Master the Art of Streak Design for Short-Term Engagement and Long-Term Success

Welcome to the world of Streak Design, a powerful motivational tool that can boost user engagement, create urgency, and enhance the overall experience.

Today, I’ll share some key insights on how to effectively implement streak design in your products or services and discuss its impact on user behavior.

Understanding Streak Design (Game Technique #78)

A streak is formed when users repeatedly perform a desired action without failing. Streak design focuses on creating a sense of Accomplishment (Core Drive 2 in the Octalysis Framework), urging users to keep their streaks alive.

However, it often ends up being driven by Loss and Avoidance (Core Drive 8), as users feel compelled to maintain their streak to avoid losing it.

Streak design is highly effective in driving short-term bursts of activity, but it’s not always suitable for long-term engagement as people burn out the moment they lose their streaks.

Implementing Reward Structures and Streak Ramp-Up

One way to enhance streak design is by tying it to your reward structure. Offer users rewards for maintaining their streak and create a sense of progression by gradually increasing the rewards as they continue.

For example, in a game, users could receive:

  • 10 coins on Day 1
  • 20 coins on Day 2
  • 30 coins on Day 3
  • 40 coins on Day 4
  • 50 coins on Day 5 and subsequent days

If users fail to maintain their streak, they’d drop back to zero coins per day. This creates a sense of both Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience, as well as Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance, prompting users to continue their streak.

Introducing Gentle Loss and Avoidance with Streak Ramp-Down

A gentler approach to the above mechanic is the Streak Ramp-Down technique. Instead of resetting users’ rewards to zero when they break their streak, gradually reduce the rewards over time.

For instance, if a user stops performing the Desired Action, their rewards would decrease as follows:

  • 50 coins to 40 coins
  • 40 coins to 30 coins
  • 30 coins to 20 coins
  • 20 coins to 10 coins

This method creates scarcity and urgency without completely demoralizing users, as they don’t lose everything at once. The threat of losing rewards is often more powerful than the actual loss, making the steep ramp-down an effective motivational strategy.

Most importantly, users can gain back their Streak progress relatively easily if they just missed one day, so they are driven to come back instead of burning out immediately after.

Key Takeaways for Effective Streak Design

  1. Streak design drives short-term bursts of activity but may not always be suitable for long-term engagement.
  2. Tie streak design to your reward structure to encourage users to maintain their streaks.
  3. Implement a streak ramp-up to create a sense of progression and increasing rewards.
  4. Introduce gentle loss and avoidance with a streak ramp-down to create urgency without demoralizing users.

In a future discussion, we’ll explore another game design technique called the “Bootleg Quest,” (Game Technique #107) which is similar to streak design but leads to a permanent bonus that users cannot lose. This method offers an even more effective way to design engaging experiences.

Remember, the key to successful streak design is balancing the desire for Accomplishment (Core Drive 2) with the fear of Loss and Avoidance (Core Drive 8).

By carefully implementing these strategies, you can create a compelling and engaging experience for your users.

Game Design Techniques: the Onboarding Bundle

Hello, Octalysis Enthusiasts!

Today, we’re going to dive into a small bundle of game design techniques that can make a huge difference in your product’s user experience. These techniques are the Glowing Choice (GT #28), Desert Oasis designs (GT #38), and the Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial (GT #6).

By understanding and implementing these design strategies, you can create an engaging and enjoyable onboarding experience for your users.

Based on Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, people want to feel smart and capable. They don’t want to feel lost or confused. If they don’t know what to do in an interface for maybe about four seconds, they start feeling stupid. So, when designing your user experience, keep in mind these two important principles:

  1. You never want to let users accidentally stumble upon a bad experience. Everything they can possibly choose, or they will probably choose, should be a good experience.
  2. You want to think about the First Major Win-State, which is the moment where the user first says, “Wow, this experience is so awesome!” Guide them towards that First Major Win-State as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s explore how you can guide people into a good experience using these game design techniques.

Glowing Choice (Game Technique #28)

The Glowing Choice is a game design technique where something on the interface stands out, like a pointy arrow, a light bulb, or even a jiggly, wiggly button. This eye-catching element attracts the user’s attention and encourages them to interact with it.

Imagine entering a vast virtual world with numerous directions to explore. The user knows what they should do because there’s a character with a big exclamation mark on their head, signaling that they should talk to this person to receive their first quest. This is the Glowing Choice in action.

Now, imagine a smaller software interface. It’s much less complex than a virtual world, but the Glowing Choice works wonders here as well. By highlighting a specific action or feature, you can guide users and make them feel smarter and more capable.

Desert Oasis (Game Technique #38)

The Desert Oasis design is an interface where the rest of the interface is relatively plain, but the desired action stands out with bold colors, making it impossible to miss. It’s like being in a desert and seeing a lush, green oasis in the distance; you’re naturally drawn towards it.

A good example of this design is the stop sign on the road. The red octagon is a strong visual cue that’s hard to miss, and it effectively communicates the desired action.

The key difference between the Glowing Choice and Desert Oasis is that the Glowing Choice is an overlay that disappears after interacting with the desired action, while the Desert Oasis is a permanent part of the interface.

Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial (Game Technique #6)

When users first join an app or game, they want to be guided through the process. They don’t want to feel lost or overwhelmed. The Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial is a collection of Glowing Choices that guide users through a tutorial, allowing them to learn a whole set of actions.

Sometimes, the tutorial takes place in a simulated situation, while other times, it’s within the actual application.

For instance, imagine a mobile app that helps you get gas delivered to your car. When users download the app, they might not need gas immediately. However, by providing a simulated tutorial that guides them through the process of scheduling a gas delivery, the app ensures that users understand how the system works.

The onboarding process shouldn’t end when users have set up their profiles. Instead, it should guide them through the desired actions at least once, so they feel confident in using the app or platform. By providing a Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial, you can create a smooth onboarding experience that effectively reduces cognitive load and fosters a sense of achievement.

By incorporating these techniques, you can guide users towards the Desired Action, create a sense of progress, and help them achieve their First Major Win-State.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

By highlighting a mission, quest, or a cause that users can be a part of, you can evoke a sense of Epic Meaning & Calling. Use the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs to draw users towards actions that contribute to a larger narrative, making them feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves.

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

Help users experience a sense of progress and achievement by using the Glowing Choice to highlight milestones, levels, or other indicators of progress. The Desert Oasis designs can be used to make these achievements more visible and enticing. Additionally, the Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial can guide users through a series of tasks, leading them to experience their First Major Win-State, creating a sense of accomplishment and motivating them to continue using your product.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Encourage users to experiment and innovate by emphasizing tools, customization options, or creative features through the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs. With a Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial, guide them through the creative process and showcase the possibilities of your platform, fostering a sense of empowerment.

Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession

By using the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs to emphasize rewards or virtual goods, you can tap into users’ desire to own and accumulate. Showcasing the value of these possessions can deepen their engagement with your product and encourage further investment.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

Leverage the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs to make social features prominent, such as connecting with friends, joining groups, or engaging in collaborative activities. The Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial can help users understand the social dynamics of your platform, making it easier for them to form connections and establish a sense of belonging.

Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience

Highlight limited-time offers, exclusive items, or rare opportunities using the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs. By making these scarce resources stand out, users will be more likely to feel the urgency to act on them, leading to increased engagement.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

Incorporate elements of surprise or mystery into your user experience by using the Glowing Choice to draw users’ attention to hidden features or content. A well-crafted tutorial can also introduce an element of unpredictability, teasing upcoming challenges or experiences that users will encounter as they progress.

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

Use the Glowing Choice or Desert Oasis designs to emphasize actions that help users avoid negative consequences, such as losing progress, missing out on rewards, or falling behind in a competition. A carefully crafted Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial can also teach users how to prevent setbacks and overcome obstacles.

By understanding and incorporating the Glowing Choice, Desert Oasis designs, and the Step-by-Step Overlay Tutorial, you can create a user experience that appeals to all 8 Core Drives of the Octalysis

In conclusion, designing an effective onboarding process is crucial for user retention and engagement. With these game design techniques, you can create a smooth, enjoyable experience that helps users feel confident and accomplished. By incorporating these strategies within the Octalysis Framework, you can tap into the full potential of your product, ensuring long-term success and user satisfaction.

Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

Serious Games

Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book. This is also a flushed out version of my guest post at

One of the most popular debates and criticisms in the gamification industry is what is considered gamification and how it relates to Serious Games and Advergames.

For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, Wikipedia defines serious games as, “a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.” In other words, games that are generally built for a productive purpose, such as training, education, healthcare, and the like (Hence, the term “serious”). defines advergames as, “A video game which in some way contains an advertisement for a product, service, or company.” These are games that basically act as interactive advertisement campaigns which draw potential customers onto a website or into a business. When I refer to “shoot-the-duck banner ads” as early and embarrassing forms of marketing gamification, those banner ads are technically classified as Advergames.

As you can see, both definitions have the word “a game” in them, which seems to go against the core essence of what “gamifying” something means. In my own writings, I talk about how you can gamify anything that involves human motivation, as long as it is not already a game, just like how you can’t liquefy liquid. You can however, apply better game design to games.

So because advergames and serious games are “games,” by that standard you can’t really gamify them. Right?

The Semantics of Gamification vs. The Value of Gamification

Continue reading Serious Games, Advergames, Gameful Design? Implicit vs Explicit Gamification

How Games Compel You to Pay them Obsessively

Game Monetization (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).

Dangling and Anchor Juxtaposition: Monetization in Social Games

Many social games on the market also use Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (one of the Black Hat Core Drives) to monetize heavily. Often times it’s a combination of Anchore Juxtaposition (Game Technique #69) and Dangling (Game Technique #44).

For instance, when you go on a game like Farmville, you initially may think, “This game is somewhat intriguing, but I would never pay real money for a stupid game like this.”

Then, Farmville implements Dangling and regularly shows you a mansion that you want, but can’t have. The first few times, you just dismiss it, as you inherently know it wouldn’t be resource-efficient to get it.

But eventually, you start to develop some desire of the mansion that’s constantly dangling there. Just from a tad of curiosity, you do a little research and see that the game requires 20 more hours of play before you can afford to get the mansion through game currency.

Wow, that’s a lot of farming! But then, you see that you could just spend $5.00 and get that very mansion immediately.

$5 to save 20 hours of my time? That’s a no-brainer!

Now the user is no longer paying $5 to buy some pixels on her screen. She is spending $5 to save her time, which becomes a phenomenal deal. You see how game design can mess around with peoples’ value systems?

The very strange phenomenon here, is that most of these games can be played for free; however, people are spending money so they could play less of the game. That’s the odd nature of Scarcity & Impatience.

Scarce but not Screwed

An important factor to consider when using Dangling is the pathway to obtaining the reward.  You have to allow the user to know that it’s very challenging to get the reward, but not impossible.

If it is perceived as impossible, then people turn on their Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance modes and go into self-denial. “It’s probably for losers anyway.”

For example, if you see an exclusive organization dangled in front of you, but then you see the prerequisite to join is that you have to be a Prince or Princess through royal blood, you might not even look at what the organization does, but may just think, “Who cares about a bunch of stuck up, spoiled brats?”

There is no motivation, and in fact, it activates Core Drive 8 as an Anti-Core Drive – the drive to NOT participate.

However, if the sign said, “Only Princes/Princess OR people who have previously ran a marathon can join.” Now you are motivated, and might even ponder in your head the work required to run a marathon.

As long as there is a realistic chance, the Scarcity and exclusivity itself is enough to engage your mind. The interesting thing is, you still haven’t even figured out what the organization actually does! Without any information on the function-focused, the human-focused motivation of Scarcity is motivating you towards running a marathon.

The Powers of Anchor Juxtaposition

This leads to a game technique I call Anchor Juxtaposition, where you place two options side by side: one that costs money, and the other that requires a great amount of effort towards the Desired Actions that benefit the system.

For example, a site could say, “You have two options to get this reward: 1. Pay us $20 right now, or 2. Commit a ridiculous amount of Desired Actions such as “Invite your friends,” “Upload photos,” “stay on the site for 30 days in a row.”

When that happens, you will see many users irrationally engaging in the Desired Actions, because they feel like doing the Desired Actions is like earning money. You’ll see users slaving away for dozens or even hundreds of hours, just so they could save the $20. At one point, many of them would realize that it’s a lot of time and work, and at that point, the $20 purchase option becomes more appealing and they end up purchasing that. Now your users have done both: paid you money, and committed a great deal of Desired Actions. It is worth reminding here again that rewards can be physical, emotional, or intellectual.

Rewards don’t have to be a financial reward, nor does it need to be a badge (people hardly pay for those). In fact, based on Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback principles, the most effective rewards are often times Boosters that allow the user to go back into the ecosystem and play more effectively, which becomes a streamlined activity loop. With Anchor Juxtaposition, you must have two options for the user. If you simply put a price on the reward and say, “Pay now, or go away.” Many users will go back to the CD8 Denial mode and think, “I’m never gonna pay those greedy bastards a single dollar!” and leave.

However, if you just put on your site, “Hey! Please do all these Desired Actions, such as invite your friends and complete your profile!” users often don’t feel any motivation to do those activities because they clearly recognize it as being beneficial for the system, but not for themselves (“Yes, but what do I get from it?”).

Only when you put those two options together (hence Juxtaposition), do people become more open to both options, and often times commit to doing both consecutively. But does this work in the real world, outside of games? You bet.

Dropbox is a File Hosting Service company based in San Francisco that has obtained extraordinary popularity and success.

When you first sign-up to Dropbox, it tells you that you could either 1. Pay to get a lot of storage space, or 2. Invite your friends to get more space. At the beginning, most people started inviting their friends (as well as complete a small list of Desired Actions). Dropbox Gamification Eventually, many of those users who are committing the Desired Actions decide that inviting/harassing their friends is a lot of work, but they still need a lot of space, and they end up paying. Again, because of the Anchor Juxtaposition, users commit both the Desired Action, and pay for the full product, just like I did.

Dropbox’s viral design, along with a great seamless product, accelerated the company to reportedly raise over $300 Million with a valuation that is around $10 Billion and revenues above $200 Million in 2013. Not too shabby for a company that didn’t exist seven years prior.

The Value of Rare Pixels

Continue reading How Games Compel You to Pay them Obsessively

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance


(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

The 8th Core Drive of Octalysis Gamification

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 17, Loss & Avoidance

Loss and Avoidance is the eighth and final core drive in my Octalysis Framework. It motivates through the fear of losing something or having undesirable events transpire.

A concept within many popular games is to stay alive in order to advance to the next round. Depending on the game’s design, dying or injuring your character means that you’re now forced to start over or lose something significant – be it coins, money, the number of lives you have, or other setbacks that make it more difficult to reach the Win-State.

This aversion towards loss is obviously not limited to games. There are many situations in the real world where we act based on fear of losing something that represents our investment of time, effort, money, or other resources. To preserve our ego and sense of self, Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance sometimes manifests itself through our refusal to give up and admit that everything we have done up to this point has been rendered useless.

Even new opportunities that are perceived as fading away can exhibit a form of Loss & Avoidance. If people do not act immediately on this temporary opportunity, they feel like they are losing the chance to act forever.

A common example can be seen in the coupons that arrive regularly in the mail. Let’s say you receive a coupon that gives you a 10% discount to a popular chain store that you have no interest in visiting, and the coupon is labeled to expire on February 12th.

Your brain may be absolutely certain that, if you let the coupon expire, the very next month you will receive the exact same coupon that expires on March 12th. But you might get an annoying feeling that you are somehow losing something if you don’t use the coupon before the expiration date. Rationally it shouldn’t matter, but you are compelled to think about the offer a little more. As a result, you become a bit more likely to go to the store for a discount that you may not truly care about.

Cropping your Losses in Farmville

Many social games effectively employ Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance to motivate players towards taking the Desired Actions. In the now familiar example of Farmville, if we look at the early part of their onboarding stage, we can see that avoidance design was already integrated into the system, inducing users to “log in” multiple times each day.

The first few minutes of Farmville seems very positive as the player spends time creating their avatar and starts working on their farm with an initial pool of free *Farm Cash*. However, Farmville soon demands that each player maintain their crops and livestock through routine farming chores – mostly in the form of coming back and clicking on the crops and livestock to harvest their products.

If you don’t return to reap your harvest within a given number of hours, as determined by the crops’ profiles (you can choose which crop to plant, which plays into Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback), you will lose your invested hard work and be shown demoralizing images of crops withering and dying. This mildly depressing incident upsets the user, compelling them to log back in frequently to keep their crops alive. The player becomes proactively involved in avoiding this negative outcome.

Gamification Farmville Dead Crops

When players lose their crops, it not only costs them Farm Cash to replace but also their time, as they have to replant and maintain new crops again. Each time you see the discouraging images of dead crops, you are hit with the triple whammy of having lost your time, effort, and resources.

Many years ago I was astonished at how effective this design could be, as my technology abhorrent mother suddenly became obsessed with playing Farmville. Back then, my mother was the type of person who thinks that technology is a source of evil that is polluting society and crippling authentic relationships; she still barely checks her email.

But in 2009, due to her close friend’s enthusiastic recommendation – a nice example of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, my mother signed up on Facebook and started to play Farmville. The beginning of the Onboarding phase was smooth and fun, as she used the game to relax her mind and connect with her friends.

However, after a few months of playing, my mother would sometimes wake up at 5:00am in the morning simply to harvest her crops and prevent them from withering. It became so bad that when my mother needed to travel out of town, she would call up my cousin and ask if he could log into her Facebook account and help manage her farm. She needed to make sure her crops didn’t die. (Though she also used to ask me, being a son that was lacking in “{chinesefont}孝{latinfont}” as discussed in Chapter 5, I eventually deferred the responsibility so I could focus on my “other” important work).

At the time, this blew my mind. I initially thought the reason for most people to play games was because they had too many responsibilities in the real world and needed to immerse themselves into a fantasy world to escape those responsibilities. However, here you have a brand new set of virtual responsibilities that add on even more stress and anxiety to daily life. It didn’t make any sense.

Of course, today I understand the nature and power of Black Hat Motivation. For a period of time, Farmville was able to successfully increase its Daily Active Users Metrics and lower short-term turnover with this type of Loss & Avoidance design. That is, until users hit a “Black Hat Rebound,” where they eventually burn out and find the courage to pursue freedom outside of Farmville.

Flipping other Core Drives Off

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance complements many of the other Core Drives for an interesting reason: often it manifests as the reversal of the other Core Drives. You don’t want something bigger than yourself to fall apart (Core Drive 1), hence you act; or you don’t want to look like a loser in front of your friends (Core Drive 5), hence you make a purchase.

Some may argue that this doesn’t constitute a separate Core Drive. As an example, critics might point out that people are driven back to Farmville because they want to feel a sense of accomplishment or ownership and that the loss of either feeling is simply the removal of these drives. However, from a design standpoint, it is important to consider Loss & Avoidance as its own Core Drive.

This is because gaining something and preventing a loss is incredibly different from the standpoint of motivation. Studies have shown over and over that we are much more likely to change our behavior to avoid a loss than to make a gain. It forces us to act differently and plays by different mental rules. In fact, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman indicates that on average, we are twice as loss-averse compared to seeking a gain. This means that we have a tendency to only take on a risk if we believed the potential gain would be double the potential loss if the risk were realized.

Through using the Octalysis Framework, this differentiation improves behavioral design by specifically identifying opportunities to integrate proactive loss-avoidance mechanics that generate a more subtle set of motivational dynamics.

A Caveat: Avoiding the Avoidance

Continue reading The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#5): Social Influence & Relatedness

social pressure and envy

The 5th Core Drive of Gamification

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 14, Social Influence & Relatedness

Social Influence and Relatedness is the fifth core drive within my Gamification Framework Octalysis, which is related to activities inspired by what other people think, do, or say. This Core Drive is the engine behind themes like mentorship, competition, envy, group quests, social treasures and companionship.

This Core Drive also includes the “Relatedness” part, which deals with things like attachment to emotional associations and the feeling of nostalgia. For instance, if you see a product that reminds you of your childhood, you have a higher chance of buying that product. Similarly if you meet someone from your hometown, you would also be more inclined to sign up a deal with this person.

Social Influence & Relatedness is a Right Brain Core Drive that bases its success off the common, and sometimes inevitable human desire to connect and compare with one another. When utilized properly, it can serve as one of the strongest and long-lasting motivations for people to become connected and engaged.

With the proliferation of new social media tools and platforms, more and more companies are working on optimizing Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness during the Discovery and Onboarding Process.

Almost every consumer app these days urges you to “Invite Your Friends” upon joining their service. However, just because the social platform is there to spread a message, does not mean there necessarily are engaging content and context that are share-worthy. There are many pitfalls as Social Influence & Relatedness is a double-edged sword and needs to be done carefully.

Mentorship (Game Technique #61)

In my book, I share how powerful mentorship could be in a game setting such as Parallel Kingdom, but it is also consistently effective in every medium of activity that requires sustained motivation.

During the rigorous process of joining a Fraternity in American universities, most fraternities have a Big Bro/Little Bro system where an experienced member in the organization will be matched up with a new potential member going through a semester-long training process known as “pledging.” The Big Bro is there to serve as a mentor that provides not only directional guidance, but also emotional support to make sure the time-consuming process of pledging becomes more bearable. This practice has lasted for over a century and shown to improve the Onboarding experience of members joining the organization.

Having a mentor also helps employees throughout organizations become more attached to the culture and environment, effectively increasing work satisfaction and decreasing turnover rates.

Unfortunately, most organizations require the individuals to become proactive on their own in finding mentors, and only individuals who are lucky get matched with a good mentor within an organization (or in their lives in general). It is beneficial for companies to create a systemized mentorship program that is fluid based on individual matches and compatibility to improve the experience and productivity within an organization.

The other benefit for Mentorship is that it also helps veteran players stay engaged in the Endgame Phase. In the Four Experience Phases of a Players Journey (relevant in Level 2 Octalysis) we learn that the Endgame is the most neglected and one of the hardest phases to optimize for. Good mentorship design in the Endgame also makes veterans feel as if they’ve worked hard enough to prove their status and show off their skills.

While the benefits of utilizing Mentorship within an organization are apparent, how can one utilize Mentorship to motivate customers who are outside of the organization?

Mentorship as a Booster to Customer Support

Mentorship can be an amazing way to super-charge a consumer-facing website, such as eCommerce marketplaces or online communities.

Generally, the best way of establishing trust from users online is to show that other veteran users have been using/benefitting/profiting off of the site and loving it for a long time.

Also, the majority of most online community support calls are not really about technical problems or bugs, but “how do I do this?” questions, where the operator just patiently walks the users through, “First click profile. Then click seller’s dashboard. Good. Now click on the button that says Gullible.”

This model is not very effective because:

  1. Users are not exactly enthralled by talking to “customer service” operators because they believe the customer service team does not really empathize with their problems and do not understand their needs.
  2. Costs for customer service can run very high, especially when the majority of them are solving these “how-do-I” interface problems.
  3. Newbies of the site don’t feel emotionally engaged with anyone on the site and feel no incentive to behave better in the community.
  4. The veterans of the website do not feel the fulfillment of reaching higher status and may become less engaged.

The solution? Get veterans to do “interface” support for newbies!

What if each time the veteran logs onto the website, there will be a little overlay widget where he can move a slider that says, “I am available for mentorship” and offer himself to become available for Gchat or Facebook Chat like conversations for newbies on the site?

For instance, lets say whenever a newbie seller on an eCommerce marketplace has a question, he has the option to connect to a veteran seller who’s been there, done that, and is exactly what the newbie sellers wants to be like one day on the site.

Of course, if the veteran expert can’t answer the questions, the newbie can immediately press a button that says, “Talk to an actual customer rep,” but newbies generally would love to get the opportunity to talk to a veteran who not only can help them solve their interface problems, but also give them tips and advice on how to become more successful sellers in the marketplace, such as applying better selling tactics. Needless to say, this is what the eCommerce company would love also, as each seller who skipped the boring tutorials can now learn how to become great sellers in an engaging fashion.

At the end of every month, the eCommerce site can then calculate how many “mentorship hours” the veteran did, and apply that to some type of fee discount or free shipping that the veteran, who likely sells in large volumes, would love to get.

This is economical for the eCommerce site because compared to the massive savings from expensive support costs, fee discounts or free shipping plans would be like a rounding error.

That way, the veteran gets his status perks and bonuses, the newbie gets his questions answered while feeling a social bond towards becoming a better seller, and the site saves a massive amount of support costs while having more engaged and professional sellers in the ecosystem.

What a massive win-win-win.

Group Quests (Game Technique #22)

The game technique Group Quest is very effective in collaborative play as well as viral marketing because it requires group participation before any individual can achieve the Win-State.

A successful game that utilizes this is World of Warcraft, another fanatically successful and addictive game made by Blizzard Entertainment.  In WoW, there are many quests that are so challenging that it requires an entire team of 40 max-leveled players to work together, each specialized in their own responsibilities, before they have a chance of beating the quest. In well-designed instances, even though the 40-player requirement is not imposed by the program, the users simply find it difficult to win if they had 39 players.

This motivated many players to group up together into clans and guilds and orchestrate raids on a regularly basis, ensuring that people will login regularly and not drop out due to the social pressure.

Farmville by mobile-gaming giant Zynga is also another game that has quests that require users to invite a group of farmer friends to produce a certain amount of crops within 24 hours. The game forces you to not only invite your friends to join, but to participate with you, which is more powerful than a spammy “I just started playing this game. Click on this link!”

Groups Quests have been found in games for decades, but only more recently has it been adopted into the business world. In late 2008, the new company Groupon realized that it would be highly motivating for businesses and consumers if they created group quests that allow consumers to get dramatic discounts when a threshold of enough people taking the Desired Action towards the Win-State is met.

They tout 60% off discounts if “over 200 people buy this deal.” Naturally, people who wanted the tremendous discount invited their friends to “go in on this together,” making the company a huge explosion.

According to Forbes in 2010 Groupon was “projecting that the company is on pace to make $1 billion in sales faster than any other business, ever.” That’s not bad for utilizing a time-tested Game Technique in business.

Of course, due to some mismanagement and operational issues, Groupon (while still having $2.57 Billion in Revenue in 2013) did not reach the expectations that it set itself up for, but similar Group Quest models such as Kickstarter and Indigogo are becoming very popular services that group funds innovative projects that could not raise money from institutional investors.

Brag Buttons (Game Technique #57) vs Tout Flags (Game Technique #64)

Bragging is when a person vocally (and relentlessly) expresses their accomplishments and achievements, whereas touting is when a person implicitly showing people that they’re accomplished without really saying it.

Intuitively encouraging users to brag about and tout their achievements comes in handy when it comes to recruiting new players and keeping veteran players active, but the two actions are appropriate in different scenarios.

A Brag Button is an obvious Desired Action that users can take in order to broadcast what they feel accomplished about (driven by Core Drive 2). In other words, Brag Buttons are little action tools and mechanisms for users to broadcast how awesome they are to others. Take the game Temple Run, for example. Whenever a game is over, there is a quick and easy way for users to take a screenshot of their high scores and share it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Soon after, people were competing with those who were scoring in the millions and users scoring in the millions were proud to post their score for everyone to see.

In many games and websites these days, you’re always encouraged to share more with your friends at every single Win-State. Most of these Brag Buttons are ignored though, because it again is not fueled by Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment (the dynamics and relationships between each Core Drive and how they power each other is studied in higher level Octalysis). You want to implement the Brag Buttons at the Major Win-States when users actually feel awesome about what they had just completed.

A Touting Flag, on the other hand, is an obvious display that shows the achievements of the users. In other words, the user simply has to put up the Flag, and without doing more things, everyone who walks by would acknowledge this great achievement.

Touting Flags are seen when you walk into someone’s office, and on their walls you see all types of awards, certificates, and credentials. These professionals don’t necessarily want to brag about how they graduated cum de laude from Stanford University and have a Level 4 Octalysis Certificate to everyone all the time, but by having it on their walls, they implicitly tout it.

In that sense, adding the title Ph.D after one’s own name is usually considered a Touting Flag, but once they verbally introduce themselves as “John Doe, Ph.D,” they’re pressed that Brag Button.

In gaming, Touting Flags can often be seen as trophies, badges, or avatars. In many games, some avatar gear or items can only be obtained after certain difficult milestones, such as beating a certain secret boss, inviting 100 friends to the game, or simply being in the game since Day 1. This allows everyone else to clearly see that this user is a target of envy (which is not necessarily bad for motivation) without the person annoyingly bringing it up all the time.

Keep in mind that there needs to be some level of Relatedness when someone brags or touts about something. When there is a mutual understanding toward the difficulty of reaching a certain level, people are more likely to brag or tout about their score because they know others how difficult it is to reach that achievement. Of course, if people see others constantly bragging about their achievements in a game, they start to become more motivated by Social Influence, as well as Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, as they would like to try to see what they can get themselves in the game.

Temple Run does a great job on that process of gaining new users through bragging and stood high up in the leaderboard of Apple’s top featured apps for weeks in a row with a 5/5 star rating. Not bad for a monotonous game of constantly running forward.

Unfortunately, the interface for Temple Run 2 dimmed down the option of the Brag Button, which I believe would result in lower probability of someone sharing based on the Glowing Choice and Dessert Oasis game techniques we discussed in Core Drive 2.

Social Treasures (Game Technique #63) and the Thank-You Economy (Game Technique #45)

Social Treasures are gifts or rewards that can only be given to you by friends or other players.

In Farmville, there are certain types of virtual goods that are unobtainable in almost all ways – including the option to purchase it with real money. The only way of getting the item is if a friend clicks on a “Give to Friend” button and, without losing anything, the item appears out of thin air and is given to a friend. The result of this type of design is that, when people want these unique Social Treasure items, they would just give it to each other, and both sides win. This, of course, pushes people to get their friends to join the game, so they would have more friends to obtain Social Treasures from.

Soon, people were requesting items from their friends nonstop on Facebook, badgering them to give them various items. It became a nuisance and an annoyance for Facebook users, but even if it was overwhelming, it effectively attracted more users to the game.

I remember there was a time around 2007, where people kept on posting on my Facebook wall and requesting that I give them a Goat in Farmville. After receiving a few of those, I got annoyed, and simply responded with, “I don’t play Farmville.”, thinking that it would effectively stop these people from asking again. Unfortunately, the response I received was, “Hey! That’s okay!! Just create a Farmville account, and I can give you a Goat too!!”

It was strikingly interesting to me that this person thought that somehow I too would value a Goat so much that it would motivate me to create a Farmville account. This was a temporary loss of empathy and failing the child development psychology test of guessing what other people would do. If you are curious about the experiment, search for, “   “ online.

Social Treasures can been seen commonly these days in games such as getting more Lives from Candy Crush (in fact, my wife noticed that her niece in Taiwan was playing games at 1AM in the morning when she told everyone she was studying late because the niece sent out a Candy Crush request to all her Facebook friends asking for more lives), more “rerolls” in a slot or dice machine that is found in the Angry Birds Franchise Role-Playing Game “Angry Birds Epic,” and many more.

In the real world, the most common form of a Social Treasure is a vote. Besides your own vote, you cannot (legally) get yourself more votes, even if you were ready to spend money. The only way for you to obtain more votes is if other people give them to you. When you implement a voting system, it would be beneficial to also promote the website to explain to the friends of users why the users are competing and why they need votes. Quite often, you can even see people creating Facebook Events titled “Please Vote for Me!” that posts the link of the website. Others send messages saying, “Please vote for my picture for cutest puppy picture so I can win a year’s worth of free dog food!” This is tremendously useful for the hosting company because it exposes their name to heavy traffic and attention. .

A similar extension of the Social Treasure game technique is the concept coined by Gary Vaynerchuk called the “Thank you Economy.” This is based around the idea that if you design a system that encourages users to continuously and generously give, there’s a social pressure to give back somehow, creating a type of in-system viral coefficient.

In the gamified navigation app Waze, when you keep seeing people sharing information about road and traffic conditions, you become a bit more motivated to share some roadside information yourself (a little bit of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback). Afterwards, you would often get a “Thank You!” from a user that is also driving in the area, creating a good feeling of Oxytocin, or the chemical in our brains that give us the feeling of wellbeing from companionship and trust in relationships. As a result, everyone starts to share more, as well as thank each other more.

Based on this concept, system designers should try to create an ecosystem that fosters the environment of generosity and reward that generosity. People will get attached easier because more often than not, people are not appreciated enough in their daily activities. If through your service or system people are getting that warm feeling of giving and being appreciated, you likely will have a thriving and sustainable system.

Conformity Anchor (Game Technique #58)

Earlier we already talked about the power of Social Norming, and certain game design techniques implement that power into their products or experiences. I call it a Conformity Anchor.

The Utility SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company oPower is a great example of Conformed Anchoring. oPower is tasked with the mission of reducing energy consumption in our planet. Inspired by the work of their Chief Scientist Robert Cialdini, who is one of the leading experts on Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, as well as Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

oPower has discovered that, the best way to motivate households to consume less energy is to show them a chart on how their best neighbors are consuming, and what their neighbors are consuming.

With this interface, oPower reportedly reduced 2.6 terawatt hours of electricity through 16 million households worldwide between 2007 and 2013, the equivalent of $300 Million Dollars. They were personally endorsed by President Barrack Obama, named a Technology Pioneer at the prestigious World Economic Forum, and was on the CNBC Disruptor 50 List.

One interesting observation oPower had was that by applying Conformity Anchors to the utility billing process, the top energy savers actually started to consume more energy because they felt they could relax a bit and be more like the norm. As a result, the company started to apply smiley faces to those who are above average, and two smiley faces to those are at the top, in order to reinforce Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment. Of course, there’s a lot more oPower can do to add other Core Drives to the process, but so far the smiley faces seem to do their jobs 🙂 .

Water Coolers (Game Technique #55)

Another way to reinforce Conformed Anchoring is by establishing Water Coolers in your experience. In American corporate office culture, the water cooler is often the place where people take a small break from work and chat about a variety of non-work related topics. Much of the conversations are gossip or complaints related, but it actively gets employees to bond with one another, and has become a well-recognized terminology in the U.S.

One example of a Water Cooler is adding a forum to your site. Forums are very helpful for community to bond, share ideas, and for this purpose, broadcast a social norm.

When I was first playing the game Geomon, I was skeptical about buying virtual goods with real money. Without paying, I could only capture 10 monsters. After that, when I wanted to capture more monsters, I would have to evaporate an old one. That Scarcity design (Core Drive #6) tempted me to spend some money, but I held on and painfully continued to play without spending. However, when I went to the forums of the game (which surprisingly, two years after the game shut down, is still active), I found out that many people talked about how they were spending their premium gold coins (which are purchasable by real money) as if buying them was a common practice.

After that, I was influenced by the social norm established in the forum and had no problem spending a few dollars to unlock a few slots so I could capture more monsters that I wanted.

In the game Battle Camp, spending is even more so established as a social norm. Players who spend money are referred to as “Coiners” and many troops would post messages such as, “We only accept coiners” or people would plead, “I’m not a coiner, but I’m literally on every hour that I’m not sleeping. Please let me join your troop!”

One thing to take note of, is that when you introduce a forum-like Water Cooler system into your experience, it could easily be plagued by emptiness and inactivity. Generally, forums are not very good at creating a community, but are good at mingling that community once it is established. When people come on a new forum and sees that it’s mostly empty, that spells negative social proof (a big sin that we have learned in this chapter), and it will only demotivate people towards the Desired Actions. Rather, first create a strong community with a lot of pent up things to say, and then introduce the Water Cooler to unleash that social energy, which hopefully would place the Conformity Anchor at the place that benefits your system.

Social Prods (Game Technique #62)

The final technique we’ll cover in this Chapter is the Social Prod. The Social Prod is the least amount of effort to create a social interaction, often times a click of a button. Good examples are Facebook Pokes/Likes, Google +1s.

In the early days, Facebook provides a small “Poke” button that does not do anything other than notify the user that you’ve “poked” them. At first, it seemed pretty pointless. I just got poked? What does that mean? The advantage of a Social Prod is that the user does not need to spend time thinking about something witty to say, nor be worried about sounding stupid, but simply presses a poke button to start an interaction.

When you get poked, you don’t know what it means either. But you don’t worry about it – you just poke back. Now both of you feel like you have interacted socially without having to spend any effort at all.

One of the key but non-obvious examples of a Social Prod is the Linkedin Endorsements. The professional social network LinkedIn generally does very well with Left Brain (Extrinsic Tendency) Core Drives such as CD4: Ownership & Possession (it’s your life/career) and CD2: Development & Accomplishment (these are real achievements).

However, they haven’t been able to successfully implement any Right Brain (Intrinsic Tendency) Core Drives, which is why there’s not “engaging experience” on LinkedIn. People just create profiles and then leave it sitting there for months – there’s just nothing to do on LinkedIn.

This is why in the past few years, they have been focusing on CD 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, such as showing you how much you have in common with certain people, recommendations, and endorsements.

LinkedIn Recommendations are actually considered Social Treasures, as they are truly valuables that only other people can give you. Unfortunately, they take time and work to generate, and so Recommendations action hasn’t picked up over the years.

Endorsements on the other hand, are Social Prods – they are designed to be fairly meaningless but easy to do. In the early days, there are buttons that allow you to endorse people in batches of four, allowing you to quickly endorse dozens of people without even thinking who they were.

When you are on an individual profile, it generally shows you a list of half a dozen expertise that you can endorse a person for.

However, most people have no idea whether this individual is good at all the activities listed there or not. But if you want to just endorse that one skill you truly do endorse, you cannot simply select that skill. You have to start clicking on the “x”s to slowly cancel out the other ones before you can just endorse the one you know about. Most people don’t want to do that much work, and as a result simply click the “Endorse All” button.

This shows that by design, LinkedIn does not want endorsements to be meaningful. It’s simply to meant to be easy and thoughtless – the definition of a Social Prod.

And as a result, people are endorsing each other in a proliferate manner; others are getting multiple emails a day saying, “Your friend Jun just endorsed you.” and therefore feel the reciprocal urge to go on LinkedIn and endorse their friends back.

Even though these endorsements don’t really mean anything from a career standpoint, but simply mean how likeable you are as a person, now by aimlessly endorsing each other endlessly, there is finally something to do on Linkedin. Oh yes, they introduced a content strategy too, so now you can read on LinkedIn too!


Social Influence & Relatedness is one the best studied and practiced Right Brain Core Drives in gamification (with Development & Accomplishment being the counterpart Left Brain Core Drive that is well-studied).

Most people recognize that spending times with friends is an intrinsically fun activity, even if they have yet to grasp the engaging factor of Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback or Unpredictability & Curiosity.

But when everyone’s going after social, and every website trying to make users invite their friends, your system has to be much better thought out to truly create a rewarding experience. Once you master Social Influence & Relatedness, you will be in even better position to reinforce Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

The Strategy Dashboard for Gamification Design

Gamification Strategy Dashboard

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

At this point, we have a built a strong foundation for understanding the 8 Core Drives, their natures, and how they individually and collaboratively influence our behavior. However, this does not necessarily mean this knowledge can be easily applied to designing an engaging gamified experience that also fulfill business metrics. For that, we need another tool.

After some of my talks on Octalysis, some people ask me, “How do I actually start to design a gamified campaign with the 8 Core Drives? I can now create an experience that’s interesting and engaging but I’m not sure how that will drive business success.”

In order to design a successful project, they need the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

The Octalysis Strategy Dashboard is a constantly evolving document that clarifies the most important aspects of your gamification campaign by focusing your attention on the critical elements that will ultimately direct your efforts for maximum impact.

The Strategy Dashboard contains five critical elements:

  1. Business Metrics, leading to Game Objectives
  2. Users, leading to Players
  3. Desired actions, leading to Win-States
  4. Feedback Mechanics, leading to Triggers
  5. Incentives, leading to Rewards

Your Strategy Dashboard is not meant to be as comprehensive or as static as a business plan. It should provide a minimum amount of critical information to help you execute an actionable gamification campaign that drives your business metric goals.

It may take less than one or two hours to first define your Strategy Dashboard but can take months of iterations as your product or service evolves.

Let me explain each of the dashboard’s critical elements in turn:

  1. Business Metrics = Game Objectives

Business Metrics are the key numbers and results that the business wants to improve on. These are high-level items that the company may present to their executives or investors in order to show the campaign’s success.

Some Business Metrics include revenue, daily active users over monthly active users, time spent on site, retained users, registrations, etc. Again, these are the numbers that indicate success for your business. If these numbers are growing, your business is in good shape.

When defining Business Metrics, make sure they are quantifiable and prioritized in order of importance.

If you can’t Measure it, you can’t Manage it

Sometimes I have clients who ask me which gamification platform they should use to develop their campaign.

I believe the answer depends on what problem they want to solve. The problem isn’t that there is a lack of gamification. If that’s the problem, then it doesn’t matter what platform you use, as long as you include any kind of gamification your problem is solved!

Business metrics cannot be fluffy statements such as, “We want to make people feel great!” It has to be measurable and quantifiable. You need to be able to track success, benchmark against other campaigns, and even run split tests to see which of your efforts produce the best results.

Boiling the Ocean gets you no Tea

Business Metrics also needs to be prioritized in the order of importance to your business.

Most companies want all of their metrics to grow exponentially: they want a lot of revenue, new users signing up, more user time spent on their site; they want everything.

However, at this stage it is crucially important to focus on defining your top Business Metric, your number two Business Metric, and so on. Because when it comes to designing for motivation, often times you can only optimize for one Business Metric at each interface and so you have to refer back to your dashboard and be disciplined enough to choose your most important one. You can of course improve all the other Business Metrics to some degree too, but you can only optimize for one of them.

A good example of this is a login interface on the front page of your website. Is your top Business Metric to increase new user signups or to maximize weekly return rates? If you have decided the former is a higher business metric, you may design the interface that provides a text box for easy user registration with a simple “Sign-up” and “Sign-up through Facebook” button next to it. You would include a smaller section that says, “Already a user? Login here.”

If your top Business Metric is to maximize daily returns, then the interface may be the opposite, with a small section that says, “Not a user yet? Signup here!” This design may not be the best solution to maximize daily returns for all scenarios but you can see how an interface can often only allow for a single optimization of a key Desired Action.

If you look carefully at various front pages, you will see that Facebook, Pandora, and Twitter’s home pages are optimized for new user signups whereas Amazon and Paypal’s home pages are optimized for return user sign-ins. As eCommerce solutions, Amazon and Paypal decided that there is a higher return when an existing user logs in and spends money as opposed to having a random person sign-up just to see what they’re platforms are about. More often than not, that first-time user won’t result in strong commercial activity as that of an active user.

Obviously their other business metrics will also be increased through this optimized interface, but we want to always design in the main Desired Action for the user so that they always have a clear sense of how to reach the Win-State. If you try to get users to do everything on one screen, users will face decision paralysis, leave your site, and go back to their comfort zone.

If by implementing your gamified campaign, your Business Metrics have not improved, then you have failed the Game Objective.

  1. Users = Players

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