How Yu-Kai Chou Designed his Blog Gamification System

Captain Up Gamification

Points, Badges, and Leaderboards – Do they really work?

Over the past several months I’ve been playing around with different Gamification widgets and platforms to experiment with a Points, Badges, and Leaderboard (PBL) system for this blog.

Now, as I’ve described many times before, even though PBLs aren’t the greatest thing ever (my upcoming books titled “Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.” Go figure.), they have an important place in Gamification. What makes them particularly tricky is that, depending on how its designed, the PBL game can be encouraging or insulting to users.

A Good PBL system can Engage the User

A good PBL game encourages the user to engage and dive deeper into content, seek out relevant information, and connect with and ultimately return to the host site (i.e., like my blog).

Take Khan Academy for an example. Their new ‘Learning Dashboard’ entices users to take a series of lessons on a range of topics, gaining skill progress points, and achievement awards for completing challenges, while amassing energy points for having watched tutorials and completed quizzes. All of these mechanics ultimately encourages the user to learn math, science, etc.

My goal is similar: educate and engage users on human-focused design and gamification techniques. To transform a regular visitor into a bona fide gamification aficionado takes some time. A well designed PBL game would certainly add some cachet for the visitor to keep on reading my articles, watching my videos, and engaging in conversation with yours truly (something I definitely take a lot of enjoyment in and garners many PBL points).

Why I Chose the Captain Up Platform

And so, after having looked into various PBL platforms, I finally settled on Captain Up, an Israeli startup that rewards users for exploring your site and sharing it with your friends. Using a customizable selection of badges and point awards, the platform tracks which users are engaging most within the community and broadcasts their standing via a leadership board.

Why did I choose Captain Up over other alternatives?

Well, on top of having nifty designs, they have a lot of things I can customize – levels, points, achievements, and actions. I can even reward people for interacting with specific elements on any page- a very important mechanism as I seek to draw visitors’ attention to my Octalysis Framework and tutorial vids (both of which provide a solid grounding in the core drives and mechanics of Gamification).

As a gamification designer, I really like to customize my own system, instead of an out-of-the-box-no-tweaking system. I can even create new badges or levels based on images I upload myself!

I’ve been experimenting with different game design concepts and ideas these past few months, and so far, the most recent PBL design (found on the right hand side of the page) has been working very well with a test group of a couple hundred readers signed up to play and are now regularly engaging in my site’s content.

Dangers of a Gamified PBL System: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Since the topic of Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation is one of the most common ones in the field, I won’t go into too much detail about them. But basically, the risk of many PBLs systems is that it shifts motivation from Intrinsic (I want to learn about Octalysis and other great gamification content!) to Extrinsic (I want to level up and earn that badge!).

Eventually, people could be doing it just for the points, and whereas they would love to read more about gamification to begin with, if I suddenly removed the PBL system that they are attached to, they might lose interest of reading this content altogether.

There are many ways to prevent something like that from happening, but there are thousands of ways to get it wrong – which is what many companies don’t understand right now.

How to Design an Engaging Game

Image of a Gamification System

The default setting rewarded a few points for watching a video and commenting on my blog posts, and a lot more for tweeting and sharing the post on Facebook. The platform is generally sound, especially since I indeed get more value when my readers are sharing my content to others. However, I felt the default points/rewards economy was not optimized.

The first thing I changed, was making commenting on my blog worth 100 points, and watching a video worth 40 points. Facebook Liking and Tweeting were only worth 25 and 10 points.


When I changed my system around, the kind folks in Captain Up asked me, “Isn’t 100 points way too much for just commenting?”

Good question.

Communicating a Game Worth Playing

During the Discovery and Onboarding Phases of a Player’s Journey (the beginning two phases) the first thing you want to communicate to users is whether this is “a game worth playing?”

With the rules you set, you are establishing an interaction with the user and communicating your values.

If you give people a bunch of points just to do marketing for you, or reward them virtual items for every little stupid thing, users will feel like the game is shallow – this is not a game worth playing. Users have no interest in a game if they know the game designer is just trying to benefit himself instead of caring about his users.

For instance, if there are points, progress bars, and badges for “How much money you donated to the site owner,” people will feel insulted by your lame attempt to use them for solely personal gains.

People know that sharing on Twitter/Facebook mostly benefits me, and so I don’t want to tell them that my game is about sharing. When I state that commenting on my site is worth more than anything else, I’m expressing that I value interacting *with you* more than anything else. I want to communicate with you, and that is what I value.

And if you don’t want to talk to me, at least watch my videos so you can learn something! And of course, if you are willing to share my content with your friends and family, I would be very grateful too, but I’m not going to use that as a large carrot in my site.

This tells users that the key of this game is “engagement.” I want you to be engaged, learn a lot, and participate in a community. THIS becomes a game worth playing.

The Real Challenge of the Game

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Microsoft SharePoint: How Gamification Might Improve Adoption Rates

Badgeville Sharepoint

The article is based on the Badgeville Webinar on Sharepoint. Click here to watch the original video.

SharePoint – the Collaboration Platform

SharePoint is a Web-base application platform developed by Microsoft to provide a number of functions and capabilities to promote collaboration between company employees and organization members. Since its introduction in 2001, continuous feature development and improvement has made it a powerful and reliable resource for businesses.

Despite this, its adoption rate has be painfully slow in most cases. Many organizations find that their employees often prefer to minimize their use of the platform, or ignore it completely. In fact, a 2011 Forrester report indicates that 31% of Sharepoint companies have users that still prefer collaborating via email.

The Badgeville Webinar

Enter Badgeville to address this situation with game mechanics. With Badgeville for Sharepoint the intent is to engage users and have them adopt the different Sharepoint features in a meaningful way to promote collaboration. By integrating smart gamifying elements into the Sharepoint structure, Badgeville enables companies to influence and reward key user behavior, and improve knowledge sharing, resource management and collaboration. This in turn increases the likelihood of valuable actions and performance, providing positive results derived from the initial investment. (Wow, that sounds effective.)

In a recent Badgeville webinar (July 10, 2013), Chris Lynch, Badgeville’s Director of Product Marketing, explored ways to improve Sharepoint adoption through the use of gamification techniques. Featured in the program were Joel Olson, the Managing Director at Salient6 , a Sharepoint consulting firm, and Caroline Dangson, a key producer at Badgeville.

Chris kicked off the seminar with a quick survey, polling the listeners on what they use SharePoint for – which functions they have deployed. (Listeners were allowed to check any and all of nine possible responses.) The results indicated how diverse their use was.

The three leading functions were Site (portal, intranet) (71.5%), Collaboration (58.1%), and Content Management (57.0%). At a more modest level of deployment were the internal-facing Custom Apps (26.3%) and Social (19.0%) functions. At still more modest levels were Insight, consisting of business intelligence and analytics (8.9%), and external-facing Custom Apps (8.4%). (Some listeners responded that they have deployed an unspecified function(s) (7.8%) or none at all (17.9%).)

The Sharepoint Adoption Challenge

Joel initiated his part of the session with comments about the objectives of Salient6’s efforts to unlock business value for SharePoint, by enhancing the user interface and user experience through game mechanics. But there are challenges. Both Forrester Research and Gartner Research have reported that despite over $1B being spent annually on SharePoint, adoption has been slow. Only about 40% of the “line of business” users regularly use SharePoint, with a full 41% of all users preferring more standard tools such as email. Not surprisingly, 51% of all users don’t like the user experience.

To explore this further, Joel initiated a second quick survey of the listeners to poll them on what they felt were the main adoption challenges.

The results point out some key problem areas which have previously been identified. In February 2013, Forrester Research released the report, “SharePoint Enters Its Awkward Teenage Years”, which stated that despite great strides in development, it has been a disappointment in several areas. Specifically, in these four areas:

Adoption – lack of forethought in rolling out SharePoint to regular users

User Experience – the user experience with SharePoint has proven cumbersome and confusing

Tools – people still love the experience of familiar apps, such as email, despite the advantages of SharePoint’s integrated features and the efforts of third party developed apps, such as

Business Value – 40% of the survey respondents indicate their organizations are not seeing business value from SharePoint adoption

In the survey results, the lack of enthusiasm for the user experience clearly stands out and confirms the findings from Forrester. Also the preference for other (more familiar) tools and the lack of obvious business value for users seems to support the earlier findings. (Note that the survey results reflect the exclusive nature of the polling – listeners selected only the “Biggest Adoption Challenge”, not challenges. If the survey would have allowed listeners to select multiple challenges, the cumulative impact would be more obvious.)

The survey results also indicate that the learning curve presented a significant challenge to users. This would obviously affect the user experience, providing little incentive to move away from more familiar apps and tools, and ultimately impairing the rate of adoption.

Joel noted that though IT can deliver the latest and greatest, users will often just turn their backs on new solutions. Especially when there is little support in training or encouragement for adoption. So, if IT just deploys a new application or platform and expects the users to employ it in their daily routine, certain disaster awaits. In fact, often the IT team itself is without the skills needed to understand what can be delivered and what potential benefits can be derived from the SharePoint platform. (He implied that this is a lack of business understanding on IT’s part, for what is possible.)

Digging Deeper into the Problem

Joel further focused on three points for evaluating an adoption situation –

Engagement – it’s not just about getting people to use the solution. If that were the case, you could just put the time keeping app on the intranet homepage. (This would get nearly 100% of your users to use some part of the platform, but it does solve the true “engagement” challenge.) They need to really become involve – actively engaged.

Community – Users need information, training, help, and assistance. Building community increases knowledge sharing. He suggests starting an in-house SharePoint User Group, to find the SharePoint leaders and champions. They will in turn share with others and help in the adoption process, benefiting the community and the organization.

Loyalty & Expertise – Your SharePoint team won’t scale by itself. You need to reward and recognize successful efforts on the part of the power users and champions in business. Encouraged, they will increase their efforts and evangelize the adoption of SharePoint.

To do all of this, Joel encouraged the use of a gamifying strategy. By illustrating personal examples from his Delta Frequent Flyer program, LinkedIn profile strength, and FourSquare badge collection, he demonstrated that participation is recognized and rewarded. And that is a very powerful motivator for most people.

With SharePoint 2013, the Microsoft product group recognized that gamification makes a difference in communities and in contributions. One can look at the community settings and see that reputation is built in. You can see and set reputation levels – how many points you get for the different accomplishments and tasks. Ratings result in different reputation points, with the quality of input and interaction affecting point acquisition.

Unfortunately, the reputation feature that has been built into SharePoint 2013 stops at the community level. The great effort to build recognition for who is contributing and encourage participation doesn’t transfer across communities. So, if you have multiple web applications, it is challenging – and it doesn’t actually interact with your team sites.

Joel’s member page shows when he joined and his reputation score (as a Top Contributor in the SharePoint 2013 community). It also shows him how many points are needed to move to the next level – “Earn 318 more points to move to the next level”, a very nice feature.

Joel presented Yammer as another example of game mechanics being effectively employed in a SharePoint environment. The SharePoint Yammer community, which is on top of Yammer, is a group of over 3,000 users, which was established in 2012. An app enables selected users to view leaderboards inside of Yammer. This allows one to not only see who is active, but who is contributing the most quality. It effectively identifies the leaders and champions.

The Cooperation between Badgeville and SharePoint

As the focus switched back to the collaboration between Badgeville and SharePoint, Chris Lynch explored some of the details of the gamification platform that is built on top of SharePoint. The discussion of how gamification elements are applied to the various instances of SharePoint starts from a functional level. (Caroline Dangson would later present the design perspective.)

Identifying Key Behaviors

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Gamification Research: How FarmVille uses Game Mechanics to become Winning & Addicting

Farmville Gamification

New to Gamification? Check out my post What is Gamification & my Gamification Framework: Octalysis

Gamification Research on the Game you don’t want to play but have to play

Most people know about FarmVille, either because they have played it themselves, or because they’ve been harassed by their grandmas to give their farms a nice virtual crop.

FarmVille is one of Zynga’s best performing games, and for some time was Facebook’s most popular game of all time. Currently, it still remains one of the Top 10 Games on Facebook.

The interesting thing is, FarmVille really isn’t that “fun.” It just mastered some very strong game mechanics to get everyone addicted to it, and then have them invite their friends to play with them.

When you ask FarmVille players whether the game is “fun” or not, you never hear people say, “Its SO amazing!” What you actually will hear is, “it’s okay… I play it every day so I guess it’s pretty fun. You should try it, and make sure you become my neighbor and give me these special crops!”

Similar to my post that analyzes the game mechanics of Diablo 3, this post analyzes the game mechanics that FarmVille uses to become Winning & Addicting.

Basic Game Mechanics


Virtual Reality and Fantasy

Like all sim related games, FarmVille allows the player to imagine herself living the life of someone else, in this case the exciting life of a – woopdidoo – Farmer!

Unfortunately, even though there are some applications in this within Gamification, it mostly ties into the concept of Serious Games, so we won’t be learning too much from this here.

Virtual Currency, Goods, and Values

This first thing a game needs to do, is to get the users to care about something. Sometimes it’s overcoming challenges, sometimes it’s finding out more about the storyline, and in Farmville’s case, it’s caring about virtual goods and properties.

FarmVille players are quickly introduced to a FarmVille currency system called Farm Coins, and as they invest more and more time to accumulate Farm Coins, it establishes value in the players head.

More importantly, because players are trying to build the best farm possible, there now is a new value system based on various crops and properties. Points (coins) aren’t just there for kicks and giggles, but there is actually an ecosystem where they could convert into other things that the player has learned to covet but are difficult to obtain.

Most of the other game mechanics can only work because of this value that is installed into the mind of players.

God Farmville Gamification

Ownership and Possession

Continue reading Gamification Research: How FarmVille uses Game Mechanics to become Winning & Addicting

CTF365 turns Information Security into an Epic Battle through Training Gamification

Training Gamification

Security Training Gamification

I receive tons of emails from around the world regarding gamification, asking me for feedback or share their story. I read all of them and many of them are interesting but because of my 24/7 limited time and full agenda (between my clients, my video show, writing my own content, and writing my book, along with a few startup projects) I’m forced to dig deep only a few projects. ?Few days ago, I received an email from Marius Corici, CEO and Co-founder for the CTF365 startup project, asking me to take a look at what he’s working on it. That, really caught my attention and I started to do a little research.

We live in a digital, connected world and security is one of the most important issues that today’s world confront with. According to Scientific American’s blog, last year there were 20 threats per second world wide which translates into over 1.7 millions threats per day. Don’t believe me? Google “hacked”.

The Gamification Challenge

Security training is generally dull and boring, but essential.

When it comes to learning information security, there are a few ways that people do. Through CS faculties (basics), security training companies (dull) or self taught – Google, forums, blogs (monotonous).

However somebody has to do it because is essential.

Frost & Sullivan predicts global employment of information security professionals to increase by 332,000, ending 2013 at 3.2 million and reaching ~5 millions by 2017. These 5 million we talk are these that get a world wide recognized security certificate. Beside them there are around 25 millions users that regularly check into security, hacking and system administrator forums.

The Gamification Solution

What if we could have a method of security training that is not dull and boring – a method that would be fun, entertaining, challenging and community driven?

We all know the best way to learn is to learn through applications, and that’s where gamification excels at with great results on education and training. Learning information security through gamification would increase students/employee engagement, improve retention rate and speed up the learning curve/process.

I recently wrote a post about the Top 10 Education Gamification Examples that Will Change Our Future. Feel free to take a look.

CTF = Capture the Flag Gamification

Information Security through Gamification is not a brand new concept. In fact it’s been around for a while since the internet started. It is called CTF – Capture The Flag. The DefCon conference has one of the first CTF competitions and you can even check CTF Time to see where a CTF (within the information security industry) will take place. If you dig into CTFs, you’ll find CTFs organized by CS faculties, companies or even governments agencies.

However there are a few problems thatmany CTF competitions have:

• They Don’t last – Nowadays CTFs last between 24 hours up to 3 days only.
• Most have Geographical Limitations – Often times you have to be physically in that room/building.
• They are Scattered – it happens all over the world but they are scattered and short, which means almost all of them are small too.
• They Don’t Count – because of the problems described above, HR departments don’t concern themselves too much to high-achievers in these games.

That’s why the team behind CTF365 decided that it is time to change the way Capture the Flag is designed and held by bringing a brand new approach to push security gamification into a bigger scale:

Game Design of CTF365


The game is team-based which means it will improve and strengthen communication skills as teams are forced to work together under pressure developing critical attributes of any enterprise security team, especially for those like Red Teams, CERT, CSIRT etc.

Teams are from all around the world

There are over 8500 registered users and more than 590 teams waiting for launch.

Basically they’ve built an internet within The Internet. A place where security professionals, security students and security wannabes, system administrators and programmers can play and get continuous training over information security.

How does CTF365 work?

CTF365 is a real life game where “Players” build their own Fortress/VPS (virtual private server) and defend them while attacking other servers. It’s what happened in real life when your server or computer networks are under attack by hackers.

Below are some questions I asked Marius:

Define CTF365 in one sentence.

“World of Warcraft for Hackers.” As a “Player”, the awesome magic moves and fighting techniques will be represented by your ability to write crazy powerful scripts to hack.

How did CTF365 get your initial 8500 registered users before launch?

We do the usual strategies when your marketing budget is close to none:

• Word of Mouth – Very powerful tool. This got us to hit the top on Hacker News and we got over 12,500 unique visits in one day and over 1000 registered users.

• Referral campaigns – Bring 5,10, or 15 Players and get access to the Private Alpha, Private Beta, as well as premium accounts for testing.

• Strategic partnerships – Free access for not-for-profit Information Security Conferences. This helped us to get featured on The Hacker News.

Why do you think CTF365 will catch your target Players’ attention?

I’m not an expert in gamification but looking at your Octalysis Framework I can tell that at the beginning, CTF365 will have 4 Core Drives out of 8:

Epic Meaning & Calling – Learning, Training and Improving Security Skills. As a “Player”, playing CTF365 is like haven for everyone interested in information security starting from security professionals and security wannabe, all the way up to system administrators and developers. They can do and test things that are forbidden like attacking and hacking everyone else system without worries about legality.

Ownership & Possession – They can build their bases from scratch, own virtual goods (e.g. servers, routers, etc.), speedup learning curve and improving retention rate.

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback – Using different techniques they’ll be able to unlock certain milestone while having real-time control over their servers and receiving instant feedback.

Accomplishment Core – Nothing would make them happy than being in “Hall of Fame” leaderboard, wining prizes while collecting points and badges for their real skills.

What’s your ambition with CTF365 project

There are three goals that we want to achieve:

  1. We want CTF365 to become a prerequisite for the InfoSec industry. A security professional certificate is important, but more important is what you really can do hands on.
  2. Become the World of Warcraft for the ITC industry. Using specific hacking tools is one thing, writing powerful scripts as a programmer is even cooler. Programmers can team up with ethical hackers to boost their teams.
  3. Linkedin on steroids for HR departments when hire security professionals.

Top 10 Gamification Lessons Inspired by South Park

South Park Gamification

The Genius of South Park

So I’ve been aware of South Park for over a decade now, but I wasn’t a fan because I just thought it was just some potty-mouthed kids who cussed a lot and loved gory death scenes. I didn’t even think the kids had different personalities.

However, last year my friends decided to watch a bunch of South Park for after-work relaxations, and I happened to drop in on a few episodes. What I realized, is that once you get pass the potty-mouth cussing and gory scenes (which I still don’t like), all the kids (and parents) have their unique personalities, flaws, insecurities, and moments of strength. It also actually brings a lot of insights to many deep social issues as well as psychological maneuvers that fit perfectly inline with my Gamification Framework Octalysis.

My mission here on the blog is to teach you how to do *good* gamification design, which is beyond just the Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, but ties directly into the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis (which are intrinsic motivations). But of course, it’s difficult to remember all 8 Core Drives, let alone using them in actual design and thinking.

Hence I thought presenting some lessons of gamification through fun episodes of South Park is a good way to learn in a fun way (after all, Education in Gamification is a big field these days).

1. Cartmanland

In this episode, Cartman inherits $1 Millions from his deceased grandmother, and decides to use almost all it to buy a struggling theme park.

Instead of trying to improve its business, Cartman makes a TV commercial to show how fun “Cartmanland” is and emphasizes that no one besides him can enjoy it.

After realizing he needs to hire a security guard to keep people out, he starts to accept one customer a day to pay the security guard. Then he starts to realize that he needs to hire and pay for more things in order to sustain operations, so he started to open it up to 2, 3, 4, 10s, and then hundreds of people everyday.

Since people all saw how they couldn’t get into Cartmanland, when they learned that it is starting to accept more people, they rushed to get in.

Eventually, everyone wanted to go to Cartmanland and it went from a near-bankrupted theme park into one of the most popular ones ever. This is a great example of the Octalysis Core Drive: Scarcity & Impatience (#6), where people want something, just because they can’t have it.

2. You have 0 Friends

This is a pretty straight foward episode regarding the Core Drive #5: Social Pressure & Envy. In this episode regarding Facebook, Stan sees that every one of his friends is using Facebook, and all of them are feeling that they’re not really “friends” unless Stan adds them.

Stan eventually succumbs to the pressure and starts to use his Facebook account. Then his dad and girlfriend all get mad him for not adding them as friends or changing his status to being in a relationship.

On the other hand, Kyle added an unpopular kid who had no friends in school, which resulted everyone else unfriending him due to “bad association.” Unable to stand the social pressure, Kyle finally unfriends the unpopular kid in school, hoping to add back his popularity again.

In this episode, we also see Core Drive: Development & Accomplishment (#2), as everyone tries to keep track of their friend count, with Cartman jumping for joy when he sees that he had more friends than Kyle.

3. Butters’ Bottom Bitch

In this episode, after Butters becomes a customer of a girl who would kiss anyone for $5, he decides to start a “girl kissing business” where he would hire girls around school and kiss other boys for money.

To motivate the girls, Butters introduced an “employee motivation” system, where the girls would earn a sun on a calendar every time they got clients, but if the girls fail to show up to work that day, they would get a stormy cloud.

This, like most badge and leaderboard systems, focuses on Core Drive #2: Development & Accomplishment, Core Drive #5: Social Pressure & Envy, as well as Core Drive #8: Loss & Avoidance.

It works in kindergarten, and it works for pimps.

4. Chinpokomon