4 Application Fields of Gamification

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

4 Application Fields of Gamification

Now that we have covered the different implementation methods for gamification, we will explore the various applications of gami- fication in several industries.

In general, the majority of my clients represent four fields that I consistently see innovating time and time again, indicating a tremendous amount of application and growth in these sectors:

  • Product Gamification
  • Workplace Gamification
  • Marketing Gamification
  • Lifestyle Gamification


Product Gamification is about making a product, online or offline, more engaging, fun, and inspirational through game design. Most companies struggle to create products that customers fall in love with, continue using, and passionately share with their friends. Some of these products have great “functional” purposes, but don’t focus on the motivation and Core Drives of their users.

In a previous era, consumers didn’t have adequate information and were accustomed to slow gratification. Along with immense barriers for starting new companies, it was not as detrimental for a company to simply assume that customers would use their products – provided that they were marketed correctly. However, people today are spoiled with instant gratification through the Internet, with immersive empowerment and real-time feedback through games, and the constant connection to their social network. Your users, customers, and employees are becoming less tolerant of badly designed products that do not take into account their motivations, especially when they have a variety of competitive alternatives they can choose from.

Many corporations and startups excitedly tell me, “Our product is great! Users can do this; users can do that; and they can even do these things!” And my response to them has been, “Yes, you are telling me all the things your users can do. But you have not explained to me why the user would do it.”

That’s the problem with a majority of company products – great technology and functionalities, but no traction. People don’t have a reason to go out of their way to use the product. Sometimes, a startup founder tells me, “Hey, Yu-kai, there’s no reason why people wouldn’t use our product. We save them money, we save them time, and we make their lives better.” On lucky days, customers themselves would even say, “Yeah, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t use your product. It saves me money, it saves me time, and it makes my life better. I’ll definitely sign-up sometime tomorrow.”

For those who have run startups or launched products before, you know the crucial part of the entire phrase is the ending. When people say they will do it “tomorrow,” more often than not it means “never.” This is because at this point they are motivated by Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance, and specifically by something I call Status Quo Sloth (Game Technique #85) – they are avoiding a change in their habits and behavior.

Remember how we talked about how Gamification is actually Human-Focused Design learned from decades, even centuries of game design experience? When you are launching a new product, its motivational standing is very similar to a game. No one has to play a game. You have to do your taxes; you have to go to work; and you really should go to the gym. But you never have to play a game, and let’s be honest, oftentimes you shouldn’t.

Because games have invested an amazing amount of creativity, innovation, and resources into figuring out how to get people to want to spend more time on them, there are definitely many great lessons you can learn from games for your own products. The key here is to make a product so exciting that customers become obsessed with using your product and are compelled to share how exciting their experiences were to their friends.

Workplace Gamification

Workplace Gamification is the craft of creating environments and systems that inspire and motivate employees towards their work. More often than not, employees show up to work every day just so they can earn a paycheck (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession) and to not lose their jobs (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance). As a result, employees only work hard enough to earn their paychecks and to not lose their jobs (if you recall, Core Drives 4 and 8 are great examples of Left Brain, Extrinsic and Black Hat Motivation).

In fact, Gallup’s 142-country study shows that only 13% of employ- ees are categorized as “engaged” with their work27. In comparison, 24% of the workforce is categorized as “Actively Disengaged,” which means they are so unhappy with their work that they minimize their productivity, spread negativity, and even sabotage productive efforts that require them to do more work to keep their jobs.

That is something pretty scary to think about. It means that, chances are, a quarter of your company is poisonous! How can any organism be competitive at anything if 24% of its body is composed of cancer cells?

Contrary to popular self-denial, it is actually not the employees’ fault they are disengaged. Companies like Zappos and Google (especially in the old days) are known to get their employees motivated, driven, and excited about their work on a daily basis2829. I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity and the longing to become motivated and driven for something that is worth their cause. It is bad environmental and cultural design that turns good employees into toxic cells.

Of course, you don’t need a Gallup study to know how disengaged employees are at work. Just think about how often people close to you complain about their work or their bosses. Think about the movie Office Space, the quintessential comedy about life in a typical bland, rigid, and oppressive company in America30. The movie was such a great hit and now a cult classic because people can actually relate to the frustration and disengagement of the characters in the movie (a good example of the “relatedness” piece within Core Drive 5 at work).

Why does that matter? Because research has shown that on aver- age, the companies with disengaged and unmotivated employees only obtain 50% of profits and only 40% of revenue growth when compared to companies with engaged and motivated employees.31 If I told you that you could double your profits and improve your revenue growth by 250% without opening new markets and without introducing new breakthrough technologies but by simply making your workplace more engaging and motivating, would you do it? Most people would say yes. But from my own personal experience, there will still be people who say no, simply because, “I don’t want my employees playing games. It’s a distraction!”

Workplace Gamification is critical for today’s economy and the future of creative innovation. The Gen-Ys entering the workforce (and they are thirty now) are used to being in environments that provide them Epic Meaning, Relatedness, Autonomy, and more. This will only get worse as the even-younger generation enters the workforce, so it is wise for companies to start setting up the correct motivations systems as early as possible to avoid the devastation of having a surplus in labor but a shortage in talent.


Marketing Gamification

Marketing Gamification is the art of creating holistic marketing campaigns that engage users in fun and unique experience designed for a product, service, platform, or brand. Not too long ago, people clicked on online ads because, more often than not, they couldn’t tell the difference between ads and content. But nowadays, users are becoming more sophisticated in filtering out unwanted promotions, decreasing the effectiveness of many advertisement campaigns (thanks in large part to ad blocker apps too).

Then you have TV commercials, where everyone simply tunes them out, switches the channel away, or just fast-forwards if they have a TiVo. As for other traditional methods like ads on billboards or newspapers…don’t even get me started.

In the past decade, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) have proven to be fairly effective tech- niques for gaining exposure and improving sales. In fact, a search engine is just a large leaderboard, and the industry of Search Engine Optimization is simply the game to climb to the top of that leaderboard. This works because 1) you can target the right people who are searching for your exact solution, and 2) you can target them at the right time they are searching.

However, SEO and SEM still lack the trust component in online marketing. If a website you trust and have followed for two years sells something you need, you are likely not going to go searching for a random site on a search engine to purchase from.

Enter Social Media Marketing. Through platforms like blogs, Face- book, Twitter, and Youtube, brands are able to build relationships with potential customers, create unique value, and establish trust that leads to future engagement. Unfortunately, social media plat- forms are just the delivery channels for engaging content; in and of themselves, they do not motivate or successfully engage with users.

This is where Gamification comes in. Marketing Gamification specifically utilizes game elements and strategies throughout a player’s journey by first focusing on why a user would engage with you in the first place. Marketing shouldn’t just be one action done from the marketer and one response back from the customer, but should be an entire ecosystem where both the marketer and customer are able to experience fun and feel continuously engaged through a variety of interactions.

Marketing Gamification utilizes the platforms and vehicles de- scribed above as well as others: SEO, Social Media, Blogging, Email Marketing, online/offline competitions, viral vehicle strategies, and reward schedules to continuously engage users throughout an engaging and gamified experience.

Lifestyle Gamification

I mentioned in Chapter 1 that my life completely changed when I was struck by an epiphany that I should treat everything like a game. Since gamification is great at motivating people towards cer- tain activities, why wouldn’t you apply that to motivate yourself?

Lifestyle Gamification involves applying gamification principles and the 8 Core Drives into daily habits and activities, such as managing your to-do list, exercising more often, waking up on time, eating healthier, or learning a new language.

There are also many technological enablers that make Lifestyle Gamification more popular, including big buzzword trends such as Big Data, Wearable Tech, Quantified Self, and The Internet of Things32. The interesting thing about all these trends is that it enables all your activity to be tracked allowing you the ability to manage your Feedback Mechanics and Triggers.

Games have historically been able to track every single action that a player makes. A game would automatically know that this particular player is on Level three, she has picked up these four items, learned these three skills, talked to these six characters, but not those other three characters, and because of that, this door does not open for the player.

A game remembers everything you have done and customizes your experience based on that. In real-life, most of your “data” is not recorded, and so it is hard to craft a optimized lifestyle. The trend with wearable tech and quantified self finally allows us to track more of our own behavior on a daily basis. Of course, even companies that claim they wield the power of Big Data don’t yet compare to the level of customization that gamers take for granted. Many still stick to generalized demographics and non-actionable reports, instead of creating a unique experience for each user in real-time33.

Lifestyle Gamification branches into a few sectors such as Career Gamification, Health Gamification, Productivity Gamification, and Education Gamification. It can be utilized to gamify big picture activities such as accomplishing your life goals, or very tactical activities such as using a dice to determine how you should reward yourself (which is derived from Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity).

Since Lifestyle Gamification fundamentally changed my life, I am extremely passionate about how it can help people achieve their dreams through 1. Finding their game, 2. Analyzing their initial stats 3. Formulating their skill trees, 4. Connecting with allies, 5. Finding the right quests, and 6. Beating the game. Since this is a huge topic that warrants its own book, I won’t be spending time in this book covering the topic in detail.

So far we have laid out a wide net that covers many terms, concepts, Core Drives, Experience Phases, natures of motivation, and implementations of design. Don’t feel intimidated. For the next few chapters, we begin to dive deeper into all the things we already talked about, which will allow you to have an even better grasp of the foundation of the Octalysis Framework.


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

Semantics vs Value: Tomato TomAto

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

Semantics vs. Value

To me this discussion is non-productive. I would rather spend my time learning about and harnessing the power of games to change the world for the better, instead of debating over classifications of terms. What good have you created in the world when you spend your day arguing if something is “a game made for traveling” or “travel gamified”?

But there are people who would say, “No. That great example is a serious game! Gamification is just limited to these things that are really lame.” Why do people first define gamification as something lame, and then call it lame? For many years I have also worked on serious game projects and advergames, and if I can utilize that knowledge and experience to help the world, why limit what I can do as a gamification professional just because of some definitions?

I’ll share a little secret with you: For the most stringent academics out there, though I claim to have twelve years of gamification experience, I’m actually a fraud. Technically, I have three years of serious games experience, three years of loyalty program experi- ence, and six years of gamification experience, consisting of two distinct periods. Throughout the entire time, I was driven by the exact same vision of applying game principles to impact the world. Call me lazy, but I’d rather just refer to my work as gamification and start producing results that make a difference in the world instead of arguing about what I can and cannot do as a gamification professional.

I’ve written about how I (along with many “gamification profes- sionals”) am not a big fan of the word “Gamification.” This is mostly the term that the industry has adopted. I have preferred the term “Human-Focused Design” (as opposed to Function-Focused Design), which is a design process that remembers the human motivations within the system.

On a similar note, I also dislike the term “serious games,” as it implies that pure games are not serious – something that millions of serious gamers out there would heavily disagree with. Think how many sports athletes would be offended if they played basketball for a charitable cause, and people called that the “Serious Sports” industry.

Continue reading Semantics vs Value: Tomato TomAto

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

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.

BusinessDictionary.com 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.

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