Simón Duque’s Habitica Design Challenge

Gamification Design Challenge for Habitica

Simón Duque is a Colombian Industrial Engineer who’s not comfortable with the way the world works. Thankfully for him, Gamification came to his life on 2015 and gave him the tools to re-think the world he lives in. For more about Simón, see his credentials at the bottom of this post. 

The Habitica Design challenge was hosted in 2017 by The Octalysis Group. Simón was a finalist. 

Design summary

Habitica’s goal is to build (positive) habits, altough it is now dealing with long-term engagement issues. This Design Challenge was therefore tought out based on the pschological approach to procrastination and the means to identify solutions using the Octalysis Framework.

The analysis of Habitica ends up with different theories and approaches that build up a final list of new and improved features that reflect benefits as it leads users to stay connected to chats and other social features and even invite more friends to join them in their experience.

These social interactions are the ones that support the core desired actions within the app. It also helps improve the dynamics involved specially in CD2 and CD5 by affirming Basic Human Psychological Desires such as Competition and Altruism.

As Tyler Renelle himself said — “In case of building good habits, social accountability is essential”.


Continue reading Simón Duque’s Habitica Design Challenge

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 5 – Stronger Social Connectivity

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Gamers aren’t gaming alone. 


Stronger social connectivity was first ballooned by Facebook games like Lexulous, then Farmville, which combined Lexulous’s ease of gameplay and social connectivity with the blissful productivity of World of Warcraft.

According to Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of bliss:

Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors….Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.

Students of Yu-kai’s Octalysis framework will recognize this connective tissue as Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.

From Yu-kai’s Actionable Gamification:

Social Influence and Relatedness is the fifth core drive within my Gamification Framework Octalysis, which is related to activities inspired by what other people think, do, or say. This Core Drive is the engine behind themes like mentorship, competition, envy, group quests, social treasures and companionship.

This Core Drive also includes the “Relatedness” part, which deals with things like attachment to emotional associations and the feeling of nostalgia. For instance, if you see a product that reminds you of your childhood, you have a higher chance of buying that product. Similarly if you meet someone from your hometown, you would also be more inclined to sign up a deal with this person.

Continue reading Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 5 – Stronger Social Connectivity

Putting Gamification in its Place: The War on Words

This is an excerpt from the second part of the introduction of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and LeaderboardsBuy a copy hereor listen on Audible.

Putting Gamification in its Place

Before we jump further into deeper experience and engagement design through the 8 Core Drives, I’d like to take a moment to resolve some pressing questions regarding the various forms of gamification campaigns.

While the topic of Gamification is exciting and productive, many people new to the industry have a hard time figuring out what gamification means and how to categorize it.

What if our employees don’t want to play games? Is calling some- thing a quest considered gamification? Is the gamification BlendTech uses to promote its blenders the same as the gamification that eBay uses to make its platform addictive? How do I know what type of gamification works for my company?

All this can be quite confusing to the average reader (which of course, you are not). As Gamification is such an all-encompassing umbrella term for “making things game-like” (by the way, the popular Wikipedia definition is, “the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts”10), there are almost no bounds for what it can or cannot be. This allows gamification to be far reaching into all sorts of fields and industries. However, it also invites many critics who are upset about how broad the term can be. They especially criticize that, due to the broad nature of the term, gamification enthusiasts are claiming everything good, fun, motivating, or immersive as something they perform on a professional level.


Before you read on, I want to make a disclaimer that this chapter does not teach you how to gamify an experience towards better results but merely addresses some issues on the language and semantics within the field and my own opinion on the matter. I can’t promise you a definitive conclusion to the debate over what is and what isn’t gamification, but I do hope you leave the chapter with a more rounded understanding of the field.

There are many more fascinating topics on human behavior and good design that excite me more in the chapters to come. Even though it breaks my heart to spend precious time writing about this non-productive topic, I don’t want my readers to be unaware of the greater “Gamification World.”

The War on Words

Back in 2011, gamification notables Gabe Zichermann and Sebas- tian Deterding had a public debate on gamification concepts.

Some background info: Gabe Zichermann is a brilliant marketer, speaker, CEO of the largest Gamification conference in the industry, the GSummit, and is one of the leading evangelists of Gamification and its commercial use.

Sebastian Deterding is the Ph.D. academic that studies the deep theories and motivations of game design and Gamification. He is considered one of the most respected thought leaders in the space.

In this debate of epic proportions, Sebastian Deterding publicly examined each chapter of Gabe Zichermann’s book Gamification by Design, and explained why he considered each chapter to be flawed and/or inaccurate11. Hyperbolically speaking, his blog post on the subject was almost longer than the book itself.

One of Deterding’s critiques was that, contrary to what Zichermann states in Gamification by Design, serious games and advergames should not be considered examples of Gamification. For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, Wikipedia defines serious games as, “a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.” In other words, games that are generally built for a productive purpose, such as training, education, healthcare, and the like (Hence, the term “serious”).12. defines advergames as, “A video game which in some way contains an advertisement for a product, ser- vice, or company.”13 These are games that basically act as interactive advertisement campaigns which draw potential customers onto a website or into a business. When I refer to “shoot-the-duck banner ads” as early and embarrassing forms of marketing gamification, those banner ads are technically classified as Advergames.

As you can see, both definitions have the word “a game” in them, which seems to go against the core essence of what “gamifying” something means. In my own writings, I talk about how you can gamify anything that involves human motivation, as long as it is not already a game, just like how you can’t liquefy liquid. You can however, apply better game design to games.

So because advergames and serious games are “games,” by that standard you can’t really gamify them. Right?

This is an excerpt from the second part of the introduction of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and LeaderboardsBuy a copy hereor listen on Audible.

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 4 – Fun Failure and Better Odds of Success

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Both serious and casual games bring blissful productivity, one key element of more satisfying work. 


McGonigal explores research from the M.I.N.D. Lab and Nicole Lazzarro, Raph Koster, and and Randolph Nesse to investigate why failure, fun failure specifically keeps us playing games, and how its relationship to better odds of success actually improves our enjoyment of a game (both individually and with others) and gives us hope of better outcomes.


This short chapter kicks off with game researcher Nicole Lazzaro’sfindings that gamers both spend more time failing than succeeding in games AND that they enjoy doing so.

If you examine your own experience, you’ll notice this to be true. When I was first learning to play Starcraft, I lost many of my games on Battlenet before mastering some build orders with Zerg which gave me a fighting chance. Same with Chewss and Go, which I am now just learning.

Super Monkey Ball 2 (which in 2005 was researched by Helsinki’s M.I.N.D. Lab was the focus of the specatcular failures of this action puzzle game. The finding was simple, when players are shown ‘agency’ in the failure to complete a puzzle (by sending the monkey spiinning into space), they feel ownership and control and the prospect of improving the seuquenece on the next effort feels achievable. The game can also draw a laugh, which doesn’t hurt.

I’ve played Super Monkey Ball 2 and can echo this feeling. My brothers and I had a lot of fun exchanging the controller when we fell off the map into outer space, laughing, and then laughing again when our brothers failed, too. We got a lot of CD5 collaboration from helping each other find ways through the obstacles and mazes.

The sense of difficulty matters. The documentary about solo game developers comes to mind, about Super Meat Boy, Indie Game, spends tieme delving into the game design which highlights spectacular failures but also teaches the player new skills in-game.

One other note to take away from Indie Game: The Movie, is that making games and motivationally powerful experiences is hard work. There is a reason great experience designers and game designers can get paid top dollar. But it is also a reminder to us, designers of at minimum our own lives, should give ourselves a break once in a while and realize that our lifestyle design efforts may have some bugs in them 🙂

Fix #4: Better Hope of Success

Compared with games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances for success.

Even in games which eliminate progress on failure, the player can always still start the game over. This isn’t true in life, or is it?

Here again I must differ slightly in the delivery from McGonigal. While she does invoke Raph Koster’s concept of games being “fun as long as we haven’t master them,” I feel McGonigal is a bit to overt in her depiction of reality as a nearly insurmountable adversity.

Again, I should mention I’ve met McGonigal in person and she was wonderful to speak with. Also, let’s remember that this book, Reality is Broken is in its conclusions precisely about learning from games and applying their design strategies to the real world. 

Next up, hope.

We all hope to if not flourish, then live up to our potential, to be our best self. Here I tend to align with McGonigal’s attention to Randoph Nesse’s research on the evolutionary origins of depression.

She jumps from this research to a claim that ‘today’s best games help us realistically believe in our chances for success.

Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are tough to master, and require allies like WoW raids to successfully complete songs.

Rock Band specifically gives players CD5 collaboration, CD2 sense of progress, and CD3 empowerment of creativity and feedback (“let me play the drums this time!”).

Again, I love that McGonigal discusses the 2008 study showing that among the 7,000 players in the study, 67% said they were likely to try learning an instrument. It is this merging between games and reality that is exciting. And it is the difficulty of mastery, the failing toward a goal, and the hope of success that prompted this movement.

What do you think?

Have you ever been inspired to do something in the real world because of a game?

How do you think of failure? Does it scare you? Deter you? Or do you embrace it?

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Trojan Horses and What Makes a Good Designer

This is an excerpt from the second part of the introduction of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and LeaderboardsBuy a copy hereor listen on Audible.

A Trojan Horse without Greek Soldiers

Generic game mechanics and poorly constructed game elements such as levels, boss fights, or quests often fall into the same hole as PBLs. Simply put, applying traditional “game elements” ubiquitous in popular gameplay without diving deeper into user motivation contributes to shallow user experience: it’s all flash and no bang. An almost humorous example of this is when people I meet call something a “quest” instead of a “task” thinking that this automatically makes the same original actions fun and engaging. Sure, having a playful attitude can make a big difference, but it only goes so far, especially when your customers and employees may already distrust your motives.

The truth is, simply incorporating game mechanics and game elements does not make a game fun.

Games aren’t necessarily fun because of high quality graphics or flashy animations either. There are many unpopular, poor-selling games with state-of-the-art 3D high- resolution graphics. There are also games with very basic graphics such as Minecraft, or even no graphics, such as the purely text-based multi-user dungeon games (MUDs), that have large communities of players addicted to them. Clearly, there are more to games than “meets the eye.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people who work in gamification incorrectly think that applying game mechanics like points, badges, and leader- boards – elements that you can also find in boring and unsuccessful games – will automatically make the product or experience fun and engaging. Unfortunately, it’s not just what game elements you put in – it’s how, when, and most importantly, why these game elements appear.

It would be foolish for a modern army commander to say, “Hey! The Greeks sent a big wooden horse to the Trojans and won the war. Lets send our enemies a big wooden horse too!” In this case, he clearly doesn’t understand the true design behind the Trojan Horse, but he only copied the outer shell of it. Instead, it would be much more effective if he created a virus that pretended to be a normal file to corrupt enemy computers. Learn from the design; don’t copy the shell.

Continue reading Trojan Horses and What Makes a Good Designer