Successful Gamification Techniques: The Octalysis Framework

Discover here how the key to a successful gamification strategy. The Octalysis framework helps you understand what motivators to trigger.

Successful Gamification Techniques: The Octalysis Framework

Why do most gamification techniques seem not to work?

You’ve given users some badges and a way to collect them and still engagement is low. What to do next?

Among the most successful gamification techniques there’s the Octalysis Framework: the result of over 18 years of research and exhaustive study. It represents a powerful gamification theory and a very practical tool to delve into the depths of human motivation.

At its core, gamification is a revolutionary design philosophy that revolves around human motivation, extracting elements from the realm of games and integrating them into real-world scenarios. Octalysis doesn't merely prioritize functionality; rather, it champions 'Human-Focused Design,' ensuring optimal engagement and motivation within any given system.

I’ve personally used this framework multiple times with great results. Every time the framework pushes you to think that successful gamification is more than just leaderboards and badges. It should rather start with a deep understanding of what triggers us to use or not use an app or website.

Let’s have a look at what it is and how to use it.

The Octalysis gamification theory

The Octalysis framework, depicted as an octagon, embodies 8 Core Drives—Epic Meaning & Calling, Development & Accomplishment, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Ownership & Possession, Social Influence & Relatedness, Scarcity & Impatience, Unpredictability & Curiosity, and Loss & Avoidance.

By comprehending and implementing these Core Drives, designers can fashion captivating experiences that resonate with intrinsic motivators, fostering enriching user engagements.

The Essence of Gamification

Gamification transcends conventional design paradigms by placing paramount importance on human motivation. It's the epitome of 'Human-Focused Design,' channeling the captivating elements found in games into the realm of practical, productive activities.

This crafting process, which I term 'Human-Focused Design,' diverges from the conventional 'Function-Focused Design.' Rather than merely optimizing efficiency, it orchestrates systems to optimize human motivation, fostering an environment conducive to engagement and fulfillment.

Challenges in Function-Focused Design

The prevalent 'function-focused' systems operate under the assumption that completion is the sole prerogative. This is a bit like a boss expecting its workers to perform good work only out of obligation.

On the other side, 'Human-Focused Design' recognizes the intricacies within systems—acknowledging the emotions, insecurities, and individual motivations that influence actions.

It seeks to optimize these factors, ensuring a harmonious synergy between motivations, emotions, and engagement.

Understanding the Human Drive in Gamification

Gamification seeks to apply game dynamics and theory to a diverse range of products. From SaaS to websites. From B2C tool to B2B.

Games are crafted for one primary purpose: to delight the individual engaging with them. While games often come with defined 'objectives,' such as slaying a dragon or rescuing a princess (or even saving a dragon at times), these are mere excuses to ensure the player remains joyfully immersed.

Having spent decades, even centuries, honing the craft of motivation and engagement, games are great teachers. 

Working with apps and websites for more than 8 years, I’ve had the opportunity to apply and test different methodologies.

One of the most successful is by far the Octaylsis framework that I’m presenting in this article.

Whereas the majority of team only think of gamification as leaderboards and badges, the framework shows that there’s way more to consider to implement a successful gamification strategy.

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification Unveiled

Epic Meaning & Calling

Epic Meaning & Calling encapsulates a player's belief in participating in something greater than oneself or feeling 'chosen' for a significant task. It manifests when a player dedicates substantial time to community endeavors or experiences 'Beginner's Luck'—a belief in possessing a unique skill or acquiring an extraordinary item early in the game.


Development & Accomplishment

Development & Accomplishment fuels the internal drive for progress, skill enhancement, and triumphing over challenges. Challenges hold immense importance here; a badge or trophy lacks meaning without a corresponding challenge. It coincides with the zone where most points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs) predominantly focus.


Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback engages users in a creative process, compelling them to experiment and explore various combinations. Individuals not only seek avenues for expressing creativity but crave acknowledgment and responses to their creative outputs. It's why activities like playing with Legos or painting hold intrinsic enjoyment, often becoming Evergreen Mechanics, eliminating the necessity for continual content addition to sustain engagement.

Ownership & Possession

The impetus here lies in users feeling a sense of ownership, spurring them to enhance what they possess and aspire to acquire more. This Core Drive, a primary motivator for accumulating wealth, extends to virtual goods or currencies within systems. When users invest time in personalizing their profiles or avatars, it inherently amplifies their sense of ownership. Moreover, it's the driving force behind the pleasure in collecting items like stamps or puzzle pieces.

Social Influence & Relatedness

This drive encompasses the array of social elements motivating individuals, including mentorship, acceptance, social feedback, companionship, and the dichotomy of competition and envy. Witnessing a friend's exceptional skill or possession drives the desire to attain a similar status. Furthermore, it involves the inclination to connect with people, places, or events evoking a sense of familiarity. Nostalgia triggered by a product reminiscent of one's childhood significantly increases the likelihood of purchase. As an extensively studied Core Drive, many modern companies prioritize optimizing their online social strategies based on these principles.

Scarcity & Impatience

The allure here arises from the unavailability of something, spurring a persistent yearning. Games often employ Appointment Dynamics, compelling individuals to await rewards, heightening their anticipation throughout the day. Facebook's initial exclusivity strategy—originally restricted to prestigious universities before expanding—exemplifies the leveraging of this Core Drive. The restriction's lift attracted many who previously lacked access, enticed by the prior unattainability.

Unpredictability & Curiosity

This innocuous drive propels the desire to uncover what comes next. The unknown engages the brain, fueling regular contemplation. We are attracted by movies or novels driven by this curiosity. However, it underpins gambling addiction and is harnessed by companies in sweepstakes or lottery programs to captivate users. Misunderstood at times, the controversial Skinner Box experiments emphasize this Core Drive, frequently mistaken for fueling points, badges, and leaderboard mechanics.

Loss & Avoidance

This Core Drive thrives on averting negative outcomes. On a smaller scale, it manifests in avoiding the loss of prior work. On a grander scale, it prevents admitting the futility of previous efforts upon quitting. Opportunities fading away heavily leverage this Drive, compelling immediate action to avert a perceived permanent loss.

Gamification techniques: Right Brain and Left Brain Core Drives

Octalysis Framework categorizes Core Drives into Right Brain and Left Brain Core Drives, symbolically representing creativity and logic, respectively. Right Brain Core Drives focus on intrinsic motivation, involving activities like creativity and social interaction, rewarding in themselves. In contrast, Left Brain Core Drives rely on extrinsic motivation, driving individuals to pursue goals or rewards.

While many companies traditionally design for extrinsic motivators, studies reveal that reliance on such methods can lead to decreased user motivation once the extrinsic reward is removed. Therefore, it's crucial for companies to prioritize designing experiences that engage Right Brain Core Drives, ensuring sustained user engagement by making activities inherently enjoyable and rewarding.

White hat vs black hat gamification strategies

The motivators of the Octalysis Framework can also be divided into positive motivators (top ones) and negative motivators (bottom ones).

Techniques employing top Core Drives can be termed "White Hat Gamification," emphasizing creativity, skill mastery, and meaning, resulting in users feeling empowered and satisfied.

Conversely, relying on bottom Core Drives like unpredictability, fear of loss, or unattainability might generate high motivation but often leaves users feeling dissatisfied or controlled. Zynga games, for instance, excel at employing such "Black Hat Game Techniques," boosting revenue but failing to provide users with a sense of control, akin to gambling addiction.

It's important to note that being labeled as Black Hat doesn't inherently imply negativity. Some apps willingly engage in Black Hat Gamification to foster healthy habits like exercise or dieting.

A proficient Gamification expert considers all 8 Core Drives to facilitate positive and productive engagement, ensuring users' happiness and well-being.

The gamification framework in practice

Successful companies ideally utilize a blend of various motivational levers within their frameworks. For instance, diverse companies like LinkedIn and Candy Crush exemplify this multifaceted approach, albeit employing distinct techniques. Candy Crush thrives on levers such as accomplishment, empowerment, unpredictability, and scarcity, fostering engagement through challenges, creative empowerment, anticipation, and limited rewards.

Conversely, LinkedIn strategically capitalizes on accomplishment, ownership, and avoidance, encouraging users' pursuit of professional milestones, fostering a sense of possession over their profiles, and evoking the fear of missing out on career opportunities. By adeptly intertwining these motivational drivers tailored to their respective contexts, these companies effectively capture and sustain user engagement.

Level 2 and level 3 of Octalysis gamification technique

Your product experience is not a one-time thing. Similarly, a good gamification experience should take into account every possible stage of interaction. To up your game and improve your product, think of how to apply gamification in the following phases:

  • Discovery: This phase revolves around understanding what draws individuals to initiate the journey, delving into the motivations triggering their interest.
  • Onboarding: Here, the emphasis lies in effectively imparting the rules and tools necessary for users to engage and play the game competently.
  • Scaffolding: Central to this phase is the regular journey involving repeated actions aimed at achieving specific goals, fostering progression and growth.
  • Endgame: This stage concentrates on retaining experienced veterans, ensuring their continued engagement and enthusiasm.

Once you think you’re done with this, there’s another level to consider.

Not every player’s type is similar. So if you want to dive deeper in the framework and ensure successful gamification, you can start thinking of what motivators to offer to what kind of player at each stage of their journey.

I agree with you, it’s mind-blowing 🤯

Successful gamification techniques: wrapping it up

As you’ve hopefully understood by now, successfully applying a gamification theory goes much deeper than just adding leaderboards and badges.

Gamification is a powerful inner motivator that touches psychology and that you can use to increase engagement and conversion for your app, website or platform.

The Octalysis framework helps you to consider gamification from all its perspectives.

Once you’ll do it you’ll discover that there’s a lot to gain in understanding the specific motivations of users to use your specific product. You can gain higher engagement and conversion by organizing their experience and giving them more of what they want.

If you’re curious to learn how I’ve applied gamification with some past clients you can check our work page.

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