What is Gamification

Gamification President

If you want to make Gamification actionable, Check out my Complete Gamification Framework called Octalysis and my Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification

What is Gamification?

For those who been following my blog regularly, its pretty apparent that I have been writing heavily into the topic of Gamification. This may be an unfamiliar word for many of you. What is Gamification?

This post is a quick overview to explain what is Gamification about and clear up a great deal of misconceptions in the industry.

Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This is what I call “Human-Focused Design” as opposed to the “Function-Focused Design.” It’s a design process that optimizes for the human in the system, as opposed to pure efficiency of the system.

Most systems are “function-focused” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes that the workers within WILL do their jobs. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that people in the system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.

The reason we call it gamification is because the gaming industry was the first to master human-focused design. Games have no other purpose than to please the human inside. There are “objectives” in the games, such as killing the dragon or saving the princess, but those are all excuses to simply keep the player happily entertained inside. Since games have spent decades learning how to master motivation and engagement, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it Gamification.

Games have the amazing ability to keep people engaged for a long time, build relationships and trust between people, and develop their creative potentials.

Unfortunately, most games these days are simply focused on escapism – wasting your life away on something that doesn’t improve your own life nor the life of others (besides the game makers of course).

Imagine if there is a truly addicting game, where the more time you spend on it, the more productive you would be. You would be playing all day, enjoying it, and your career would be growing, you would be making more income, having better relationships with your family, creating value for your community, and solving the hardest problems in the world.

That is the goal I strive for and the potential I see that Gamification could fulfill.

What Is Gamification in relationship to the Gaming Industry?

Many people think Gamification is a branch of gaming. Upon hearing the term, some people respond with, “Oh I don’t play games.”

That’s a complete misconception on what is gamification all about.

So what is Gamification really? Gamification does not involve games. It is simply absorbing the fun elements in a game (what we call Game Mechanics or Game Techniques) into real-world applications. When you see the progress bar on LinkedIn, or when you Tumblr listing out a Leaderboard on the best content, do you think, “Oh I don’t play games. This is not for me.”? Of course not!

Gamification Example


In essence, if you can classify something as a game, it rarely is true Gamification. (Because…how can you gamify…a game? That’s like liquefying liquid.)

Isn’t Gamification just about adding points and badges to your website?

A big problem with the Gamification industry is that most people just think about Gamification as adding some points, badges and a leaderboard onto a website.

That’s just like how in the old days of Social Media (and even today), many people thought social media marketing was just creating a Twitter profile and Facebook page.

While badges and leaderboards are part of Gamification, it doesn’t capture the core essence of Gamification. Gamification is using Game Mechanics and Techniques to engage and motivate people through their Core Drives.

I’m sure you’ve seen websites that have some type of leaderboard, but no one actually cares about it. Its just there as a gimmick and it does not speak to our Core Drives.

What is Gamification really about? True Gamification starts with the Core Drives, starts with “Why?” and “How?” instead of “What?” and truly drives behaviors and motivates people.

At the end of the day, all games have “game elements” in them, but most games suck, while only a handful of games are actually winners.

Just because you have wings doesn’t mean you can fly. Just because you have badges doesn’t mean you are appeal to the Core Drives and are actually gamified. What is Gamification if you can’t actually motivate your users?

Can Gamification really motivate people?


Consider this: Many people feel that kids these days have bad work ethics – they don’t want to do their home works, they don’t have any discipline, and they don’t have any persistence when they encounter challenges.

However, when it comes to playing games, kids have AMAZING work ethics. Many kids wake up secretly behind their parents’ back 3AM in the morning, just to play a game and level up their fictional characters.

If you’ve played RPGs (Role-Playing Games) before, you would know that a lot about leveling up is simply killing the same monsters over and over at the same place for HOURS.

In the “real world,” this is often defined as Grunt Work. No one likes to do grunt work. But these kids who have no discipline are sacrificing sleep and risking being grounded to do it.

Why? Because they are excited about bringing their character from level 18 to level 19. Because they want to get that extra +5 strength, and perhaps be able to beat that boss once they reach level 20.

They do it because they see the big picture of WHY they are doing it, and they like the sense of Development and Accomplishment and Pride, as well as Progression and Self Actualization that leveling up gives them. They want something enough that anything that stands in the way, be it grunt work or not, is worth doing, and doing quickly.

So what is Gamification’s true potential? Imagine if a company advised their employees not to work late at night, but the work is so interesting and engaging that they all WANT to work late without getting paid more. Wouldn’t that be something.

If most gamification techniques are done incorrectly, how can people implement Good Gamification?

In 2012 I published my Gamification Framework called Octalysis, which is an analysis based on an Octagon shape. The premise of it is that, instead of starting gamification off with “game elements” and “game mechanics,” one should always start with how she wants her users to “feel.”

Octalysis breaks down motivation into 8 Core Drives, including things like Epic Meaning & Calling, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Scarcity & Impatience, etc., and it allows anyone to really create something that is more engaging.

The framework also factors in White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification, Right Brain vs Left Brain Core Drives, as well as the Four Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey and Bartle’s Four Player Types. If you want to learn what is Gamification really about, this is an extremely helpful tool.

What is Gamification

Is Gamification an underground niche phrase, or is there an established industry around it?

While the application of Gamification has been around for decades, the actual term has only come about for a few years. Nevertheless, there are many companies that are built around this theme. A few of the biggest startups on Gamification include BunchBall, Badgeville,  and BigDoor, while organizations like Gamification.Co host large conferences such as the GSummit that just talks about what is gamification and how to do it. Finally, there are a group of individuals who, like me, Ray Wang, and Andrzej Marczeski, are passionate about what is gamification and its true essence.

In short, Gamification is still relatively niche, but is growing rapidly, much like the term Social Media in the old days.

What is Gamification doing for Yu-kai Chou

Due to a recent setback in my life (I can write a separate post about that if there is interest), I started examining what I’m doing with my life, why I work, and what am I passionate about.

I realized, out of all the things that I have some expertise in, I had the most passion and experience in Gamification.

Why? Because growing up, I used to be a heavy gamer. I used to spend a huge amount of my time mastering a game, leveling up, conquering difficult quests, and find allies.

But then in 2003, I quit because I realized none of it was helpful for my real life. It was simply unproductive.

And for the next 10 years, I’ve been devoting my career into applying the fun of gaming principals into productive things and learning the essentials of what is gamification.

I started a company that helped students play games to develop their professional skills as well as enable companies to recruit better talent through gaming I also personally coached hundreds of professionals and students to turn their life into a game where they are their own Role-Playing characters and their goal is to get experience, level up, find allies, become the strongest player on their server and solve a large problem in this world.

To that effect, I started my Gamification career before the term Gamification became established. As a pioneer in the craft, I am completely passionate in helping companies and individuals make their tasks fun and exciting.

Later on, I became a Regular Lecturer at Stanford University about topics like what is gamification, Octalysis, and Human-Focused. I was also rated a Top 5 Gamification Guru by Leaderboarded.

Q&A: What is Gamification

If you have other questions about what is gamification and how to use it effectively for your company, feel free to ask in the comment section below. Look forward to talking to you!

For a video walk-through, check out: What is Gamification? 

53 thoughts on “What is Gamification

  1. Pingback: Links for October 4, 2012 | Andrzej's Links

  2. Samuel

    Awesome post!

    I do think Gamification is part of gaming, until today that I found out it’s not. Would love to learn more about Gamification.

    Looking forward to your next post!


    P:S let us know the setack you faced in life, hopefully we can learn from them.

  3. Yu-kai Chou Post author

    Thanks. I’ll be posting a lot more about Gamification. I’ll also find a time to write about my setbacks 😉

  4. Joseph Chicas

    Thank you sir, never heard of this concept, but happy I know now! I am curious about how this applies to my field in community organizing and community engaged research with vulnerable populations. Would also be interested in hearing about the teachable moments deduced from your setback. Thanks for the piece!

  5. Richard Lin

    Hey Yu-kai,

    I thought your blog was insight and I really enjoy the fact that you are now posting heavily on Gamification. Currently, I am working at SAP and we are putting in more game mechanics into our community network. Actually, we are working specifically with Bunchball, on implementing those strategies. I’ll look forward to the blogs you will be posting in the near future about Gamification.


  6. Yu-kai Chou Post author

    Thanks for reading my blog Joseph! It’s been a while I’ve seen you around.

    I’ll need more specifics about your question. Can you give a more detailed view of what you’re doing?


  7. Yu-kai Chou Post author

    Glad that you are working at a good company, and glad that they are doing Gamification stuff! 😉

    Let me know if you ever need help with anything!

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  28. ozsilverfox

    I have hear Ray Wang talk with Rajat Pahrina from Bunchball both outstanding individual Looking forward to hear you in Adelaide in March 2014. Carter Lusher is looking forward to revisiting Adelaide for this Gamification conference. We have invite a range of speaker as the list email to you Its will be a great 2 days with Australian business learning about Gamification

  29. Yu-kai Chou

    @Joseph ChicasThanks for reading my blog Joseph! It’s been a while I’ve seen you around. I’ll need more specifics about your question. Can you give a more detailed view of what you’re doing? Thanks!

  30. Yu-kai Chou

    @SamuelThanks. I’ll be posting a lot more about Gamification. I’ll also find a time to write about my setbacks 😉

  31. Yu-kai Chou

    @Richard LinGlad that you are working at a good company, and glad that they are doing Gamification stuff! 😉 Let me know if you ever need help with anything!

  32. RubenGP

    Great post Yu-kai, how superb summary on Gamification and its applications! Thanks for gamfying our learning 😉 Are you planning to visit Spain and talk about these amazing techniques?

  33. kensavage

    I’m printing out this page and hanging it on my wall as the true definition of what gamification should be.

  34. ultrabonz

    I am currently working for an employer in Switzerland, who wants to start a new learning platform similar to moodle. I tried to convince my employer that, since we have to start from scratch anyway, we should use gamification principles to create the platform. I told them that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But they keep telling me it’s too costly, too complicatet AND not pragmatic (???). They seem to have no fcking clue what gamification is all about and since it’s so new, they’re just afraid or simply ignorant to seize the chance. I sent them information about gamification (incl. your website) but they don’t even read it!
    Any suggestions?

  35. Ashok Maharaj

    ultrabonz I use edmodo for my classes…though its not gamified they have creatively used the badges to reward microbehaviors…also, I heard that moodle is working on a gamified platform! That doesn’t mean you should not attempt one…

  36. JoseManuelRodriguez

    Yukai, as you mention yourself as top on the global scoreboard of Gamification Gurus, how should we treat all the information released here? I’m a CC follower and entrepreneur, so can I basically make use of all this knowledge and references with the appropiate creative commons rules?
    I also posted somewhere else in the page to help you out moving from the english to the spanish world… you can even gamify the whole translation project… 
    3rd and last: any books comming up? Next video tutorial ETA?

  37. Yu-kai Chou

    JoseManuelRodriguez Thanks for the comment Jose! Yes, I’m sharing my knowledge to make gamification better in the world. Feel free to take anything I have on my site, and I will appreciate a reference back to me. 
    Yes, a great example of gamified language translation is Duolingo 😉
    Book coming up early next year. Next video coming up in a few days I believe. I just got help from someone on the videos, so seeing some transitional pains 😉

  38. Nafrotem

    While you mentioned kids and their astounding work ethics when it comes to playing games, I thought why not to implement some gamification techniques into the process of raising kids before they even discover games. I.e. my son is 2,5 years old and too young for anything like that yet but if he is anything like his dad, I think he would respond very well to it in the future 🙂 

    I realize the idea may be and probably is anything but fresh and new but I’m curious of your opinion on the subject. Aren’t kids too young for this kind of …well… mind tricks?

  39. Sean Berry

    Great post about gamification. I disagree about most games focusing on wasting your life away. If you love to do something does it mean you’re wasting your life when you do it? Gaming is hobby that some people enjoy. It’s fun and that’s all it has to be. It doesn’t have to improve a person’s life the same way that self improvement or working does. I’m a gamer, but I also have a life that doesn’t involve sitting in front of the TV with a controller in my hand. I also do other things that help to improve me as a person. Who says that your hobby has to go hand in hand with improving your “life?” Gaming is not negative. Going on vacation is also an escape. So why is escaping when it comes to video games bad or counter productive? Don’t forget, gamification exists because of gaming!

  40. Shruti

    Hi Yu-kai,

    I saw your videos and posts on gamification! i am really inspired!

    I am from India and an intern in human resource department of a vertical.
    I have been given a project called “gamification in induction”.
    Could you please give some suggestions as to how i can design the induction program to make it engaging and out of box for new as well as existing employees! Ideas like game boards, leaderboards have now become common. I am not sure how to go about it.

    This project is very important as my placement depends on it and i find the topic very interesting but i am confused as to how wud i gamify induction process for employees in a new way.

    Looking forward to your response!

  41. LichtLiza

    First Post: Especially Interesting. I would imagine that when one optimizes to what you term as “Human-Focused Design” over the alternative of “Function-Focused” the behavior would in fact be delivered more quickly, due to enjoyment of the process and less interference, procrastination, and time lag in the cognitive brain and pathways amongst neurotransmitters; meaning to automatically respond to something that is as positive will be chosen with priority over tasks with less ‘fun’, therefore increasing productivity, life-vitality, and overall satisfaction in daily personal and long-term professional areas of life. I like this.

    I remember an early example of having to call in a surprise meeting for Interns at a prior company in 2002. At an inconvenient hour for them all (they usually had half day on Fridays and this meeting extended their Friday). To try to introduce anything last minute that would help with the situation, I quickly found some tissue paper and paperclips. During our meeting I had the option of making tissue paper flowers. There was not one of them that did not enjoy this, and it added a nice touch to their weekend, better they appreciated the fact that I took into account their feelings, and respected their time, and with this understanding the meeting flowed more smoothly than expected. This improved their life, they learned a skill, were entertained, and took something colorful home, while still achieving accomplishment of tasks during meeting. It seemed ridiculous and simple, though post this Tissue Paper Flower meeting, the Human Relations Department received great reviews. All Interns present that day became illuminated when informed I was going to be a speaker, presenter, or simply hold another meeting specifically designed for them, surprise or otherwise. All attendees, they became enthusiastic, extending to giving me “hi-5’s” while passing me in the halls of our HeadQuarters. This was when I commenced to understand Motivational Psychology and possibilities of Gamification. I look forward to applying ‘Gamification’ in various mediums.


  42. John Hunter

    Gamification in the corporate world means ‘like gaming’ (not literally). It ultimately means reporting on who is most ‘involved’ (whatever that means per organization), including (moreover) alerting higher ups on who is ‘least involved’ (aka disinterested slacker).

    Lets face it, employees are paid to do their job, they dont need to be given games to learn and participate, instead, every move they make online (taking tests, participating in blogs, posting articles, reading articles, watching videos) become the criteria tracked in order to rank them amongst other users (co-workers, assoicates).

    This is the beauty of User Experience Platforms, UXP, and Oxcyon leads the market with the best UXP tools (including gamification), for a full circle ecosystem of information, including the users’ interaction with it.

    Oxcyon redefines gamification for the corporate world by centralizing all User Experience and User Activity to incentivise those more involved (yes, prizes), and sheds light on those least involve (by department, group, role), and across the entire enterprise.

    Take a look at this video which explains how it works

  43. Alex

    Hi Yu-Kai, Gamification really works! You made me use Facebook and published a post. You have become a legend in our company, where everyone else failed you succeeded!


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