An Octalysis Analysis of WhatsApp

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How “WhatsApp” says “What’s Up” to Octalysis Core Drives!

Written by Mayur Kapur

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WhatsApp is the world’s most popular Instant Messaging (IM) App, with 600 million users globally (as of September 2014). In addition to text messaging, users can send each other images, videos, and audio media messages as well as their location using integrated mapping features.

WhatsApp is free to download and try for the first year. After that, you can extend your subscription for $0.99 per year (although some people get a “free extension”).

WhatsApp was recently acquired by Facebook for a whopping ~$22 Billion, so I thought it would be a good idea to apply the Octalysis Core Drives framework to WhatsApp, to understand what really makes it so engaging and so much fun!

Click here to learn more about Yu-kai’s Octalysis Gamification Design Framework and click here to better understand the Player’s Journey for the different phases of a user’s total experience with a product/service.

So, here it goes –

Discovery Phase

Here are the core drives in action during the first phase of the “player journey”, the Discovery Phase –

  1. Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive #7) – This core drive is often seen as one of the key reasons why people want to try out a new app and WhatsApp is no different. You hear so much about WhatsApp from your friends, etc. – you just can’t wait to find out “first hand” what the buzz is all about! You wonder which of your contacts you’ll find on WhatsApp.
  2. Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive #5) – All your friends/relatives/colleagues have WhatsApp, it would be so socially “uncool” for you not to have it!! You must have it on your phone so as to be part of those cool friends/classmates/colleagues WhatsApp groups out there. And it has high ratings – so why not try it out?
  3. Loss & Avoidance (Core Drive #8) – Ultimately, one key reason why apps like WhatsApp are so popular, is because they allow you to do a lot of awesome instant messaging (IM) stuff for free! You can exchange an infinite number of messages, images, audio, video, location, contact info – all for free! Can you even imagine having to pay for all this stuff? Clearly, by helping you avoid all these costs, WhatsApp appeals very strongly to this particular core drive.

Representing the above on the Octalysis diagram, here is what we have –

Mayur Kapur's Octalysis Analysis diagram of WhatsApp

Onboarding Phase

Welcome to the onboarding phase. A lot of core-drive-stuff going on here! Check it out –

  1. Ownership & Possession (Core Drive #4) – First thing you’re asked to do after installing WhatsApp, is to select your own unique “profile name” and (optionally) upload one of your nice pics. This basically appeals to the core drive on Ownership & Possession, since you start feeling attached to this thing which is YOUR VERY OWN profile, and you want to make it good, make it better.
  2. Development & Accomplishment (Core Drive #2) – A welcome message screen pops up which basically “trains” you to click a button on the top-right hand side of WhatsApp chat boxyour screen, and presto – you get instant “feedback” in the form of a neat list of all your contacts who’re already on WhatsApp! Nice!! You send out your first message, and probably receive an instant reply from the other end – you’re starting to like this already!! And why not – because all these small things make you feel “accomplished”, which is basically Core Drive #2.WhatsApp Scarcity and Impatience
  3. Scarcity & Impatience (Core Drive #6) – You see this screen which tells you there are (only) 12 months of free service remaining (post which you will need to shell out a dollar to renew the service). And that probably makes you think – well okay, gotta take full advantage of this while it’s free!
  1. Epic Meaning & Calling (Core Drive #1) – Okay, so most people use WhatsApp for staying in touch with friends/colleagues or even for stalking, but besides that there’s really no strong “calling” that is getting satisfied by using WhatsApp. No one’s really changing the world here or making it a better place to live in. Therefore, “Epic Meaning & Calling” is a very weak core drive for WhatsApp.
  2. Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive #7) – You’re sending a message and you’re “curious” if the person at the other side will respond immediately.

Adding all this information to the Octalysis diagram, we get this –

Mayur Kapur's Onboarding Octalysis Analysis Diagram of WhatsApp

Scaffolding Phase

On to the third phase in the player journey – Scaffolding. Here are the core drives active in this phase –

  1. Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback (Core Drive #3) – By now, you’re really starting to get addicted to WhatsApp. You realize you can instantly post/share anything, anytime, anywhere, with anyone (including mass messages/broadcasts). WhatsApp EmoticonsTime to get creative with your messages! Of course, there are a whole lot of interesting emoticons to choose from as well.

You’re online 24/7 on WhatsApp – no need to login again and again! And you keep getting real-time instant “feedback” about your messages’ delivery status (double-tick mark with timestamps). WhatApp Timestamp

  1. Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive #5) – Over a period of time, as you join and participate in more and more WhatsApp Groups, there is that feeling of “relatedness” which makes you feel like you’re part of a larger group, a larger community, which in turn motivates you to participate even more and be more active. You also start feeling the need to “give back” by posting/replying more often to group messages and immediately responding to your friends’ IMs (“Thank You economy”).
  2. Scarcity & Impatience (Core Drive #6) – Okay, so you’ve sent out that message to your friend at 9PM and she still hasn’t responded. What’s taking her so long to respond?? This is your “impatience” core drive at play. Then there’s also the fact that you cannot have more than 50 people in a WhatsApp Group – this is another form of the “Scarcity & Impatience” core drive.
  3. Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive #7) – With IM apps, there’s always a small element of Unpredictability & Curiosity: my phone just beeped – who’s sent me a message? What will it be about? Also, one cannot “predict” the content of a message unless one actually opens and reads it.
  4. Ownership & Possession (Core Drive #4) – Another weak core drive, but probably you’ve gotten into the habit of updating your “status” on WhatsApp, which makes you “own” your profile/status even more?

Time to update our Octalysis diagram again –

Mayur Kapur's Scaffolding Octalysis Analysis Diagram of WhatsApp

Endgame Phase

Okay, so you’re a WhatsApp veteran now. What keeps you hooked/engaged to actively keep using the App even today?

  1. Loss & Avoidance (Core Drive #8) – Admit it, now that you’re part of all those “customized” WhatsApp groups, and addicted to all the free IM on WhatsApp, it’s pretty hard to “let go”. You definitely want to avoid losing contact with friends/Groups who are exclusively on WhatsApp.
  2. Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive #7) – Towards the end of the “free usage” period (usually 12 months), some WhatsApp users suddenly get a message saying they’ve got a “free extension” for a few more months or for a year. Sometimes you might just feel curious if you will be among the lucky ones who will get a free extension as well. WhatsApp Free ExtensionBut that’s unpredictable. “Unpredictability & Curiosity” at play – though this is obviously a relatively weak core drive here.

Here is the updated Octalysis diagram after incorporating the points above –

Mayur Kapur's Endgame Octalysis Analysis Diagram of WhatsApp

WhatsApp Octalysis Score and Summary of Analysis 

After assessing the relative strengths of the 8 core drives (as described above), I came up with the following scores for the same –

Mayur Kapur's WhatsApp Octalysis Score

This gives us a total Octalysis Score of 227 for WhatsApp. Plotting these scores on the Octalysis diagram, here is what we have –

Mayur Kapur's Complete Octalysis Analysis Diagram Score of WhatsApp

Thus, in summary, our analysis reveals the following –

  1. WhatsApp has an interesting Octalysis chart which shows that it primarily employs right-brain, black-hat gamification core drives
  2. WhatsApp is generally installed by people primarily to avoid paying money for Instant Messaging (“Loss & Avoidance”), and to keep in touch with their friends/groups (“Social Influence and Relatedness”). Thus, it is strong in these 2 core drives
  3. As is often the case with several Instant Messaging (IM) applications, people can use their creativity in creating/replying to individual/group chat messages in humorous/funny ways (“Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback”), and are waiting for “What’s Next” (“Unpredictability & Curiosity”). Thus, scores for these 2 core drives are also reasonable/satisfactory
  4. WhatsApp has relatively weak scores in “Epic Meaning & Calling”, “Development & Accomplishment”, “Ownership & Possession” and “Impatience & Scarcity”. However, one must keep in mind that WhatsApp is basically meant to be a no-nonsense IM service.
  5. Therefore, the next section talks about some ideas for improvement in the above 4 weak core drives, while trying not to fiddle too much with WhatsApp’s core value-proposition (no-nonsense IM service).

Ideas for Improving WhatsApp

  1. WhatsApp is about “No Ads and No Gimmicks”, so it should stress this more, maybe as a quick “narrative” in its launch screen, where it can show “Ads” and “Gimmicks” as ugly creatures being attacked by WhatsApp. This could improve its score on “Epic Meaning & Calling”.
  2. WhatsApp could give users the option of long-tapping on a message and “favoriting” The sender of the message could see that his message just got favorited. This would improve “Development & Accomplishment” for the sender of the message and “Ownership & Possession” (MY Favorite Messages) for the receiver. Also, all favorite messages could be retrieved later via a single-click feature
  3. WhatsApp could also give users the ability to “pin” some messages on top of a group-chat screen, e.g. – a funny Group-Chat Status, or the Date/Time and Venue information of a party that the WhatsApp group members are planning, so that everyone can see it easily and immediately. This would increase “Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback” (how to creatively write this “pinned message” [or how to change the one that has been posted] so that it invites maximum “likes”/laughs/appreciation/feedback from other group members) as well as “Ownership and Possession” for the group members (This is MY group’s unique status-message/event-message connecting/describing MY group)
  4. The “My Account” page could be re-designed and made more informative and interactive to show users some interesting statistics, e.g. – how many contacts do they have in WhatsApp, who are their most “active” contacts, how many messages have been sent/received till date/this month/this week (compared with last month/last week), etc. As these stats would be unique for each and every user, they would increase “Ownership & Possession”. Also, as these stats would constantly change day-over-day / week-over-week, they would also give a (mild) sense of “Development & Accomplishment” to the user as well.
  5. WhatsApp doesn’t ask for any details except phone number, but it could give users the OPTION to enter some additional details on their WhatsApp profile page, like Current “Mood”, Company & Designation (for those who would like to “tout” the same), etc. Also, the “my status” text-box could be made more accessible by pinning it on top of the main screen, so that users may be encouraged to change/update it more often (as of now, people usually don’t update their status messages that frequently on WhatsApp). All this could improve “Ownership & Possession” and “Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback” scores.
  6. WhatsApp could add 2 small ticking “timers” on top of the home screen showing how many minutes/seconds have elapsed since the last message was sent and since the last message was received. This could be a nifty way to increase “Impatience”.

Here is the final WhatsApp Octalysis diagram after adding all these ideas –

Mayur Kapur's Improved Octalysis Analysis Diagram of WhatsApp with Ideas

I would love to hear your feedback/thoughts/ideas on the above analysis!! Please feel free to leave your comments below, and/or drop me a message on Twitter (@mayurkapur) or LinkedIN (www.linkedin.com/in/mayurkapur).

Mayur Kapur was ranked Top 12 in the World in the recently concluded 2014 Loyalty & Gamification World Championships (www.theloyaltygames.com), which saw participation from 1500+ professionals and students from 100+ countries. Besides dabbling in Gamification, he takes active interest in Management Consulting and Corporate Strategy design & implementation.

5 thoughts on “An Octalysis Analysis of WhatsApp”

  1. I myself use WhatsApp tons.

    Really liked the suggested ideas.

    Made me feel excited thinking about how it would be like to have those features =)

    Current layout really does make it cumbersome to constant change the status update!

  2. It is the only whole case analysis from octalysis perspectives like Core Drives and Phases. Some game mechanics per each Core Drive and Phase will give more deep vision. I liked it

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