As a designer of HR systems, you have the difficult but exciting task of monitoring many levers of motivation. One of these levers is career progression.

Control matters here, too.

How open and transparent is your organization in monetary or status development? What about growth by learning?

Your organization might have strict guidelines on what constitutes upward movement at the individual level. Maybe an employee needs to hit all their Key Performance Indicators.

Maybe there are intangibles: They need to be likable; They need to make work fun for others.

The trick is to make promotions really engaging.

Often, promotions focus too heavily on Black Hat design.

  • Core Drive 6: Impatience & Scarcity: Hard to reach, but you want it
  • Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity: Unclear who will get it
  • Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance: “If I do not get it I lose all the progress I did leading up to it, and my effort was all for nothing

Why not add some White Hat Design?

Promotions are not just a title. Promotions can be empowering. When I get promoted, I get boosters, access, power.

Control over measurement of development and accomplishment

What is your company measuring at the level of the employee? Effort, results, creativity, influence on the team?

In forward thinking organizations, HR designers and teams often incorporate their employees in a discussion of what the metrics should be for productivity. This use of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, draws on the positive-feeling of collaboration and the problem-solving nature of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

A discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation relating to control

The Octalysis Group has consulted with and analyzed the HR structures and motivational designs of hundreds of companies across the healthcare, energy, government, and ecommerce landscape.

We have analyzed models which have limited controls and organizations that exercise strong controls. And everything in between.

How you use control affects employee motivation and ultimately team productivity.

Let us help you take the first step in understanding where you are using control in your overall employee motivation design. From there, we will unlock actionable insights to use a  healthy balance of control and freedoms for good!

Let’s begin your analysis to remove control barriers and apply control where it will best impact your bottom line.

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

5 ways to make your employees happy! (not sad)

5 ways to make your employees happy! (not sad)

5 ways to make employees happy

Did you know that it is quite easy to build a happy workforce? That it has a lot to do with behavioral science? And that the Octalysis framework can show you the way to employee happiness?

Find out below how we can help you with the aid of the 8 Core Drives.

Using intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in combination with an understanding of White Hat and Black Hat motivation is the secret sauce in experience design.

But first, a quick reminder about Intrinsic/Extrinsic motivation…

Intrinsic / Extrinsic

Extrinsic motivation can be described as the motivation you feel because you expect a tangible reward for your actions: e.g. money, points, status, promotions.

Extrinsic motivation exist when your employees are mainly motivated by:

  • money
  • year-end bonus
  • to increase status
  • to gain prestige
  • to acquire power
  • to develop marketable skills


Intrinsic motivation at the work floor exist when work:

  • provides meaning
  • inspires and allows creativity
  • provides for autonomous choices
  • connects them to others socially and in problem-solving environments
  • involves curiosity, new challenges


Extrinsic motivation sounds bad doesn’t it? But it isn’t that simple. Extrinsic motivation is key in motivating people to act; to make mundane tasks more efficient and to ensure that they do not have to fear for not bringing enough money home to feed mouths.

The issue is that most companies are too good at designing for extrinsic motivation, while ignoring design for motivation that creates a fun, social and creative work space. Such design creates out of the box value added products and ideas. Ideas we need for the economy of the 21st Century.

Let’s look into White Hat / Black Hat and then move onto the 5 ideas I promised you.

White Hat / Black Hat

These terms come from early work in SEO, where there was White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO. Generally speaking, White SEO made Google happy. Black Hat SEO could trick Google’s algorithms for a while, but eventually Google wasn’t happy and penalized engineers using Black Hat SEO techniques.

Too much Black Hat catches up to you.

Just like a programmer trying to trick an intelligent Google team, using Black Hat motivation is obvious and employees eventually become dissatisfied, burned out, or worse, don’t even respond to its intended motivational triggers.

Common examples of Black Hat motivation:

  • crushing/difficult/unrealistic deadlines (that are made up)
  • unpredictability in workflow or assignments
  • unclear progression in professional path or compensation
  • dangling rewards without clear road to those rewards

Meanwhile, White Hat motivation feels good.

  • progressing
  • feeling part of something bigger than yourself
  • being creative

Again, many companies are good at one (black hat) and bad at the other (white hat). make sure you invest in White hat design though. They tend to be slow-building but they are long-lasting. Invest in them.

On to the 5 ideas!!!

5. Merit-based compensation

Remember, the best motivational strategy combines intrinsic/extrinsic and White-Hat/Black-Hat.

Merit-based compensation is fair because it should encourage diligent work and creative problem-solving.

Choose an area of the task or overall employee role to fit in merit-based compensation. Define what skill or value is being measured. This could take the form of an if-then statement:

If employee creates x value, then y compensation occurs.

(I recently overheard two university professors complain that they were high performers as Chairs of committees, only to be rewarded with yet more work as additional Chairs on other committees! A better reward would have been flexible time to work on their research or books.)

The key is to agree with the employee on an accurate measure and time scale for evaluation.

This arrangement should allow a balance of:

  • Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment (skill gain to solve problems)
  • Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (creativity in problem-solving)
  • Core Drive 6: Impatience & Scarcity (not all employees can get additional compensation)
  • Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity (the potential problems to solve could change)

4. Logical progression of compensation

What are your employees working toward in the medium and long term?

People like to progress. No one likes to go backward. We like forward movement.

But as a CEO or manager, you know you can’t move everyone as fast as they may want to. Here is a test of your expectation and motivation management (and design, of course!).

From the moment you meet a candidate for a role in your team, she needs to begin to understand what the logical progression of work and compensation looks like in your team, in the 1, 3, and 5-year windows.

Then, upon joining the team, you can communicate further about this potential progression. There are two keywords here:

  • potential
  • progression

Potential leaves some Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity in the employees mind, which is a Black Hat but Intrinsic motivator.

Progression is a combination of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment and Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession, which are more White Hat and Extrinsic.

This way, you create a balanced motivational arsenal.

Be clear in your communication. People are smarter than you think. Some of your employees are smarter than you–that’s why you hired them. They will sniff out BS if you rely on it.

3. New opportunities

Your company has many diverse problems to solve.

Don’t have money to hire another employee? Why not find out if someone on your current team can solve the problem?

Here is a way to test employees and also give them an opportunity to wow or impress you.

Make the project open-ended enough to allow creativity, but put time restrictions or competitive elements (if you want to test multiple people at the same time).

This way, the following Core Drives are invoked:

  • Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Problem solving; White-Hat/Intrinsic)
  • Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness (Competition; Black-Hat/Intrinsic)
  • Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (Time-bound; Black-Hat/Extrinsic)

2. Team or Cross-Functional Projects

One problem at companies with more than about 5 employees is knowledge sharing. Lack of knowledge sharing creates inefficiencies that hurt the bottom line and distract from real profit-driving work.

Even if a project COULD be done by a single, top employee, it can be very effective to assign a project to two to four people (or more depending on the project).

This encouragement of collaboration will build connections and relationships in your team on top of the benefit of skills naturally being absorbed across minds.

The Core Drives in play:

  • Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment (skill and knowledge; White-Hat/Extrinsic
  • Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness (collaboration: White-Hat/Intrinsic)

5. Team Retreats

Doing team retreats right is an art in itself, but retreats DO work if done right.

Behavioral scientists have understood that spending time outside of the normal environment facilitates different kinds of thinking.

Take your team on a trip or do a volunteer event together.

Try to fit in time to problem-solve on some of your biggest issues for the year.

You will build team chemistry, alchemy, and rapport. You will be joking and laughing about moments on the trip for years to come.

Retreats, if communicated correctly, provide:

  • Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity (Where are we going? Italy or Germany?)
  • Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Solving your team’s biggest challenges)
  • Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness (Team activities, spending time together)

Balanced approach

You need to apply a balanced approach of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation with elements of white hat and black hat into your design.

If you are a Head of HR, Chief Learning Officer, or the manager of a team, you can’t afford to leave sound motivational design principles out of your employee management approach.

Contact us to get started. Your employees will thank you and you’ll have a head start on your competition.


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

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:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

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.

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

How Snapchat Employed Follower Scarcity to Make Users Feel Smart

How Snapchat Employed Follower Scarcity to Make Users Feel Smart

Plenty of Users, but None of them are Following Me

This was a common thought among early Snapchat users.

As a result, during Snapchat’s Scaffolding phase, users are made to work quite hard to gain followers. There is no search to add users. Early on, the only way to get more followers was through a username or phone number or Snapchat code. This is cunning Octalysis Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience design

In Oren Klaff’s book Pitch Anything, Prizing is introduced and compared with three fundamental behaviors arising from our croc brains:

  1.      We chase that which moves away from us
  2.      We want what we cannot have
  3.      We only place value on things that are difficult to obtain

Snapchat’s decision to make users work hard for followers plays on the scarcity and impatience elements #2 and #3. What’s more, after they got those followers, those users experience Recruiter Burden (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) and feel the need to care please these followers.

Here is of course where unpredictability and curiosity come in, the bread and butter and X-factor of any successful content creator. But Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is not the focus of this article.

Before diving deeper into Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience in the context of Snapchat, let’s examine Snapchat from a broader Octalysis lens.

Snapchat’s Octalysis Graph

As a whole, Snapchat benefits from a balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic as well as right brain and left brain Core Drives.

Although I created a complete Octalysis Graph (build your own at, let’s return to Scarcity.

Scarcity of followers

We’ve already discussed how hard it is to get followers on Snapchat. In the early days, people had to build followings through word of mouth. Users commonly shared their username on other platforms, and even used their Snapcode as their Facebook or YouTube profile picture.

The result? Snapchat gets more marketing and press and social proof. (Side note: Snapchat’s decision to make it hard to get followers was a BRILLIANT motivational design decision.)

Not only did they avoid having to build a functional search algorithm inside the app, they also kicked off the following Core Activity Loop:

  • User gets Snapchat and has none or very few followers, but wants more
  • They ask a few friends by sharing their username or cell phone number in a text message or word of mouth
  • If a content creator user 1) writes a blog post, 2) shares with their YouTube following, or 3) tweets about their new account
  • User gains a few new followers, feels smart (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment), and repeats the Core Activity!

The genuine creativity and effort required to get followers means that users care about the users they bring to the platform and engage more heavily with them. (Compare this to your average Twitter followers, who you probably rarely interact with.)

The reward of genuine interaction and connection (especially considering the ephemeral image- and video-based medium) drove engagement between creators and fans. This Booster of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness also contributed to additional Core Activity Loops for creators. People continued looking for ways to Hitchhike Snapchat exchanges or stories into their daily routines.

Building Scarcity into Your Product

Like Snapchat, your product may already have some Scarcity built in, but if it doesn’t, you are probably missing an opportunity.

But rather than testing your hypotheses without a properly defined strategy, you should base your design decisions on firm motivational design foundations. 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.

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

How to Create and Strengthen Brand Loyalty through Octalysis

How to Create and Strengthen Brand Loyalty through Octalysis

Creating loyalty through marketing and customer relationships

Just like someone can’t have more than about five really close friendships, it is hard to have extreme loyalty toward more than a few brands. But if your brand is one of those to a customer, the lifetime value of that customer is extraordinary.

But designing for loyalty is very difficult. How do you know where to start?

Loyalty combines many of the 8 Core Drives, but probably starts with Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling.

Yu-kai shared with me that

The best brand loyalty comes from good CD1 design. People believe in its mission, purpose, or narrative.


In this article, we’ll explore how to create and maintain loyalty using Octalysis gamification. First, let’s look at this from an Octalysis perspective.

The Core Drive Analysis


Creating loyalty

For potential customers and new customers, the best way to design for loyalty is through a strong Core Drive 1 message. Note: this message could be non-Core-Drive-1. For example, Nike’s slogan is “just do it”, which is a Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment style of message. But someone who believes in springing to action will identify with this message from a Core Drive 1 motivation.

When entering a marketplace where there are strong incumbents, a powerful message can pull loyal fans from other brands. Consider Under Armour ( It entered the sports realm with an underdog message pulling athletes to its brand who blossomed into big names (think Steph Curry, who just landed the biggest contract in NBA history). Social identity theory and shared values have a part to play here. Some consumers want to have shared values with the brand, while others will be loyal regardless of values. Segmenting your customer base allows you to tailor messages to each group. Shared values can be understood from Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling (a higher value) in combination with Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness (connection to the brand itself) and Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession (feeling strongly about a value to the extent that it matters above other buying behaviors in a decision tree).

Maintaining loyalty (not losing loyalty)

Communication is crucial to maintaining loyalty once established. Unless someone is loyal for life, loyalty can wane, diminish, and disappear. Designing the 4 phases of an experience is really important to build the correct habits into your core experience. How you create loyalty during Discovery and Onboarding transitions to maintenance during Scaffolding and the Endgame.

Tactics to maintain loyalty:

This is where email outreach, product quality, customer support, and personalization enter the loyalty equation. Balancing rewards and ensuring customers are treated fairly (by using customer tiers based on engagement) are important. If you have a Standard, Premium, and Pro customer base, the perception of those must match the experience (and the price).

Email outreach

Interactions build and strengthen relationships. How often and with what offering or value are you doing so? Frequency matters, but only to a degree. What matters is the quality and emotional takeaway for the recipient. Relationships involve many of the Core Drives, but revolve around Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.

Product quality

Does your product actually solve a problem and stand out? Most people will probably discover your product (Discovery Phase of the 4 Phases) through Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity.

Customer support

Do customers leave support calls/chats with a smile on their face? Train your support staff to provide the ultimate in Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness and creative problem solving, Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.


How are you going above and beyond to understand your user wants and needs? Whether you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool or a well-versed and caring support staff or a dedicated marketing team, giving users the personalization of Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession will make them understand you get them and you have their needs foremost in mind.

Balancing rewards

In experiences where rewards are offered (or triggered) through an investment of time or effort by a user, ensuring that the reward feels right will create trust in the brand’s ability to deliver on the next user investment. Variable rewards can be useful here. A detailed look at your Strategy Dashboard is one place to start.

Customer Tiers

These are especially useful in subscription-based business models. These tiers not only inspire user action through Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, but also serve as a light Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience play as well.

Building better loyalty

At The Octalysis Group, we are regularly asked to built strong loyalty programs and we love the challenge of designing loyalty improvements into existing experiences.

Curious to know how we can help your organization create such long lasting engagement?

Contact Joris Beerda to get started:


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

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.

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?

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

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. 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.


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Using Octalysis to Get Amazing Results from Distributed or Remote Teams

Using Octalysis to Get Amazing Results from Distributed or Remote Teams

“The key management skill for the 21st century.” – Stephan Kasriel

Motivating Distributed and Remote Teams

Stephane Kasriel of Upwork believes that leading remote teams is the “key management skill for the 21st century.” Upwork’s Future Workforce study found that over 60% of U.S. companies have at least one team member working remotely at the department level.

Distributed or remote teams, like any teams, work best when a strong leader is at the helm, someone with vision, empathy, and execution.

But distributed or remote teams have the challenge of less face-to-face time and in-person interactions. Products like Slack’s #random channel try to mimic the watercooler effect (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness), but they rarely can reproduce a powerful in-person brainstorm or problem-solving meeting.

This post describes a starting point for getting the most out of distributed teams with a gamification and human-focused design perspective on your design.

Doubling meetings to double productivity

Meetings are anathema to modern workplaces, but distributed teams need to meet to have face time, build rapport, and maintain relationships. Ultimately, a focus on results (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) will keep workers collectively progressing.

A weekly standup to kickoff the week combined with a weekly retrospective meeting to wrap up the week might be all you need. Here’s a detailed example of this process using Trello, which may also work for your team. Remember, the methodology itself is less important than the trust and accountability and productivity you are engendering in the team. Depending on the complexity of your dev or design projects, you might need something even more sophisticated. Here’s Postmark’s take on defining the regularity and type of meetings.

In the case of the Monday standup meeting, the session helps generate ideas (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) and solidifies targets for the week (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) and ensures alignment on responsibility (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession). These meetings work best when collaboration is emphasized (Core Drive 5: Socia Influence & Relatedness).

The retrospective meeting layers a touch of black hat design to ensure goals are met weekly, while also giving leaders a chance to recognize wins on a regular basis.

If you’re an agile software development team, you might already have scrum kickoffs and weekly sprints, but be sure to add a touch of empathy into these meetings as well, giving the team a chance to share its human side. As a leader, these meetings are a place to live your team or company’s culture.

Communication in between meetings: interactions via apps

Problems and roadblocks arise in business. Ensuring smooth and effective communication in the inter-meeting intervals is crucial. In the presented model, the standup meeting creates the weekly vision (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling) and execution goals should be established (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment).

How much should you expect team members to be available online? With the culture you establish, it might be reasonable to ask certain team members to always be on, but you may decide this isn’t best for you, too. Some work requires sustained periods of deep work.

As the team leader, only you can establish expectations and overall culture for the team. How quickly should emails and Slack messages be responded to? What defines what problems are urgent or not? What autonomy does your team have to solve problems on their own? (This estimation requires self-awareness and empathy with the Player Types on your team. Knowing who are the Stars and who are the Black Holes is crucial.)

If your team already uses a platform like Basecamp or Trello for communication, all that need be adapted for is the style of communication that is lost when the team transitions from headquartered to distributed.

As the leader

You probably will want to ensure you are there for your team (you “work for them”) or create a culture where autonomy and independence is what drives creativity and productivity (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback).

You need to communicate effectively and give constructive feedback. Here is a detailed example of how remote leaders can give feedback effectively so as to inspire their team members and actually improve the skill sets and collaboration of the team.

Pay attention to the phases of your journey


You don’t need to dictate a shift to a distributed model. Instead, incorporate your team so as to make the jump to hyperspace together. What concerns does your team have in moving to this model? If you are hiring a distributed team as a satellite outpost, what concerns do they have?

Be sure to hire the right people for distributed teams. People who are self-motivated, excellent communicators, and accountable doers work best. You want people on the team who are willing to speak up, solve problems quickly, and ask questions when something needs clarification.

Key questions:

What questions are you asking new hires? Do those questions help you find someone with traits applicable to distributed/remote work?


As the leader, set expectations for a transition to a remote operating model or build a smooth step-by-step so new employees feel smart (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) as they get started on the team.

Notice how your team is reacting to the new system. If other projects are in flight, monitor them closely.

Key questions:

Is the team communicating effectively? 

As the leader, am I responding to feedback about the system? 


By now you’ve gone through several core activity loops in your model, whether that be a few weeks of sprints or a complete phase of your project. This is the time to take feedback to better design your system, from process changes through to communication alignment.

Key questions:

Are we reaching our product milestones?

What financial results are we achieving? (Acquisition, Churn, Revenue)


The hope is to create a working environment where your distributed employees and team would not go back to an undistributed model if given the choice. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage through constant communication and feedback and by asking what could be made better.

Key questions:

What is the vision for my distributed team? How do I design for this outcome from the start?

Designing distributed or remote teams with Octalysis

The success of your team will stem from your vision, execution, and empathy as a leader, but the 21st century will also be a world of teams connected by the internet. How you design your workflows and culture for this reality could be your competitive advantage (or disadvantage). You could even approach this from a Strategy Dashboard perspective.

At the Octalysis Group, we’ve helped 100s of companies use gamification and human-focused design to improve customer and employee engagement.

Contact Joris Beerda to get started:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

How eBay Changed Marketplaces with a DNA of Gamification

How eBay Changed Marketplaces with a DNA of Gamification

The Age of Motivation Marketplaces

Marketplaces have existed since people began exchanging food and tools at the dawn of the agricultural revolution. Since then, physical and financial and digital marketplaces have become so commonplace as to be taken entirely for granted.

Microeconomics (the study of individual actors within these marketplaces) evolved as an area of study centered around scarcity. You don’t need to understand everything about microeconomics to understand the relevant dynamics.

Rather, a baseline in Octalysis will provide you with a sound framework for understanding the pushes and pulls of motivation and entering the hearts and minds of buyers and sellers. But you have to explicitly design for that motivation to happen. As we know from Octalysis, if no 8 Core Drives design is present, no behavior happens.

What is actually happening when a buyer wants to buy? And how do sellers provide that? And why do people act in seemingly irrational or hypocritical ways? In this post we’ll first examine what is happening for buyers, then sellers, and then examine a few examples of digital marketplaces.


When a consumer demands something, her desired action is to seek to resolve that demand. Sometimes these pulls are extrinsic. She wants a new pair of shoes to better enjoy her walks in the park (Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment). Some are intrinsic. Her mother wants a top end caterer for her upcoming wedding, and she is trying to find the right match (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness).

What’s changed in the age of motivational marketplaces

Because most products and services and experiences are packaged and served online, any company participating in an online marketplace must account for the suite of motivations affecting how people experience demand and their expectations about fulfillment. Millennials (and let’s face it, most people) expect instant gratification in achieving desired actions when in an online setting.


As a seller, knowing these differences–between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation–matter greatly. If someone wants a quick win (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment), forcing them to wait to purchase could be a mistake.

On the other hand, if a buyer is long-term intrinsically motivated, a seller could draw out the buying cycle and create a loyal long-term customer. This requires knowing what user types you are dealing with and a careful balanced design of Black Hat and White Hat triggers and rewards aligned with those behaviors.

Attracting Buyers in the age of motivational marketplaces

Attracting buyers who are already in the marketplace is important for a seller’s long-term success. From eBay to Amazon’s marketplace, a seller doesn’t survive unless it attracts buyers.

Attracting buyers in competitive marketplaces requires a competition on price or an other kind of differentiation.

In a marketplace that is supply-heavy, winning on price is tricky, so many companies and brands have involved some level of brand differentiation and attention to detail in one other key area: customer service. If the experience of buying the product or service is enjoyable, the product need not be all that different from a competitor’s. If we make buyers feel accomplished and smart for making a difficult meaningful choice among thousands of products, we have already begun to create an activity loop that will return that customer again and again for those same rewards.

eBay’s DNA of gamification changed how we buy and sell

In Yu-kai’s book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, Yu-kai hints at why even the marketplace itself must differentiate from other marketplaces:

I did some research on eBay, and shortly after sold my two tickets through the platform (I hope the event organizer does not read my book).

That one transaction was surprisingly thrilling and fun for me. When I received my first bid from an anonymous stranger on the Internet, I almost jumped for joy (cultural joke: but I did not get stuck), and I became obsessively glued to the screen when another bidder joined in on the war.


Yu-kai’s very first experience of selling tickets on the platform gave him the following motivational pulls:

That’s very impressive for Yu-kai’s first experience as a seller, and was instrumental in Yu-kai spending hundreds of hours on eBay building up to be a power seller on the platform. There were other online marketplaces where Yu-kai could have bought and sold goods, but he chose eBay because eBay built gamification and human-focused design into its core DNA from the word Go.

Amazon enters the scene

Like Facebook’s slow erosion into MySpace’s social monopoly, Amazon entered via books and became the powerhouse in online marketplaces in the west, with Alibaba and Flipkart dominating the east.

Amazon created a marketplace that motivated both buyers and sellers.

Because Amazon wasn’t concerned with profits early on, features like Free Shipping were huge attention getters and attracted legions of customers. Amazon could then attract sellers by showcasing its impressive customer metrics. They quickly expanded into verticals beyond books and shoes.

Isn’t it just about incentives?

It may seem on the surface that all that is needed are the right incentives. eBay created an infrastructure which easily allowed buyers and sellers to transact and left great sellers to the top of the pile with an internal rating system. Amazon’s infrastructure was so good and so convenient that it saved people both time and money, and therefore was a no-brainer for both sides of the marketplace.

But creating a marketplace is not just about creating the right incentives. It is about honing in on the desired actions of every actor in the marketplace and ensuring the appropriate meaningful choices are triggered at the right moments to inspire action from those actors. The design of these motivational marketplaces, if done really well, will even account for our hypocrite brain.

The Octalysis Group has helped 100s of companies think carefully about how to craft their incentives and core activity loops, each of which is participating in the global marketplace in one way or another. Some are startups seeking to attract waves of new customers. Others are established incumbent conglomerates or government actors. We have truly enjoyed helping these entities think about how human-focused design and gamification might influence their approach and help them win in their ecosystem.

Are you ready to level up your marketplace position?

Contact Joris Beerda:


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Gamification: not only icing on the cake…

Gamification: not only icing on the cake…

Why many gamification projects fail: Part 1

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

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

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


Gamification must be integrated into your product design


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


How to design a successful Gamification project?

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

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

Levelling up the industry

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

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


Contact one of our experts:

Gaute [at]

Ivan [at]

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

How to Use Octalysis to Attract your Competitor’s Customers

How to Use Octalysis to Attract your Competitor’s Customers

Customers are willing to switch, but…

That’s okay, I already have an app for that. 

Often, it’s not easy to get someone to use your product even if it offers them considerable advantages over your competitors. Why? Because they are already using your competitor’s product or service.

Understanding of your competitors gives many advantages, but this one is the most important: ensuring you don’t lack the fundamental features expected by your customers.

Of course, your customers care about benefits more than features, but some fundamental features are too ingrained in users’ minds to ignore. An email service without an inbox is possible to build, but it would be a tough sell even if you convinced a user to leave their current provider.

If you don’t understand what’s out there, you could by accident build a clone or launch a product that is behind others in your space. Don’t build with a blindfold.

Why better is not enough

Status quo sloth, triggered by Octalysis’s Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance, prevents us from leaving situations and experiences and products we are comfortable with. If something is already routine for us, it requires considerable mental effort to change.

Knowing your competitors will allow you to align certain features with customer expectations, or at a minimum understand how you will have to navigate these “conversations” in your customers’ minds.

Researching your Competition with Octalysis

When we help companies with our product gamification and design expertise, we often bring with us an understanding of the marketplace standards and an analysis of our new client’s competitors. At The Octalysis Group, we have methods like the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard to assist breaking down an experience or product into its fundamental core activity loops.

If you can use behavioral science and product gamification to do what your competition is doing much better than your competition, you stand a chance to convert customers to your product or service.

Using a Competitor’s Product

Understand what your competition is doing is much different than understanding how they are doing it.

Many hotels now have reward and loyalty apps, but simply adding a rewards app into your service experience won’t pull customers away from other hotels.

Within the rewards experience, we created a carefully-designed rewards app for La Quinta Hotels which gave them a 712% ROI versus the control group.

We did this by carefully analyzing other rewards apps and THEN creating an in-game economy that increased usage and conversion rates through an application of the 8 Core Drives.

Ecosystem influence and convenience

Many are familiar with Amazon’s or Apple’s or Google’s exhaustive ecosystems and their network effects. Amazon’s product offering grows more robust by the day. Using Gmail/Chrome gains you refined experiences. Apple products sync across devices and services like iTunes.

As you research your competition, it is important to understand how your product will fit into their daily routines. Is your product part of an accomplishment routine (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment), or a creativity routine (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback)?

Non-intuitive brands like Nike play with this too when they introduced their fitness products: loyal Nike brand followers used their products instead of Fitbit’s offerings because Nike’s products worked with their Nike running shoes and gear. Fitbit might have been able to combat this if they’d designed their offering differently, or perhaps even partnering with leading brands in the early days.

Using the ecosystem to gain customers in Workplace Messaging

Consider the competition for the workplace messaging space. Let’s hone in on Slack and its new competitors, Microsoft Teams and Facebook’s Workplace.

Interestingly, Microsoft’s product looks very similar to Slack’s. Why? Fundamentally, it wants to make it easier for people to switch by removing Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. Not only does it sync with OneDrive and other Microsoft products and services. It looks and feels just like Slack, so you’ll have no worries and a better experience. This is a great example of thinking through their intended player types and building their product to account for those expected player type behaviors.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s Workplace will make sense to many businesses who already have a Facebook page and presence. Instead of logging into a new experience on Slack, they can direct their teams and customers to their messaging solutions right there in Facebook.

From Slack’s perspective, they might do well to change the frame. Reacting to the big boys is tough though. If they keep their brand sense and elevate loyal companies and users (elitism) they could retain their footing.

Entering a market

Companies hoping to enter new markets should absolutely account for the context of competitors.

Almost any product by definition enters an existing market (there are very few untapped markets…and there is a good reason to enter existing markets, the primary reason being there are customers there already).

Consider Amazon’s latest market entrance: music. With Amazon Music Unlimited, they offer pretty much the same thing as Apple or Spotify but tout that a customer will save $40 over Apple or Spotify annually. Because the product is the same, they can directly appeal Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession and compete on price. Since most music apps and services all provide a similar experience (it is about the collection of and listening to music), this appeal can work.

Alternatives to network effects: Not everyone is Amazon

Apple spent on Brand to make us “think different”, while UnderArmor showed how a small brand could elevate itself to compete with the big boys like Nike through creative emotional appeals to the underdog mentality. When someone wears Under Armor, they are part of a group (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) that represents the Davids in the David and Goliath story. Steph Curry is a perfect fit for their brand, squaring off against the the Goliath of Lebron James.

Carving a place amongst the competition

Between direct and indirect competitors and alternative solutions for a given customer need, it is extremely difficult to create a niche or maintain a power position as an incumbent, but with carefully designed product gamification and design, it is possible and often necessary to borrow and steal customers from your competitors. They are doing it to you, too.

At The Octalysis Group, we have helped hundreds of companies design motivationally charged products and services to continually wow their customers. It requires patience and craftsmanship, but it works. Here are just a few case studies.

If you want us to help you design products and features to out-compete your competition, contact Joris Beerda:


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

What if your Startup Fails to Get and Keep Customers?

What if your Startup Fails to Get and Keep Customers?

The pain of failing to get and keep customers

Can you stomach the failure of your startup failing to get customers?

Without happy early customers, you can’t possibly dream of achieving the growth metrics needed to attract investors.

That’s why customer onboarding is crucial to a startup’s success. And creating an awesome onboarding experience isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things to do.

With Octalysis Gamification, you can bring laser focus to your user Onboarding and decrease your chance of falling flat on your face.

Unless you keep customers…

It doesn’t matter how great your product is if you can’t successfully get people using it consistently.

Everything is against you. You’re facing large incumbents and cutthroat competitors.

Not only that, you’re facing inaction and a reluctance to change their ways in customers who you have to convince to switch from the incumbents or the competition. You’re facing status quo sloth. From the word Go, your product needs to seem significantly better than competitors to convince people to go through the friction and unfamiliarity of switching products and routines.

Ultimately, you’re battling for attention.

Building customer routines

Once you’ve captivated someone’s attention (through a promising and captivating Discovery process), you can start to plant a seed that will evolve your user experience into a user’s mental routines. People need to start imagining how your startup’s product or service will change their life in the future. Paint customers a pleasant picture of their future selves interacting and benefitting from your product, complete with a feeling of success or happiness and lots of social proof.

The nuts and bolts:

There is a lot to consider in your Onboarding.

Onboarding is in between your Discovery and Scaffolding phases (see the 4 phases of a user journey). Various player types will arrive to interact with your product and you should account for the major ones. The CEO visitor is different from the Innovation Intrapraneur, who is again different from the Operations Executive.

One overriding thing to consider for all your users in this initial phase of their journey with you:  make them feel really smart and accomplished (Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment). Overload them with confirmation design that they have made the right choice and give them plenty of win states.

A taste of development and accomplishment for a quick and easy action gives a motivational boost into the next Desired Action. As Onboarding continues, you can ratchet up the difficulty as your users become familiar, allowing them to “unlock” normal functionality that you saved in the earliest moments of Onboarding. If you keep users in Czickszentmihalyi’s flow state, with just enough difficulty to avoid boredom and just enough forward progress to provide a sense of accomplishment, you’re on the right track.

As you consider how to do this, there are many tools and game techniques at your disposal:

During onboarding,  highlight existing customers testimonials (“social proof“) or “pro tips” from happy veteran customers. Think of providing links to your community pages where users are showing off how they use your product (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback). All of these will confirm to the user that they have made the right choice to visit your product. Many other people have done this too, so it must be good right?


Intentional Design

Once you have your Onboarding design done, you are ready to introduce users to their  Core Activity. This is where they come back again and again to interact with your product and do Desired Actions: liking, commenting, sharing, buying, commenting. Give them something to do on your pages, something they want to return to again and again. Careful use of motivational triggers, mechanics, or incentives/rewards will help you do this.

Then, you can use Octalysis to brainstorm new game techniques for your specific problem. Adjusting designs based on user behavior is the next step. We have helped hundreds of companies with this.

If you want us to help you design better Onboarding, contact Joris Beerda:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news.
Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Super Charge Your Product Offering with Behavioral Science

Super Charge Your Product Offering with Behavioral Science

How behavioral science can hone your offer

Whether you run an e-commerce business or a multi-million dollar software-as-a-service company, the way people are buying your products is constantly changing.

As people interact differently with technology and distribution fluctuates, you need to understand human behavior in the context of technology. With a working knowledge of your customers’ habits, you can design your offers accordingly.

While the buying action -a single click- seems quicker than ever, the buying decision is often drawn out in terms of interaction points and relationship building.

If you’re not fine tune your offer you are missing out on business and leads. Let’s see how behavioral science and Octalysis give us a mindset and tools to approach this problem.

Common problems with the offer

From the moment a potential customer reads your first blog post, to the moment they click ‘buy’ should be a carefully thought out sequence of interactions taking into account the buyer’s motivations.

First, let’s look at some mistakes to avoid.

Fake Scarcity

In a world of more and more abundance, scarcity still matters. In the Octalysis framework, scarcity is extrinsic and Black Hat, which means it can drive short-term behavior.

But scarcity shouldn’t be faked. People are smart and can be offended by shows of scarcity when this scarcity is merely manufactured.

Consider using Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience sparingly, especially in lengthy buying process where a relationship must be fostered first prior to making a sales pitch.

Sales funnels to match lead times

If you are selling a $2,000 or even a $10,000 product, you might not be able to sell it with one pitch.

Getting a decision maker’s attention is difficult, but once you’ve done that, you can proceed to develop a sequence of interactions that captures your intended buyer’s motivations. You can use a variety of external and internal motivators, triggers, and rewards, for example by making your target feel smart (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) or by helping them see how their competitors are already using it (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness).

Conversion optimization is just a tool

Conversion optimization is much more than an A/B test. If applied rigorously only get you to local maximums if you started with the wrong premises.

People remember how you make them feel.

The same goes for product offers. How someone feels in the moments leading to a buying decision stem from reactions and emotions related to your selling funnel.

If you make your customers feel great, you have the opportunity to bring them to a customer Endgame where they will buy from you for years to come.

What we’ve learned applying Octalysis

Ultimately, these visceral reactions and emotions arise from motivations and interactions with your company and /or product, whether through a sales page, sales person, or chatbot. You have the power to influence these motivations appropriately.

You must start with asking the question, what is it we are actually offering? Often, what are you offering goes well beyond a simple product or service to an experience.

The next question is who are you offering this product to? The operations executive and the innovation entrepreneur and the CEO probably will all react differently to the content and style of your interactions.There are different Player Types on the other end of a purchasing decision. Build a plan to address each.

You should use a different mix of Core Drive design to reach each of them.


The buying action is just one part of the overall core activity loop of an experience a customer has with your company.

Masters of the shopping cart

Amazon is a master of getting items into a shopper’s cart and through the entire checkout process while also developing customers in Endgame consumers.

Boosters like the Wishlist or Recommended Items inch a buyer closer to the buying decision without burdening them with big decisions. The shopper can say “Yes” a few times before they say Yes to the final purchasing decision. “It’s on my wishlist, so it must be good.”

We know from Octalysis that this behavior is described by Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession. Even though a virtual wishlist verges on the edge of imaginary (it is simply data on a server), people’s brains begin to associate ownership with the wishlist. Interestingly, there can grow a cognitive dissonance between the ownership on a wishlist and the lack of physical ownership, leading to a purchase decision.

This same connection is in part why brands are valuable. Understanding and being comfortable with a brand (a sense of ownership or allegiance to) allows the alignment later needed for purchase decisions. If I am aligned and in a relationship with a brand, I’m more likely to support it or buy from it, even if another brand (of which I’m not aware) offers a better product or service in the same industry or need).

Reducing friction and cart abandonment in the buying decision

At The Octalysis Group, our content marketing strategy is intended to assist the pre-sellers in gamification implementations to make the pitch internally to directors or presidents. That is why this article is being written.

In response to a request to implement or “look into” gamification, this article can be printed out and handed to a director or forwarded as is to a president.

How will you use behavior science to make changes to your offers?

Design better offer sequences

If you want us to help you design better offer sequences in your company as well, contact Joris Beerda:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Octalysis Gamification to Better Equip Sales People

Octalysis Gamification to Better Equip Sales People

Sales gamification octalysis

Better equipping salespeople

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

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

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

Design for more balance in sales teams

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

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


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


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


Scaling a sales organization

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

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


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

How exactly? Find out next week!


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

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

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Using Gamification to Build a Recurring Revenue Business

Using Gamification to Build a Recurring Revenue Business


Designing an Experience around the Decision to Buy

You have an amazing product. Congratulations. Now it’s time to sell it.

Since you know what you’re doing, you’ve managed to get people onto your site through SEO and other channels. These people are ready to buy.

But then…they don’t.

It’s the experience surrounding your product that counts, not just your product. One cannot go without the other. Sometimes the experience itself is even your product!
Octalysis designs user experiences that engage your potential buyers and makes the process of purchasing feel great and gets people coming back again for more. Because you have a good product, but more importantly because it ‘feels good’ to come back.

The core mechanic of your customer activity

You have a business, but you have a problem. Customers aren’t buying at the velocity or volume you hoped for. You haven’t engaged them in the buying process. You haven’t made it a no-brainer to click buy, to complete the cart and checkout.

Game designers consider and test the engagement question repetitively in the design process (even before a product or service goes to market).

Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman describe the Core Mechanics of a game as

the essential moment-to-moment activity of players.

Consider the players in your game. The players are your customers. Do you know what their moment-to-moment activity looks and feels like in the nano-seconds before buying (or leaving your site)?

If you don’t, why don’t you start with what you concretely have? Use your data.

Finding the leaky pipe

Once you’ve identified the leak in your design, you can take the steps to pinpointing what the problem is from a motivational standpoint.

Maybe customers are on your site, but bounce after two seconds because they were promised something that isn’t apparent on your actual site.

Maybe customers are on your site, but not clicking buy.

Maybe customers are clicking buy, but leaving their carts unfinished.

Usually, the customer is dropping because something about the experience is missing or not resonating. Usually, the experience design is either too extrinsic, black hat or too intrinsic, white hat.


Is your experience too intrinsic or too extrinsic?

If it is too extrinsic, black hat (e.g. focused on rewards and creating urgency) you may have create a lot of push for people to want to get that discount you offer, but then buyer remorse can set in and they back off. They do not feel in control and when users do not feel in control they will find a way to exit the experience.

If your design, however, is too white hat, intrinsic (e.g. focused on making people feel special and in control) they may not feel any urgency to buy whilst they are on your site. So they feel good about your product, but after a short while they will start to think about things they really should be doing rather than spending time on your site (like doing  their taxes).

The moment-to-moment experience

Dissecting the minutiae of moment-to-moment experience is absolutely critical. When you press ‘Buy now’ on Amazon, you can bet there are 1,000 engineers on the other side of that click.

Why wouldn’t you spend as much effort and attention to ensure each decision your customers’ make is equally persuaded?

Choosing not to go to this level of detail is a losing proposition in a world which is increasingly pushing and pulling on nuances of human motivations is a decision to lose versus that competition.

The Octalysis Group often uses its Strategy Dashboard to investigate the Core Activity Loop. This usually illuminates the problem quite quickly. Identifying solutions is the next step.

There may be four or five steps you want to carry your potential customer through. Each of these decision points may involve multiple actions or reactions in the customer’s mind. Each of these actions or reactions can be tailored motivationally through Octalysis, and it is a mistake to brush these details aside.

Remember, most experiences that perform well seek a balance or harmony between the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis, between extrinsic and intrinsic and Black Hat and White Hat.

Doing the hard work, the risky work

While you make these observations about your customers’ behavior, your business will continue to struggle or flatline. You probably want to implement changes, but you might be fearful of making the problem worse. This is a risk.

At The Octalysis Group, we have experience in delicately diagnosing and recommending design changes to businesses that wish to maintain their business and look for ways to improve revenues.

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

Joris Beerda, Managing Director The Octalysis Group

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


Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

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:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Octalysis taking lead in the Academic world!

Octalysis taking lead in the Academic world!

Gamification; Westerdals; Octalysis; spillifisering

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

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

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

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

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

Octalysis; gamification; Norway; spillifisering;

Norwegian Octalysis

What did we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want help making your product, experience or workplace engaging?

Contact me:

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Octalysis Gamification and the Hypocrite Brain

Hypocrite apples

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

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

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

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


Successful Irrational Beings by design?

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

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

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

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


The Brain’s priorities

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

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

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

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


The Elemental Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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


Designing to catch the elements

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

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

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

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

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

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



Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

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.

2016-04-09 17.01.26-811 2016-04-09 17.01.16-935 2016-04-09 17.01.18-991 2016-04-09 17.01.21-1071 2016-04-09 17.01.24-1182

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.

2016-04-09 17.05.31-1308  2016-04-09 17.05.37-1408

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!

2016-04-09 17.06.02-2040  2016-04-09 17.06.12-2090

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:

2016-04-09 17.06.21-2297  2016-04-09 17.06.37-2373  2016-04-09 17.06.41-2481

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.

2016-04-09 17.14.56-4001

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.

2016-04-10 17.10.01-6209  2016-04-10 17.10.24-6440

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.

2016-04-10 17.15.57-7037

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:



Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news

Busuu language learning through the Octalysis Lens

Iza Kozlowska

“Don’t just learn languages, fall in love with them!”

This is Busuu’s rallying cry. The social network for language learning now has almost 60 million users worldwide and its rise fits in the fast growing-trend of E-learning and M-learning (mobile learning). Seems that we love to improve our communication skills for work, for travel or for our friends abroad. I used the Busuu app for one week, to find out how it brings motivation through the 8 Core Drives.

Let’s find out whether I manage to fall in love with Busuu, shall we?

Busuu’s 4 Experiences Phases

In The Octalysis Group we like to divide a user experience 4 distinct Experience Phases: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame. The objectives, motivation, and feelings a user has while using a product on day one is very different from their experience on day one hundred. I will analyze the Busuu experience through these Experience Phases.

Discovery Phase – Why would the user use my service to begin with?

The Discovery Phase of a player’s journey starts when the player first gets to know and learns about your product or service. In this phase the user will decide if s/he wants to even try out the app. I learned about the app via a friend who told me that I could use Busuu to improve my language skills. The first contact with the app for me is through my mobile as Busuu can be downloaded from the App Store.

In the app description I can see that 60 million international native speakers are using the app, that is a strong Social Proof (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness)!

There is also a very catchy introduction: “Don’t just learn languages, fall in love with them!”. O.K.! I am starting to feel excited! And look, reviews by users are mostly positive, adding even more Social Proof. “Hey, other people similar to me love this app. Maybe I should love it too!”



After installing the app I get a welcoming page with a “Get started” button. Thanks to the uncluttered design, it is immediately clear what the Desired Action is. Let’s get started!

Before asking the user to sign up, we should try to generate a push for people to even want to do this. One way to introduce the app is through graphics slides showing the value proposition of your product, perhaps 3-4 images with 1-2 sentences each or a 1-minute video. Keep in mind these videos should not be on “how” to use the product, but “why” they should use the product. Another option is to let users already make some progress without signing up, and when they reach a Win-State – boom! – “Please sign up”.

OK, now I can choose the language I want to learn. There’s quite an abundance of languages to choose from. After choosing a language (I went with Polish), I am being asked to sign up.



The sign-in is not badly done, but you want this to be very intuitive. By limiting the number of log in options to only Facebook and E-mail, the app could provide cognitive ease for the user, resulting in more sign-ups.

Recommendation – Discovery Phase

  • In the beginning of the user’s journey, use more Social Proof to communicate and relate to the user, encouraging them to venture forth.
  • Let the user try out the product before sign-in
  • Consider giving a small reward after sign-in. It could even be as simple as a message saying, “Welcome onboard! You are the 7,000th user from Poland. And the 30 millionth person who wants to learn English!”

The Discovery Phase ends when your client starts to use your product. Once the user tries out your product or service, the Onboarding Phase has started.

Onboarding Phase – How do users learn the basic tools to play the game?

During the onboarding phase, the users become familiar with the rules of the game, the options, the mechanics, and the win-states. In the Busuu app I am starting with a screen with multiple options. I’m not sure what I should do next. That can lead to reducing Core Drive 2: Developmet and Accomplishment and as a result, increase Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance of Loss. Users like to feel smart and once they feel frustrated and incapable, Core Drive 8 turns it into an Anti Core Drive, making it more likely for them to drop out.

The yellow button “Get fluent faster” caught my eye. After clicking on it I can see the benefits of buying a premium version of the app but I didn’t even try out the app yet! Why would I want to upgrade the app before knowing what I have now? This feature should only appear after reaching a major win-state. At that time, I will have build up enough CD4: Ownership and Possession to value the experience enough to possibly want more of it. Mainly this will happen after the user has used the app for a while though.



I was slightly puzzled by what I have to do in this app. Should I take my first lesson? Update my profile? Never make the user feel confused about what to do next. The Onboarding Phase especially needs to make me feel smart and accomplished and shouldn’t leave me thinking twice what to do next.

In this Phase you can lead the user through all the first Desired Actions. This is best accomplished through an interactive step-by-step tutorial where you get the user to commit to the Desired Actions you designed, and rewarding them with small High-Fives (Octalysis Game Technique #17) once they accomplish it. This technique will help users to get to know the app better and to use it as much as possible. For example, I was a little lost, both on the first screen of the app, and during the first task “Lesson 1”. We know from the experience that if users spend more than 4 seconds on a screen and does not know what to do, you have lost them.

I also went to “My Profile”. I’ve tried to click on the Avatar to change my icon, but nothing happened. I assume that I can change it in the settings option. But it would be much easier for me if I can just click on this icon and set my profile picture. Having the profile picture or avatar is important because it increases Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession.



As you can see, I have “0 Votes Cast” and “0 Upvotes”. Right now, I don’t even know what they are. It’s never good to show users that they have ZERO of something. Consider showing “Votes Cast” and “Upvotes”, only after the user will get the first “points” or have a message that triggers them to take action: “you can go to X and gain Votes!”. Again it is always better to be clear about the Desired Actions.

Recommendation – Onboarding Phase

  • During the learning phase of the app, it’s important that the user doesn’t feel lost or confused. Consider using the Step-By-Step Overlay Tutorials (Game Technique #6). A Step-By-Step Overlay Tutorial slowly guides the user where to go (using Glowing Choices, Game Technique #28).
  • The system needs to reward a user when a Desired Action is taken. For example, if it’s important to upload a photo, the system should make that really obvious and easy to do reward the user immediately afterwards.
  • Avoid blank pages and empty stats. Every time the user has an empty page or stats the system should inform him what to do to make a change. Otherwise the user feels unmotivated.

The onboarding phase ends when your users are fully equipped and they are ready to take on the journey on their own.

Scaffolding Phase – How to make the journey fun?

During the third phase of the experience, users are familiar with all the rules and options they learned during onboarding to try to achieve as many Win-States as possible. Ideally this is where they come back on a regular basis to commit to Desired Actions.

Let’s start the first lesson! I want to learn Polish. First lesson pages look really good. They are clear, and include small introductions of what I will experience in a minute.

The first task is to hear some new phrases. The full colours, smiling faces, friends all look very pleasing to the eye. Also I can press play to hear the phrase repetitively.



I took a small test after the first lesson, finally got my first win-state! The colour green is giving me a thrill, especially as it is accompanied by a cool win sound. This is Core Drive 2, Game Technique #17 (High Five) an emotional reward that is given after overcoming a small quick challenge. All good!

I answered the second question wrong and a red feedback UI appeared. The message is clear – red colour means wrong. But, I’m not getting any feedback on what the correct answer is, and I can’t correct my mistake… leaving me with an unpleasant feeling. The user should always feel motivated and empowered to be able to get it right soon.



UI Note: Remember that in previous pages Busuu presented a wrong answer to users with the colour red. Now “try again” is also red, which suggests that it’s a bad choice. This is slightly confusing.

Busuu has one more interesting option for the user. Writing is something that e-learning for language skills always has a problem with, but Busuu deals with that problem smoothly!

The idea is that you can write a short response for a question dedicated to the theme of the lesson. The system counts the words, and encourages the user to write more. After sending my text I got this message “Exercise sent to the community for correction, give back by correcting one yourself!”. It’s Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness and Game technique #63, Social Treasures: incentives that can only be received if other users give to you. It is also Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, because the user doesn’t know yet, what feedback will be received. Also it’s great Core Drive 5, when the user depends on other players. It’s a cool idea to share my work with others, and to be corrected by the community.


Recommendation – Scaffolding Phase

  • This is the moment when real action should take place. Also this is the moment when the first major win-state should happen. Try to give users something to be proud of! Show them feedback on their progress, accomplishment, and how much left is needed.
  • After the user reaches the major win-state, the system can give him more Desired Actions such as: Go get Premium Membership, Invite your friends. The First Major Win-State is when a User first says, “Wow! This service/experience is awesome!”
  • Busuu could consider making the platform even more social. Let the users see who else from their Facebook or Google+ friends are also on Busuu and ask them to invite their friends on the platform (game technique #54 Recruiter Burden).
  • I would also look for some statistics to increase Core Drive 2. It would be good if the user could see their weekly or monthly progress in the profile section.
  • Consider leaderboards – with friends, but also between countries.

The Scaffolding phase ends when your users believe they have gone through the activity loop for long period of time. They are now a veteran user ready for the end game.

The Endgame – How to keep the veterans motivated?

The Endgame starts when players believe that they have done everything there is to do at least once and they start to feel like there are no longer any unexplored Win-States.

In Busuu, a free trial allows access to almost all of their functions. However, after using the app for a couple of days I am limited to only 3 exercises a day. This is Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience, Torture Break Game Technique: a sudden pause to the Desired Actions for a limited time. If I don’t opt for premium I will only have three free exercises a day! In this screen the graphics look little bit sloppy. They cover the text and it is hard to read what is underneath. So I was left with the choice: wait until tomorrow or get unlimited access.


Recommendation – Endgame Phase

  • What about gathering friends from all around the world and enable live chat? They could give each other feedback in real time! You can find a similar idea in the Tandem app. (
  • Think of rewarding users that are using the app daily.
  • Add more Core Drive 5, Social Influence & Relatedness. How about Mentorship, game technique #61? Veteran users could help a newbie with tasks.
  • Also the Rockstar Effect GT#92 (Core Drive 2), could make the users feel powerful at the Endgame Phase. Make people feel like they have “earned” their way to become a Rockstar.
  • Think about spicing up the application with more Core Drive 6, Core Drive 7 and Core Drive 8. A little bit of the Black Hat Core Drives can make users be more motivated. You can use game techniques: Evolved UI #37, Random Rewards (Mystery Box) #72, Easter Eggs (Sudden Rewards) #30, Evanescent Opportunities #86, FOMO Punch #84, The Sunk Cost Prison #50. But you need to keep in mind that in the long run Black Hat techniques can make users feel like they’ve lost control of their own behaviours. A good balance between Black Hat and White Hat is very important.

My Busuu experience was an exciting journey through all of the Experience Phases! Overall Busuu has a decent motivational push, but it needs to be improved in a couple of areas. It would be great if Busuu could show a good Step-by-Step Overall Tutorial, to prevent the user from feeling lost. What Busuu needs to do more is to make sure that the user feels powerful, accomplished, and smart. I want more win-states in the app! Also the platform could be more social and interactive between users.

All in all, I didn’t fall in love with Busuu, but let me say that this could be the start of a good friendship!

If you would like to know more about how we can help you achieve better engagement in your company or on your site or app, please contact us:


This blog has been verified by Rise: R08785af0d0bfc93c6370e0a06d74e2bf

Like and follow to keep up to date with Gamification techniques and news