Critical Analysis of “Why We Love Games That Most Enrage Us”: Why We Actually Enjoy Hard Fun


This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with significant input from Yu-kai Chou and the Octalysis Prime community. All mistakes are Erik’s. All good bits are the community’s. 

We Don’t Like Hard Fun Because It Enrages Us

Earlier this year, John Pavlus (non-fiction writer and filmmaker) wrote an article about education and hard fun. It is a great article and he is a great writer. However, I want to dig into a specific claim about intrinsic motivation and see if the Octalysis framework helps us understand the claim in a different way.

The article opens in response to FranktheShank1‘s comment on Reddit:

1 hour into super meat boy, i’m already throwing tantrums and curling my toes

For now, we’ll disregard some contrary opinions immediately shared on the Reddit thread and focus instead on how writer John Pavlus used this comment to make a larger statement about hard fun and where the motivation stems from when we decide to spend time on difficult games or pursuits. Again, this is a great article–we are focusing on one specific part of the argument.

As always, we’ll approach this from an Octalysis perspective with a particular focus on Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

Continue reading Critical Analysis of “Why We Love Games That Most Enrage Us”: Why We Actually Enjoy Hard Fun

Gamification Analysis of Snapchat: How Camera and Storytelling Captured Attention


This article is written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen. 

Attention from the Start

Snapchat has surpassed Facebook and Instagram as the go-to app for teens.

Having famously turned down a $3-billion offer from Facebook and the company’s name change to Snap Inc. and the rumblings of an IPO, let’s take a moment to consider how snapshot captured the attention of such an important demographic. Of course, we’ll use Octalysis to break down this breakout product.

Reinventing the Camera and Storytelling

Snapchat is a 100% mobile app. From humble beginnings as Picaboo, Snapchat has quickly grown into a product and a brand that is changing the way we think about the camera. (In a future post, we will look at Snap Inc’s Spectacles, which contrary to comparisons to Google glass, are much more akin to a Go-Pro for your face according to one Snap employee.)

Without getting too detail about why Snapchat has grown into the top for teens even ahead of Instagram and Facebook, let’s focus on the product from an Octalysis perspective.

We will see that Snapchat allows people to be creative in sharing short, time-bound image and video messages to their friends, followers, and fans. What began as a one-to-one messaging app has grown into a one-to-many for private messaging and public stories.

Ultimately, Snapchat wins because it harnesses the user’s attention. It does this by allowing content creators the freedom to express their creativity, and for consumers to engage directly with those content creators. Because in the content is ephemeral (Snaps disappear after only a few seconds), looking away from a snap means you could miss what your friend favorite celebrity has to say.

From the Octalysis Perspective


I’ve given Snapchat a pretty high Octalysis Tool score of 400. With Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, and Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience leading the way.

The Big Four: CD3, CD5, CD6, and CD7

Let’s start in the Golden Corner aka Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. This segment of the Octalysis octagon is both White Hat (positive) and Right Brain (intrinsic).

Creating a snap is fun. You get to use your creativity in taking a picture or in making a video. Filters, badges, emojis, drawing and coloring tools, and custom text. You get to first create, then review your snap.

If you’re making a Snap for a specific person or audience, tailoring the content to your specific knowledge about them further increases motivation from a CD3 perspective.


Stories are where Snapchat shines. While Instagram does now also offer stories, Snapchat did it first. Stories allow snaps to be shared to anyone following you and can be viewed in succession, but only for a 24-hour period.

This feature opened up new creative avenues for narrative and visual storytelling in a one-to-many framework. As a new fiction writer, I’ve found beta readers for my early drafts of my sci-fi/fantasy work by simply sharing my progress in stories (I’m e.vanmech on Snapchat).

The platform is fit, in my view, for personalities like Yu-kai, who are already doing well with video. Who wouldn’t like a quick shot of Octalysis in their daily life from the master himself? I’d personally love to see small nuggets of wisdom or even an insider view into his progress on developing Octalysis Prime.


It’s Social

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness is very strong for Snapchat.

It’s fun to connect with friends and influencers and even celebrities who are taking the time to engage one-on-one with select fans.

Because it isn’t easy to get followers (you can’t just add people), you can feel like a Rockstar when you do. Which brings us to Core Drive 6…

Scarcity and Impatience

Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience was at the heart of the initial design and still is a core feature of Snapchat. Your messages disappear. Messages from your friends disappear. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it. Imagine if Twitter’s messages disappeared after you read them, or were restricted to a few times a day?

As a creator, Snapchat uses the Anticipation Parade (Game Technique #15) – as with any content-sharing medium, there is real anticipation in waiting to see how others react to your carefully designed snap or story.

Users Are Plenty, But People Following You Are Scarce

During Snapchat’s Scaffolding phase, users actually have to work pretty hard to get a following. You can’t just add people with a search. You have to do so with a username or phone number.

In Klaff’s book Pitch Anything, he explains the concept of Prizing, and how it ties into three fundamental behaviors 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 #3. What’s more, after they got those followers, those users probably experienced Recruiter Burden and wanted to please them.

And that’s where unpredictability and curiosity come in.

Make Me Care

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity rounds out the big 4 Core Drives of Snapchat.

As a follower, your snaps and stories need to entertain me or give me value (or both).

Stories auto-play from one to the next. Recently, Snapchat added a prioritization feature, letting consumers curate their story list. This means you can choose not to watch someone’s story but remain friends with them.

This means story-creators will have to up their game considerably so as not to be “blocked” from their friends’ story streams. We’ll have to watch this closely. Where Facebook’s algorithms pick what content you see, Snapchat is letting you choose for yourself (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession).

The Beginning of Snapchat’s Story

I have a funny feeling (and the data completely backs this up) that we are only at the beginning of Snapchat’s story.

Motivation: Why It’s Dumb To Pay Your Contractors Late



This article was cowritten by Yu-kai Chou and Erik van Mechelen.

Paying Contractors late is NOT Savvy

Throughout the years, I’ve worked with many business owners who ask for my expertise in motivation design and gamification. However, I have been surprised by how many times business owners BRAG about how they pay their contractors last moment, or even later than the proposed due date.

“When money is in your pocket, you have all the control. These contractors depend on your money, so they’re not going to stop working for you just because you are paying them 1-2 weeks late. That’s good for cashflow management.”

But, I will make one point very clear:

Paying your contractors late is DUMB. It’s the opposite of being a savvy business owner.

Being an expert on human motivation and behavioral science, even though I procrastinate on paying other bills, I typically try to pay my contracts within 15 minutes of receiving an invoice.

Let me explain why this is important.

Why do people pay contractors late?

The reason why people pay their contractors late are manyfold. For some, they’re just handling too many moving parts and they don’t get to paying people until they must. But for others, they see this as a smart cash management strategy.

Business is all about managing cash flow. Cash is the life blood of a business’ operations. That’s why savvy business owners learn to maximize their cash power by trying to get paid early (even if it means giving people a small discount), while withholding cash until they absolutely have to.

The “time-value-of-money” concept indicates that $1 today is worth more than $1 a month from now. If anything, you could just invest it somewhere and get a small return. For a business, holding onto cash for longer means you could do a little bit more marketing, a little bit more sales, a little bit more R&D, or a little bit more inventory this month without feeling too stretched. This is important especially when you are harnessing the power of leverage, where every dollar can be utilized many times more its worth through credit.

The business author Michael Gerber (who has influenced my career a great deal) even writes in E-Myth Mastery, “Often you don’t even have to reduce the expense to get a [cashflow] benefit, for instance, when you can slow payment or pay over a longer period of time.”

I even have a friend who used to run one of the largest computer companies in the world a few decades back tell me how important cashflow strategies are. He told me that he eventually lost to Dell because Dell’s genius model was to collect cash first at an ultra competitive price for orders, then hold onto the cash for a few weeks. After a few weeks has gone by, the price of computer components would go down, and then Dell would quickly purchase the components, assemble the computer, and then ship it to the customers quickly.

My friend said he couldn’t compete with the prices Dell was offering because of this powerful model. Clearly there is a lot of Business Savvy in the art of collecting money early, and paying out money late.

Why paying contractors late is dumb?

All the above sounds reasonable and good. However, this is a clear example of Function-Focused Design over Human-Focused Design.

Continue reading Motivation: Why It’s Dumb To Pay Your Contractors Late

Creating Habit-Forming and Habit-Defeating Products: Pavlok and Moti


This article was written by Erik van Mechelen with input from Yu-kai Chou and Jun Loayza. 

Attention and time are arguably the two most important resources we have. Wearables are a growing trend in behavior change technology. If designed appropriately, they stand a chance at helping us drop bad habits and spend more attention and time on good habits. As we’ll see in this article, non-wearables are also on the rise.

I’ll be comparing two habit-related products: Pavlok focuses on breaking bad habits, while Moti’s main idea is to form good habits.

Pavlok came on the market to criticism, but has added new functionality since its Indigogo launch in 2015, with more to come soon. Moti is a new product, currently in its last couple weeks of the Kickstarter.

As always, I’ll use the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis to see how these products are designed to affect our underlying behavior, our motivations themselves.

Continue reading Creating Habit-Forming and Habit-Defeating Products: Pavlok and Moti

Why Social Podcast Players Are Next: True Discovery in Overcast and Tung


This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with input from Yu-kai Chou and Jun Loayza.

Have you noticed yourself listening to more podcasts lately? Compared to five years ago, I definitely listen to more audio content.

It’s easy to understand why. With improvements in the production and consumption infrastructure, more and more quality podcasts are being created.

There are also more ways to listen and access to better curations.

In this article, I’m taking a close look at how and where I listen to audio content, of any kind. Then, I’ll transition into a side-by-side analysis of two podcast-focused apps on my iPhone’s home screen: Overcast and Tung. I want to understand if they will help me discover podcasts I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered through friend or family or coworker recommendations.

As always, I’ll use the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis in my breakdown.

Continue reading Why Social Podcast Players Are Next: True Discovery in Overcast and Tung