The Octalysis Framework – The Power of Behavioral Science behind Gamification

The Octalysis Framework – The Power of Behavioral Science behind Gamification


You probably know that gamification has something to do with games and learning from successful games. But did you know about the connection between successful games and behavioral science: the science that researches human biases and irrationality (some call it predictable irrationality). This is where Octalysis comes in and sets itself apart from the standard Gamification.

The Octalysis Framework has pioneered the connection between Behavioral Science and Games through the Octalysis Core Drives. Most games are not successful and it is therefore not enough to make something gamey or just add game elements to an experience. That is not what successful Gamification is all about. The key is to leverage the power of behavioral science  design in the Gamified experience. Octalysis offers that opportunity.


Find out below how our framework creates the basis for design that supercharges user engagement.

The 8 Octalysis Core Drives

At the core of Octalysis are the “8 Core Drives of Human Motivation”, which are neatly arranged into an octagon structure. Later, we’ll discuss with you the rhyme and reason for the octagon’s organization. But, in this section, let’s dive into the drives.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

From spirituality and religion to existential crises about the meaning of life, humans have always tried to define a purpose for themselves. This quest is deeply ingrained in everything we do. We all want to feel relevant, special, or even “chosen” by some higher power for some higher purpose. As such, Epic Meaning & Calling is Core Drive 1.

The easiest way to apply this core drive to gamification is by creating a story or narrative arc with a clearly-defined end goal. That way, you maximize user engagement by immersing them in a world where you infuse meaning into their actions.

There are also other ways to create Meaning, for example by emphasizing how their current journey sets them apart from others in a meaningful way. We call this “elitism” and look to the rivalry between iPhone and Android users for examples.


Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

Similar to Epic Meaning & Calling, Development & Accomplishment enables us to feel proud of ourselves. One could say that, without developing skills, overcoming challenges, and making clear progress, almost any given task is bound to feel directionless.

If you’re a beginner piano player who never progressed to the next level, you’d probably never want to see a piano again. The task would seem pointless, if not to frustrate. In gamification contexts, that’s where points, badges, and leaderboards come in – they serve as tangible, but short term, measures of development and accomplishment.


Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Speaking of tangible measures, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is necessary to feeling agency in life. Overcoming challenges (Core Drive 2) requires creativity, and since creativity often involves new ideas and strategies that have yet to be judged on their merit, feedback is essential here.

If your gamification design doesn’t enable opportunities for creativity or strategy, then how could a user feel accomplished (Core Drive 2)? And even if their creativity was fruitful, how would they gauge that? User engagement is a two-way street. Users won’t be fully immersed nor motivated if they’re using your product with blindfolds on.


Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession

Behavioral science indicates that humans see objects as mere extensions of themselves. Enter the concept and core drive of Ownership & Possession. Ownership gives you a sense of control, which is why almost everyone is loath to be treated like an object or “possessed”.
Put otherwise, everyone shares the same core drive of wanting to feel ownership, since you can control those possessions. When we “own” something, we naturally want to protect, improve, or increase that thing. And when we succeed in doing so, it gives us a sense of accomplishment (Core Drive 2).

The best part is that, with Ownership & Possession, you often get immediate feedback on your efforts (Core Drive 3). Gamification techniques like virtual collection sets are a great way to foster these feelings of accomplishment and accountability.


Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

This almost goes without saying. Excess solitary confinement is considered torture for one reason – we’re naturally social animals.

How can you foster user engagement without anyone to engage with?

How would we define meaning in our lives without anyone or anything relative to us (Core Drive 1)?

What sense of accomplishment (Core Drive 2) could we truly feel without a frame of reference? Without comparison, competition, progressing, coveting?

Would we even know if we’re good, bad, skilled, or incompetent without a person or system to relay feedback (Core Drive 3)?

Social influence and relatedness is one of the most highly-studied facets of behavioral science. The phrase “monkey see, monkey do” comes to mind here. Or monkey see, monkey “don’t do” (for fear of being shamed or ostracized by the larger community).

And the best part is, with technology, it’s never been easier to incorporate this core drive into your gamification approach. Leaderboards, or cooptition boards, as well as community forums (even though most of these are still designed badly).


Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience

Scarcity & Impatience also nicely follows from social influence and relatedness.

What could be scarce if you don’t have to share?

What would make you impatient when no one’s holding you back from getting there first?

Sometimes, the motivation to have something only exists because everyone else does; and you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out (see also Core Drive 8). Let’s say your favorite popstar is doing a concert in your town. You’ll be highly motivated to get tickets first, given the ratio of tickets to fans (scarcity).

Now, let’s say the ticket store was closed and you had to wait another day to buy your ticket. The concert would probably consume your mind all day long. Anything that consumes our thoughts is naturally motivating – so impatience is invaluable here.

There are many ways to foster these feelings using gamification. For example, you could create a rewards system, where the users exceed the finite amount of rewards. Or you could have a user wait for a while before receiving their reward. Mental preoccupation due to impatience consuming the mind is a powerful motivator!


Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

In Core Drive 4 – Ownership and Possession, we mentioned how we’re naturally motivated to feel in control. Only then can we improve or increase what we have. That said, unpredictability and curiosity naturally breed obsession. You can’t control the unknown. And yet, if curiosity killed the cat, it’s probably because the cat never got to satisfy it.

Have you ever watched the season finale of your favorite TV series? You get all twisted and contorted inside, because you’re just dying to know what happens to your hero in the next season. That feeling, however unpleasant, keeps you hanging on. You remain motivated to watch season 2 as soon as it comes out, no matter how long it takes.

Ultimately, this core drive is all about wanting to know what will happen next. Just as the brain detects motion better than static objects – for self-preservation purposes – we’re wired to overanalyze the unknown.

However, it’s during these analysis periods that you maximize user engagement. For example, if you’re implementing gamification for a short eLearning course, you could have all new learners enter their name into a sweepstake for some unknown prize.
In order for them to find out who wins, everyone must first complete the course. The name will be selected at random, meaning it is unpredictable and that everyone has a chance. This will naturally keep learners hooked.

But even if they’re pessimistic about winning, you can still leverage curiosity about what the prize is to keep them motivated till the end. Please note that leveraging this core drive works best if the activity demanded is not a daily activity that needs to be undertaken for long periods of time.


Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would feel motivated by loss. But the operative word here is “avoidance” – that is, avoiding loss. According to behavioral science people are disproportionately motivated by avoiding losses (see Prospekt Theory). Funnily enough, you don’t have to wrack your brain to see how fear is at play in all 8 of these core drives.

We fear losing or missing:

Meaning in our lives (Core Drive 1)
Our skills/accomplishments (Core Drive 2)
Our property (Core Drive 4)
Our loved ones (Core Drive 5)
The opportunity to get what everyone else has (Core Drive 5)
Out on what will happen/comes next (Core Drive 7).

So how do you instill fear in your gamification design without putting people off too much? You don’t have to write some gory horror story into your platform (but also… you could). It can be as simple as informing learners that they will miss out on progress that all other learners get if they don’t hit some minimum quiz score threshold. Especially top performers who have the most to lose, they’ll have “top” user engagement.

White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification

Now that we’ve covered all 8 core drives, did you notice anything? The first core drive is Epic Meaning & Calling while the last is Loss & Avoidance. It’s almost like the core drives become somber or “darker” as you progress from 1-8. That’s because, as part of our clever octagon organization, the top half are white hat gamification techniques, while the bottom 4 are black hat techniques.

The table below nicely summarizes the differences at a glance.

The top of the Octalysis octagon (or left on the table) clearly seems more positive overall. Whereas the bottom of the octagon seems less pleasant. Yet, it’s important to note that both white and black hat gamification are equally usable and serve different purposes. One makes us feel good while the other creates urgency to act.

Just make sure you don’t go overboard with Black Hat design, as users do not feel in control if you do and may drop out if they get the chance.

Left Brain vs Right Brain

If you visualize the Octalysis octagon as a brain, it can be split vertically into two hemispheres, the left and right brain. Keep in mind that this is just a metaphor. In reality there is no left brain or right brain. So, with that said, this left-right brained way of organizing the octagon is simply for visualization purposes.


As you can see, the left brain deals with extrinsic motivators. That is, people are motivated to do the activity as they expect a reward for their behavior. It’s a high-powered yet short-term way to spur users to action. Once the reward is achieved, motivation can easily dwindle until the next shiny reward is dangling.

Furthermore, the right brain techniques foster intrinsic motivation. The very act of performing the task is the reward. You don’t have to pay me to socialize with friends; go to the casino or learn a creative skill.


Get in touch. We are happy to help.

This introduction to The Octalysis Framework should give you a solid idea of what it’s all about, and how we’ve woven behavioral science throughout the framework.

But showing you what it is, isn’t the same as showing you how to get started! So are you motivated to get going? Feel free to contact us and we’ll get you up on your feet.

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