The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#2): Development and Accomplishment

Gamification Accomplishment

Where Game Mechanics and Game Techniques Default:

(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. For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 9, Development and Accomplishment.)

Development & Accomplishment is the Second Core Drive of the Gamification Framework Octalysis.

This is the Core Drive where people are driven by a sense of growth towards a goal and accomplishing it.

Many people have memories of their kindergarten teachers giving them golden star stickers to emphasis good behavior. Even though the golden star stickers don’t always become real prizes such as brownies, kids still become extremely intent on how many stars they are getting, and whether they deserved more or not. That’s a very straightforward demonstration towards the effects of Development & Accomplishment, and how easy it is to add into an experience.

This is also the most common implementation of gamification we see in the market, as most of the PBLs – points, badges, and leaderboards – appeal heavily to this drive.

Development & Accomplishment in Games

Almost all games show you some type of progress towards the Win-States. Games break down a user’s challenges into stages – check points, enemies, gems, levels, and bosses. This helps the user feel like there is always progress, and one achievement is coming after another.

Our brains have a natural desire to feel progress, to experience growth, and to see numbers go up. We need Win-States, and it is only a Win-State when it is concrete (being a “state”) and it demonstrates overcoming of a challenge (that’s the “win.”)

If a game is just a long and consistent 40-hour journey without clear stages and bosses to recognize accomplishment, the game is often not very engaging.

To display that sense of Accomplishment, some games show you a points, others show you levels, badges, stages, progress bars, better gear, victories etc.…the list goes on.

However, just because you see progress towards something does not mean you feel accomplished.

The key to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment is to make sure users are overcoming challenges they can be proud of.

Jane McGonigal, renowned game designer and PhD in Performance Studies, defines games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle.”

McGonigal points out that the challenge and limitation is what makes a game fun. For example, if golf were just a game with a goal without any limitations, then every play would just pick up the ball and put it into the hole. Everyone would score high, and everyone beyond the “putting a round peg through a round hole” game will probably not be very engaged.

By adding unnecessary obstacles, such as requiring the use of a strange stick, certain distances, and landscape hazards, golf becomes fun because the player actually feels accomplished once such challenges are overcome.

Gamification aims to bring that feeling of Development & Accomplishment into everyday experiences within your product or service.

LinkedIn Progress Bar

One of the simplest and best known examples of Development & Accomplishment in the industry is the LinkedIn Progress Bar.

As the largest professional social network in the world, LinkedIn realized that its value is only as good as the information people choose to put in it.

But inputting one’s profile and job history on LinkedIn is tedious, and users quickly drop out early on in the onboarding process.

LinkedIn realizes that simply making the interface easier for users to maneuver was not enough. They needed to make the interface more motivating. As a result LinkedIn introduced a little Progress Bar (Game Technique #4) on the side of users’ profiles to show people how complete their profiles are.

Our brains hate incomplete things dangling in front of our faces. When we see a progress bar that is taunting us as only being 35% of a professional, it gives us that extra push to finish the Desire Actions and become complete again as a human being.

The amazing thing is, word has it that this progress bar only took developers 2 hours to code, but improved LinkedIn’s profile completeness by 55%, an amazing change considering how they have spent millions of dollars into getting this same goal. If every single two-hour employee effort produced a 55% increase in your core business metrics, wouldn’t that be something?

Gamification with Twitter

Twitter is yet another great example of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment.

Most people remember Twitter’s innovation being the limitation of 140 characters (which is an interesting balance between Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience combined with Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback), but few people remember that another one of Twitter’s key innovations was the one-way follow.

Back in the day, social connections were mutual – either both sides agree to be friends, or no relationship existed.

When Twitter was launched in 2006, it came with this new one-way follow system, allowing users to follow the message updates of people who are awesome, without these awesome people following the users back.

Because of the one-way nature of the relationship, many people saw getting many followers as a true achievement – meaning that everyone wanted to listen to your valuable opinions, even though you don’t give a rat’s pancreas about their opinions.

People tried as hard as they could to “earn” followers – tweeting out witty comments, sharing valuable links, and retweeting others to gain attention. Some even pressured their non-tech friends to follow them, just to look better on Twitter. This became a game for many, where the goal is to reach the highest amount of followers and retweets.

Then, at one point, influential people started to compete with each other to see who had more followers. At the beginning, the implicit comparing came between influencers in the tech world, such as Guy Kawasaki or Robert Scoble.  This is the condition of most new tech companies – people in Silicon Valley as well as bloggers loved the platforms, but the mainstream population doesn’t even know it existed yet.

However, because of the “Accomplishment” nature that is baked into Twitter’s DNA, Twitter finally caught massive mainstream attention when celebrities like Ashton Kutcher joined the mix of “follower competitions” against other celebrities, and most notably, the official CNN Breaking News Twitter Channel.

In 2009, Ashton Kutcher, publically challenged CNN Breaking News to see who can first reach 1 Million Followers. Both sides, not wanting to lose the competition, started promoting Twitter and their own Twitter profiles on all their media outlets, hoping to be the first to hit that golden Million. Ashton Kutcher’s fans, who loved his movies but had no idea what Twitter was, also started to write blog posts and make Youtube videos telling everyone else to follow him.

Towards the end, Ashton Kutcher did achieve his victory of reaching 1 Million Followers on Twitter before CNN Breaking News. Again, because he considers this to be a true accomplishment, he brags with joy and pride.

CNN Breaking News, on the other hand, behaves in a sportsmanlike manner, as a big company should. In the above screenshot, you can see that by the time Ashton Kutcher won, CNN Breaking News had 999,652 followers, only mere hundreds away from winning.

Instead of bitterly saying, “So close! We were only off by a few hundred,” they gracefully announced to the world “Ashton Kutcher is first to reach 1 million followers in Twitter contest with CNN” with a “Congrats” on the tweet below.

This contest has turned out very positive for the brand names of both CNN and Ashton Kutcher, but the biggest benefiter is Twitter, whom received millions of dollars worth of free press into an audience that was unfamiliar with their platform.

Football vs Soccer

The understanding of Development & Accomplishment might also explain to us why American Football is by far the most popular sport to watch in North America, especially compared to Soccer.

The stereotype goes, compared to Europeans, the average American is more audacious, impatient, and expects more instant gratification. That may or may not be true, but for the sake of argument, lets go with that statement. Of course, you as my reader are definitely not considered “the average American,” both in a humorous and logical sense, especially if you are not an American to begin with.

In Soccer, it’s a bit harder to keep track of progress and development for the average American. Sure – you can see where the ball is on the court, but it gets kicked back and forth so much, swapping between sides and players, it’s not completely obvious who is winning and who’s gotten ahead when the score are equal.

Furthermore, after a long grueling battle, many games end up with 0 points on both sides, or at most one to two points, making it hard for the American audience to enjoy the feeling of Development & Accomplishment.

However, in “American” Football (the one where you use your hands), not only are points and scores more obtainable – 51 points vs 28 points, milestones and progress are also broken down to 10-yard runs that happen every few minutes, helping the American audience digest the progress of the game easily. “Oh, he made another 10 yards. YEAHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Not only that, each 10 yards is even broken down further to three to four attempts, so there is a level of suspense and a Countdown mechanism (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience) to add small challenges and wins within the game.

American Football also often pauses the game whenever something noteworthy happens, in order to remind viewers, “Something just happened! Now is the time to be happy and chest bump your friends!”

Breaking down all the places to cheer, celebrate, and watch more commercials, no wonder American Football is the most popular and biggest moneymaker sport in American.

If you just slap on Badges, Badges will slap your Users

I’ve often talked about how points and badges can ruin good gamification design as the so-called “gamification experts” slap them onto everything they see. However, they are useful tools and have their place in a gamified system.

Badges are what I call “Achievement Symbols” (Game Technique #2). As mentioned, Achievement Symbols can come in many forms – badges, stars, belts, hats, uniforms, trophies.

The dead horse has been complaining, but I’ll reiterate that the important thing about Achievement Symbols, is that they must symbolize “achievement.”

If you go on a website and click a button, and then suddenly a popup springs out and says, “CONGRATULATIONS!!! You just earned your ‘Clicked On My First Button Badge’! Click here to see other cool badges you can earn!” Are you going to be excited?

Probably not.

You may even think, “Well this is pretty lame…what else is there? A ‘Scrolling Down Badge’? A ‘Click on the About Us Page Badge’?” You’re almost insulted.

But if you did something that you feel like you uniquely earned by utilizing your creativity and solved a problem that not everyone could solve, and as a result received a badge to symbolize that achievement, you feel proud and accomplished. Now the motivation is valid.

Achievement Symbols merely reflect achievement, but are not achievements by themselves.

A similar example comes from where badges came from – the military. If you join the military, and immediately get a badge on your chest, “Joined the Military Badge!”

And on the next day, another badge gets pinned on your chest that says, “Survived My First Day Badge!” followed by “Made my First Friend Badge!” “Made Five Friends Badge!” You probably won’t feel accomplished and wear all these badges to your social gatherings. You are more likely to feel insulted.

But if you performed acts of valor – you risked your life to save a fellow soldier, and as a result received a Medal of Honor on your chest, you are likely to truly feel proud and accomplished.

Keep in mind some of those “insulting badges” do work great for children, because as small children, these are actual feats and accomplishments. More often than not, making your first friend is not something you have a parade about when you are a grown person.

Therefore, when I work with clients on gamification, I never ask them, “Do you have badges?” I ask, “Do you make your users feel accomplished?” Having badges (or any game element in itself) does not mean users are motivated towards the Win-State.

That’s why we focus on the 8 Core Drives.

 A Point on Points

Similarly, Status Points (Game Technique #1) are for keeping score of progress. Internally, it allows the system to know how close players are towards the win-state. Externally, it gives players a feedback system to also keep track of their progress.

As a great candidate for “Feedback Mechanics” in the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard, showing people their score and changes on small improvements often motivates them towards the right direction.

However, how you craft the gaining and losing of points, as well as meaning behind the points can significantly change the users’ perception of your product. Done incorrectly, it can cause the user to devalue the entire experience and distrust your intentions as a systems designer.

Many companies think that giving users tradable points that can be redeemed for rewards would make a system motivating. After all, now there is an “economy!”

What companies don’t always realize, is that running an economy is a very complex thing. You have to carefully consider the correct labor to time to exchange to reward ratios and constantly adjust the balance to make sure people actually value your points and currency system.

Adam Smith, known as the “Father of Economics,” suggests in his book Wealth of Nations that the beginning of all Value is Labor. Because people have put in time and labor into the process and “mined out” points, it inherently has value for those who do not wish to spend the same amount of time to obtain those points.

The Federal Reserve Bank or Central Bank of any country knows that an economy is extremely sensitive and requires finesse. They understand that if they just change interest rates by a measly 3%, consumers, banks, insurance companies, real estate developers, and businesses will all behave drastically different.

For a company to just think that, “We have an economy and therefore we are engaging!” is a very dangerous statement.

Leaderboard Game Mechanics

Leaderboards (Game Technique #3) is a game element where you rank users based on a set of criteria that is influenced by the users’ behaviors towards the Desired Actions.

Even though Leaderboards are meant to motivate people and bring in status, if designed incorrectly, it often times does the exact opposite.

If you use a site for a few hours and received 25 points, and then you see on the Top 20 list, number 20 already has 25,000,000 points, that probably does not motivate you to try harder.

In fact, it could very likely demotivate you and you won’t even want to try.

This was an issue that Foursquare, a geolocation mobile app that gamified the check-in process, had many years ago. Often times, a new user may check into a new coffee shop, and then realize the “Mayor” there has already achieved 250 check-ins and increasing everyday. “Fighting for the Mayorship” is probably not something the user would be interested in, because he knows the odds of developing progress and feeling accomplished is very low.

What users need is Urgent Optimism, another term coined by Jane McGonigal, where the user feels optimistic that she can accomplish the task, but also urgent as she needs to act now.

When you setup a leaderboard, there are a couple variations that have shown to perform better.

First, you always want to position the user in the middle of the leaderboard display, so all she sees is the player right above her, and the user just below her. It’s not very motivating seeing how high the Top 10 players are, but it’s incredibly motivating when one sees someone who used to be below her suddenly surpasses her.

Another variation of the leaderboard is to set up Group Leaderboards, where the ranking is based on the combined efforts of a bigger team. In that case, even though not everyone is competitive and needs to be at the top, most people don’t want to be the laggard that drags the team down, so everyone works harder through the sense of Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive 5).

The next variation is to setup constantly refreshing leaderboards, where every week the data would refresh; hence no one falls too far behind and always has a renewed sense of hope, leading towards that Urgent Optimism.

Finally, it’s a good idea to implement micro-leaderboards, where only the users’ friends or very similar people are compared. Instead of seeing you are ranked 95,253 out of 1 Million users, you see how you are the top 1 or 2 among 22 friends.

The point is that the user must quickly recognize the action item towards getting the win-state. If there’s no chance of achievement, there is no action.


Since Development & Accomplishment is the easiest Core Drive to design for, many companies focus on this Core Drive. Consequently, many of the Gamification Platforms out there are specialized in appealing to this Core Drive too. However, if you do plan to implement these game elements into your product, make sure you do that carefully and elegantly. Always focus on how you want your users to feel, not what game elements you want to use.

User and Player Types in Gamified Systems

Player Types Gamification

Much of what we have learned about how people act and interact in gamified environments has been derived from what we know about game theory, social dynamics, as well as Player Types. After years of research, we now have practical ways of classifying user types, similar to the way game players have been classified by types. This can aid in understanding the human elements of a situation and help in building an effective gamified design.

From the Realm of Games

Richard Bartle, a British writer and professor at the University of Essex, has conducted research in the areas of game design and game development, as well as explored player personality types for massively-multiplayer online games. He is best known for his theory on game participant psychology which classifies players based on their gaming preference.

These preferences are deduced from a series of thirty random questions which identify characteristics associated with specific character types. Bartle identified four main character types – Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. The results from this test produced a metric known as the “Bartle Quotient” which represented the relative presence of each characteristic trait.

Bartle’s Four Player Types

Bartle’s four main player types are characterized in the following descriptions:

Achievers – players who focus on obtaining some level of success, as measured by points, prizes, material possessions, or other valuation criteria. Known as the “Diamonds,” they will strive to gain rewards, recognition and prestige, with little or no advantage in gameplay or advancement.

Explorers – players who seek out the thrill of discovery, learning about anything that is new or unknown. Referred to as the “Spades” because they tend to dig down and uncover things, explorers feel a rush of excitement when they discover a rare artifact or a secret pathway.

Socializers – these are individuals who are attracted to the social aspects of a game, rather than the game strategy itself. They are the “Hearts” of the game world, because they gain the most enjoyment from interacting with the other players in the game. For them the game is the social vehicle that allows they to engage others and build interesting relationships.

Killers – these players live for the competitive elements of the game. They are referred to as the “Clubs” because they like to “take it to” their competition. They love the opportunity to compete (and beat) the other players.

But these classifications were largely based on patterns of social interaction between players that Bartle observed in the scenarios found in multi-user dungeons, or “MUDS” games. Though they describe how different players might be motivated and enjoy different types of interaction, and to have “fun” in competitive MUDS settings (or possibly MMORPG’s in today’s setting), this system can be limiting for other game systems and game-based situations.

A Different Perspective for Gamification

In reality, a gamified system is rarely the same as a MUDS or MMORPG game. Bartle’s Player Type scheme is not necessarily accurate for this setting, though the terms could be used as generalized descriptors for similar behavioral traits. The major difference is that in a gamified situation, individuals won’t necessarily be able to have the same freedom to “play” and “explore” the game as a MMORPG.

Andrzej Marczewski believes that we should step back and initially view the situation with two basic types of players in mind. Those “willing” to play, and those “not willing” to play. Andrzej refers to the “willing” players as those that can be engaged with extrinsic things such as badges and trophies. For many, these are of no particular interest. However, they can still be engaged if the system can be designed to do so.

In a gamified setting, Andrzej created a five “user type” system:

  • Player
  • Socializer
  • Free Spirit
  • Achiever
  • Philanthropist

Note that “Socializer” and “Achiever” are the same as Bartle’s terms for two player types.
Each of his five user types can be strongly influenced by any of the four intrinsic motivators – relatedness/social, autonomy, mastery, purpose, or by extrinsic rewards. This is represented in his diagram:

Gamification User Types

Andrzej User Types

Continue reading User and Player Types in Gamified Systems

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#3): Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Gamification Creativity

The Creative Core Drive in 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. For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 10, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback #1 and Episode 11, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback #2).

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is the Third Core Drive in Octalysis, and is the Core Drive that really emphasizes on “Play.”

Some of my fondest memories growing up are of when I got to play with Legos and engage in forming, destroying, and re-building basic building blocks in an infinite amount of combinations.

It gave me and millions of others around the world great joy and fulfillment simply because it allowed me to be creative, immediately see the outcome of my hard work, and re-calibrate my efforts over and over again to bring my imagination to life.

I believe that people are by nature creative beings, and we yearn to learn, imagine, invent, and partake in creative processes where the journey in of itself brings happiness.

The beauty of this Core Drive lies in its evergreen ability to continually engage us at all moments in our lives.

If you recall the structure of Octalysis, with the top-down Core Drives being White/Black Hat, and Left/Right Core Drives being Extrinsic/Intrinsic, you will notice that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is the “golden top right,” where it is White Hat – meaning long-term positive emotions, as well as Right Brain – meaning an emphasis on Intrinsic Motivation. Unfortunately, this Core Drive is also the hardest to implement correctly.

The Endgame Evergreen Core Drive

Every once in a while, an attendee at my speaker events would ask, “Yu-kai, I want to add gamification to my company, but aren’t most games short-lived? Don’t people get bored of a game after playing for a while? If so, wouldn’t that be bad for my business?”

It’s true, many great games are played for two to eight months, and then they move on to new games. However, it’s because the game did not design for motivation for the Endgame, which is the fourth and final phase of a Player’s Journey. And remember, since you never HAVE to play a game, if it is not engaging in the endgame, you move on to other games.

Many well-designed games, like Starcraft, managed to engage the mind of players for over a decade, until the sequel was released. Other games like Poker, Golf, Chess, Mahjong, all have stood the test of time, and is still popular after centuries of trial.

Now there are many ways to design an engaging Endgame, but the reason why so many of these games stand the test of time, is largely because they utilize Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

In a study done by Queen Mary University of London and University College London in 2013 comparing the effects of different games on the brain. After six to eight weeks, the study showed that students who played Starcraft roughly an hour a day improved their memory, visual search, informational filtering, and other cognitive skills.

When a user can continuously use her creativity and infinitely come up with new ways to do things, the game designer no longer needs to constantly create new content to make things engaging, as her mind is the evergreen content that absorbs her attention continuously. That’s the power of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback in retaining users for the long haul.

Some Game Techniques to implement Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Below is a list of Game Techniques that utilize Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback within games and also in gamification projects.

Boosters (Game Technique #31)

Have you ever played the game Super Mario and felt blissfully excited when you picked up a mushroom or flower that made you stronger (such as breaking blocks with your head or throwing fireballs)? These are considered Boosters in a game, where a player obtains something to, in a limited capacity, help them achieve the win-state easier.

Different from simply leveling up or acquiring new skills, Boosters are usually limited under certain conditions. You can enjoy the brick-breaking and fire-throwing as long as you stay out of harms way. Once you get hit by an enemy, you return back to your “natural state” prior to boosters.

Boosters such as getting a jumping star in Super Mario is limited by time, and for the next dozen seconds (I actually went on Youtube and counted the seconds just to write this), a player would rush as quickly as he can (sometimes falling into pits) as he enjoys the adrenaline rush of using his limited invincibility (with a touch of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience).

That feeling of being empowered with new but limited power-ups is exhilarating and is an extremely strong motivator towards the desired action. Very few people are willing to stop the game while the Star Invincibility effect is still.

In games like Candy Crush, Boosters are also very powerful mechanics, especially towards its monetization. A player can earn (or buy) limited amounts of boosters that help overcome some of the most difficult challenges in the stage, such as getting a Bubblegum Troll to defeat the menacing chocolates, or a Disco-Ball like Color Bomb to remove all candies of a certain color. Without different boosters and power-ups, the game would not nearly be as engaging as it is today.

One key concept to note is that, when users are paying for boosters, even though it could make winning incredibly easy, they are not purchasing a victory. If a person pays money, and all she sees is a screen that says, “You won the game!” she would not be very excited per se. Rather, she would prefer to buy a powerful sword that kills all enemies quicker and faster. In reality, users are purchasing the feeling of being very powerful, accomplished (Core Drive 2), and being empowered with new capabilities.

Milestone Unlock (Game Technique #19)

One of the most successful gaming mechanics within games is something I call the Milestone Unlock. When people play games, they often set an internal stop time in the form of a milestone – “Let me beat this boss and then I’m done.” “I’m close to leveling up, let me level up and I’ll stop.”

What the Milestone Unlock does, is that it unlocks an exciting possibility that wasn’t there before once that milestone is hit.

In some RPGs (Role Playing Games), whenever you level up, you learn a new set of skills. These skills are awesome and generally help you kill monsters faster, with more style, or it would have made your earlier gameplay a lot easier.

Once players level up (their “stop time milestone”), they naturally want to see what these new skills are, test them out a bit, test them out on stronger enemies, enjoy how powerful they are, and then realize they are so close to the next milestone that they might as well get there first.

This is when people plan to stop at 11PM but end up playing till 5AM in the morning.

 Milestone Unlocks in Plants vs Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies is a dynamic “tower-defense” game geared towards forming a strategy to utilize resources and “plants” to solve puzzles of zombie attacks. In the spirit of Core Drive 3, the game embodies an aspect of allowing people to incorporate their creativity to come up with various solutions towards solving the same problem. Interestingly, this is the only “fighting” game and the only “zombies” game that both my mother and my wife got very into.

 In terms of Game Techniques, Plants vs Zombies utilizes Milestone Unlocks to the extreme. When you complete each level, you will usually unlock a new Plant to help you defend against Zombies.

Not by coincidence, that new plant is often the exact plant that directly counters the toughest zombie on the stage you just beat and it would have made your life a lot easier if you had it earlier!

Of course, this is not the time to stop playing. If you didn’t start the next stage and try out these new found powers, you would be thinking about it all night long in your beds!

Poison Picker/Choice Perception (Game Technique #89)

Many studies have shown that people like something more when they are given a choice, even if the options are not as appealing compared to a single better option.

When children turn two years old, they quickly discover that they possess a special power called “Free Will.” And once they discover this power, they start to exercise it with great fluency. “NO!” That’s when the meaning of the Terrible Twos becomes apparent. It almost seems like it doesn’t matter what you suggest, the child will say “No!” to it.

“Which one do you want?”


“Do you want A?”


“Okay. Do you want B then?”


“Well, you have to make a choice. A or B?”


“So you don’t want anything. I’ll take them away okay?”


Negotiating with children is serious parenting work. You have to make the child think that whatever happens, it’s a result of her own decision and not someone else’s suggestion (interestingly, that bit of us does not change as we grow older). When the child does not know what she wants, that’s the hardest, because she can’t make a choice on her own, but she still hates it if she went along with someone else’s suggestion.

When I was little, my mother would have me learn how to play the piano. It was very frustrating for me, and many times I would cry out in anger. After two years of piano, my mother saw how much misery it caused me, and told me, “Okay, if you hate it so much, you don’t have to play the piano anymore. But you have to play an instrument. What would you like to play?” At the time I saw a popular singer in Taiwan named Lee-Hom Wang play the violin on-stage at a large concert, and it made an impression on me. I therefore told my mother that I wanted to play the violin.

After I switched from playing the piano to the violin, things didn’t necessarily become easier, but because I made a choice to play the violin, I sucked it up and played with a much better attitude. After all, if I also hated playing the violin, that means my previous choice was “wrong,” and people hate being wrong! When I would start to whine and complain, my mother would ask me, “So you hate playing the violin then?” I would immediately shoot back with, “No! Who said I hate playing the violin? I LOVE playing the violin! I just need…more practice.”

What a win for the parent!

The key to the Choice Perception is that the choice itself is not necessarily meaningful, but merely makes a person feel like they are empowered to make a choice. In my case, I was still forced to play an instrument – I did not have the choice to stop learning – but because I felt that I could choose which instrument to play, I felt empowered.

When I say the choice is not meaningful, it could mean that either the user is presented with a good option and a bad option, inviting the user to naturally choose the better one (again, often times a user will feel happier compared to just being forced to take the better option); or it could mean the options are all so limiting that it makes very little difference what the options are.

Obviously, because of the lack of meaningful choices, Choice Perception is something that is not as ideal in an implementation, since it does not truly bring out the creativity of the user, and at times you could offend users too if the options are too blatantly meaningless or insulting. However, for many businesses, it is slightly easier to implement into its systems than actually having Meaningful Choices.

Sometimes a business would use an anchoring price to create a choice perception towards which package the consumer will buy. Lets say buying a burger at a fast food store is $10, and buying a large container of fries is $10. A consumer may look at that and think, “Wow! This place is a rip off!” But then he sees that there is a “Burger + Fries” package for only $11. The consumer now feels like this is a no-brainer, and quickly buys the package.

In reality, the single burger and fries prices are there not to sell themselves, but to make the combo package look much better. Even though there is really no “meaningful choice” in this besides people with strong dietary preferences, if the fast food store just offered the package combo with the other choices, a consumer is less likely to buy it. They need to feel like they had a choice, and then take the “better” one.

Plant Picker/Meaningful Choices (Game Technique #11)

Beyond choices that allow people to feel like they are empowered, there are choices that are truly meaningful and demonstrates preferences that are not obviously superior over others. These techniques I call “Plant Pickers” because, just like deciding what to plant in a garden, it is often a preference on style and strategy, something that fuels Core Drive 3.

I mentioned above how the Milestone Unlock is such a huge component in Plants vs Zombies good game design. Another aspect of its success is the Plant Picker. When you start a stage in Plants vs Zombies, you are faced with a challenge – a wave of zombies, each with different strengths and capabilities. There are a limited amount of plants you can “pre-pick” before a game, there are sun-resources that allow you to plant a plant, and there are a limited amount of squares that you can plant the plants at.

To beat a level in Plants vs Zombies, there are a variety of ways and strategies that each work extraordinarily well (among many ways that don’t work very well). A player can choose to power up the economy first with sun-gathering plants with fewer defense plants; lay out the field with basic pea-shooters; save up to use more powerful plants that do mass damage; completely focus on explosives and traps; or use stinky onions to herd all the zombies into one lane before wiping them all out with penetrating attacks.

Oftentimes, one would beat a level with one strategy, just to replay it to test out another new strategic idea that the player figured out. The process of being able to select many options, each with unique strength and weaknesses, resulting in a variety of style and creativity-based strategies, is the core essence of the Plant Picker.

Unfortunately, Plants vs Zombies 2 completely forgot about its original design roots and turned Plant Pickers into Poison Pickers, with some plants being overpowered, while having other plants being completely useless.

In additional to Plants vs Zombies, if you read much of my work, you will know that I believe the game Farmville is not a “fun” game to play but generally a mind-numbing machine that brilliantly utilizes all the right game mechanics to bring out our Core Drives (and my goal is to help people learn these mechanics and do good with it!).

However, there is one element of Farmville that I think is positive and fun for the right reasons – it allows everyone to creatively express themselves through their Farms.

When Farmville players play the game for long enough and have unlocked all sorts of plants and colors, some of them even become Farmville Artists to express their creativity and create amazingly beautiful pieces of art through the digital pixels of Farmville (using Paint might still be more efficient, but Hey! The canvas is your farm!).

Because there are so many things you can do with your crops, this element of Farmville can be considered an Evergreen Mechanic, where users can continuously stay engaged without adding any additional content, just like how paint and a paintbrush can be Evergreen material. The only problem is, your work of art will be there for a few hours, and unless you reap the plants, they will all wither and die soon.

Here are some pretty noteworthy pieces of art:

Here’s a recreation of the Mona Lisa

Amazing Spiral Design


And this is a very creative idea of building a QR Code with your farm!


As you can see through the multiple Game examples provided, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is a great Core Drive on many different levels as it taps into our innate desire to create and be inspired by our imaginations.

When effectively implemented, this core drive becomes a key evergreen engine that can be the difference between a short-lived flower and a timeless Redwood.

Gamification: What Makes Game of Thrones Addicting

Game of Thrones Gamification

This is a guest post by Steven Laird. Steven is currently a Systems Integration Consultant at Accenture and is interested in the intersection of technology and psychology. He believes a gamified culture may be the answer to a countless array of world problems afflicting the human condition. Feel free to contact me if you would like to post a guest post here too.

Gamification of Thrones

Having had the wind knocked out of me from the heart-wrenching conclusion of Season 3 of Game of Thrones, I began to think of what else I could do in the meantime while I waited another eternity for my beloved show to come back.

Given how much time I sit around thinking about two topics: Gamification and Game of Thrones (Game of Thrones), I found it fitting to unravel the show that has taken the world by storm and offer some semblance of an explanation as to why I and many others feel just as addicted to this show as any popular video game.

In a nutshell, this show has every addicting element beautifully woven together into an epic masterpiece that is able to appeal to anyone…and here’s why – from a screenwriting, gamification, and avid fan perspective.

Game of Thrones through the Lens of Gamification and Octalysis

To start with, this show naturally has plenty of violence and sex to appeal to our baser appetites and fulfill that Hollywood formula. This is of course the 9th, or “hidden” Core Drive in the Gamification Framework Octalysis – Sensation.

While this is a crucial element, it really is just a miniscule ingredient as the script and story itself stem from the creepy genius of George Martin who has already done the heavy lifting of crafting an elegant and fantastical world containing a gamut of interconnected characters vying for a claim to the throne.

With the groundwork laid out, Game of Thrones is already ahead of its peers as it does not have to suffer from tight deadlines stifling the quality of creativity necessary for a story to unravel with the right amount of tension, unpredictability, character development, and the answer to those “so what” questions. (Remember how Lost unfolded?…me neither)

While I can make the argument that Game of Thrones is well done from a screenwriting perspective, how exactly does this relate to gamification? Although we have typically thought of gamification as only relating to the addicting elements of games, Yu-kai Chou likes to refer to it as “Human-Focused Design,” and can actually be thought of much more broadly given those same elements of great screenwriting touch upon the same core drives outlined in the Octalysis Framework.

By providing an Octalysis Score of how Game of Thrones fares among each one of the Core Drives, it is my intent to exemplify how fundamental screenwriting principles increases an Octalysis score from a viewer and Game of Thrones character’s perspective.

(Warning..Spoiler Alert!)

Core Drive 7: Curiosity & Unpredictability

With over 34 characters in the background of the world of Westeros – the fictional world where the action takes place – Game of Thrones has captivated audiences by featuring unpredictable plot twists that invoke a multitude of emotions.

Just as one story ends, the genesis of a new plotline carries on concurrently to progress the story in a fashion where a constant tension always exists between what the audience believes to happen, what the characters intend to happen, and what actually happens.

As main characters are killed off in realistic brutality usually reserved for the “bad” guy, viewers can’t help but wonder and debate with their friends what will happen next. In an age where TV shows and movies are incredibly formulaic, and hence, predictable, watching a show where I have no idea what is going to happen until right before the moment is a welcomed surprise.

In the spirit of welcomed surprises, the cunning and ambivalent Varys frequently demonstrates the core drive of Curiosity & Unpredictability as he commands an army of “birdies” across all lands to constantly keep him updated on gossip and critical war info. Having no real loyalty to any faction, Varys is an interesting conundrum who proves to be quite unpredictable himself as viewers have to wonder what ploy he will hatch next. Given how much this core drive jibes with both viewers and characters alike, I have to rate this as the strongest core drive for Game of Thrones, especially in the early Onboarding phases.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Continue reading Gamification: What Makes Game of Thrones Addicting

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#4): Ownership and Possession

Gamification Ownership

The 4th Core Drive of Octalysis Gamification Design

(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. For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 12, Ownership and Possession #1 and Episode 13, Ownership and Possession #2).

Ownership and Possession, the fourth Core Drive in Octalysis Gamification, is based on the principle that because you own something, you want to improve it, protect it, and get more of it.

This Core Drive is related to elements such as virtual goods and virtual currencies, but it is also the primary Core Drive that makes us want to accumulate wealth. Also, on a more abstract level, if you have invested a lot of your time to customize something to your own liking, or a system has constantly been learning about your preferences and molding into something that is uniquely yours, you generally will start to feel more ownership towards it.

Ownership and Possession is positioned to the far left of Octalysis, and therefore represents the Core Drive that exhibits the strongest influence on the Left Brain (again, this is not scientific but more symbolic) or analytical thinking. Here, decisions are based on more logical, calculating thought and the desire for possession as the primary motivating factors. When you do “rational calculations,” often times you are evaluating the gain and loss of certain desirables, such as money, instead of considering your “feelings” from other Core Drives.

In Farmville, you’re constantly striving to increase the value of your assets by developing your land, establishing higher crop yields, and improving the quantity and quality of your livestock. You can further develop your property’s infrastructure and dwellings – establishing that country manor on your dream estate.

Because of that, you want to constantly invest more time and energy into expanding your farm by getting more cows, plants, and more fruits, but also buying items such as stables that you could put your horses in or grooming services to make them look “prettier.”

So, much of the time, when your user obtains this sense of ownership, it becomes extremely powerful. It’s theirs. And they now have a strong motivation to change it, to increase it, and to improve it.

Wait, it’s mine? Hold on, I do care then!

Our brains have a natural association with things that we own. Pretend for a moment that you generally prefer most other drinks over beer (this exercise may be very difficult for some readers). If we were at a party, and I gave you a bottle of beer, you may respond, “Oh that’s okay. I’m not a big fan of beer.” I then respond with, “Nah, just take it! I’ll put it here next to you.”

At this point, you may still not care about this bottle of beer. You may even just not drink it and abandon it there when you stand up and leave. But if at that moment, someone walks by and picks up the beer and begins to drink it, you will likely feel an urge to say, “Hey, what are you doing?”

The guy may respond, “Well it doesn’t look like you were going to drink it anyway. What’s the big deal?”

Again, even though you didn’t care about the beer and may be abandoning it altogether, you may still feel the urge to say, “Still, that’s not cool. You should have asked.”

Once you have a sense of ownership over something, it starts to take a different course in your value system and begins to motivate your behaviors differently. If a beer you didn’t care about could get you to become upset with someone, imagine how much more you would be influenced if it was something you deeply cared about (for instance: beer).

A friend of mine, Chris Robino, once explained to me that, while he was in school, he was never any good at math. It was boring and annoying.

However, once he started running his own business and started adding a dollar sign in front of the numbers, the numbers and math suddenly became very engaging, and he started to master everything he needed to know quickly. With his new sense of mastery over money, he quickly built his business into a successful and lucrative consulting firm.

Chris Robino once jokingly said, “Once the numbers started to represent my own money, I instantly became a genius.”

Similar to the beer example, the nature of motivation and engagement completely shifted when our brain realizes it is now related to something in our possession.

Motivation Design: Few Degrees Removed

One of the strange phenomenon I’ve seen in game design relating to Ownership & Possession, is the aspect of fighting in relationship to gender preferences. Most game designers agree that females are less likely to enjoy games that have violence in them.

However, it seems like even though girls don’t necessarily like playing games where they are fighting, they have a higher tendency of liking games where they are nurturing and training pets that fight. It seems like girls don’t generally like to fight themselves, but many girls enjoy it when someone else is fighting for them. If you look at games like Plants vs Zombies or Pokemon, which are “fighting” games that are also popular among girls, those mostly involve the player having someone/something else fight. Of course, the cute graphics help make it more personable.

So it turns out, the best type of design in fighting games that appeal to more female players, are ones where there is a cute customizable avatar that represents the player, but instead of having the avatar fight monsters, have the avatar train other pets to fight those monsters. With a few degrees removed from the actual violence, female players have a higher tendency of enjoying the challenge and strategy more in fighting and competitive themes.

Gamification Design: Status Points and Exchangeable Points

At this point it is productive to explain two main types of points that a gamified system can give to its users. On one end, there are Status Points (Game Technique #1), where users see in a score keeping sense how well they are doing. Status Points for the most part can only go up as the user hits more Win-States and it cannot be traded for other valuables. This appeals more to Core Drive #2: Development & Accomplishment.

On the other end, there are Exchangeable Points (Game Technique #75), where users can utilize the points in a strategic and scarce manner to obtain other valuables.

Within Status Points, there are also smaller divisions such as Absolute Status Points (which measures the total amount of points earned in the journey) vs Marginal Status Points (which are points that are specifically set for one challenge or one time period, and can be reset once that challenge and time period is over), as well as One-Way Status Points (it can only go up) vs Two-Way Status Points (it can also go down as the user fails to achieve the Win-State).

Within Exchangeable Points, there are also differences between points that can only be redeemed with the game system for valuables, or it can be traded with other players in the system or perhaps people outside of the gamified system.

Each of these decisions has pros and cons, and many good gamified systems (and games) have a combination of the above.

As mentioned before, when you have Exchangeable Points, they become currencies, but simply having a currency economy doesn’t necessarily mean the experience is engaging. The key here is to consider how much labor was put into the process, whether the labor was skilled or unskilled, how widely accepted is the currency, and the long-term value of what can be exchanged with the currency.

Having something be openly tradable, even though may engage users in many aspects as they strategize how to create synergetic trading to maximizing outcomes, could sometimes destroy scarcity design (which is Core Drive 6) and hurt intrinsic motivation.

Ownership in the Workplace and the Web

A good example of a more abstract sense of ownership can be found in the workplace. Many people in the workplace feel like they don’t have ownership of their work. They’re just doing what their boss wants them to do and they don’t really get to feel that it’s their own project.

However, when the manager installs more ownership into the employee by giving her more control and tie the success of the project more closely with the employee’s own success, that’s when people work until 1:00 AM in the morning. They become tireless. They keep thinking about their work. They make their spouses upset by ditching other responsibilities (interestingly, some spouses unintentionally make their significant others feel less ownership over their households, resulting in decreased motivation in improving, nurturing, and protecting the home). The project is now their baby and obviously that’s also why people work harder on their own companies compared to just having a “job.”

A feeling of Ownership & Possession can manifest itself on the web too. Oftentimes, if a website gets people to invest time into building something, like a personal profile or avatar, users have a much higher chance of developing personal ownership within the effort.

When they start customizing their avatar or their website profile, they invest a lot of time and feel “this is my avatar, this is my profile.” Now they develop a stronger relationship to it and they now want other people to see it (reaching into Social Influence & Relatedness) – but they also want to spend even more time and sometimes money to make it look snazzier, with a better picture, and a nicer background.

Of course, there’s always a balance, because during the Onboarding process, even though it is advantageous to get people to spend time customizing things, users are still not committed to your experience, so it is often better to send them to the First Major Win-State first before users are required to customize things of their preference.

Game Design Techniques in Ownership & Possession

Above we have learned more about the motivational and psychological nature of Ownership & Possession, but to make it more actionable, below are some Game Techniques that heavily utilize this Core Drive to engage with users.

Build From Scratch (Game Technique #43)

When you create a product or service, its often good to get your users to increase their invested ownership and possession in the process (unless the objective is to get the users to take the Desire Action and then move on quickly to other systems). This is why it is often advantageous to have them involved in the development process early on – to “build from scratch.”

Building from scratch means that instead of giving them the entire setup – giving them the fully furnished house and the character from the beginning, you want them to start off decorating the house from scratch; pick and place the beds in the house for themselves; choose a hair color and style for their character; and select their preferred fashion statement. As I said earlier, when people are building something from scratch, they feel like, “I own this. This is my thing.”

But if you start off by giving them a perfectly enchanting character or a fully decorated home, they may not become as involved otherwise. Even if you tell them, “Hey, you can redecorate it or add things to it,” people will likely feel less ownership and be less engaged.

There has been studies indicating that people feel more attached to their cheap IKEA furniture even compared to other expensive high-end furniture, primarily because they spent more time building the IKEA furniture with their own hands. That feeling of personal ownership motivates them to talk about their IKEA furniture more often with friends too.

As mentioned above, if the Build-From-Scratch technique distracts people away from the First Major Win-State, then it is not good design. Either you want to give users the option to Build-From-Scratch as well as some quick template options that will allow users to customize later on, or you want to make sure that the Build-From-Scratch Technique itself is a First Major Win-State.

Collection Sets (Game Technique #16)

One of the most powerful and effective ways to utilize the Ownership and Possession Core Drive is through Collection Sets. Say you give people a few items, characters, or badges, and you tell them that this is part of a collection set that follows a theme. This creates a desire in people to collect all the elements and complete their selection set.

One example is in the game Geomon by Loki Studio (I was an advisor to them. Loki Studio was acquired by Yahoo! and Geomon was unfortunately shut down so you won’t be able to play it).

In Geomon, there’s the theme of the four-season deer. There’s a spring deer, a summer fire deer, and winter ice deer.


If you by chance captured one or two of these four season deer, it’s rather awkward to just stop only having a few of the full set. Now you’re willing to do a lot more work to get the other deer, which could mean that you need to be painfully waiting for a few months when the right season comes again. You may talk to people, negotiate, and even throwing in a few dollars just to finish that collection.

What’s mind-blowing about this level of ownership, is that people felt so attached to the Geomons (or Espers) they captured and trained in the game, that when the game announced that it was shutting down, the players (whom mostly consisted of high school students) banded together and raised a committed sum of $700,000 to see if they could keep the game going. That was quite an impressive figure which was mainly motivated by Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession as well as Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance.  In fact, in higher level Octalysis studies, you will see that building Core Drive 4 often reinforces the power of Core Drive 8.

Monopolizing Billions

Another great example is seen in the McDonald’s Monopoly Game. McDonald’s wants people to buy more burgers, so it created the McDonald’s Monopoly game where every time you hit the Win-State of “buying a burger,” you will get a piece of property on the Monopoly Board.

Once you accumulate all the properties, McDonald’s will give you great cash prizes and rewards. Now, like most of these collection games, there will be a few pieces that are extremely rare, and as a result, people are willing to spend real money to acquire these properties.

That’s somewhat odd, because people are not paying money in exchange of the reward. They are paying money in exchange for a “part” of the reward, which by itself is technically not worth anything. But because people are so desperate about completing a set that is almost finished, they are highly motivated to complete it as strong Endgame play.

The easy and common example of this is seen online through collecting badges. Once a person collects over 60%-70% of the possible badges (which again is usually in the Endgame Phase), most people would be highly motivated to pick up all the badges, just so they could feel complete.

When you give users rewards, don’t just give them items that have no motivational longevity. Oftentimes giving them collection pieces will result in longer-term engagement.

Of course, when a user fully expects a full reward either because of your own advertising or because of what your competitors do, giving them a Collection Set piece can sometimes backfire and end up insulting the user. Always be mindful that gamification is not a cookie cutter solution but always relies on thoughtful design based on context and the player in the system.

The Alfred Effect (Game Technique #83)

The Alfred Effect is when users feel that a product or service is so personalized to their own needs that they cannot imagine using another service.

As we march towards a fast-food world of more convenience and off-the-shelf options, people start to long for a deeper experience that is uniquely their own. That’s why some wealthy people would spend ten times more to customize a product to uniquely fit their style and preferences.

Through Big Data, we are now able to provide users that sense of personalization by having smart systems constantly learn about their preferences and habits.

In a game, the system is constantly learning about the user and customizing the experience based on past behavior. A game would know, “This player is on level 3; he has learned these four skills, but not these six, picked up these three items, defeated these monsters, talked to these two characters, but these other three characters. As a result, this door does not open.”

A game remembers almost everything a player does in the game, and modifies the experience based on it. Gamers take this level of personalization for granted: if at level 3, the game forgot some details of what the player did in level 1, the player would often become furious and quit the game.

In the real world, most sites just give you the same static experience, no matter what you do. Some more advanced sites provide different experiences based on region or gender, but most are on a very barebones basis.

But when a user feels like a system has been learning everything about them and customizing towards their needs, even if another service out there offered better technologies, functions, or prices, the user still has a tendency to stay with this system, because this is now uniquely “my system.” Nothing else understands me like my system.

These days, some of the biggest sites are implementing the Alfred Effect into their experiences, but most of them are still not ideal. Sites like Amazon are known to understand your preferences based on all your activities and recommend different products to you; Google Search now shows search results that are personalized for you based on your history; Facebook shows you content that you or your friends would most likely care about; and Netflix can predict which movies you will enjoy better than you friends can.

On a less automated form, some people have spent time adjusting their Operating Systems or Browsers right to their needs. Others have their own systems of Dropbox Folders in place that fits well into their flow of work. Even a person’s workstation that is customized properly to fit her habits can create more engagement and attachment to it.

When you have implemented a good level of the Alfred Effect in place, even if new products, technologies, or platforms that are better than yours are introduced to your users, they still have a high tendency to stay with their own uniquely tailored system.

Protector Quest (Game Technique #36)

Among other more standard game techniques, there are also less common Game Techniques, such as implementing the Protector Quest. Protector Quest is a concept based on the occurrence that people start to develop a relationship with something that they are protecting. Here a bit of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness is present too.

Consider a game where you might start with a flock of sheep that you have to protect from wolves and aliens. As the game starts, you have to get rid of all the wolves that are approaching and then get rid of all the aliens that are trying to kill the sheep.

Eventually you begin to feel an attachment and a connection to the sheep, since your brain needs to justify your actions as meaningful. Why would you spend time defending something that isn’t good?

Now the object being protected can be anything that the designer wants the user to develop a relationship with. It doesn’t have to be sheep. It could be snails too. If you’re protecting the snails, which aren’t normally thought of as that friendly or likable, from the wolves and aliens, you will likely develop a subconscious liking of these snails that you worked so hard to protect.

If you give users or employees a Protector Quest where they need to keep an object or file safe from harms way, or you give high school students an egg to protect for a week, people will often become attached to the object or file as they freak out when the object or file comes under danger but is saved.

Gamified Competition in The Enterprise Workplace

Enterprise Workplace Gamification

Competitive gamification is certainly becoming a hot, new business theme in modern corporate development these days. It has been demonstrated to be effective in sales, where game mechanics based on competitive models are used to promote a “competitive interest” in engaging customers and closing deals. Now management is exploring other business functions which might benefit from competitive gamification mechanics and techniques.

But competition may not be effective, or even desirable in the enterprise setting. Why? Because it tends to create an unhealthy environment where employees put self interests above corporate and even customer interests. Instead of working towards a win for the company, a win for the customer, the individual just focuses on beating the internal competition – his colleagues and fellow employees. (To win the brass ring; that cash award or trip to Cancun.)

Gartner has predicted that 80% of the current enterprise initiatives in gamification will fail by 2014, primarily due to do poor design. Melissa Visintin further expands on this by stating that companies are trying to force game mechanics based on competition instead of understanding each situation and properly designing solutions based on the most appropriate mechanisms. It is not enough to simply throw together competitive game elements and expect the result to be effective.

What Exactly Is Gamified Competition?

A Working Definition of Competition

Mario Herger from explored the nature of competition from a number of perspectives. Drawing from Wikipedia, he has defined it in terms of ecology and sociology as:

“a contest between individuals and entities for territory, a niche, or a location of resources, for resources and goods, for prestige, recognition, awards, mates, or group or social status, for leadership.”

Notice the emphasis on the individual (or entity), and the need to “contend” or “contest” for something; implying that there will be a winner, as well as a loser. Maybe many losers.

In the enterprise this implies that we will have people competing with other people within the company. OK, that seems reasonable. But Mario Herger points out that this is contrary to the essential meaning of the corporation; yes, the very nature of an enterprise. For corporations are formed to bring people together and pool their different strengths in a collaborative setting. The fundamental design of an effective corporation taps the talents of its constituents to build something greater than the component parts. And yes, even more competitive in the external environment – the marketplace, where it faces the challenges brought forth by the other companies.

So now, do we want to introduce an anti-collaborative element – competition among the internal players, and potentially reduce their effectiveness as corporate team members? Possibly for customer engagement, but only after thoughtful analysis indicates that the benefits outweigh the risks, and possible long term detriment to the employees and ultimately the enterprise.

In general, adding the additional stress of competition to the challenges that employees face on a daily basis, will only result in a deteriorating situation with increased probability of burnout and uneven performance. Employees will become more motivated – to look for new opportunities elsewhere.

The Different Types of Competition

One perspective that we can view competition from is that of whether it can be deemed as healthy versus unhealthy. Mario Herger distinguishes between a “good” adaptive competitiveness and a “bad” maladaptive competitiveness by a set of specific characteristics.

Adaptive competitiveness has the following characteristics:

  • Perseverance and determination to rise to the challenge, but bound by an abiding respect for the rules.
  • The ability to feel genuine satisfaction at having put in a worthy effort, even if you lose.
  • The fact that you don’t have to be best at everything, just in the domain you train for.
  • Being able to deter or discourage gratification.
  • Being marked by constant desire to strive for excellence, but not for the desperate concerns of rank.

Maladaptive competitiveness in contrast, is characterized by:

  • Psychological insecurity and displaced urges.
  • A person who cannot accept the losing part of competition.
  • One who competes when others around are not competing.
  • A person who has to be best at everything.
  • One who doesn’t stop when the whistle blows.
  • An individual who drags others into competition.
  • One who will resort to cheating when he/she can’t win.

How Winners and Losers React

Now that we see that competition can be thought of in terms of adaptive and maladaptive forms, how do we view the players in these competitions? What are the common reactions that “players” have? Herger cites two Hungarian researchers – Martá Fülöp and Mihaly Berkics. They found that there are four common reactions for winners and losers.

Winners typically can either show:

  • Joy, expressed through gleeful enthusiasm.
  • Satisfaction with ones own competence.
  • Denial of the win as way of social cautiousness. Those players would feel guilty and fearful of the losers’ reactions, like retaliation, so winners would mask their inner joy and not express it openly.
  • Narcissistic self-enhancement, where the winners would feel a malicious superiority over the losers.

Continue reading Gamified Competition in The Enterprise Workplace