Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

Serious Games

Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

(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. This is also a flushed out version of my guest post at

One of the most popular debates and criticisms in the gamification industry is what is considered gamification and how it relates to Serious Games and Advergames.

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”). defines advergames as, “A video game which in some way contains an advertisement for a product, service, or company.” 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?

The Semantics of Gamification vs. The Value of Gamification

Continue reading Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

Affection Held Hostage – how my love for my wife got me duped in China

Chinese Scam

My Affection Held Hostage

(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.)

In early 2014, I was invited to the global conglomerate *Huawei* in Shenzhen, China to do a few workshops on gamification. During this trip, I had an assigned tour guide that took me to the beautiful Tea Stream Valley for a full day trip. (You can see much of this trip, including my camel ride and a jaw-dropping lion dance performance, in my video series – The Beginner’s Guide to Gamification). Between all that excitement, the educational part of my trip came towards the end.

As I was leaving Tea Stream Valley, I saw people soliciting for pencil drawn portraits. My tour guide was using the restroom, so I decided to check them out and if they were any good – that’s the power of Core Drive 7: Curiosity. They saw me approach and asked if I wanted a portrait which I politely turned down.

I was about to leave, when I saw another artist drawing a portrait based on an iPhone photo for another customer. I asked (in Mandarin of course), “Oh, so if I give you a mobile photo, you can draw it too?” He responded, “Of course! Do you want one?”

I decided that this would be a great way for me to bring something back for my wife to show that I was thinking about her during my long trip away from home. Instead of just buying something expensive on the shelf at an airport, a hand-drawn portrait of her would be more personal and more endearing. It would show her that I actually spent time to have something unique and custom-made for her.

I asked the artist, “So how much for one?” He told me it was about the equivalent of $50 USD. I thought, “Wow, that’s extremely expensive, even by U.S. standards.” Instead of negotiating with him, which I generally dislike doing because it requires too much emotional energy, I decided to use the walk-away tactic in Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

“Sorry, that’s way too expensive for me.” As I started walking away, he rushed to say, “What if I could do it for $35?” I felt happy that my scarcity tactic was working, but $35 was still too expensive so I said, “Naw, like I said, it’s way too much.” Of course, I wasn’t bluffing. I truly did not intend to buy anything at that point.

He then said, “Okay…I can do it for $25. Since the day’s about to end, I’ll just do you a favor and wrap up with this one.” At this point, even though it still wasn’t very cheap (for comparison, a 90-minute massage in Shenzhen was only $25), I thought I haggled well by cutting his original asking price down by 50% – feeling a sense of Core Drive 2. He also just used a Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness tactic of “I like you, so I’ll do you a favor,” so I thought I might as well agree to do it. I’m on a fun trip anyway.

After working for twenty minutes, he was almost done with the portrait. It was alright. It wasn’t great but you could tell that it looked like my wife.(That was my main goal – I didn’t want her thinking that I was having another woman drawn!)

As he was wrapping up, he asked, “Would you like to add a transparent protective layer to the drawing? It will protect the pencil lead from being smudged.” I said, “Sure, sounds good!” He gave me a concerned look and said, “It’s going to cost more though.” Slightly surprised, I asked, “How much more?” He told me nonchalantly that for the protective layer, it was going to cost me $15 extra.

I then realized his sneaky tactic and felt fairly annoyed. I responded in an emotionally disturbed tone, “Then forget about it. I’m not going to pay $15 just for that layer.”

Then, with a very concerned and considerate facial expression, he explained, “But if you don’t add the protective layer, the pencil lead will definitely smudge in your luggage bag and ruin the whole drawing. Look how easily the pencil lead falls off.” He then proceeded to use his thumb to rub a corner of the portrait, and indeed a layer of graphite came off onto his thumb. “It would be such a shame if this nice drawing got destroyed!”

What would you do in this situation? Continue reading Affection Held Hostage – how my love for my wife got me duped in China

When to use Extrinsic Rewards to Motivate People

Extrinsic Rewards

The Advantages of Extrinsic Motivation Design

(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.)

Obviously designing for Extrinsic Motivation is not all negative. Besides enhancing a person’s focus on completing monotonous routine tasks, it also generates initial interest and desire for the activity.

Often, without there being extrinsic motivation during the Discovery Phase (before people first try out the experience), people do not find a compelling reason to engage with the experience in the first place. Promoting, “You will get a $100 gift card if you sign-up,” usually sounds more appealing than “You will utilize your creativity and be in a fun state of unpredictability with your friends!” (Though both actually utilize Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.)

When people consider themselves “too busy,” they won’t justify spending time to try out your experience. But when you offer them an extrinsic reward to try out the experience, they will at least test it out, assuming of course that the reward is not an insult to the value of the user’s time investment.

Rewarding users $2 for trying a new search engine for an entire month is pretty weak, while paying people $3 to spend weeks going to stores, taking pictures, and sharing them with their friends is also a path to failure. It is better to not give them a reward at all!

And of course, as we have seen earlier, if people continuously justify doing something for high extrinsic rewards, their intrinsic motivation dwindles as the Overjustification Effect settles in.

Therefore, as Michael Wu of Lithium points out, it is better to attract people into an experience using Extrinsic Rewards (gift cards, money, merchandise, discounts), then transition their interest through Intrinsic Rewards (recognition, status, access), and finally use Intrinsic Motivation to ensure their long term engagement. Through this process, users will start to enjoy the activity so much that they will focus on relishing the experience itself without thinking about what can be gained from the experience.

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance


(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.)

The 8th Core Drive of Octalysis Gamification

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 17, Loss & Avoidance

Loss and Avoidance is the eighth and final core drive in my Octalysis Framework. It motivates through the fear of losing something or having undesirable events transpire.

A concept within many popular games is to stay alive in order to advance to the next round. Depending on the game’s design, dying or injuring your character means that you’re now forced to start over or lose something significant – be it coins, money, the number of lives you have, or other setbacks that make it more difficult to reach the Win-State.

This aversion towards loss is obviously not limited to games. There are many situations in the real world where we act based on fear of losing something that represents our investment of time, effort, money, or other resources. To preserve our ego and sense of self, Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance sometimes manifests itself through our refusal to give up and admit that everything we have done up to this point has been rendered useless.

Even new opportunities that are perceived as fading away can exhibit a form of Loss & Avoidance. If people do not act immediately on this temporary opportunity, they feel like they are losing the chance to act forever.

A common example can be seen in the coupons that arrive regularly in the mail. Let’s say you receive a coupon that gives you a 10% discount to a popular chain store that you have no interest in visiting, and the coupon is labeled to expire on February 12th.

Your brain may be absolutely certain that, if you let the coupon expire, the very next month you will receive the exact same coupon that expires on March 12th. But you might get an annoying feeling that you are somehow losing something if you don’t use the coupon before the expiration date. Rationally it shouldn’t matter, but you are compelled to think about the offer a little more. As a result, you become a bit more likely to go to the store for a discount that you may not truly care about.

Cropping your Losses in Farmville

Many social games effectively employ Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance to motivate players towards taking the Desired Actions. In the now familiar example of Farmville, if we look at the early part of their onboarding stage, we can see that avoidance design was already integrated into the system, inducing users to “log in” multiple times each day.

The first few minutes of Farmville seems very positive as the player spends time creating their avatar and starts working on their farm with an initial pool of free *Farm Cash*. However, Farmville soon demands that each player maintain their crops and livestock through routine farming chores – mostly in the form of coming back and clicking on the crops and livestock to harvest their products.

If you don’t return to reap your harvest within a given number of hours, as determined by the crops’ profiles (you can choose which crop to plant, which plays into Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback), you will lose your invested hard work and be shown demoralizing images of crops withering and dying. This mildly depressing incident upsets the user, compelling them to log back in frequently to keep their crops alive. The player becomes proactively involved in avoiding this negative outcome.

Gamification Farmville Dead Crops

When players lose their crops, it not only costs them Farm Cash to replace but also their time, as they have to replant and maintain new crops again. Each time you see the discouraging images of dead crops, you are hit with the triple whammy of having lost your time, effort, and resources.

Many years ago I was astonished at how effective this design could be, as my technology abhorrent mother suddenly became obsessed with playing Farmville. Back then, my mother was the type of person who thinks that technology is a source of evil that is polluting society and crippling authentic relationships; she still barely checks her email.

But in 2009, due to her close friend’s enthusiastic recommendation – a nice example of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, my mother signed up on Facebook and started to play Farmville. The beginning of the Onboarding phase was smooth and fun, as she used the game to relax her mind and connect with her friends.

However, after a few months of playing, my mother would sometimes wake up at 5:00am in the morning simply to harvest her crops and prevent them from withering. It became so bad that when my mother needed to travel out of town, she would call up my cousin and ask if he could log into her Facebook account and help manage her farm. She needed to make sure her crops didn’t die. (Though she also used to ask me, being a son that was lacking in “{chinesefont}孝{latinfont}” as discussed in Chapter 5, I eventually deferred the responsibility so I could focus on my “other” important work).

At the time, this blew my mind. I initially thought the reason for most people to play games was because they had too many responsibilities in the real world and needed to immerse themselves into a fantasy world to escape those responsibilities. However, here you have a brand new set of virtual responsibilities that add on even more stress and anxiety to daily life. It didn’t make any sense.

Of course, today I understand the nature and power of Black Hat Motivation. For a period of time, Farmville was able to successfully increase its Daily Active Users Metrics and lower short-term turnover with this type of Loss & Avoidance design. That is, until users hit a “Black Hat Rebound,” where they eventually burn out and find the courage to pursue freedom outside of Farmville.

Flipping other Core Drives Off

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance complements many of the other Core Drives for an interesting reason: often it manifests as the reversal of the other Core Drives. You don’t want something bigger than yourself to fall apart (Core Drive 1), hence you act; or you don’t want to look like a loser in front of your friends (Core Drive 5), hence you make a purchase.

Some may argue that this doesn’t constitute a separate Core Drive. As an example, critics might point out that people are driven back to Farmville because they want to feel a sense of accomplishment or ownership and that the loss of either feeling is simply the removal of these drives. However, from a design standpoint, it is important to consider Loss & Avoidance as its own Core Drive.

This is because gaining something and preventing a loss is incredibly different from the standpoint of motivation. Studies have shown over and over that we are much more likely to change our behavior to avoid a loss than to make a gain. It forces us to act differently and plays by different mental rules. In fact, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman indicates that on average, we are twice as loss-averse compared to seeking a gain. This means that we have a tendency to only take on a risk if we believed the potential gain would be double the potential loss if the risk were realized.

Through using the Octalysis Framework, this differentiation improves behavioral design by specifically identifying opportunities to integrate proactive loss-avoidance mechanics that generate a more subtle set of motivational dynamics.

A Caveat: Avoiding the Avoidance

Continue reading The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance

How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

Left Brain vs Right Brain Gamification

How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

(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.)

Since this book is entitled Actionable Gamification, we want to make sure you have a set of steps and tools to help you develop your own projects. The ultimate question that this chapter seeks to answer is: “How do I make my users more motivated intrinsically?”

Well, we’ve noted earlier that Intrinsic Motivation is often derived from Right Brain Core Drives, which relate to Core Drive 3, 5, and 7. Therefore, the actionable way to add Intrinsic Motivation into an experience is to think about how to implement those Core Drives into the experience.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 1: Making the experience more Social

One of the common Right Brain Core Drives that the business world has been using in recent years is Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Many companies are seeking ways to make things more social by incorporating social media, and constantly spamming their users to spam their friends.

Of course, there are better and worse ways to make your experience more social. The first principle to note is that users are intrinsically interested in inviting their friends to an experience only if they are first sold on its value. Often this happens during the First Major Win-State, which is a term referring to the moment when the user first says, “Wow! This is awesome!”

Many companies make the gigantic mistake of asking users to invite all their Facebook friends at the beginning of the Onboarding Stage, which happens right after the user signs up. The users don’t even know whether they will like the experience themselves, let alone risk their friendships by spamming others. In fact, this prompting interface actually delays the First Major Win-State, which could be detrimental to the entire experience.

The experience designer needs to identify exactly where that First Major Win-State is, and count exactly how many minutes it takes for the users to get there – because every second before that you will be seeing dropout. Once the user hits the first major Win-State, that’s the best time to ask them to invite their friends or rate the product. (We will reiterate these important points on First Major Win-States in our chapter discussing the Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey.)

Besides finding the right time to prompt friend-invites, it is important to determine the right type of message. I’ve seen many companies require their users to share a default text such as, “I just used Company A, the leader in B space, to solve all my problems! Sign-up right now for a 30% discount!” This is a message that is obviously not genuine, and will lead to users feeling like they are being baited to share crappy promotional messages.

Rather, it is better to have something less informative, but more believable, such as, “I’ve been reading Yu-kai’s book on gamification. It’s worth checking out! #OctalysisBook.” A default tweet like this (which still allows the user to modify it anyway they wish), produces a social message that their friends will more likely recognize as a true endorsement.

With that all said, none of the above is actually making the experience itself more social. It is much better to foster collaborative play within the Desired Action, where users can help each other out, socialize, and grow together.

When you design for Intrinsic Motivation, you want to create environments that foster socializing, even with areas that are non-critical to the Desired Actions (such as the Water Cooler game technique). Also, consider adding in more Group Quests where users can work together, utilize their unique strengths, and accomplish tasks together. This often makes an experience more intrinsically motivating and enjoyable.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 2: Add more Unpredictability into the Experience

Continue reading How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification