What is Gamification? And what is not.

The truth about what is gamification.

Gamification is a rapidly growing business. When Yu-kai Chou and I founded The Octalysis Group, there was only little interest in gamification. Some people even thought it was an excuse for us to play more games (and we did).

Nowadays, no such confusion exists. Gamification is rapidly becoming mainstream in business. We work with Fortune 500 companies, like eBay, Microsoft and Volkswagen. The sector is growing at 35% a year.

The problem is: most people have misconceptions about what gamification is. And what it is not. So let’s find out the truth about what gamification is!


Octalysis Gamification Badge design

What it is NOT

Adding game mechanics to an experience

Often we see Gamification design that is nothing more than adding elements that can be found in games to an experience. We have all seen these: Points, Badges, Leaderboards etc.

Nothing wrong with using game elements of course. As long as you realise that just adding these elements will NOT make an experience instantly fun and engaging. Yet many self-professed Gamification experts (and especially the plug-and-play Gamification platform providers) want you to believe this.

They basically are saying that you could design a game and only at the end of the game design, you would  think about how you can make the experience fun and engaging with game elements. We know that doesn’t work: the engagement is embedded in the experience itself. Not in the elements as such.

ALL games have game elements, yet most games are not successful. So just adding game elements is not what successful gamification is all about.


Making an experience into a game

Another often heard misconception is that gamification is about “making something into a game”. It sounds intuitive, but this is not what gamification is.

As we saw before, there are many games that nobody plays, so just making something into a game is no formula for success at all. You have to discover why certain games are successful and why others are not.

Moreover, a game has only two objectives: creating fun for users and creating money for the game owners. Obviously, Gamification intends to do something really different. It is trying to gather the motivational power of (what we call) gameful design and apply it to real life, boring issues. Gamification needs a thorough business processes approach so that the design impacts key indicators for companies.

Companies are interested in fun, but what they need is High Return on Investment (RoI). Gamification should aim to provide both.


So what is good Gamification then?

OK, so now that we know what gamification is NOT, let’s talk about what gamification IS. Here are some key aspects.


It’s about humans, stupid!

Yes, duh. Isn’t that obvious? Well, most of the designs out there still pretend that we are robots. That we somehow want to interact with functionality just because it is there. That humans will make the experience fun regardless of whether its designed for the ‘human’ inside of us.

Obviously, we need to instead focus on what moves us. And what moves us is often not logical, yes even irrational. Predictably irrational as Dan Ariely would say. Find out how you want your users to feel. And then look for design features that will empower that feeling. So human motivation first, game elements and functionality later. That is what good Gamification is all about.


Not just one design

What do you mean? How many designs are there in a Gamification design project?


The answer? 4


No, this is not the answer to some kind of galactic riddle.

The number 4 equates to the Four Phases of the User Experience. The phases are: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and End Game.

The phases run from the Discovery Phase (where the user decides whether they want to engage with the experience in the first place) up to the End Game (where design is optimised for veteran users). The design is constantly changing, adapting to the skills level, motivation and knowledge during the user’s journey from being a beginner to a veteran.

Gamification platforms are unable to cater to the 4 Phases as they mainly rely on extrinsic reward design: rewarding users with status, collection sets or actual money or goods. For long term motivation we also need to design for autonomous choices, strategy, creativity, meaning full social interaction and (non-linear) unpredictability.


Gamification is a business design process

Most Gamification designers do not have a thorough Gamification design process that connects the client’s objectives for the gamified experience with the engagement design. Therefore, the experience will lack in ROI for the client.

The Octalysis Group has a robust and tried and tested 5 Step Implementation Process, that we have implemented with many dozens of companies worldwide. For young and older target groups and across a wide range of industries.


Some of the long term (2-3 years) annual ROIs we achieved:


  • Sales up 712%

  • Daily Active Users 94%

  • KPIs up 60%

  • Social Interaction up 300%



Get the same results now!

Are you curious how real Gamification looks like? Interested to see how The Octalysis Group embeds the power of Behavioral Science in its client work?

Want to know what the world renowned Octalysis 5 Step Octalysis Implementation Process is? And how we can help you achieve similar ROIs?


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