How eBay and Amazon Wield Gamification Techniques

Image of a person handing a book through a laptop screen

(Below is a manuscript snippet of my book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

The First Gamification Site that I was Addicted to

One of the most popular blog posts on my website is a list of the “Top 10 eCommerce Gamification Examples that will Revolutionize Shopping,” with my first choice being eBay (Disclosure – I’ve worked with eBay on a couple projects in 2013, none which are mentioned here). is an online auction site that was founded in 1995, fairly early in the internet era. It became one of the largest Dot Com boom successes, and till this day is one of the leading tech companies.

Less known to most people, is that eBay is also one of the earliest eCommerce companies that built gamification in its core DNA.

If you just think of creating a generic ecommerce site, it’s not necessarily intuitive to have a competitive bidding system, a mutual buyer-seller feedback interface, a “path to level up” through achievement symbols such as Yellow, Purple, and Gold Stars, as well as Power Seller statuses.

Interestingly, eBay was the first platform to trigger my first business. Without eBay, it is very likely that I would not have become an entrepreneur, and as a result you would not have this book to read.

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Top 10 Most Popular Mobile Social Games

Day 213 - Temple Run

Moments of downtime or dead time are an inevitable part of daily life but they don’t necessarily have to be dreadfully boring, especially with all of today’s awesome game apps.

You probably know how surprisingly fun these can be; according to a recent article in Forbes, games apps constitute the highest source of revenue on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

There are many great apps available and even more being developed to help pass the time. Here are 10 popular favorites in no particular order:

Angry Birds

Angry birds logo

Angry birds is practically a household name and yet if I explained the game on paper (catapulting birds like weapons + destroying forts = fun), it may not sound ingenious nor very exciting. But many of you know that the game experience is very different; it is super easy to get addicted. Here are a few reasons:

  • It is simple and because it is simple, players feel accomplished and empowered early on- Core Drive #2 (Development & Accomplishment).
  • The game develops in a way that allows the players to feel a clear sense of progress which further ingrains their sense of achievement.
  • Players can compete with their friends. There is a strong drive to beat the other person and score higher (even if they are your girlfriend or boyfriend)- Core Drive #5 (Social Influence & Relatedness).

Temple Run

Temple Run Logo

Temple run is an adventure game. Players interact as an explorer character who steals an ancient mask and must must escape the wrath of demon monkeys. The touch screen controls allow the explorer to run as fast as possible, trying to avoid dangerous traps and obstacles such as trees and roots- Core Drive #8 (Loss & Avoidance). Players can move left or right. They can also duck, turn or jump as well.

There is now a Temple Run 2 which is based off the movie, Brave. The objective is to use archery to hit a target and collect coins. By the fourth day of its release, it had already been downloaded 20 million times!

Cut the Rope

Cut the Rope Logo

Cut the rope is a puzzle game that utilizes mechanical physics. This is another example where the story and concept are lackluster compared to actual gameplay experience. Players are required to cut pieces of rope which are affixed to candy. The goal is to get the edibles into the mouth of a little round creature by solving puzzle challenges.

Sometimes the rope has to be cut at the right time. The candy might be attached to several pieces of rope which need to be cut in a certain order. Players are driven to keep overcoming past failures until they succeed. This is a great example of Core Drive #2 (Development & Accomplishment) and Core Drive #3 (Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) which together instill a sense of empowerment and awesomeness.

The Room

The Room Logo

The immediate appeal of the Room is the graphics which convey a sense of mystery and a supernatural air. Players are presented with a series of ornate looking objects that turn out to be individual puzzles that must be solved in order to progress. As the player solves puzzles, they learn more about a stranger named A.S.- Talk about Core Drive #7 (Unpredictability & Curiosity)!

As puzzle levels are solved, players occasionally glimpse into a different dimensions beyond their physical reality. Many people feel that the story line is not as compelling as the actual puzzle-solving which fosters a strong sense of Core Drive #2 (Development and Accomplishment) as well as Core Drive #3 (Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback).

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How Nightmare: Malaria Saves Lives through Social Gamification

Most people are aware that malaria is a deadly disease caused by mosquitoes. But what is not common knowledge is that nearly half the world’s population is at risk for contracting the disease. Every year, over a million individuals die from it and seventy percent of these fatalities are children. What may also surprise you is that malaria vaccines don’t yet exist. However, the tragic deaths associated with this disease can be simply prevented by sleeping under a $3 mosquito net!

Malaria is prevalent in areas that are warm and damp. These conditions are ideal for mosquitoes to thrive and are found in places around the world- specifically Sub Saharan Africa, India and southern Asia. Malaria is considered to be a minimal threat in North America (case in point: mosquito nets are sold by chains like Cost Plus World Market as bedroom decorations rather than for protection).

Simply lecturing about the facts and statistics of malaria may not be enough to garner effective action but vivid and immersive experiences may change how we understand and take action on this epidemic.

As an example of social gamification at work, the Emmy Award winning animation studio, PsyOp partnered with Against Malaria Foundation to develop a free mobile app called Nightmare: Malaria to spread awareness on this issue and raise funds for life saving mosquito nets.

Released this past December, Psyop is banking on their game to generate enough enthusiasm to secure millions of nets for at-risk individuals across the globe. And with enough participation, it may succeed at lowering the death toll significantly by the end of 2014 and beyond. Here’s how they’ve designed the game to be both engaging and informative:

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Octalysis of 8 Gamified Alarm Clock

(This is a post by one of the very few people who hold a Level-1 Octalysis Certificate in Gamification: Average Joey. To check out their other writings, go to the StartMyQuest Blog!)

The “Eye-Opening” Gamified Alarm Clock Industry

Alarm clocks. We have a love, hate relationship with them.

There are alarms that fly around sending you on a blurry chase in the morning or ones that wake you to the gentle rising of a fake sun. These innovative alarms rely on harder or softer sensory feedback to get you up, but some of the most exciting wake-up solutions are coming from a growing market of gamified alarms and app designs.

I present to you here, 8 of the most engaging gamified wake-ups to help illustrate the gamification techniques at each point around the Octalysis Alarm Clock.

1) Epic Meaning & Calling: Shadow

The team behind “Shadow” have got epic meaning nailed with an epic goal for building the world’s largest database of dreams for the betterment of humanity, no less.

2) Development & Accomplishment: Wake n Shake

Wake n Shake is one of the gamified alarms heavily using achievement symbols in its design.

3) Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: Sleep Cycle

The “Sleep Cycle” iOS app doesn’t just work as an alarm, but tracks and records your sleeping hours enabling you to analyse and adjust your sleep-play.

4) Ownership & Possession: AlarmMon

The AlarmMon app gets you to set-up your alarms with the different choices of cute characters to build your own wake-up experience from scratch.

5) Social Influence: Spotify The Social Alarm Clock

This alarm from Spotify is still in concept stage, but shows an app that will give you the ability to create and send re-mixed alarm tones and wake-up messages to friends.

6) Scarcity & Impatience: Starbucks Early Bird

As soon as you accept the ‘Starbucks Early Bird’ wake-up it gives you a 1 hour countdown to get yourself down to the nearest store to claim a discounted cup of coffee or build up points towards future ones.

7) Curiosity & Unpredictability: Brian Blessed Alarm

For pure mischief (Game technique #51). I give you the ‘Brian Blessed’ alarm. Will it be Shakespeare, an insult or Brain on a rocket?

8) Loss & Avoidance: SnuzNLuz

The SnuzNLuz alarm still stands out as putting the most interesting and perverse twist on the idea of charitable giving as something you’d want to avoid!

How Yu-Kai Chou Designed his Blog Gamification System

Captain Up Gamification

Points, Badges, and Leaderboards – Do they really work?

Over the past several years I’ve been playing around with different Gamification widgets and platforms to experiment with a Points, Badges, and Leaderboard (PBL) system for this blog.

Now, as I’ve described many times before, even though PBLs aren’t the greatest thing ever (my book day titled “Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.” Go figure.), they have an important place in Gamification. What makes them particularly tricky is that, depending on how its designed, the PBL game can be encouraging or insulting to users.

A Good PBL system can Engage the User

A good PBL game encourages the user to engage and dive deeper into content, seek out relevant information, and connect with and ultimately return to the host site (i.e., like my blog).

Take Khan Academy for an example. Their ‘Learning Dashboard’ entices users to take a series of lessons on a range of topics, gaining skill progress points, and achievement awards for completing challenges, while amassing energy points for having watched tutorials and completed quizzes. All of these mechanics ultimately encourages the user to learn math, science, etc.


My goal is similar: educate and engage users on human-focused design and gamification techniques. To transform a regular visitor into a bona fide gamification aficionado takes some time. A well designed PBL game would certainly add some cachet for the visitor to keep on reading my articles, watching my videos, and engaging in conversation with yours truly (something I definitely take a lot of enjoyment in and garners many PBL points).

Why I Chose the Captain Up Platform

And so, after having looked into various PBL platforms, I finally settled on Captain Up, an Israeli startup that rewards users for exploring your site and sharing it with your friends. Using a customizable selection of badges and point awards, the platform tracks which users are engaging most within the community and broadcasts their standing via a leadership board.


Why did I choose Captain Up over other alternatives?

Well, on top of having nifty designs, they have a lot of things I can customize – levels, points, achievements, and actions. I can even reward people for interacting with specific elements on any page- a very important mechanism as I seek to draw visitors’ attention to my Octalysis Framework and tutorial vids (both of which provide a solid grounding in the core drives and mechanics of Gamification).

As a gamification designer, I really like to customize my own system, instead of an out-of-the-box-no-tweaking system. I can even create new badges or levels based on images I upload myself!

I’ve been experimenting with different game design concepts and ideas these past few months, and so far, the most recent PBL design (found on the right hand side of the page) has been working very well with a test group of a couple hundred readers signed up to play and are now regularly engaging in my site’s content.

Dangers of a Gamified PBL System: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Since the topic of Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation is one of the most common ones in the field, I won’t go into too much detail about them. But basically, the risk of many PBLs systems is that it shifts motivation from Intrinsic (I want to learn about Octalysis and other great gamification content!) to Extrinsic (I want to level up and earn that badge!).

Eventually, people could be doing it just for the points, and whereas they would love to read more about gamification to begin with, if I suddenly removed the PBL system that they are attached to, they might lose interest of reading this content altogether.

There are many ways to prevent something like that from happening, but there are thousands of ways to get it wrong – which is what many companies don’t understand right now.

How to Design an Engaging Game

Image of a Gamification System

The default setting rewarded a few points for watching a video and commenting on my blog posts, and a lot more for tweeting and sharing the post on Facebook. The platform is generally sound, especially since I indeed get more value when my readers are sharing my content to others. However, I felt the default points/rewards economy was not optimized.

The first thing I changed, was making commenting on my blog worth 100 points, and watching a video worth 40 points. Facebook Liking and Tweeting were only worth 25 and 10 points.


When I changed my system around, the kind folks in Captain Up asked me, “Isn’t 100 points way too much for just commenting?”

Good question.

Communicating a Game Worth Playing

During the Discovery and Onboarding Phases of a Player’s Journey (the beginning two phases) the first thing you want to communicate to users is whether this is “a game worth playing?”

With the rules you set, you are establishing an interaction with the user and communicating your values.

If you give people a bunch of points just to do marketing for you, or reward them virtual items for every little stupid thing, users will feel like the game is shallow – this is not a game worth playing. Users have no interest in a game if they know the game designer is just trying to benefit himself instead of caring about his users.

For instance, if there are points, progress bars, and badges for “How much money you donated to the site owner,” people will feel insulted by your lame attempt to use them for solely personal gains.

People know that sharing on Twitter/Facebook mostly benefits me, and so I don’t want to tell them that my game is about sharing. When I state that commenting on my site is worth more than anything else, I’m expressing that I value interacting *with you* more than anything else. I want to communicate with you, and that is what I value.

And if you don’t want to talk to me, at least watch my videos so you can learn something! And of course, if you are willing to share my content with your friends and family, I would be very grateful too, but I’m not going to use that as a large carrot in my site.

This tells users that the key of this game is “engagement.” I want you to be engaged, learn a lot, and participate in a community. THIS becomes a game worth playing.

The Real Challenge of the Game

Continue reading How Yu-Kai Chou Designed his Blog Gamification System

Microsoft SharePoint: How Gamification Might Improve Adoption Rates

Badgeville Sharepoint

The article is based on the Badgeville Webinar on Sharepoint. Click here to watch the original video.

SharePoint – the Collaboration Platform

SharePoint is a Web-base application platform developed by Microsoft to provide a number of functions and capabilities to promote collaboration between company employees and organization members. Since its introduction in 2001, continuous feature development and improvement has made it a powerful and reliable resource for businesses.

Despite this, its adoption rate has be painfully slow in most cases. Many organizations find that their employees often prefer to minimize their use of the platform, or ignore it completely. In fact, a 2011 Forrester report indicates that 31% of Sharepoint companies have users that still prefer collaborating via email.

The Badgeville Webinar

Enter Badgeville to address this situation with game mechanics. With Badgeville for Sharepoint the intent is to engage users and have them adopt the different Sharepoint features in a meaningful way to promote collaboration. By integrating smart gamifying elements into the Sharepoint structure, Badgeville enables companies to influence and reward key user behavior, and improve knowledge sharing, resource management and collaboration. This in turn increases the likelihood of valuable actions and performance, providing positive results derived from the initial investment. (Wow, that sounds effective.)

In a recent Badgeville webinar (July 10, 2013), Chris Lynch, Badgeville’s Director of Product Marketing, explored ways to improve Sharepoint adoption through the use of gamification techniques. Featured in the program were Joel Olson, the Managing Director at Salient6 , a Sharepoint consulting firm, and Caroline Dangson, a key producer at Badgeville.

Chris kicked off the seminar with a quick survey, polling the listeners on what they use SharePoint for – which functions they have deployed. (Listeners were allowed to check any and all of nine possible responses.) The results indicated how diverse their use was.

The three leading functions were Site (portal, intranet) (71.5%), Collaboration (58.1%), and Content Management (57.0%). At a more modest level of deployment were the internal-facing Custom Apps (26.3%) and Social (19.0%) functions. At still more modest levels were Insight, consisting of business intelligence and analytics (8.9%), and external-facing Custom Apps (8.4%). (Some listeners responded that they have deployed an unspecified function(s) (7.8%) or none at all (17.9%).)

The Sharepoint Adoption Challenge

Joel initiated his part of the session with comments about the objectives of Salient6’s efforts to unlock business value for SharePoint, by enhancing the user interface and user experience through game mechanics. But there are challenges. Both Forrester Research and Gartner Research have reported that despite over $1B being spent annually on SharePoint, adoption has been slow. Only about 40% of the “line of business” users regularly use SharePoint, with a full 41% of all users preferring more standard tools such as email. Not surprisingly, 51% of all users don’t like the user experience.

To explore this further, Joel initiated a second quick survey of the listeners to poll them on what they felt were the main adoption challenges.

The results point out some key problem areas which have previously been identified. In February 2013, Forrester Research released the report, “SharePoint Enters Its Awkward Teenage Years”, which stated that despite great strides in development, it has been a disappointment in several areas. Specifically, in these four areas:

Adoption – lack of forethought in rolling out SharePoint to regular users

User Experience – the user experience with SharePoint has proven cumbersome and confusing

Tools – people still love the experience of familiar apps, such as email, despite the advantages of SharePoint’s integrated features and the efforts of third party developed apps, such as

Business Value – 40% of the survey respondents indicate their organizations are not seeing business value from SharePoint adoption

In the survey results, the lack of enthusiasm for the user experience clearly stands out and confirms the findings from Forrester. Also the preference for other (more familiar) tools and the lack of obvious business value for users seems to support the earlier findings. (Note that the survey results reflect the exclusive nature of the polling – listeners selected only the “Biggest Adoption Challenge”, not challenges. If the survey would have allowed listeners to select multiple challenges, the cumulative impact would be more obvious.)

The survey results also indicate that the learning curve presented a significant challenge to users. This would obviously affect the user experience, providing little incentive to move away from more familiar apps and tools, and ultimately impairing the rate of adoption.

Joel noted that though IT can deliver the latest and greatest, users will often just turn their backs on new solutions. Especially when there is little support in training or encouragement for adoption. So, if IT just deploys a new application or platform and expects the users to employ it in their daily routine, certain disaster awaits. In fact, often the IT team itself is without the skills needed to understand what can be delivered and what potential benefits can be derived from the SharePoint platform. (He implied that this is a lack of business understanding on IT’s part, for what is possible.)

Digging Deeper into the Problem

Joel further focused on three points for evaluating an adoption situation –

Engagement – it’s not just about getting people to use the solution. If that were the case, you could just put the time keeping app on the intranet homepage. (This would get nearly 100% of your users to use some part of the platform, but it does solve the true “engagement” challenge.) They need to really become involve – actively engaged.

Community – Users need information, training, help, and assistance. Building community increases knowledge sharing. He suggests starting an in-house SharePoint User Group, to find the SharePoint leaders and champions. They will in turn share with others and help in the adoption process, benefiting the community and the organization.

Loyalty & Expertise – Your SharePoint team won’t scale by itself. You need to reward and recognize successful efforts on the part of the power users and champions in business. Encouraged, they will increase their efforts and evangelize the adoption of SharePoint.

To do all of this, Joel encouraged the use of a gamifying strategy. By illustrating personal examples from his Delta Frequent Flyer program, LinkedIn profile strength, and FourSquare badge collection, he demonstrated that participation is recognized and rewarded. And that is a very powerful motivator for most people.

With SharePoint 2013, the Microsoft product group recognized that gamification makes a difference in communities and in contributions. One can look at the community settings and see that reputation is built in. You can see and set reputation levels – how many points you get for the different accomplishments and tasks. Ratings result in different reputation points, with the quality of input and interaction affecting point acquisition.

Unfortunately, the reputation feature that has been built into SharePoint 2013 stops at the community level. The great effort to build recognition for who is contributing and encourage participation doesn’t transfer across communities. So, if you have multiple web applications, it is challenging – and it doesn’t actually interact with your team sites.

Joel’s member page shows when he joined and his reputation score (as a Top Contributor in the SharePoint 2013 community). It also shows him how many points are needed to move to the next level – “Earn 318 more points to move to the next level”, a very nice feature.

Joel presented Yammer as another example of game mechanics being effectively employed in a SharePoint environment. The SharePoint Yammer community, which is on top of Yammer, is a group of over 3,000 users, which was established in 2012. An app enables selected users to view leaderboards inside of Yammer. This allows one to not only see who is active, but who is contributing the most quality. It effectively identifies the leaders and champions.

The Cooperation between Badgeville and SharePoint

As the focus switched back to the collaboration between Badgeville and SharePoint, Chris Lynch explored some of the details of the gamification platform that is built on top of SharePoint. The discussion of how gamification elements are applied to the various instances of SharePoint starts from a functional level. (Caroline Dangson would later present the design perspective.)

Identifying Key Behaviors

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