Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

Gamification Analysis of Snapchat: How Camera and Storytelling Captured Attention


This article is written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen. 

Attention from the Start

Snapchat has surpassed Facebook and Instagram as the go-to app for teens.

Having famously turned down a $3-billion offer from Facebook and the company’s name change to Snap Inc. and the rumblings of an IPO, let’s take a moment to consider how snapshot captured the attention of such an important demographic. Of course, we’ll use Octalysis to break down this breakout product.

Reinventing the Camera and Storytelling

Snapchat is a 100% mobile app. From humble beginnings as Picaboo, Snapchat has quickly grown into a product and a brand that is changing the way we think about the camera. (In a future post, we will look at Snap Inc’s Spectacles, which contrary to comparisons to Google glass, are much more akin to a Go-Pro for your face according to one Snap employee.)

Without getting too detail about why Snapchat has grown into the top for teens even ahead of Instagram and Facebook, let’s focus on the product from an Octalysis perspective.

We will see that Snapchat allows people to be creative in sharing short, time-bound image and video messages to their friends, followers, and fans. What began as a one-to-one messaging app has grown into a one-to-many for private messaging and public stories.

Ultimately, Snapchat wins because it harnesses the user’s attention. It does this by allowing content creators the freedom to express their creativity, and for consumers to engage directly with those content creators. Because in the content is ephemeral (Snaps disappear after only a few seconds), looking away from a snap means you could miss what your friend favorite celebrity has to say.

From the Octalysis Perspective


I’ve given Snapchat a pretty high Octalysis Tool score of 400. With Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, and Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience leading the way.

The Big Four: CD3, CD5, CD6, and CD7

Let’s start in the Golden Corner aka Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. This segment of the Octalysis octagon is both White Hat (positive) and Right Brain (intrinsic).

Creating a snap is fun. You get to use your creativity in taking a picture or in making a video. Filters, badges, emojis, drawing and coloring tools, and custom text. You get to first create, then review your snap.

If you’re making a Snap for a specific person or audience, tailoring the content to your specific knowledge about them further increases motivation from a CD3 perspective.


Stories are where Snapchat shines. While Instagram does now also offer stories, Snapchat did it first. Stories allow snaps to be shared to anyone following you and can be viewed in succession, but only for a 24-hour period.

This feature opened up new creative avenues for narrative and visual storytelling in a one-to-many framework. As a new fiction writer, I’ve found beta readers for my early drafts of my sci-fi/fantasy work by simply sharing my progress in stories (I’m e.vanmech on Snapchat).

The platform is fit, in my view, for personalities like Yu-kai, who are already doing well with video. Who wouldn’t like a quick shot of Octalysis in their daily life from the master himself? I’d personally love to see small nuggets of wisdom or even an insider view into his progress on developing Octalysis Prime.


It’s Social

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness is very strong for Snapchat.

It’s fun to connect with friends and influencers and even celebrities who are taking the time to engage one-on-one with select fans.

Because it isn’t easy to get followers (you can’t just add people), you can feel like a Rockstar when you do. Which brings us to Core Drive 6…

Scarcity and Impatience

Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience was at the heart of the initial design and still is a core feature of Snapchat. Your messages disappear. Messages from your friends disappear. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it. Imagine if Twitter’s messages disappeared after you read them, or were restricted to a few times a day?

As a creator, Snapchat uses the Anticipation Parade (Game Technique #15) – as with any content-sharing medium, there is real anticipation in waiting to see how others react to your carefully designed snap or story.

Users Are Plenty, But People Following You Are Scarce

During Snapchat’s Scaffolding phase, users actually have to work pretty hard to get a following. You can’t just add people with a search. You have to do so with a username or phone number.

In Klaff’s book Pitch Anything, he explains the concept of Prizing, and how it ties into three fundamental behaviors from our croc brains:

  1.      We chase that which moves away from us
  2.      We want what we cannot have
  3.      We only place value on things that are difficult to obtain

Snapchat’s decision to make users work hard for followers plays on #3. What’s more, after they got those followers, those users probably experienced Recruiter Burden and wanted to please them.

And that’s where unpredictability and curiosity come in.

Make Me Care

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity rounds out the big 4 Core Drives of Snapchat.

As a follower, your snaps and stories need to entertain me or give me value (or both).

Stories auto-play from one to the next. Recently, Snapchat added a prioritization feature, letting consumers curate their story list. This means you can choose not to watch someone’s story but remain friends with them.

This means story-creators will have to up their game considerably so as not to be “blocked” from their friends’ story streams. We’ll have to watch this closely. Where Facebook’s algorithms pick what content you see, Snapchat is letting you choose for yourself (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession).

The Beginning of Snapchat’s Story

I have a funny feeling (and the data completely backs this up) that we are only at the beginning of Snapchat’s story.

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3 responses to “Gamification Analysis of Snapchat: How Camera and Storytelling Captured Attention”

  1. Snapchat is an interesting case study, especially on how young people are turning down popular “dinosaurs” like facebook and instagram to something that is really exciting and, at the same time, difficult for middle aged people to understand (in other words, mom stay away from my social medium).

  2. Good Octalysis man! I have been with Snapchat since its very humble beginnings and it has been amazing/interesting to see how it has grown and exploded over the years.

  3. Hey Yukaichou, I just wanted to say thank you for the organic link to our article. Really great article BTW!

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