Game Design Technique #14: Mastering the Boss Fight

Greetings game enthusiasts, today we are going to delve into another powerful game design technique – the Boss Fight. Identified as Game Design Technique #14, this popular and well-established methodology has been used effectively in numerous games and narratives. Why has it become so popular, you ask? The answer is simple – it works! The Boss Fight is an ingenious technique that delivers engaging, challenging experiences that test players’ skills and resources.

What is a Boss Fight?

A Boss Fight represents a significant, challenging hurdle in the gameplay narrative that requires players to utilize all previously acquired resources and learned skills. It represents a shift from smooth, easy-going gameplay to a high-tension situation. This switch brings in Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, as the player feels a sense of achievement in overcoming a formidable challenge.

Imagine playing a game where everything runs smoothly, and the flow is enjoyable without significant hiccups. Sounds delightful, right? However, you might realize that while the game is fun, it may lack a certain “kick,” a sense of accomplishment that comes with overcoming a significant obstacle. Herein lies the role of the Boss Fight.

The Psychology Behind Boss Fights

When a game integrates Boss Fights, it tactically uses Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience to make gameplay more challenging and valuable. By requiring more resources, learned skills, and mental capacity from the player, the Boss Fight injects a shot of adrenaline into the gaming experience. The juxtaposition of easy-going gameplay with intense, high-stakes challenges builds excitement and anticipation.

Classic Examples of Boss Fights

Let’s delve into some classic examples of Boss Fights in video games. A widely recognized example is Bowser, the formidable Koopa from Super Mario World. While navigating through various stages of the game, the player has to jump on platforms, throw shells, and overcome smaller hurdles. However, facing Bowser is an entirely different ball game. His larger size and intimidating posture signify that the player has entered a high-stakes challenge that will test their skills and resources.

Similarly, in the Legend of Zelda series, the main character, Link, is faced with the terrifying Ganondorf. As a powerful warlock, Ganondorf demands a high level of focus and the application of all the skills the player has learned throughout the game.

Boss Fights Beyond Video Games

Interestingly, Boss Fights are not restricted to video games. They have found their way into other forms of media, such as movies. A smooth storyline can often leave the audience desiring a significant showdown or climax, giving them a sense of accomplishment as the protagonists overcome their biggest challenge.

Take, for example, the classic sci-fi horror film Aliens. While the protagonists fight numerous aliens throughout the movie, the climax presents a one-on-one match between the lead character and the formidable Alien Queen. This final showdown amplifies the tension and provides a satisfying, adrenaline-fueled conclusion to the story.

Fans love a good showdown, and the bigger the boss, the better. Another shining example is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s showdown between the Avengers and the notorious Thanos. Thanos, a powerful villain who could control all power with his infinity gauntlet, was a formidable boss. His might was such that it took the combined effort of all Avengers to defeat him. This final showdown kept the fans on the edge of their seats, delivering an exhilarating conclusion to the narrative.

The Not-so-good: Less Than Satisfactory Showdowns

While Boss Fights generally add an exciting element to a narrative, some examples are less than satisfying. The 2000 movie Gladiator is a case in point. This film features several individual boss fights, but the final showdown leaves much to be desired. In the climactic scene, the warrior Maximus is pitted against the arrogant prince Commodus.

Before the fight, Commodus, afraid of losing, stabs Maximus, inflicting a mortal wound. Even so, the severely weakened Maximus overpowers and defeats Commodus, just to die shortly afterward from his pre-battle wound. While the scene carries significant narrative weight, it falls short as a Boss Fight. Maximus’s imminent death and his easy overpowering of Commodus make the fight feel less intense and impactful than a traditional Boss Fight should.

The Key to a Successful Boss Fight

If Gladiator had offered a different storyline—say, Commodus is not just an arrogant prince but also a highly skilled warrior due to the finest military training—it might have been more engaging. Commodus’ apparent skill and strength would have made for a more challenging Boss Fight and might have provided a more satisfactory ending to Maximus’ journey.

Even if Commodus must have played the role of a weak cowardly boy-king, it would have been a better Boss Fight if he fought against Maximus with 4 of his best trained guards. Then it would truly be an epic fight if Maximus must defeat all 5 of them (potentially even with rules where he cannot harm the guards and only Commodus).

This alternate plot highlights an essential element in designing a successful Boss Fight: the boss needs to be formidable and challenge the hero in new ways.

Integrating Boss Fights in Your Experience

While not all experiences require a Boss Fight, this technique can enhance many narratives if implemented thoughtfully. To pace out your experience, it’s often better to first let players feel smart, accomplished, and happy without introducing very difficult elements. An experience should initially feel enjoyable, easy, intuitive, and stimulate the Right Brain Core Drives—such as Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, and Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.

As players progress, they want to feel a sense of development and accomplishment. Here’s where a well-designed Boss Fight can come in. By presenting a formidable challenge that tests the player’s acquired skills and resources, a Boss Fight can take the experience to a higher level, fostering a sense of achievement and progress.

So when is the perfect moment to introduce a Boss Fight into your narrative or experience? After everything else is laid out, the Boss Fight can bring a new dimension to the experience.

Even in my education platform Octalysis Prime, we didn’t introduce a real Boss Fight until 4-5 years into its existence, as the focus was more on laying out the landscape and ensuring smooth progression.

Although there is a challenge section, it’s not quite the intimidating Boss Fight we usually think of. It leans more towards requiring Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, rather than presenting a scarcity and impatience, akin to Core Drive 6. Only later on did we introduce the infamous and scary Hydra Cave that tests each OP Member’s wits, knowledge, nerves, and collections on the OP Island, as their hard-collected Geomons could be sacrificed as they challenge this big boss.

As we delve into creating a Boss Fight, let’s look at five key principles that can guide its design.

1. Present a meaningfully difficult challenge

A Boss Fight should be challenging, but the difficulty must have a purpose—it should not be punishing or unfairly difficult. If the challenge is insurmountable or if the player doesn’t understand the rules, the Boss Fight becomes a frustrating and disheartening experience. Meaningful difficulty implies that the challenge is not beyond the player’s capabilities and they comprehend why it is challenging and the skills needed to overcome it.

2. Harness Activities, Resources, and Learning

A great Boss Fight should leverage the skills, knowledge, and resources the player has gathered throughout the game. This enhances the meaning of the challenge and reinforces the relevance of the player’s journey. If a player has spent ten hours mastering certain tasks (say, A, B, C, and D), only to face a boss requiring totally unrelated skills (like 1, 2, 3, and 4), the Boss Fight can feel random and unrelated to the rest of the game.

It’s more satisfying when the Boss Fight demands a higher application of the skills and resources previously learned.

3. Does not cause Permanent Damage

An important principle to remember is that a Boss Fight should not inflict lasting damage on the player. This can be particularly relevant in an educational context, where failure can carry substantial consequences. In education systems, failing a test or exam can have long-lasting effects such as limiting college options or job prospects. This can lead to stress and reluctance to participate further.

The introduction of a Boss Fight naturally involves an increase in difficulty, creating tension through Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience. But it’s crucial to avoid adding excessive amounts of Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. Yes, Boss Fights are challenging, and there’s always the possibility of failure, but these failures shouldn’t be debilitating. The idea is to engage the player, not to scare them off.

In summary, when designing a Boss Fight, it’s important to strike a balance. You want to challenge players, pushing them to utilize their skills, knowledge, and resources, without making the experience overwhelming or damaging. By adhering to these principles, you can create Boss Fights that are not only challenging and meaningful but also enjoyable and engaging.

4. Take place at the user’s own pace and timing

This brings us to the fourth principle, which emphasizes that a Boss Fight should ideally take place at the user’s own pace and timing. It is essential that users feel in control. They should be able to decide when they want to tackle the Boss, whether they have acquired enough skills or resources, and when they feel ready.

Rather than feeling victimized by unexpected challenges, this sense of control turns the experience into an adventure and significantly reduces the amount of Black Hat Core Drives at play.

5. The Boss should be Re-challengeable

Lastly, Boss Fights should be re-challengeable. If players fail, they should have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, improve their skills, gather more resources, and then come back stronger to face the Boss again.

This principle underlines one of the main shortcomings of traditional education systems, where exams often cause permanent damage, happen unexpectedly, and usually don’t provide the opportunity for retakes. The system tends to label students rather than encouraging them to thoroughly learn the material.

So to recap, when implementing a Boss Fight, ensure it:

  1. Presents a meaningfully difficult challenge.
  2. Harnesses and utilizes skills, knowledge, and resources from previous activities.
  3. Does not cause permanent damage.
  4. Occurs at the user’s own pacing.
  5. Allows for re-challenges.

Adhering to these principles can make Boss Fights a very rewarding experience. Overcoming a Boss Fight makes players feel fantastic. This is the moment to provide them with the best kinds of emotional rewards and gameful mechanics, such as a Crowning experience (Game Design Technique #18). It’s more than just a pat on the back or a High-Five (GT #17) —it’s a recognition of their achievement.

This moment of triumph often sparks the desire to share the experience with others, triggering Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Players might share their victory within their gaming community, or even with friends and family outside of the community. It’s a testament to the meaningfulness and excitement of the accomplishment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you seen good examples of Boss Fights in non-gaming contexts? How could Boss Fights be implemented in your own experiences or products? Please share in the comments below, and let’s continue the discussion. Until next time, happy designing!

Conclusion: The Power of Boss Fights

In essence, Boss Fights represent a compelling shift in gameplay dynamics, bringing the much-needed adrenaline rush, challenge, and sense of accomplishment. As Game Design Technique #14, the Boss Fight is a potent tool in game design and beyond, keeping audiences and players engaged and eager to overcome the challenge.

As you venture forward in your game design journey, consider how you can integrate Boss Fights into your game narrative. However, remember that Boss Fights need to be strategic, challenging, and rewarding, embodying the true spirit of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment and Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience. Happy designing!

Dynamic Feedback, Real-Time Control, & Refreshing Content

The Trio of UI Engagement

As we know, Octalysis is a powerful tool in the realm of gamification, and the purpose of this post is to delve into three unique but interconnected Game Design Techniques, all of which fall under the broad umbrella of Feedback Mechanics. These game design techniques are:

  1. Dynamic Feedback (Game Design Technique #12)
  2. Real-Time Control (Game Design Technique #52)
  3. Refreshing Content (Game Design Technique #73)

We’ll start by discussing Dynamic Feedback, the 12th game design technique in our list. Looking at the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard, one can see that every Desired Action or behavior that we as designers want to encourage in our users leads them towards a Win-State.

Gamification Strategy Dashboard

In this Win-State, a multitude of emotional rewards are brought into play. Crucial to the facilitation of these rewards and the journey towards the Win-State are Feedback Mechanics.

This is where Dynamic Feedback comes in.

Dynamic Feedback (Game Design Technique #12)

Usually, when we perform a Desired Action, the faster the feedback comes in, the more gratifying and interesting it usually becomes. There are many software interfaces where you do something, click submit, and the page refreshes, providing you with feedback. This still requires a submitted reload.

The Dynamic Feedback Game Design Technique is different. As you perform the Desired Action, something changes dynamically in front of you. You don’t have to submit or reload. As you do something, things are being modified.

For instance, if you have a long form to fill out across many pages, an interesting application of Dynamic Feedback would be a widget that gives real-time feedback every time you answer one of the questions.

This feedback could be trivia such as, “Hey, did you know this platform has been rated number one in Europe?” or if they input their birthday, it could say, “Awesome! We love Taurus’!” If they put in their region, it could respond, “Oh, did you know there’s 20,000 people who are from the Fremont on our platform just like you?”

So, as you start performing these different Desired Actions, Dynamic Feedback shows up. This makes you want to do more of that Desired Action. It prompts you to think, “Hey, that’s interesting. Let me fill in the next text box to see what it will say.”

This gives you a bit more of that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback. When you exert effort, you see custom feedback that is personalized based on what you did. It’s not just dummy content for everyone; it’s customized for your input.

This then obviously connects to Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity. It makes you want to find out what the next dynamic feedback will be as you perform more desired actions.”

Of course, Dynamic Feedback can also incorporate various other Core Drives, such as indicating that you’re close to receiving a reward (CD6) or revealing that many friends like you or that you’re similar to others on the platform (CD5). The key aspect is that this feedback is dynamic, appearing as you perform actions, keeping you engaged.

Dynamic Feedback is also found in real-life interactions. When conversing with others, we receive dynamic feedback through their facial expressions and body language. This makes the conversation more engaging, especially for those who are sensitive to these cues or possess empathy.

People may adjust their speech based on this feedback, making the experience more engaging even if they’ve had the same conversation many times.

Moving on to Game Design Technique #52: Real-Time Control.

Real Time Control (Game Design Technique #52)

This technique, common in most video games, necessitates constant engagement and control. It’s a series of Desired Actions that demand your ongoing attention. Think of a game where you must continuously maneuver an airplane, car, or character, jumping and dodging obstacles as you go. Reflexes are crucial here, and the speed of response is paramount.

Real-Time Control naturally incorporates Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback. You’re in full control, making Meaningful Choices. Immediate feedback is essential in these scenarios. If you’re controlling something in real time without receiving corresponding feedback, it’s akin to flying blind—a rather unpleasant experience.

Take, for instance, a toy where you move a metal ring through a metal bar, up and down. If the ring touches the core, a jarring sound is emitted. Clearly, this toy necessitates Real-Time Control. The same principle applies to software products, especially ones incorporating drag-and-drop interfaces.

Look at To-Do Lists. You rearrange items on your list, and most likely, you do it through drag-and-drop. Why not use descending arrows or number assignments to order your tasks? The answer lies in providing Real-Time Control—it’s intuitive and satisfying to hold an item, drag it, and drop it where you please.

Let’s say you’re arranging a dashboard. You have multiple sections, areas where you can perform actions. You can drag and drop these elements around, and in real time, you see the other sections adjust. This sensation of Real-Time Control can lead to a sense of satisfaction and empowerment.

In 2006, I started a virtual world company called Future Delivery. The goal was to have users roam a digital world and network professionally. Virtual Worlds and so-called Metaverse experiences allow real-time character control that is engaging and fun. This is like playing with drones or remote-controlled cars – there’s no specific goal, but the control itself is interesting and enjoyable.

There are also radar speed signs on many roadsides, showing your driving speed without issuing a ticket. These signs provide real-time feedback about the “game” you’re playing—how fast you’re driving. You realize that speeding up decreases your “score,” while slowing down improves it. This gives you some Real-Time Control over your experience.

The limitation here is that the actual speed limit may not be clear. Some people may even try to push their speed to the maximum to see how high they can go. This also highlights Core Drive 3 (Empowerment): people generally feel happier when they have Real-Time Control. But with this empowerment, they might not always play the game as the designers intended.

This is why games like Grand Theft Auto have such appeal—they offer significant power and freedom, allowing players to do as they wish and see the consequences.

Refreshing Content (Game Design Technique #73)

Refreshing Content revolves around constantly changing and updating content to keep users captivated. Unlike other techniques we’ve discussed, refreshing content doesn’t necessarily tie to any Desired Actions or provide dynamic feedback. It serves as an independent feature that automatically refreshes itself, maintaining users’ interest.

To grasp the concept of Refreshing Content, think about instances when you load a program and it presents a variety of jokes while loading. Similarly, when using platforms like Slack, you may encounter helpful tips during loading periods. These are examples of Refreshing Content design. The primary purpose of Refreshing Content is to entice users to take Desired Actions. It acts as a precursor to the subsequent mechanics that follow user engagement.

Imagine visiting a website where the content refreshes with new and interesting material as you browse. This constant change not only keeps users engaged but also encourages them to take Desired Actions.

Refreshing Content primarily aims to capture attention. It is akin to dynamic billboards in shopping centers that continuously change, drawing our gaze and piquing our curiosity. The allure of Refreshing Content lies in Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity.

You may have noticed this behavior in yourself when switching TV channels repeatedly, which is all driven by Core Drive 7. Likewise, website carousels that continually change their banners exemplify the use of refreshing content.

Refreshing content can also employ emotional imagery, amazing animations, transitions, or even parallax effects as you scroll through a page. These eye-catching features create a sense of constant change and motivate users to interact.

While the initial part of refreshing content focuses on captivating users, the subsequent section involves Dynamic Feedback. Here, users take Desired Actions, such as scrolling down a page, which triggers content to appear, fade in or out, or resume in different ways. This interactive component constitutes Dynamic Feedback. However, the initial portion that entices users to engage is the Refreshing Content itself.

A prime example of Refreshing Content can be found in the Diablo franchise, a popular role-playing game (RPG).

Diablo, often referred to as a hack and slash game, primarily involves killing monsters to progress rather than developing complex character growth, hobbies, or professions like World of Warcraft.

Most RPGs feature consistent maps and environments, leading to predictable gameplay. However, in Diablo, the original innovation of a random map generator revolutionized the experience. Each time players reached a stage, the content refreshed, presenting new walls, doors, monster placements, and even randomized monster abilities.

This introduced an element of surprise, transforming each visit into a new journey, an exploration process brimming with uncertainty. Despite consistent difficulty levels, players felt like they were embarking on a fresh adventure, utilizing creativity to overcome challenges and discover new routes. The random map generator became a key factor in Diablo’s high replayability, with some players revisiting the game for over a decade.

These Game Design Techniques, including refreshing content, are relatively simple and primarily serve as variations of feedback mechanics to engage users.

Implementing these techniques in different websites, apps, or experiences can be relatively straightforward. The key is to understand the distinctions between Dynamic Feedback, Real-Time Control, and Refreshing Content.

It would be fascinating to see examples of these techniques in various contexts and discern whether they primarily employ Dynamic Feedback or Refreshing Content.

Occasionally, experiences also offer real-time control, which adds an extra layer of interest. Exploring both successful and unsuccessful implementations of these techniques would provide valuable insights.

In conclusion, these three Game Design Techniques serve as a valuable game design technique that entices users through constant updates and changes. Their ability to engage users’ curiosity and provide dynamic experiences makes it an effective tool in creating captivating and replayable games.

Unleashing the Power of Virtual Goods in Gamification

Virtual Goods Design (Game Technique #8)

In the world of gamification, virtual goods have become an essential element in enhancing user engagement and driving desired behaviors. They come in various forms, such as virtual pets, crops, or cosmetic items that users can obtain, possess, and even trade. This blog post will explore the potential of virtual goods in gamification, delving into their types, the Core Drives they tap into, and how they can be used effectively, drawing insights from the Octalysis Framework and my book “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.”

Types of Virtual Goods

Virtual goods can be broadly categorized into two types: functional and cosmetic.

  1. Functional Virtual Goods: These items have practical utility within the game or experience. For example, a virtual pet that can fight for you or a tool that helps you perform tasks within the game. Functional virtual goods often serve as boosters that enhance gameplay.
  2. Cosmetic Virtual Goods: These items do not have any direct impact on gameplay but are purely aesthetic. Examples include a hat that makes your avatar look cooler or a decorative building that adds visual appeal to your virtual environment. Although cosmetic virtual goods may not be enough to attract users initially, they can contribute to keeping them engaged during the scaffolding phase of the experience.

The 8 Core Drives and Virtual Goods

Virtual goods tap into several Core Drives within the Octalysis Framework, which include:

  1. Ownership & Possession (Core Drive 4): Users are drawn to virtual goods because they desire ownership and control. They want to protect their virtual assets, show them off, and acquire more over time.
  2. Scarcity & Impatience (Core Drive 6): The perceived value of virtual goods often comes from their rarity or the difficulty of obtaining them. Scarcity plays a crucial role in making users covet and pursue these items.
  3. Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive 5): Virtual goods can serve as status symbols, which can lead to envy or admiration from other users. This social aspect can encourage users to acquire more virtual goods to enhance their social standing.
  4. Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive 7): The method of acquiring virtual goods can be designed to be unpredictable, such as through random drops, Mystery Boxes, or Easter eggs. This unpredictability keeps users engaged and curious about what they might find next.
  5. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Core Drive 3): Virtual goods allow users to express their individuality and style, making them feel more unique and empowered.

Designing Virtual Goods for Maximum Impact

To optimize the use of virtual goods in your gamified experience, consider the following guidelines:

  1. Create a balanced mix of functional and cosmetic virtual goods. While cosmetic items may not be enough to draw users in initially, they can contribute to keeping them engaged during the scaffolding phase of the experience. Functional virtual goods, on the other hand, can enrich the gameplay and encourage users to strategize.
  2. Use scarcity and unpredictability to boost the value of virtual goods. Make certain virtual goods difficult to obtain, either through limited availability or by incorporating them into unpredictable reward structures, such as random drops, Mystery Boxes, or Easter eggs.
  3. Incorporate social elements into your virtual goods. Enable users to show off their virtual goods to others, creating an environment where they can gain admiration or envy from their peers. This social aspect can encourage users to acquire more virtual goods to improve their social standing.
  4. Ensure that virtual goods align with the overall theme and aesthetics of your gamified experience. Consistency in design helps create a cohesive experience that users can immerse themselves in.
  5. Consider implementing a trading system for virtual goods. Allowing users to exchange items can foster a sense of community and increase the perceived value of the virtual goods. However, it’s essential to implement trading restrictions to maintain balance and prevent gaming the system.
  6. Make virtual goods accessible through various means, such as in-game achievements, purchases, or promotional events. This ensures that a wider range of users can access and enjoy the virtual goods, keeping the experience engaging for everyone.
  7. Encourage user customization and personal expression through virtual goods. Offer a diverse range of items that cater to different user preferences, allowing them to create a unique, personalized experience.
  8. Regularly update and introduce new virtual goods to keep users engaged and excited. This prevents stagnation and encourages users to keep exploring and investing in the experience.
  9. Monitor user behavior and feedback to understand which virtual goods are the most popular and effective. This data can inform future virtual goods design and help optimize the overall gamification strategy.
  10. Be mindful of the balance between explicit and implicit gamification. Adding virtual goods to an experience often makes it feel more game-like, which may not be suitable for all target audiences. Consider the context and purpose of your gamified experience when deciding whether to include virtual goods.


Virtual goods can be a powerful tool in gamification, tapping into various Core Drives and enhancing user engagement. By carefully designing and implementing virtual goods, you can create a captivating experience that keeps users hooked and coming back for more.

Draw inspiration from the Octalysis Framework and the book “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards” to create a well-rounded gamified experience that effectively utilizes virtual goods.

Remember to reflect on your own experiences with virtual goods, identifying what aspects made them appealing and engaging to you. Use these insights to inform your own gamification projects and create unique, memorable experiences for your users.

The Earned Lunch: Fixed Action Rewards: Technique for Long-term Motivation


Welcome to an in-depth exploration of the “earned lunch” technique, a widely used game design method known as the fixed action reward. This powerful strategy motivates users by setting clear goals and offering tangible rewards.

However, like any game design technique, it has its pros and cons. As the author of “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards,” I always advocate for well-rounded design, incorporating the Octalysis Framework to ensure a balanced and engaging user experience.

In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll dive into the psychology, benefits, limitations, and best practices of the earned lunch technique, ultimately guiding you in designing an effective and motivating user experience.

The Earned Lunch Technique (Game Technique #7)

The earned lunch technique is built on the concept of offering a clear and enticing reward for completing a specific action. This is in contrast to other type of reward structures, such as the Mystery Box (Random Rewards) and Easter Eggs (Sudden Rewards)

The Earned Lunch is prevalent in various reward contexts, such as loyalty programs, sales incentives, and employee motivation schemes. The key to this technique’s success lies in its simplicity and transparency; users know what they need to do and what they’ll get in return.

The Psychological Mechanisms Behind the Earned Lunch Technique

The earned lunch technique relies on several Core Drives in the Octalysis Framework, such as Ownership & Possession (Core Drive 4), Scarcity and Impatience (Core Drive 6), and Development & Accomplishment (Core Drive 2).

However, these Core Drives are primarily extrinsic motivators, meaning they don’t tap into the user’s inherent desire for exploration, creativity, or social interaction. To create a more engaging and sustainable experience, consider incorporating additional intrinsic motivators alongside the fixed action reward.

The fixed action reward, when designed correctly, can also create a sense of anticipation and desire for the reward, thus building a stronger emotional connection to the activity. Users often experience an increased motivation to complete the task, knowing that they will receive a reward upon completion. This creates a positive feedback loop, where the more users engage with the task, the more they desire the reward, and the more they are motivated to continue.

Pros of the Earned Lunch Technique

  1. Ease of design: The earned lunch technique is straightforward to implement, as it involves offering a specific reward for completing a particular action. This simplicity makes it an attractive option for designers who want to quickly motivate users without investing significant time and resources in developing a more complex system.
  2. Clear user expectations: The fixed action reward clearly communicates to users what they need to do to earn the reward, making it easy for them to understand and engage with the system. This clarity can lead to increased user satisfaction and motivation, as they know exactly what to expect and how to achieve it.
  3. Crucial justification: The earned lunch technique can provide users with a sense of justification for engaging in an activity, helping them overcome initial barriers and guilt associated with spending time on a seemingly unproductive task. The promise of a reward can encourage users to try out new activities or continue engaging with tasks they might otherwise abandon.

Cons of the Earned Lunch Technique

  1. Loss of intrinsic motivation: Users may lose their inherent drive to engage in an activity once the extrinsic rewards are no longer available. This can lead to decreased user satisfaction and engagement, as users no longer feel motivated to participate in the task without the promise of a reward.
  2. Expanding expectations: People tend to have growing appetites, and the same reward may lose its appeal over time. This necessitates a continuous increase in the reward value to maintain motivation, which can be challenging to sustain in the long term.
  3. Entitlement and lack of excitement: When users expect a specific reward for their actions, they may feel entitled to it rather than excited or delighted when they receive it. This can lead to reduced user satisfaction and engagement, as the reward loses its emotional impact over time.

Designing Effective Fixed Action Rewards: Best Practices

To maximize the impact of the earned lunch technique, consider the following best practices:

  1. Choose emotionally appealing rewards: Select rewards that create a strong emotional connection with users. For example, often people feel emotionally attracted more to a Free iPad, compared to $600, even though they could be worth the same.
  2. Ensure visibility and awareness: Make sure users are continuously reminded of the reward and its requirements. This can be achieved through in-app notifications, progress trackers, or visual cues that keep the reward top-of-mind, encouraging users to stay engaged and complete the required actions.
  3. Combine with intrinsic motivators: Incorporate elements of intrinsic motivation, such as social interaction (Core Drive 5), creativity (Core Drive 3), and exploration (Core Drive 7), to create a more engaging and sustainable user experience. This can involve adding social features like leaderboards, collaboration opportunities, or creative challenges that complement the fixed action reward.
  4. Balance labor-driven and performance-driven rewards: Consider whether the earned lunch rewards should be based on the amount of effort or the level of performance. Labor-driven rewards encourage users to put in time and effort, while performance-driven rewards motivate them to excel and achieve higher standards. Both approaches have their merits, and a mix of the two can create a more engaging and motivating experience.


The earned lunch technique, or fixed action reward, is a powerful and widely used game design method that motivates users through clear goals and tangible rewards. However, to create a sustainable and engaging user experience, designers must be mindful of its limitations and incorporate additional intrinsic motivators alongside the fixed action reward.

When designing an effective earned lunch technique, focus on emotionally appealing rewards, visibility and awareness, intrinsic motivators, and a balance between labor-driven and performance-driven rewards. By doing so, you can create an engaging and motivating experience that keeps users coming back for more.

Now, it’s your turn to share your experiences. What kind of fixed action rewards have been most appealing to you? Have they sustained your motivation or were they short-lived? How have you used fixed action rewards in your projects, and have they been effective? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s continue the conversation on mastering the art of fixed action rewards.

How to Design Effective Leaderboards: Boosting Motivation and Engagement

Leaderboard Design (Game Technique #3)

Leaderboards have long been one of the most popular and widely used game design techniques in gamification. As a powerful tool for encouraging competition, showcasing achievement, and driving user engagement, leaderboards can add significant value to an experience when designed and implemented effectively.

However, despite their potential to motivate and inspire, leaderboards are often misused or poorly designed, leading to a negative impact on user experience and even demoralizing those who find themselves at the bottom of the rankings.

In my book, “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards,” I emphasize the importance of looking beyond these common game design elements to create more meaningful and engaging experiences. While the book explores a variety of techniques for effective gamification, it’s essential to recognize that leaderboards still have a vital role to play when designed correctly.

By learning how to create leaderboards that motivate the most significant number of users, we can enhance the overall experience and harness the full potential of this powerful gamification tool. In this blog post, we will delve into the art of designing effective leaderboards, ensuring that they contribute positively to user motivation, engagement, and satisfaction, ultimately elevating the entire gamified experience.

Understanding the Pitfalls of Traditional Leaderboards

Traditional leaderboards, ranking users from first to last, can motivate the top 5-10% of users but often demoralize the rest. This is because users in the middle or bottom tiers may feel like they have no chance of catching up or making significant progress. To create a more inclusive and motivating experience, we need to rethink how leaderboards are designed and focus on fostering urgent optimism.

Fostering Urgent Optimism

Coined by Jane McGonigal, “urgent optimism” refers to users’ belief that they can succeed if they act quickly. This concept is crucial for creating a sense of motivation and drive in users.

Instead of showing users their rank as a meaningless number, display their position as a percentile. For example, showing a user that they are in the top 24% rather than telling them they are rank 42,372 gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in their achievements.

Utilizing Micro Leaderboards

Instead of one massive leaderboard, create micro leaderboards that group users by region or other relevant criteria. This approach makes the competition more manageable and relevant to users’ experiences.

For instance, a user may be more motivated to improve their standing within their city or neighborhood than trying to climb a global leaderboard. By breaking the competition into smaller, more relevant groups, users can feel a stronger sense of connection and investment in their progress.

Implementing Social Leaderboards

Social leaderboards compare users’ performance to their friends and family members. This type of competition can be more motivating, as users may not want to lose to someone they know personally. By allowing users to compete with their social circles, they may feel a stronger drive to improve their performance and enjoy the experience more.

Keeping Leaderboards Refreshing

Long-running leaderboards can discourage new users who feel they can’t catch up to the top performers. To combat this issue, regularly refresh leaderboards to keep users engaged and motivated. Consider implementing weekly or monthly leaderboards, which give users a fresh start and the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with others.

In addition to time-based refreshes, consider incorporating event-based leaderboards. These leaderboards could focus on specific challenges or achievements, giving users more opportunities to excel in different areas and keep their experience fresh and engaging.

Showing Meaningful Information

When designing a leaderboard, it’s essential to strike a balance between providing enough information to motivate users and not overwhelming them with too much data. Display the top 10 users by name for status recognition but not their stats. Instead, show the user’s own stats and those of five users above and below them. This keeps the focus on achievable goals and promotes urgent optimism.

By limiting the information displayed on the leaderboard, users can concentrate on their immediate competition rather than feeling overwhelmed by the performance of top-ranked players. This approach encourages users to focus on improving their own performance and competing with those closest to them on the leaderboard.

Focusing on Reachable Goals

Ensure users can see that they have a realistic chance of reaching the next milestone or improving their rank. Avoid showing the gap between a user’s performance and the leaderboard’s top performers, as this can be demoralizing. Instead, highlight the progress users have made and the steps they can take to continue improving.

Encourage users to set personal goals, such as beating their previous best or surpass

ing a friend’s score. These smaller, more attainable goals can help maintain motivation and engagement, even if the user is not in the top tier of the leaderboard.

Incentivizing Participation and Improvement

Beyond leaderboards, consider implementing other reward systems to incentivize users to participate and improve. For example, offer badges, achievements, or other virtual rewards for reaching specific milestones or completing challenges.

These rewards can complement leaderboards by providing additional motivation and recognition for users at all skill levels.

Encouraging Collaboration and Community

While competition can be a strong motivator, collaboration and community can also inspire users to improve and engage with your platform.

Consider incorporating features that allow users to collaborate, share strategies, and offer support to one another. By fostering a sense of community, users may feel more motivated to participate and contribute positively to the overall experience.


Designing effective leaderboards is a nuanced process that requires careful consideration of user motivation and engagement. By fostering urgent optimism, creating micro and social leaderboards, keeping the experience fresh, showing meaningful information, focusing on reachable goals, incentivizing participation, and encouraging collaboration and community, you can create a leaderboard that motivates and engages users of all skill levels.

With these strategies in mind, you can transform your leaderboard from a potentially demoralizing feature into a powerful tool that drives user motivation and engagement, leading to a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for all.

The 10 Best Productivity Apps that use Gamification in 2023

This post was recently updated to reflect the 10 best productivity apps that use Gamification for 2023

Click here to view our full list of Gamification examples.

We all strive to be more productive: to have more energy, to accomplish more in a day, to hit our goals, to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be. But of course, we all face challenges that keep us from achieving our peak selves: we watch TV, we watch Youtube, we sleep in, we do everything possible to avoid the work that we need to be doing.

If life is a game, then we can hack our lives using Gamification to motivate, drive, or trick ourselves into being more productive.

The following are the 10 best productivity apps that use Gamification to improve your productivity, health, and financial habits.

Gamified Productivity App #10: Trackabi


Trackabi is a productivity app that effectively combines time-tracking with gamification, helping users stay engaged while keeping track of their work. The app awards achievements and karma points for reaching specific goals, while also allowing negative karma points for less productive behaviors, like working less than a certain amount of hours.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Trackabi allows users to earn achievements and accumulate karma points by reaching set goals. This not only provides a sense of accomplishment but also motivates users to improve their productivity and time management. The possibility of negative achievements also pushes users to avoid less productive behaviors.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: The platform’s customizable achievements system empowers users to tailor their own productivity goals. This gives users control over their targets, further driving their motivation to perform and engage

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance: The concept of negative achievements and losing karma points for not meeting certain goals ties in with this core drive. Users are motivated to avoid underperformance to prevent loss of their accrued karma points.

Gamified Productivity App #9:

Website: is a comprehensive task management and organization app with a sleek design. The app incorporates gamification by awarding users for completing tasks and maintaining streaks, fostering a sense of accomplishment and motivation.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: encourages users to complete tasks through its “streak” feature, which rewards users for maintaining a consistent streak of completed tasks.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness: Users can share tasks and collaborate with others, fostering teamwork and accountability.

Gamified Productivity App #8: Toggl


Toggl is a time-tracking app that helps users stay focused and manage their time more effectively. Its gamified features, such as leaderboards and achievements, create a sense of competition and drive users to improve their time management skills.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Toggl allows users to see their progress over time, motivating them to improve their time management skills.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness: The app’s leaderboard feature fosters friendly competition among users, driving them to increase their productivity.

Gamified Productivity App #7: Do It Now


Do It Now is an RPG-inspired task manager that turns your to-do list into an exciting game. Users can create and customize their characters, level up, and earn rewards as they complete tasks.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Users gain experience points and level up as they complete tasks, giving a sense of progress and achievement.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: Do It Now allows users to customize their characters and tasks, giving them the freedom to create a personalized experience.

Gamified Productivity App #6: EpicWin


EpicWin is a gamified to-do list app that transforms your daily tasks into an engaging adventure. As you complete tasks, your character gains experience points, levels up, and discovers new loot.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Users are motivated to complete tasks and level up their characters, fostering a sense of progress and achievement.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: The app’s entertaining

narrative and design elements encourage users to engage with their tasks in a fun and imaginative way.

Gamified Productivity App #5: Level Up Life


Level Up Life is an app that uses gamification to help users improve various aspects of their lives. Users can earn points, level up, and unlock achievements as they complete real-life tasks and challenges.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Level Up Life offers a sense of progress and achievement through leveling up and unlocking new achievements.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness: Users can join a supportive community, share their progress, and view the accomplishments of others.

Gamified Productivity App #4: SuperBetter


SuperBetter is a gamified app that helps users build resilience, achieve goals, and improve their mental well-being. Users can tackle challenges called “quests” and earn “power-ups” that help them develop skills and habits to improve their lives.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Users are motivated to complete quests and gain power-ups, fostering a sense of progress and achievement.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity: SuperBetter offers a variety of quests, keeping users engaged and curious about what challenges they’ll face next.

Gamified Productivity App #3: Beeminder


Beeminder is a unique productivity app that combines gamification with commitment devices. Users can set goals and track their progress, while also committing to a monetary penalty if they fail to meet their goals.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Beeminder allows users to visualize their progress and set specific goals, creating a sense of achievement as they work towards them.

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance: Users are motivated to stay on track to avoid the monetary penalty, adding an extra layer of accountability.

Gamified Productivity App #2: Forest


Forest is a productivity app designed to help users stay focused and manage their time effectively. Users can plant virtual trees while they work, and the trees grow as they maintain focus. If they leave the app, the tree dies, creating a sense of accountability.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Users can grow a virtual forest as they stay focused, providing a visual representation of their progress.

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance: The prospect of losing a tree encourages users to stay focused and avoid distractions.

Gamified Productivity App #1: Habitica


Habitica is a popular gamified productivity app that helps users build and maintain good habits. Users create and customize their own characters, complete tasks to earn experience points and rewards, and team up with friends for added accountability.

Why it works (according to the Octalysis Framework):

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment: Habitica encourages users to complete tasks and build habits by offering experience points, rewards, and character progression.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness: Users can join parties and guilds, participate in challenges, and collaborate with friends, creating a sense of camaraderie and accountability.

These gamified productivity apps can help make your daily tasks and goals more engaging and enjoyable. Give them a try and see which one works best for you!

Did we miss any Gamified Productivity Apps that should be on our list?

Let us know if you have created a gamified productivity app or use one that you believe should be on our list and we’ll review it. If it blows us out of the water, then it could make our top 10 list!

Applying Evil Egg Design to create urgent action

Today, I’d like to discuss an engaging game design technique called the Evil Egg Design (Game Technique #115), which can be quite effective when implemented thoughtfully.

The concept of an Evil Egg is simple: it’s a component that, if left unattended, will become progressively worse and worse.

Eventually, it reaches a critical point, hatching into something undesirable or even disastrous. This design comes in two main variations, both of which create a sense of urgency in players and encourage them to act quickly to avoid negative consequences.

  1. The Time-Based Evil Egg: In this variation, the Evil Egg starts as a harmless element that doesn’t seem to pose any threat. However, once a specific time-based threshold is crossed, the Evil Egg event triggers, resulting in a heavy penalty or an increase in difficulty for the player.
  2. The Escalating Evil Egg: In this version, the Evil Egg begins as an already challenging or punitive element, and it becomes increasingly difficult or penalizing over time (e.g., every second, minute, or day).

Examples of Evil Egg designs can be found in everyday life, such as late fees on bills or penalties for picking up children late from childcare centers. These real-world instances demonstrate how the Evil Egg concept can be applied beyond gaming to motivate individuals to take action before consequences escalate.

In the mobile game Candy Crush, Evil Eggs manifest as chocolates that expand and overtake the board if not dealt with promptly, or as bombs that cause a game over if not destroyed within a set number of moves. These elements create a sense of urgency for players, compelling them to strategize and prioritize their actions to avoid negative outcomes.

When implementing Evil Egg designs in a gamified environment, consider the following tips to maximize their effectiveness:

  1. Create a strong context: Ensure that the Evil Egg design is relevant to your project and supports its overall theme or objectives. This may require incorporating elements such as Epic Meaning (Core Drive 1), Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Core Drive 3), Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive 7).
  2. Visually represent the Evil Egg: To drive engagement, it’s often helpful to have the Evil Egg represented by an icon or other visual elements. This could be a line item on a to-do list, a deadline with a penalty, or a playful representation of the concept.
  3. Foster a playful mentality: Encourage users to approach the Evil Egg with a sense of fun and adventure. This can help them tackle the threat more readily and feel less overwhelmed by potential consequences.
  4. Make sure the Evil Egg is always visible and prominent in the user’s experience. This constant reminder will help apply emotional pressure and motivate the user to address it before it grows into something much worse.
  5. Consider the emotional impact: While the Evil Egg should create a sense of urgency, be careful not to push users too far into negative emotional territory. An unexpected penalty might leave them frustrated or angry, so ensure that the Evil Egg’s presence and potential consequences are clearly communicated from the outset.
  6. Incorporate other gamification techniques: While the Evil Egg design can be a powerful motivator, it’s essential to remember that it’s just one tool in a game designer’s toolkit. Combine the Evil Egg with other gamification techniques, such as rewards, leveling systems, or social elements, to create a well-rounded and engaging user experience
  7. Encourage collaboration and social interaction: While the Evil Egg design creates a sense of individual urgency, you can also incorporate elements that encourage collaboration and social interaction. Users may find it more enjoyable and effective to work together to address Evil Eggs, fostering teamwork and shared success.
  8. Customize the experience: Different users may have varying levels of tolerance for challenge and urgency. To cater to a diverse audience, consider allowing users to adjust the difficulty or frequency of Evil Eggs in their experience. This customization can help users find the right balance of challenge and engagement for their preferences.

In conclusion, the Evil Egg design is a powerful game design technique that can drive motivation and urgency in users. By understanding its core principles and implementing it thoughtfully, you can create compelling experiences that encourage users to take action before negative consequences arise.

Whether it’s applied in gaming, productivity apps, or other real-life scenarios, the Evil Egg design can be a valuable tool to engage and motivate users.