This post is a high-level introduction to Octalysis, the Gamification Framework I created after more than 17 years of Gamification research and and Behavioral Design study. Within a year of publication, Octalysis was organically translated into 16 languages and became required literature in Gamification instruction worldwide.
What is Gamification?
Gamification is design that places the most emphasis on human motivation in the process. In essence, it is Human-Focused Design (as opposed to “function-focused design”).
Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This process is what I call “Human-Focused Design,” as opposed to “Function-Focused Design.” It’s a design process that optimizes for human motivation in a system, as opposed to pure efficiency.
Squid Game – the gamified death experience that is impossible to ignore
I’m a busy professional. I’m running multiple companies, handling multiple client projects, creating video content, working on an NFT/Metaverse concept, all while helping to raise my twin daughters, Symphony and Harmony Chou.
Because of that, I often try to stay away from addictive media that is designed to suck away all my hours and make me less productive – especially when I’m an expert on how media does that to our brain to begin with.
However, as is probably the case for your experience too, I suddenly got approached by a variety of people asking me if I have seen this Netflix show called Squid Game, and how would I use Octalysis Gamification Theory to dissect it.
This happened so frequently within a few days, that I finally took the Red Pill and decided to watch Squid Game. And expectedly, I finished the entire Season 1 within 24 hours. Wait, did I mention I was a busy professional?
Lucky for me, my profession is learning from addictive entertainment and applying them to productive processes such as improving healthcare, education, finance, etc. by making boring but important activities more fun and engaging.
So the joke’s on Squid Game – I didn’t entirely waste my time and it helped me level up.
Here I share my analysis of this gamified death experience and why it rose above the crowd and totally killing it.
Spoilers Alert: not only will parts of the show be spoiled, you will understand the inner workings of how something like Squid Game is designed, ruining your entire experience if watching for the first time.
But what makes it a GAME?
It’s called the Squid Game, but is it really a game? Most of the time we think of games as fun activities that drive good memories. Squid Game seems to just be this perverted meat trap where people are dying for the entertainment of sick rich people.
You see similar scenarios in horror Escape Room movies where many people die if they don’t solve puzzles to escape the room quickly. But they don’t call it a game – just another tortune zone.
However, if you look at similar films here, you will see that something like the Hunger Games also call themselves a game, except the goal is to just kill off one another. In Roman gladiator arenas, there is also the common saying, “Let the games begin!”
So what makes people slaughtering each other a form of game?
Technically, games exist for us to rehearse and train for real life situations that are important. That’s why boys love playing fighting games – in primitive times you don’t want your first ever fight to be of life-or-death. Their brain creates pleasure when tackling these situations so they would have enough practice to survive in the future world.
That’s also why there are also many popular games that are related to socializing, solving puzzles/problems, and building industrial empires – all extremely useful skills to gain for thriving in our harsh world.
So when people are put in an artificially created environment where they need to outcompete each other and even potentially cause each other to be eliminated, they call this a Game. The fact that many sports are just a game that professionals play to entertain a paying audience also fits very well in the setup of Squid Game.
But of course, it goes beyond that. Squid Game actually offers little games that Koreans play as kids when they were growing up, further pushing for that aspect of “I want desperate people to survive and murder each other, but through a gamified environment.”
So what makes the gamified Squid Game so compelling?
There are 2 aspects to consider here: the Squid Game itself for the contestants, and the Squid Game show for the audience.
For both of them, we could use the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard to evaluate the different sets of Business Metrics, Player Types, Desired Actions, Feedback Mechanics, and Rewards/Incentives. For practicality sake, we use a super shrunk down version of this process.
If we look at the Squid Game for the Contestants:
Business Metrics: how thrilling and entertaining the VIPs will feel while watching people struggling and getting eliminated Player: financially and socially desperate people who have dropped to the bottom of society that have very little to live for or too much to lose if they didn’t have money. Desired Actions: go through a list of 6 games, surviving each of them, while making sure other contestants are being eliminated Feedback Mechanics: floating ball with a ton of cash, number of current players, gameful environment with death triggers, soldiers with guns etc. Rewards/Incentives: a huge deal of money that could likely solve all the problems they are facing in their normal reality.
Now if we look at Squid Game for the Netflix Viewers:
Business Metrics: keep people watching content for a long extended period of time so every month they feel like the fee was worth it – also increase word of mouth. Player: media-oriented people who prefer watching shows as their main form of entertainment. Also people who like thrillers and aren’t afraid of blood, like the Game of Thrones audience. Desired Actions: binge watch Squid Game for long periods of time. If they stop watching it, think about it all night long and talk to others about it. Feedback Mechanics: TV screen – which characters are still alive, what is the new challenge, attachment to characters, drama/tension built between characters, curiosity of the entire organization. Rewards/Incentives: satisfying ones’ curiosity, feedback of one’s creative guessing, social relatedness towards characters in the show and how they develop
For this article, we will focus on the Game Contestants (and potentially explore Netflix Viewer in another article)
Squid Game Contestant Game Analysis
So if we apply the 8 Core Drives of the Octalysis Framework, we could make these analysis to the game from the position of the contestants. Let’s first get the obvious ones out of the way:
Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession in Squid Game
Of course, the biggest appeal for people to play the Squid Game is the money prize if they are the final winners. There is nothing special about this, but companies who want to motivate people need to think very heavily about incentive designs and how that incentive is presented.
Keep in mind that Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession is on the left side of the octagon so it is a “Left Brain Core Drive,” which means it is purely an extrinsic motivation design. This means that the players are doing the activities because of a goal, milestone, or reward, but they don’t necessarily enjoy the activity itself. So once they obtain the reward, hit their goals, or the reward becomes stale and uninteresting, people will stop doing the behavior.
For Squid Game, it is not hard to imagine that if the reward suddenly disappears or is not as attractive as they thought, no one would want to continue.
Occasionally I share some videos I make on Octalysis Prime just so folks can see what kind of content we cover there. Here’s one on the Battleplan Spreadsheet (Step 4 out of 5 in the 5-Step Octalysis Design process)
I was very lucky that the Founder/CEO of HTC Cher Wang has read my book on gamification before, and wanted to explore a variety of ways I could help the Taiwanese-based company. In 2020-2021, I took up roles such as Head of Digital Commerce, Head of Creative Labs, and also managed the North America marketing teams, pushing out some of the highest tier VR Headsets in the industry.
VR Social Ambassador Work for VIVE and our designed ARG
More recently, I shifted my focus on being a Social Ambassador, working with social media and social infuencers/innovators.
We recently launched a gamified ARG (Alternate Reality Game) that involves solving a lot of online puzzles and riddles (such as converting music notes into map coordinates, or deciphering a poem about celestial stars arguing about who is the brightest). All of this leads to an amazing giveaway prize where a few lucky/creative winners will travel to a 5-Star Hotel and experience the highest-end VR HTC VIVE has to offer.
At the same time, I was interviewed by an influencer in the VR world – Eric for President. I talk about HTC’s attitude towards the community and my view points of the VR world.
In our last post we introduced twopassionate Octalysis Primers: Joel and DanielSchmidt from Germany. If you missed it, check it out first.
These brothers, friends and now also business partners, recently started a consulting company named Smithery. They do UX consulting with a focus on digital learning experiences. Shortly after launch they are already working for two clients!
Joel, age 21, is the younger brother of the two.
“After High School I took a year of Bible School with the aim to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do.
I have experience with outdoor experiential education: group activities and team-building exercisesand more and more got the feeling that I should do something with business consulting.”
During the interview we observed that we could really see Joel in a consulting position as he comes across as very disarming and kind.
We had a good laugh together when we mentioned that people would likely accept him telling them what they do wrong and should improve. To which Joel simply replied: “Yeah that’s true“, with a perfect disarming smile.
What is it like to work with your brother?
In April 2021 I felt in my heart that it was time to move on. I quit my job as a scaffolder and started Smithery with Daniel. It is great to work with my brother. We’ve had our difference in the past, but we grew very close together now. We often take a walk in the evening to really talk about stuff. Yeah, it’s really nice to have such a brother”
Daniel adds: “Amen to all of that. And Joel adds so much value to the way I do things. He sees so many things that I would completely miss because I’m all about the structure.Joel is like fluid; he understands my structure but can flow through it like water, making all sorts of connections.“
How did you land on Octalysis Prime?
“When I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, Daniel suggested to sign up for Octalysis Prime.
He reasoned that no matter what I would choose, when working with people, understanding motivation will always help you.
Also even if it is just for yourself. It is very useful to learn more about what moves you, what you are hard-wired to do, and how to motivate yourself to do stuff.
What did you get out of Octalysis Prime?
“Actually, the ‘side-stuff’ has helped me the most. I really resonated with the videos on how to improve your life. It has helped me a lot to structure my life better and make better choices.
For the business, the core about Gamification and the Octalysis framework provides a solid foundation. Particularly useful are the videos that cover the importance of thinking through the four phases of the User Journey.
Something great, and fun, about Octalysis is that it provides a language to talk about motivation in a much more meaningful way. We now see Core Drives everywhere! When watching a TV show we often point out to each other things like: “That is a really good Core Drive 2 example!”
Can you tell us something about your Octalysis Certificate?
Of the brothers Schmidt, Joel was the first to earn his prestigious Octalysis Level 1 Certificate.
“It is really fun to analyze a product, like an app or website, and figure out how to make it more fun and engaging. Going through the steps of defining the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard definitely helps. It helps to make clear what is important for the design, and you can refer back to it during the Brainstorming to get the focus right.”
What the Future Holds
We are looking forward to seeing Smithery grow into a recognized consulting business in Germany, and to read your updates in the Slack Community. This is just the beginning.
“Wait, didn’t I already see a blog post about Colin Hahn’s Octalysis Certificate recently?”
Yes, you did, Colin is on a roll! He attained his Level 1 certificate with this submission about Talent Development. And very shortly after submitted for the prestigious Level 2 Octalysis Certificate, which he achieved in one go!
The chosen experience to analyse and improve is Leadership Engine, a program to develop new leaders at Douglas Dynamics.
Douglas Dynamics is a publicly traded manufacturing company. They produce work truck attachments and install attachments onto work truck chasses.
Currently, 230 of the 1,750 employees are in first-level leadership roles: Team leads, Operations managers and Office managers. But the new leader experience at Douglas Dynamics is inconsistent and ad hoc, creating a significant opportunity for the new Leadership Engine program to improve labor productivity, engagement, and turnover.
Colin diligently creates a full Octalysis Strategy Dashboard, capturing all the information required to guide the design process. For Level 2 this also includes Feedback Vehicles, Feedback Mechanics and Rewards.
By creating an Octalysis Graph to analyze the motivation provided by the current experience he identifies the key areas for improvement.
After Brainstorming for features to fill the gaps and make sure the new experience is motivating for the main Player Type, Colin created visuals to explain his ideas. A requirement for the Level 2 Certificate.
This is his proposal for an improved visual dashboard.
Congratulations Colin for reaching this impressive milestone and adding your name to the Hall of Fame! You’ve earned it.
Try out Octalysis Prime for FREE, if you also want to master all the skills required to motivate your employees.
Did you know that two of our Octalysis Primers are from the same town in Germany? What a coincidence, right?
Or maybe not so much, these two handsome men are actually brothers! But Daniel and Joel share much more than a last name, they are both:
– Passionate Gamers – Driven to make learning more fun – Co-owners of Smithery
Smithery – Forging great learning experiences
Unlike their own experience at German university, Joel and Daniel strongly believe that “learning can and should be something fun.”
Armed with knowledge about Human Motivation, Gamification and UX Design, they started a consultancy business. It is cleverly named Smithery; a place where powerful things are forged, by the brothers Schmidt.
They started working for their first client only two days after launch!
“I have worked with many different teams, and luckily we have so far always managed to establish a family like culture. But working with your actual brother is really something different.
The age difference between Joel and myself is quite big, 7,5 years. So when I was growing up and going through early adult struggles, Joel was still a child.
In recent years we have grown very close together, and have established a deep sense of openness and trust. Which I think is absolutely necessary because our working relationship is intertwined with our family relationship.”
How did Octalysis Prime help you start a business?
“I have had six years of study and research around topics like Motivational Psychology and Gameful Design at university. But my understanding of these topics came to a new level by digging into Yu-kai’s work. It is actually even bigger than that, a whole new world opened up!
There is also a lot of merit in being part of the OP Slack community. There are some people in the community who just breathe valuable information. And it is great to share different perspectives with like-minded people.
One repeated lesson that stood out to me is to always come back to thinking about motivation – the difference between Human-focused Design and Function-focused Design. To answer the question: joining Octalysis Prime helped with everything.
Can you tell us something about your Octalysis Certificate?
Daniel mentions that he is not all about certificates, as his main focus is on the intrinsic motivation for learning. But he is very happy that he put in the effort to obtain his prestigious Octalysis Level 1 Certificate:
“It is very helpful to take something that you think you know and have studied well, and then have somebody who really knows look at your work and give you feedback that brings you back to reality.
Because the required quality thresholds of the different certificate levels are really enforced it has real value. And it provides the reassurance for myself that I have learned something well.
I know so many people who managed to get their university degree that I won’t take any advice from. Earning an Octalysis Certificates really means something.”
To wrap up the interview, Daniel shared an amusing story about Octalysis Prime:
He once spent half an hour to click the ‘Defend the Castle’ button in the Challenge Section of the Island exactly 100 times. This made the dragon fly away to patrol for a hundred times, but unfortunately did not reveal any Easter Eggs.
“You may all thank me for testing this so you don’t have to!”
Part 2 Coming Soon!
A big thanks to Daniel for the interview! Read more about Joel Schmidt’s perspective in Part 2. Spoiler alert: “Joel is like fluid“.