Three Start-up insights from Octalysis Gamification

When I started up my first company I was, like many other entrepreneurs, constantly bombarded with tips, tricks and “how to’s” on making it in Startup World. Here are three lessons from Octalysis Gamification that helped push my business forward!

Top 5 Lessons to Follow when Designing Octalysis Gamification

There we were. Speechless, and a bit ashamed at the same time. Did we really have to redesign the full Octalysis design set up we did for this client? How was this even possible? So much work, for naught…what a disaster!

We had spent weeks making sure we knew exactly what business metrics our client wanted to improve. We had analyzed who our primary users were and what motivated them. Ran through all desired actions, feedback mechanics and rewards (Octalysis Strategy Dashboard). And finally we had come up with amazing features that would be included in our visual wireframes. This would be an epic experience, filled with little gems and with great balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation!

“Everything in our system can be integrated and designed exactly the way you want us too. There are no limits to what we can do!”, said the Marketing Director. We had believed her. She spoke for the company! Surely she had checked all of this? We were happy campers...until that meeting with the corporate IT Manager: “Mm, well, you see…we are using this 3rd party CRM system.…nothing is really adjustable, unless you are willing to pay BIG money”.

We just fell for the most blatant overconfidence bias ever. We should have checked with IT ourselves rather than relying on what corporate heavyweights were telling us. It felt like a beginner’s mistake. Luckily in the end we found a way out, and we managed to implement a very engaging experience. But it was a costly lesson, and one we will not repeat ever again (and we haven’t).

We don’t wish for other people to experience the agony we went through, or make other avoidable mistakes when preparing for design work. So, here are our Top 5 Lessons to follow when designing Octalysis Gamification. Learn from what we have learned, for free!

Narrow down your clients’ priorities

You always want to create a relationship of trust with your clients, but never forget that you have an advisory role. You are hired to give advice, discover possibilities and help set priorities. Many of our clients have a long list of priorities that they want to see implemented. But often it is better to be 80% great for the top 20% priorities, rather than being 20% good for the 80%.

Help them prioritize by creating Tier 1 and Tier 2 priorities to make sure that you have solid objectives to design for. Always ask them questions like: “If there is one Business Metric that would make this product a success, what would that one Business Metric be?”

Oh, and always make sure you take a firm stand on the priority setting during the design process and to avoid mission or feature creep: the tendency to want constantly more and newer features before even the basic product has been established.

Some of our first contacts with clients are through charismatic high level visionaries in companies. They are Octalysis fans and want to use the potential of our method to get an edge over the competition. Often these managers/owners are very persuasive. Since it is their role to advocate new directions in the company, they are more preoccupied with the big picture rather than the IT details. However, these details often matter a lot and can lead to huge obstacles.

So as a rule: always involve the IT managers or CTOs in your discussions from the outset. They are the people that can tell you what can and cannot be done in the app or site. Always double check with IT what is possible, lest you design a Ferrari sports car that has to drive on a 4x4 back end!

Insist on clear and timely feedback

Many start up leaders and corporate managers have many priorities that need to be addressed simultaneously. Gamification design may be important to them, but so are marketing, accounts, investments, personnel and many other areas. These can sometimes take full attention away from what you are trying to design for your client. Don’t blame them for it! Recognize that this is company reality and adjust.

Make sure that you insist on regular feedback so that you can move on with the design process. Even better, try to present a concrete deliverable to discuss with the core team every week. This way people will stay involved and constantly interested in knowing what is next (Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity). Examples of deliverables: new features to be designed; the in game economy; levels, badges; and, of course, visual wireframes!

Stand behind your expertise!

A good Octalysis designer is an multi colored expert in its own right. Octalysis combines insights in behavioral science, UI/UX, project planning, game design and a few more! You have built up insights that other experts do not have: they are either too tunnel focused (maybe only on UI/UX) or are too general in what they know. Octalysis fills the gap between big picture and the overly detail-orientation of some experts.

Don’t get sold by people that say they already have created a User Journey, when all they have is a UI/UX deck of slides that show how you can get from function A to function B. That is NOT user experience, nor a User Journey. Explain them that we are interested in WHY people would want to use the UI/UX presented, not so much in the fact that this functionality is there. Also don’t give in to people who just want to add “this Gamification layer” to their existing product and expect it to be amazing or engaging (hint: it won't). In your feedback, however, do not be patronizing. Just tell them what limitations their vision or choices will have on the ROI of their product. Remember: you are a consultant, not an oracle!

Recognize what your client really wants

Many clients hire The Octalysis Group because to recognize the power of Octalysis and how implementing it can set them apart from their competitors. However, it does mean that our products are more refined and need a bit more work than just slapping some Points, Badges and Leaderboards (PBL) on a product. Quality just needs a bit more time to shine.

It also requires setting expectations with clients. If they want something fast and launch quickly, we can still do a PBL design for them (and ensure they will have far superior in-game economy than most off the shelf products). It won’t be as engaging as the full Octalysis premium package, but it will be better, much better, than the average product.

So what’s next?

Well, that’s up to you! We showed you some of our lessons learned, but we have learned so much more over the years. Contact us to know how we can put those lessons in practice in your company or for your product. Profit from our lessons learned rather than making mistakes yourself!


Octalysis Gamification and the Hypocrite Brain

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

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

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:


The Scientific Foundations of the Octalysis Framework

The Scientific Foundations of the Octalysis Framework

Any serious framework that aims to explain and predict human behavior needs to build on solid scientific evidence. The Octalysis Framework does just that and combines all this evidence in a unified framework for human behavioral analysis. It merges scientific insights from the following academic fields into one coherent analytical and actionable framework for human motivational design:

Behavorial Economics

This scientific field studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the decisions of individuals and the impact of different kinds of behavior, in different environments of varying experimental values.  Behavioral models typically integrate insights from psychology, neuroscience and microeconomic theory; in so doing, these behavioral models cover a range of concepts, methods, and fields.

The Octalysis Framework most notably has incorporated crucial insights from Noble Prize winners (in particular Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky) and other acclaimed scientists in the field (Richard Thaler; Robert Cialdini; Dan Ariely et al). Most of these insights pertain to heuristics and biases that lead people’s behaviors rather than rational analysis.

Sample literature list:

  • Kahneman, Daniel; Tversky, Amos (1979). “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”
  • Thaler, Richard H. 1992. The Winner’s Curse: Paradoxes and Anomalies of Economic Life.
  • Thaler, Richard H. 1993. Advances in Behavioral Finance
  • Cialdini, R. B. (1984). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Positive/ Motivational Psychology

In particular: the Self Determination Theory (SDT) by Deci, Ryan et al. SDT is a theory of human motivation that concerns people’s innate psychological needs. It is concerned with the motivation behind choices that people. SDT focuses on the degree to which an individual’s behavior is self-motivated and self-determined.

In addition, The Octalysis Framework integrates insights from Flow Theory, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing. It is characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.

Sample literature list:

  • Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation.
  • Deci, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation.
  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow : the psychology of optimal experience.

Other Sources

We have been influenced by many other sources as well, in particular from the realm of Game Design and UI/UX Interfacing. Jesse Schell’s A Book of Lenses in particular has been valuable. We consider these sources very valuable but since they are not scientific, we shall not detail them further at the moment.

If you want to know more about the proven science behind our work and the Octalysis Framework itself, or how we can help you create great engagement please contact Joris Beerda:


Swiping for love…Tinder through the Octalysis Gamification Lens

Global Internet access now connects people everywhere and on all levels, and our search for a suitable partner is no exception. If I google “dating”, I end up with close to 600 million hits. This is one hot sector!

Tinder has been one of the applications at the forefront of this development, and many people now use Tinder. The app matched 12 million people since its release and processed more than a billion swipes daily (HNGN, 2014). I must admit I had used Tinder several times before analysing the app through Octalysis, but the gamification framework has made me more aware of how Tinder make us feel and act. Why do Tinder users fall prey to obsessive swiping? My friend often does 100 swipes in a short period of time, says he’s “Throwing out the fishnet!”.

Let’s put on the Octalysis lens, start fishing, and find out how Tinder motivates us to use their app!

The four experience phases

In Octalysis, we view products and services through different experience phases. The first time you see a product is different from when you’ve used it over time, so for each phase we need to design for different expectations and motivation. The 4 experience phases of Octalysis are: Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and The Endgame.


The Discovery Phase is when we are introduced or hear about a product for the first time. Seeing a commercial on a poster for the first time is different from a friend telling us about the same product.

Let’s first look at how users find Tinder. When we search for Tinder on Google Play we see this:

Tinder has been downloaded more than 50 million times! That is a lot of social proof, and it surely must create interest for people to use Tinder.

Most people are introduced to mobile dating through friends and acquaintances (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness). This was also the case for me, and I remember stories about hook-ups, late night Tinder meetings or other non-romantic experiences the first time I was told about dating online.

If you discover Tinder from their home-page, you’ll be greeted by a attractive woman in an air balloon, gazing out with a bright red blouse. She adds a personal feeling to my first impression (Core Drive 5: Social influence & relatedness). The introduction movie follows this woman on her travels, and we can see how she uses Tinder at several occasions. She meets a guy, who approaches her and they spend the last part of her holiday together.

The overall narrative tells of a dream state where Tinder helps you meet interesting people, and that love can actually happen in their app. My first-impression of Tinder was: “Hey, check out this f***-app”, so I experienced some doubt while watching the intro movie. However, the narrative of travel, unpredictability, fun, new people and new experiences renewed my hopes of finding Miss Right on Tinder!

Discovery Comments:

    The discovery narrative tells the Tinder love story. 50 million downloads is a lot of social proof, but more can be done to reinforce this narrative. Maybe they can show people who have become a couple after meeting on Tinder?

    Tinder’s discovery film is supposed to be about “real” love, but it did not fit with my first impression as Tinder being a one-night-stand service: it was just not believable enough for me.

    Badoo trumps Tinder in SEO, even when you search for Tinder(!) None of the popular apps show if you search for ‘love’.


Onboarding starts as soon as the user decides to commit to the experience. In Octalysis we consider signing up as the first commitment. It ends when they’ve learned the basics to play the game. After you download Tinder, four simple screens show you how the experience works:


The “rules” of the game are easy to understand and I immediately know what to do. Swiping is intuitive and rewarding.  After two swipes I already get a preview of what my first win-state will look like in the app: “It’s a match!”.

A perfect Core Drive 5 (Social influence & Relatedness), Core Drive 2 (Development & Accomplishment) and Core Drive 7 (Unpredictability & Curiosity) combo. In fact, the experience has a bit of Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling here (Chosen one): maybe I have belonged to Tinder all my life but never knew it. Will Tinder be my destined place to find love in my life perhaps?

During the first few swipes of the experience, Tinder not only assures me that my swiping is anonymous (I don’t want people to know I rejected them – removing the Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance), but being introduced to the win-state (match-screen) also builds excitement (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment). Finally, Tinder has a lot of social proof early in the experience (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness). In all, this make me feel safe and excited to win that match!

There is only one simple way to sign up for Tinder: log in with Facebook. One button sign-up offers little choice, but what better social proof is there than Facebook? Some users might not be happy with only one way to sign-up, and if you are concerned about privacy, it might make you think twice. But overall the early steps seem both safe, exciting and that there are interesting people on Tinder.

Let me click that button!

Onboarding Comments:

    The onboarding phase is smoothly executed by Tinder, by swiping the first screens you are familiar with the rules- and how a win-state looks! (#23 Beginner’s luck)

    One button to sign-up creates ease for users, but the reason they do it could be made more clear for new users.

    By creating cognitive ease at this point of the experience, there is little or no reason for users to not complete the onboarding of Tinder. And if you do; a few clicks will help you back in.


The scaffolding phase starts once a player has learned the basic tools and rules to play the game – and has achieved the First Major Win-State. The majority of the Tinder experience will be in this phase. Even though I didn’t experience a major win-state myself, Tinder has already shown me one before, and my hopes of getting such a win-state is firmly rooted in my brain!

Tinder wastes no time; as you log in via Facebook you are taken directly to the above screen: excited to start swiping! As I swipe the first time, a message pops up asking me if I made the right choice! Wow, this shows Tinder cares about my choices and make sure I don’t miss out or regret my choice! (Appealing to my Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance). One can see this as a start of The Alfred Effect (#83), where a product or service is personalised to the users’ needs. The Alfred Effect is at play whenever you ever feel that a product or service knows you.

As my swiping continues I tried to regret a choice again, but this time a message pops up: “Get Tinder Plus!”. Tinder neatly introduced me to this feature, but paying for it already? (It will always be dangling there for me if I should swipe too fast and regret a choice in the future..)

The main page also displays the “pile of people” that are waiting for me to browse through. This gives a feeling of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (How many are left after this one?) and Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity (always letting me know that there are more fish in the sea). I spend less and less time evaluating a girl before swiping left or right, and notice how quickly the swiping becomes a habit, with the repetitive act swiping and being rewarded with matches (reward loop). But over time I see these matches only as temporary wins, it is the activity itself that becomes the reward. I barely watch the the screen as I evaluate all these girls.. (Ignorance is bliss?).

As I keep swiping images of girls, the green heart seems to be emptying. I suddenly realise that I do not have unlimited swipes at all! In fact I only get 100 swipes every 12 hours (#68 Magnetic cap and #66 Torture Break). These are all techniques related to the Core Drives on the bottom half of the Octagon (Black Hat motivation). When something on offer to us is being limited (“you can only use 100 likes”), we are more likely to want to use all of those hundred in contrast to unlimited likes. We are drawn to the artificial limit: the Magnetic Cap.

The torture break forces us to leave the experience when we’re out of likes, but we will constantly want to check back on the countdown timer (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience, Game Technique #65). I want to start swiping again!

When the 12 hours are done, Tinder sends a push notification saying “New likes available, come meet your match”.

Yes! My first match! The back of the screen darkens and my profile picture is neatly displayed next to my match to enforce the win-state: Social pairing! Tinder offers two neutral choices: 1. Send a message, or 2. Keep swiping. I can easily one-click back to the game. Tinder also offers the possibility to share my match, but there is no obvious trigger for me to do that (I tried to share it with myself and the text displayed a SHORT-url to my matched profile, and which number she was). I decide to click “Send a message”.

Now what should I write? Tinder automates messages under my matches’ profile picture: “Everybody likes a thoughtful person”. This is social proof, but not very strong, and I am still not sure what to do at this point.

There are no clear actions for me to take, and my cheeky one-liners probably won’t hold. By clicking the GIF-button I can browse and search a selection of GIFS which does reduce the barrier of engaging with my match.. Tinder says GIFs sent are 30 % more likely to receive a response than messages (TIME, 2016).

Empowering users to use their creativity and freedom supports the evergreen mechanic, where a developer does not continuously have to add more content to an experience to keep it going (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback). When it comes to texting my skills are the worst, so I try clicking on her photo.

The integration with Facebook and Instagram comes handy at this point, and if we have common interests or mutual friends it shows. There are no obvious triggers for me to start writing a message or to send a GIF, and I’m a lazy chatter, so I leave my match to get back into the swiping game.

It takes some obsessive swiping before I check out other features in the experience: such as updating my profile, editing search preferences or settings:

The integration with Facebook (and then again with Instagram), already renders a personal profile for me! This reduces the time I have to spend filling in sign-up information. It also increases my feeling of ownership and possession, and some unpredictability and curiosity as I “discover” my profile for the first time. There is limited freedom in terms of editing my profile. The only things I can arrange are my quick bio and 6  profile pictures (to be be uploaded via Facebook).

After trying to come up with a smart introduction for a few minutes I realized I felt an upcoming urge to swipe again! The black hat compulsion won…. Back to the (very addictive) game.

Back at the home screen I notice a blue star at the bottom right, and I click it. “You’ve sent a SUPERLIKE!”. Wow, a nice animation pops up, and a star is sent up the screen! I am not sure exactly what this SUPERLIKE will do, but as I try to click it again a few swipes later; a huge countdown-timer shows in the screen.

11:59:59.. 12 hours before I can use another one, unless I buy Tinder Plus:

At this stage there is no obvious desired action to take, unless I want to buy unlimited likes with Tinder Plus. The red colour does not make this an appealing choice, and with no swipes remaining there is little motivation for me to stay in the experience.

Scaffolding Comments:

    Tinder nicely takes me straight to the experience, and already after the first dozen swipes I experience cognitive ease, and the swiping becomes close to effortless.

    Profile-editing and search preferences are open for discovery by the user. Tinder should consider integrating glowing-choices or obvious triggers explaining what the integration with Facebook means (“We built your profile!”)

    I still miss a way to personalize my profile more (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback and Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession).

    Instead of presenting users with Tinder Plus at the point where all likes are spent, and “all hope is lost” – they should seek more gentle ways of introducing Tinder Plus to users.


This is the phase where users have done everything there is to do at least once (according to their perception), and they are figuring out why they should stick around and continue to play the game (especially when there are newer, more exciting alternatives out there).

As I’ve spent my likes and superlike for the next 12 hours, there is no clear motivation as to what to do next. So I enter my matches page:

This screen systematically lists all matches with a clear focus on displaying each one as a face (Core Drive 5: Social influence & Relatedness). Entering this screen of matches, which for the most I have not exchanged a word with, seems to feel more like a trophy-shelf than a library of interesting people. I will give Tinder points for coming up with small quotes when you enter a profile, but the lack of triggers on this page create more incentives to leave the page (and go swiping). Guess I’ll be back in 12 hours…

Endgame Comments:

    The endgame is fairly balanced, but as you keep liking and super-liking, the countdown timer as well as not wanting to loose my amount of daily likes does create a sense of urgency, where the swiping becomes the main activity of the experience (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience)

    Tinder emphasises on Core Drive 5: Social influence and Relatedness throughout the experience, and they provide us all with the feeling of “being in the market”.

    Tinder should consider using more positive and real-life social proof: Show and tell about the people of Tinder: What is the most common way to meet through Tinder? What do most people (that meet in real life) write? Have people fallen in love through the experience?  

    As motivation seems directed at users to collecting matches, and not as much to engage with them, obsessive or unwanted behaviour could occur over time. ) It is evident to some degree that the experience encourages starting conversations, but during the end-game there is a lack of incentives for meaning and long-term relationships (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling).

Where is the love?

Overall Tinder has designed a system for high engagement.

Tinder has built a great discovery narrative, with social proof (arguably weak) that love can happen on Tinder. With Facebook integration, the sign-in process is incredibly fast, you are shown a win-state and boom you can start swiping. But as you go through the experience, you feel less in control and more obsessed about spending all the available swipes you have, to collect an increasing amount of matches that you are not talking to. This is very similar to how slot machines work, it is the spinning that is addictive, the unpredictability of what will happen next; the matches are only temporary joy. Over time, the experience becomes a mindless exercise only to feel like I am “in the market” (Core Drive 5: Social influence and relatedness).

In Octalysis we balance White Hat (CD1: Epic Meaning & Calling, 2: Development & Accomplishment, 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) and Black Hat Core Drives (6: Scarcity & Impatience, 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, 8: Loss & Avoidance). Too much emphasis on Black Hat techniques creates a lot of urgency, but too much of it in any experience will make us feel not in control, obsessed or anxious. In contrast, White Hat Core Drives make us feel in control, fulfilled and satisfied. Tinder should think about this balance more, as I the experience is mainly Black Hat, leaving me feeling that I have no control over my obsessive swiping. For me online dating may already be more about swipes than looks!

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



Gamification of Pensions: Octalysis advises UK Government

Gamification of Government

The subject of pensions is arguably one the most boring topics that you can talk to younger generations about. It is considered uncool and is mostly related to old people and finance. How could it get any less exciting? Many younger people do not seem to care one bit about pensions, and it is endangering their own financial futures as well as that of the pension system as a whole.

So could Octalysis Gamification come to the rescue? Can we perhaps make (preparing for) pensions fun and engaging?

The Octalysis Group just started some initial advisory for the UK Department for Works and Pensions to achieve just that. But why are they so interested in making pension systems fun and engaging? What has changed suddenly? My grandparents and parents surely did not need to be engaged.

Let’s find out!

The Pension Crisis

The population in the developed world is quickly getting older. This means that in the future, there will be more pensioners living off the tax contributions of others. In a sense, the pension fund acts like a benevolent Pyramid Scheme: it can only continue to grow if enough people keep contributing and the majority of the members do not take their money out of the system.

So far this has not been an issue, but we have now reached a state where the collective contributions to the pension funds system are increasingly lagging behind the uptake by pensioners of these funds. Average pension ages are being increased rapidly to try to stop the bleeding. For my age group it is expected that we will be able to take pension at age 73. This is 15 years later than the age that my mother retired at! But will it be enough to save the system? Many doubt it.

So with the future of the pension system (as we know it) in doubt, it is even more important that younger generations save more than their parents and grandparents. The problem is that they don’t. They save even less. Young people seem to have lost any interest whatsoever to start saving and governments around the world have no clue how to change it.

Luckily the UK Government and its charismatic Minister for Pensions, Baroness Altmann, are forward looking. The Baroness has publicly stated that she thinks that Gamification is the way forward for pension systems. Last month we did some initial advisory to help her department discover what Octalysis Gamification can do to create engagement for pensions.

The Discovery Phase of Pensions

In the 4 Experience Phases of Octalysis, the Onboarding Phase is where users find out why they even want to interact with your product. The product here is pensions (more specifically Workplace Pensions).

In this phase we want to create curiosity based on something new and exciting that is also supported by other people we can relate to. At the same time, we want to create some urgency to act/buy now (rather than to appeal to a vague ‘Good Cause’).

Unfortunately, Workie did not learn about Octalysis or Behavioral Science when he started his promotions, which meant the campaign was doomed to fail.

In fact, the video already fails within 10 seconds. The commentator laments about Workie (the embodiment of Workplace Pensions): “…at the moment, unfortunately, people are ignoring him”. The producers try to appeal to Octalysis Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness, to make people want to act (out of pity). In fact, what they achieve is the opposite. If nobody wants to engage with Workie, why should anybody? In this case, anti-Core Drive 5 leads to Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance. People have just become even less enthusiastic about pensions!

In Yu-kai Chou’s book Actionable Gamification, Yu-kai writes about a National Park in Arizona that was trying to prevent people from stealing their petrified wood. In an experiment, when they put up a sign that says, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” theft of the petrified wood not only did not decrease, it nearly triple! That is because when people see that it is the Norm that people are stealing, they think they should steal too.

So does the video at least bring anything exciting or a promise of future benefits for citizens? Strangely enough no. In the full 42 seconds clip there is no promise of anything that would make me feel accomplished or excited. There is no Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment.

In addition, the only thing that is (initially) mildly exciting, is Workie itself as he looks somewhat novel (but not necessarily slick or likable for a younger generation). But since he is actually a boring, slow-trotting and negative character, that excitement wears off within seconds. So we are left with no Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity push, and the lack of excitement adds to Anti Core Drive 8: let’s not waste my brain cell and valuable time to care about what this character has to say.

In the end we are only left with Core Drive 8 motivation, the type that makes you anxious and not in control. The final nail in the coffin here is that Workie starts to talk about fines and that you “need” to get a pension “by Law.” But obviously, if nobody is getting a workplace pension, why would you conform with the law huh? Social Proof tells your brain you don’t need to, so now the Big Brother threat sounds hollow. Also, by pointing out it is a legal requirement to compensate for  it not being appealing, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience will cause people (especially the younger generation) to want to rebel against it even more. “Oh, here is something that no one likes and you don’t want to do. Please have sympathy. But if not, Big Brother will force you to do it against your will!”

In fact, if there should be Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance (which generally drives urgency which is good), it would be much better to show negative consequences of these people ignoring Workie . “Look, everyone is ignoring Workie. They don’t care. But oops! Look what happened to them later.” The fear tactic should not be about making the government sound evil, but from the actual negative effects of such behavior.

Also, we know from Behavioral Science that when there is a fear tactic, there MUST be a simple direct action item that alleviate that fear, or else people move into denial mode and prefer to not think about it. At the end, the narrator talks about the website to learn more about the workplace pension, which is good. However, the Desired Action can be more clearly presented on the screen, as opposed to the passive message, “Don’t ignore the workplace pension.” It should be actively telling them to visit the website now with large fonts, preferably with a friendlier shortcut URL. We know that every action that the brain can’t comfortably process will hamper conversion rates. Having a long URL will create that cognitive dissonance and make people who have an intention to do something procrastinate until later (until they retire?). It is better to have a shorter link such as that continues on the story of Workie and how the audience can help him make the future better for everyone.

The future of Gamification in the UK Pension System

Baroness Altmann, the Minister of State for Pensions recognized the failings of the previous campaigns. She has come out as a fan of Gamification and we think that is a smart move. Pensions is a boring topic, so it is not easy to create engagement around the theme, based on content alone. You need to make the experience surrounding pension systems more engaging and Octalysis Gamification can help.

Just as we have achieved with other Governments Institutions and companies, the key lies in making the experience so engaging that people hardly feel they are focusing on pensions. It is the experience around it that creates the engagement push. The interaction with pensions will now lead to win states in the game, so all of a sudden it becomes fun and rewarding to deal with planning your financial future. We have designed Gamification for all sorts of boring and “unsexy” topics, ranging from healthcare all the way to SEC compliance training for financial firms. Before our designs, people would only learn about these rules because their boss told them to do it (Core Drive 8, you do it because you are afraid to lose your job or promotion). Now they learn in fun ways and even are excited to interact with the content when they are not at work!

It is not yet clear where our contacts with the UK Government will lead to. It would be great if the UK Government and the Octalysis Group could work together and resolve these challenges in engagement. Octalysis is ready to play its part. Pension systems are essential for societies. We are happy to help avoid a future where the elderly have no money and have to rely on family and friends to survive.

Let’s use the power of Octalysis to prevent this dreaded image from ever becoming a reality.

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


Exclusive content: secret Octalysis Gamification design tips

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

If you have read the first chapters of the book, you have built a strong foundation for understanding the 8 Core Drives, their natures, and how they individually and collaboratively influence our behavior. However, this does not necessarily mean this knowledge can be easily applied to designing an engaging gamified experience that also fulfill business metrics. For that, we need another tool.

After some of my talks on Octalysis, some people ask, “How do I actually start to design a gamified campaign with the 8 Core Drives? I can now create an experience that’s interesting and engaging but I’m not sure how that will drive business success.”

In order to design a successful project, we need the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

The Octalysis Strategy Dashboard is a constantly evolving document that clarifies the most important aspects of a Gamification campaign. It focuses the attention on the critical elements that will ultimately direct your efforts for maximum impact.

The Strategy Dashboard contains five critical elements:

  1. Business Metrics, leading to Game Objectives
  2. Users, leading to Players
  3. Desired actions, leading to Win-States
  4. Feedback Mechanics, leading to Triggers
  5. Incentives, leading to Rewards

The Strategy Dashboard should provide a minimum amount of critical information to help clients execute an actionable Gamification campaign to drive their business metric goals.

1   Business Metrics = Game Objectives

Business Metrics are the key numbers and results that the business wants to improve on. These are high-level items that the company may present to their executives or investors in order to show the campaign’s success.

Some Business Metrics are the numbers that indicate success for your business. They include Revenue, Daily Active Users over Monthly Active Users, Conversions, Time Spent on Site, Retained Users, Registrations, etc. If these numbers are growing, your business is in good shape.

When defining Business Metrics, make sure they are quantifiable and prioritized in order of importance. We need to be able to track success, benchmark against other campaigns, and even run split tests to see which of your efforts produce the best results.

Business Metrics also needs to be prioritized in the order of importance to your business. If you try to get users to do everything on one screen, users will face decision paralysis, leave your site, and go back to their comfort zone.

If by implementing a gamified campaign, your Business Metrics have not improved, then we have failed the Game Objective.

2   Users = Players

Users are the second element to define within the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

Whatever model we use, we need to ensure that we define user categories based on how they are differently motivated. We don’t want groups that seem different, but are motivated in a similar fashion. This will make it more difficult to optimally design Desired Actions for the Win-State.

For instance, employees are often more motivated based on their positions in the company, than by gender. As a result, it may be more productive to divide the users into “Managers” and “Workers” rather than “Males” and “Females”.

 Creating Octalysis Charts for your User Personas

Once users have been identified we can start to apply custom Octalysis Charts for all these players using the Octalysis Tool (this can be found at

By considering which of the 8 Core Drives motivate which user types more, we can then identify and implement game elements that appeal best to those Core Drives.

By understanding why the user does not take the desired actions, one can address it authentically and constructively engage the issue instead of chasing around the bush on topics that are irrelevant to the user.

Once the Users are defined, we have the Players for the gamified system.

3   Desired Actions = Win-States

Desired Actions are the third element to define in any Octalysis Gamification campaign. Desired Actions are the little steps we want users to take such as: go onto the website, fill out the form, register, come back every day, click on the ad, sign up for the newsletter, etc.

Whereas the Business Metrics are laid out in the order of importance, we want to lay out all the Desired Actions in chronological order based on the player’s journey. This is important because oftentimes what happens ten minutes before a Desired Action will significantly affect whether the user will do it or not.

 No Step Too Small

One thing to remember when defining Desired Actions is that no action is too small to be included. In Octalysis Gamification, each Desired Action leads to a Win-State.

This means that every time the user commits the Desired Action, she has reached a Win-State and may receive some type of reward.

Whenever we are designing a gamified campaign, the Win-State in the user’s mind should always be accomplished by committing the Desired Action, which increases your Business Metrics. These three elements should always be aligned.

 And this, again, is actually the core difference between Games and Gamification. Games can simply be fun and engaging, but Gamification has to improve your Business Metrics, and it has to drive behavior towards a certain productive activity.

 The First Major Win-State

One of the key practices to define your Win-States is to identify the First Major Win-State. The First Major Win-State is when a User first says, “Wow! This service/experience is awesome!” If your experience does not offer any Major Win-States, your experience is not emotionally compelling.

 Once the First Major Win-State is determined, we want to count exactly how many minutes it takes for users to reach that First Major Win-State. With every second that goes by before a user hits the First Major Win-State, there will be dropout. The longer it takes to reach this experience, the higher your dropout rate will be

Creating a profile is not a First Major Win-State. Uploading a photo is not either. If it was 20 years ago, uploading your photo might be a First Major Win-State. “Wow! I can see my photo on a screen!” Not in today’s world, unfortunately.

Strong Win-State design is critical for the success of a Gamification campaign and their identification and masterful creation is fundamental in Level 4 Octalysis.

 4   Feedback Mechanics = Triggers

Feedback Mechanics are the fourth element to define in any Octalysis Gamification Campaign.

Feedback Mechanics are cues (often visual, but can be audio or use other senses) that users have to keep track of their progress towards the Win-State. These often come in the form of points, badges, levels, trophies, progress bars, and even avatars. In the end, Feedback Mechanics are meant to Trigger users to commit more Desired Actions.

 User Metrics should align as much as possible with the Desired Actions and the Business Metrics. They should also be what users actually care about. Again, no matter what the Feedback Mechanics are, they should motivate users and be relevant to the flow of the experience. In addition, they should all be Triggers for users to further take the Desired Actions.

5   Incentives = Rewards

Incentives are the fifth and final element to define in the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard. Incentives are basically what we can give users within our power that rewards their behavior and entices them to further action

After we have determined what we can give users, we want to strategically place these incentives in the different Win-States that we have designed to motivate players to feel great about committing the Desired Actions.

These Incentives become Rewards in a game. Rewards do not have to be merely physical rewards such as gift cards or cash, which is what most companies like to think about. Rewards can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or even spiritual.


A catchy and easy model to think about in terms of rewards is Gabe Zichermann’s SAPS model: Status, Access, Power, Stuff. The interesting thing about SAPS, is that as you go from Status to Access to Power to Stuff, the reward becomes more and more expensive for the company, but less and less sticky for the user.

It doesn’t cost us anything to tell you that you are amazing and you’re the #1 User on my site, and you will likely be excited about it for weeks or months and tell all your friends about your new status. But if we gave you cash, you likely will become excited for a few hours or a day, and then you may spend the money at a mall and then emotionally forget about it. Now your emotional state is wondering about when you will receive your next injection of cash.

Again, most companies like to give their employees stuff to incentivize them but it’s actually a lot more effective if you can figure out how to give them more status, exclusive access, or more power to control their environment..

6 Reward Context Derived from Octalysis

While SAPS describes the nature of the reward, there’s also a variety of Reward Contexts that can be derived from the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis.

With Octalysis, we loosely define six reward contexts that can be utilized, including:

  1. Fix Action Rewards (Earned Lunch)
  2. Random Rewards (Mystery Box)
  3. Sudden Rewards (Easter Egg)
  4. Rolling Rewards (Lottery)
  5. Social Treasure (Gifting)
  6. Reward Pacing (Collection Set)

Ultimately, these reward contexts are derived from Octalysis, because we are all incentivized by the Core Drives. Even if it’s not something you gain, avoiding a loss or satisfying your curiosity are also very strong rewards that can be strategically placed in every single one of your Win-States. Without them, users will have no reason to commit the Design Actions moving forward. 

Further Implementation

Once the Strategy Dashboard is completed, we will set out to design features for every Phase of the User Journey. Most people treat interacting with a product as one experience but we have to look at a product as 4 different products. The first day a users use LinkedIn, for example, is very different from subsequent days they use the site.

Once we have mapped out all features for the main users and all experience phases, we then set out to rate the motivational power these features against the ease of implementation of these features. In addition, we will map out the game structure, game levels and rewards. Finally we will design a suite of visual concept wireframes detailing (frame-by-frame) what the Octalysis Gamification Journey looks like. These wireframes are ready for product development by the art and development team.

For more information on how we can assist you in creating a truly motivational and long-lasting Gamified Experience, contact us!