yukai chou gamification

How Waze built its Craze through Gamification

Logo for Waze

Waze is Gamified Driving

Waze is an immensely popular GPS app that is changing how we navigate traffic through crowdsourcing real-time traffic and road info.

Receiving an average five star rating by thousands of people, its fans have taken the mundane experience of driving and turned it into an enjoyably immersive adventure with a rewarding social experience.

Let’s take a deeper look into how Waze accomplishes this by applying an Octalysis analysis to its design and mechanics:

Most GPS systems simply provide directions as a means to an end. They function mostly on two core drives:

  1. Core Drive #2-  Development & Accomplishment:  Users successfully reach a chosen destination by the most efficient means.
  2. Core Drive #8- Loss & Avoidance: Users avoid the frustrating experience of getting lost by keeping directions simple.

Both of these drives are assisted by mechanics that minimize confusion and maximize travel efficiency.

Waze takes the experience further by enabling social components, similar to Yelp, to create localized communities of drivers. While the company owns the map rights, the actual navigational system is driven by crowdsourced user data as drivers constantly contribute updates such as road conditions, debris, traffic, presence of cops, and other hyper specific details that might be helpful to other drivers using the app. This is somewhat akin to the spirit behind Wikipedia’s community participation.

Waze’s objective isn’t to just simply provide directions: Their priority is to suggest the fastest route to a particular destination. They rely on their community to do just that.

Below is a small Level 2 Octalysis Example on Waze and why it emerged as not only a Function-Focused App, but a Human-Focused App.

Discovery Phase of a Player’s Journey for Waze

Most people discover this app in their search for a good GPS system. They see the user reviews and ratings and want to experience Waze for themselves.

To further understand how it has gained a loyal following of drivers, beyond the Discovery Phase and why it has become so compelling, let’s do a walkthrough of its features and capabilities through a deeper Octalysis analysis across the other three experience phases:

Waze and the Onboarding Phase

Image of how Waze Users might report a road block

Onboarding starts after downloading the app. As the driver sees other contributions made by fellow users, he/she also feels a sense of Epic Meaning & Calling (Core Drive #1), especially if the information was helpful and beneficial to their experience.

And when they submit their own contributions, it is common to receive notes of thanks from other drivers (Core Drive #5). This collective drive to benefit the community at large is also referred to as a “thank you economy,” according to Gary Vaynerchuk.

Users are also awarded points for their good deeds, further motivating their participation in the Waze experience.

Waze and the Scaffolding Phase

Once the user has a basic sense of how to navigate their system, they are driven to delve further, explore, contribute, and achieve more, a clear example of Core Drive #2, Development & Accomplishment.

Waze collects specific data about each user based on the actions they take. Thus the app is able to form a very deep and individualized understanding of a user as it learns about their habits, preferences and driving behavior.

For example, it might ask the driver, “would you like to go to work now?” because it knows that the driver takes a particular route every day at the same time. Waze therefore creates a very personalized relationship with each user, which evolves with new information over time. This fuels the core drive of Ownership & Possession (Core Drive #4), which motivates the driver to keep using the app because experience is tailored to their life experience.

Another prominent core drive of Waze during this phase is Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive #7). Users will often report unique driving conditions like a broken tire in a lane or a cop monitoring traffic speeds. Motorists who are warned of this will be curious to see if the issue is still there by the time they arrive. This works almost like the loot and drop system seen in MMORPG games!

Waze is not perfect and occasionally prone to errors in the directions that it provides. This is because it is a user generated product and informational mistakes can be made. And it may take some time before other people catch on and make corrections, as frustrating as this may be.

While a crowdsourced data app can have its faults, user activity and unique content positively compensates for its downsides while the platform’s human-to-human connection (Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness), ensures Waze remains a compelling and successful platform.

The Endgame Phase of Waze

At this point, users have done just about everything that is offered to average commuters who use the app.

The system is designed to shape a different set of motives for veteran Wazers. Instead of pushing them to help any driver, they are rewarded for assisting new app users (e.g. striking up new conversations, motivating them to make contributions) and even fixing the maps. This type of engagement goes beyond just contributing information to more active participation in the overall community experience.

Users who have reached the Endgame phase play the role of evangelists by developing a stronger sense of community.

Those users in the Endgame phase get closer to achieving hard to obtain status symbols as well as rare virtual goods. Therefore, they are motivated by a combination of Ownership & Possession and Scarcity & Impatience (Core Drives #4 and #6) to acquire these difficult achievements and rewards.

Beyond Social Influence & Relatedness, the other main core drive at this point is Loss & Avoidance (Core Drive #8) as individuals seek to avoid losing all the points they have accumulated and all the time they invested into their achievements by dropping the app (think of World of Warcraft).

It is easy to see why Waze has been able to achieve a long term retention rate for end game drivers.

Ultimately, an Octalysis analysis of Waze generates a score of 244. It is strong in all core drives except for Core Drive #3, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. Nonetheless, though, the overall experience of the app is quite compelling and unique as it has succeeded in turning an ordinary activity such as driving, into something fun and sociable.


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