Simón Duque’s Habitica Design Challenge

Gamification Design Challenge for Habitica

Simón Duque is a Colombian Industrial Engineer who’s not comfortable with the way the world works. Thankfully for him, Gamification came to his life on 2015 and gave him the tools to re-think the world he lives in. For more about Simón, see his credentials at the bottom of this post. 

The Habitica Design challenge was hosted in 2017 by The Octalysis Group. Simón was a finalist. 

Design summary

Habitica’s goal is to build (positive) habits, altough it is now dealing with long-term engagement issues. This Design Challenge was therefore tought out based on the pschological approach to procrastination and the means to identify solutions using the Octalysis Framework.

The analysis of Habitica ends up with different theories and approaches that build up a final list of new and improved features that reflect benefits as it leads users to stay connected to chats and other social features and even invite more friends to join them in their experience.

These social interactions are the ones that support the core desired actions within the app. It also helps improve the dynamics involved specially in CD2 and CD5 by affirming Basic Human Psychological Desires such as Competition and Altruism.

As Tyler Renelle himself said — “In case of building good habits, social accountability is essential”.




The end results of my design will impact mostly CD2 and CD5 due to the importance these two core drives have on people trying to create new habits. End results will also have an aim towards the effectiveness of habit implementation in the long term and social interactions between users within the app. These results will be trackable by measuring:

1. Habit obtainment success (Weekly returning users after 6 months)

2. Game Techniques implementation (Social Activities and outreach within app & weekly tasks completed per active user)

3. Reinforcement of intrinsic motivation (Daily active users)

4. Current interface and onboarding phase improvement and fixes (Onboarding completion)

Captured from final proposed features


Player Type Analysis

User demographics and Player Types:

Since Habitica is an app that focuses on productivity, I had to automatically associate it with a procrastination issue, just because most of us know as a fact what activities are productive and what others are not. The problem comes then when trying to create habits in order to actually DO those activities, and that’s where Habitica comes into play. With that in mind, it is known that procrastination affects 20% of adults and an amazing 95% of students (Joseph Ferrari, DePaul University), therefore, the demographics should focus primarily on people within approximately 17 and 25 years old, which could lead us to a predominant digital audience.

Users must also have a predominant player type. I personally prefer to use Bartle’s player types as they define quite well the preferences of each personality type.

To define the main player types on which the strategy should be focus on, we should also have in mind that those students that scored high in procrastination also scored high in Neuroticism, and with the help of previous research results, we can make a pretty accurate assumption that those who procrastinate a lot have an important Killer side embedded within their personality.

Source: “Gamification in education and business” (T.E. Heinzen et al.), Table 7.3

It is also important to notice that people who have a “killer” player type are only part of a small niche and therefore, the strategy on Habitica should also consider other player types.

Another player type to have in mind when trying to aim for a large group of people (especially in an RPG world) is the Socializer, as it is the most common player type among the general population.

There is no evident reason to consider explorers as a focus group for this design, as they don’t have any evident trend that correlates them with procrastination/productivity issues.

As for Achievers, they are in some cases associated with Neuroticism (table 7.3) but also their taxonomy points them as goal-achieving users, and that is why the design should lead to users bringing out their achievers-sides.

Summing-up the above, the player types we should focus on are: Killers, Socializers and Achievers (special focus on the last two).

Core Drives that motivate people wanting to become more productive:

The main Core Drives that motivate people wanting to become more productive are CD2 and CD5 as the primary approach. CD8 as a secondary approach.


Development & Accomplishment is probably the main inner reason why people want to become more productive. Doing every-day meaningful tasks develops our inner-self towards becoming a better person. It is also a rewarding feeling to know you are accomplishing to truly live your every second in this world, and you are wasting almost nothing of that limited time.


Social Influence & Relatedness shares the primary approach alongside with CD2 for the simple reason that it would be impossible to determine at what point we are being productive or not without comparing ourselves with other people. We necessarily need other people to set the bar high enough for us to try to surpass them and set our personal goals in life.


Loss & Avoidance can lead us to do the desired productive actions because deep down ourselves we know that not being productive affects us in the long term. I decided to establish this Core Drive as a secondary approach due to its ease to become an anti-Core Drive, especially when we use it to create a negative reinforcement.

Core Drives embedded in the current app:

Habitica has a very complete user interface and since it is RPG-based, almost every Core Drive is present in its design, however, some of them are either not fully implemented in terms of positive impact towards the desired actions or are driving users into undesired behavior due to the lack of some Game Techniques.

Some Core Drives that are currently present in its design are:

Source: Self Ideation

Anti-Core Drives (within the app)

CD2: Progress tracking becomes a double-edged weapon when the user gets too deep inside the game elements and combine that with a system that allows spamming glitches, meaning that a player can easily lose track of his own true progress when he/she is given the choice of earning almost unlimited amount of resources (gold+experience) in a very short period of time just by completing tasks indefinitely.

CD6: “impatience” is the key word in this Anti-Core Drive. Scarce resources and the progression itself become compromised by simply letting the players spam task-completion buttons. There is absolutely no control over task completion, which leads to an excessive gold and experience gain. (after less than 1 hour of play I was able to get my character to level 53, own a complete set of armor as well as some special items and a Dark Dragon as my mount plus a baby Golden Dragon as a pet, which by the way, look awesome!).

Captured from a test user account in Habitica

CD8: There is no control over the difficulty of the created tasks; therefore users can easily be motivated by CD8 when they just hit the “task completed” button to avoid the nuisance of actually doing the task and just get the reward right away, making them cheat themselves right there and most probably continue doing so in the future.

Anti-Core Drives (for people wanting to be more productive)

CD6: Once we set our minds into a productive stance, all other satisfying activities become scarce due to the fact that, in our minds, only those who have already been productive have the right access them. It is only natural that we immediately want to harness those privileges and set aside the due tasks, in part because they normally give us long-term satisfaction, as opposed to immediate satisfaction.

CD7: I like to think that for many of us that need to be doing something important, there is also a “rebellious-self” that comes into play and tells us “So…what if you don’t complete task X?”. The magnitude of the consequences will be uncertain most of the times, and that’s when CD7 comes into play.

CD8: Studies on procrastination have revealed that one of the most important factors that drives us away from our responsibilities is the Negative Reinforcement, which comes to play once we feel the need of getting rid or avoid negative stimulus: “If I avoid the task, I feel better” . Again, important tasks more often than not imply long-term satisfaction, and we have a natural trend of trying to feel good as soon as possible.


Win States:

Daily rewards

Quests completion

Challenge completion

Gems/Max Tier items/Rare or seasonal items obtainment

Activities included in the loop:

Onboarding completion

Daily log-in

Setting up new tasks

Completing tasks

Getting / spending rewards

Social interactions

Long-term reliability

Source: Self ideation

Detailed list of actions users should do, listed in chronological order

1. Click the “Join for Free” / “Enter Habitica” button

2. Register a new account

3. Click the “Get Started Now!” button

4. Receive the welcoming 3-step summary of Habitica

5. Enter the beginning of the tutorial in the home page

6. Go through the tutorial (which explains avatars are customizable, the differences between the tasks lists, the rewards/penalties involving tasks completion and how to spend those rewards)

7. Receive first check-in counter that comes with a quest scroll (WIN STATE)

8. User completes one of the predetermined tasks and level up instantly, unlocking the Item Store (WIN STATE)

9. Level up message pops up

10. User starts customizing its avatar

11. User explores other tabs in the customization menu (Backgrounds/Stats/Achievements/Profile)

12. Including a photo and a small blurb is presented as an option

13. Users gets back to the home page where he/she can start completing tasks and earning experience and gold

14. User can start setting up its own tasks and editing advanced options to make them more precise

15. User starts completing its own tasks and earns gold & experience

16. User starts spending its gold by buying items (armor/weapons/etc)

17. User clicks the “Battle Monsters With Friends” button

18. User sends invitations to its friends to join the game/new party

19. A new party is created

20. Party chat becomes available

21. User clicks the “Star a Quest” button

22. Two possible quests become available

23. By clicking one of the available quests, a quest description appears

24. User clicks the “Start Quest” button

25. A message appears and encourage the user to invite more friends in order to stay accountable and unlock new quests

26. User continues to complete tasks and level up

27. User completes the active Quest and earns rewards (WIN STATE)

28. Once the user is level 3, he/she earns a wolf egg and the drops system becomes available

29. User joins the “Pets” tab and is encouraged to obtain new pets and feed them to customize even more its avatar

30. User enters the “Mounts” tab and is encouraged to feed its pets to evolve them into mounts

31. User can choose to invest real money to accelerate the process of hatching eggs and getting mounts (DIRECT MONETIZATION)

32. User joins the social menu

33. A welcoming message to the tavern appears

34. Player tiers become visible

35. Profile preview of other players becomes available

36. User introduces itself to the community

37. User enters the “Guilds” tab

38. Introductory message appears

39. User joins one or more guilds

40. User introduces itself to the new guilds

41. User invites friends to its new guilds

42. User enters the “Challenges” tab

43. New message pops up and encourage the user to join some challenges

44. User joins one or more challenges

45. User enters the “Hall of Heroes” tab

46. New message appears, explains how the Hall of Heroes works and encourages the user to contribute to Habitica (DIRECT MONETIZATION)

47. User continues completing tasks and leveling up its avatar in order to buy new gear

48. User can manage its inventory by entering the “Equipment” tab

49. New message appears pointing out how the Battle Gear can improve the avatar stats

50. User enters the “Time Travelers” tab and is encouraged to subscribe to Habitica in order to obtain Mystic Hourglasses to unlock rare items (DIRECT MONETIZATION)

51. User becomes level 10 and can now choose a Class (WIN STATE)

52. New message appears explaining how Class Gear works

53. Attribute Points become available

54. User allocate its first 10 Attribute Points

55. User buys new Class Gear

56. User starts hatching eggs and feeding new pets to evolve them into mounts (user gets extra experience if he/she knows how to feed its pets with the right food)

57. User feeds its pets until they become mounts, then the user equips the new mount (WIN STATE)

58. After some time playing daily and completing tasks, the user can eventually win a challenge (WIN STATE)

59. User gets max tier Gear for its avatar (WIN STATE)


· Gifting other players is always available

· Subscription button is always available (DIRECT MONETIZATION)

· “Merchandise” button is always available (DIRECT MONETIZATION)


Game elements come in the form of Dynamics (Core Drives), Mechanics and Components. For this point in particular I will explain Game Components as the means to access game mechanics. Components (as I see them) come as environments, events or tokens recreated by the system and allow the user to escalate into the other Game Elements.

Game components have been explained before in a different way as achievements, boss fights, combat, gifting, quests, virtual goods, etc. in a general view.

To set all of this in context, here are some explicit and implicit game components (as I see them):


The context of the image shows us no clear event, but let us assume a Team Deathmatch is taking place. There would be no point on just entering a game to kill other players with no final goal whatsoever, although the event do anything you want could also be considered in a badly designed framework. This event is necessary for the “kill an enemy” mechanic to happen.


Necessary unless we plan to gamify an abstract system that can only take place in our thoughts or sensations. In this context a map is given to the player, it covers everything that surrounds the virtual character but can be translated to a non-virtual context in the form of an office, a classroom, a kitchen, a playground, etc.


A weapon, some bullets, grenades, a suppressor, laser sight and other tokens are also necessary to perform the “kill an enemy” mechanic, although scores, points, streaks and special rewards come also as tokens that help the whole mechanic to be meaningful to the player in this determined context. Again, in the “real world” this could be translated into objects as say … a speedometer, a screen and some lottery tickets (used in the speed camera lotteryThe Fun Theory).

Therefore, Game Components that are embedded in the current Habitica app and that affect different Core Drives come as:



Boss avatar

Captured from Test User profile on Habitica


Gold Coin

Silver Coin

Experience bar

Mana bar

Achievements badges


Avatar/Class abilities

Hatching potions


Gear (armor/weapons/special items)

Level indicator

Attribute points

Quest scrolls



Avatar customization items

Custom sounds


Habits list

Avatar display

Avatar’s backgrounds

Profile photo

Player tiers



Avatar classes

Health bar


Friend’s avatars display when in party or group

Gift letters

Avatar/Class abilities



Seasonal pets/mounts

Seasonal gear



Random drops


Dailies list

To-Dos list





Inventory interface (with tabs)

Data interface (with tabs)


User interface (with tabs)


Tasks interface




Social interface (with tabs)


Seasonal shop interface






Pop-up messages (for achievements)

Experience and gold gain pop-up

Onboarding pop-up messages


Challenge creation


Joinable challenges



Seasonal shop


Special events

Critical strikes


Death of avatar

Graphic view of (Environments-Events-Tokens) and how they affect Core Drives



Rewards within the Habitica app are well thought out, although we see plenty of them in the Fixed Action field, there are also other types of rewards that fulfill the other fields that at the same time make use of the whole Octalysis Framework. Prize pacing being the one that fulfills the most Core Drives is well applied within the app, although Rolling Rewards doesn’t seem to be present.

Rewards are also present in the previous defined Win States: Daily Rewards (1), Quest Completion (2), Challenge Completion (3) and Gems/Max Tier items/Rare or Seasonal items obtainment (4).

SAPS are also present in every reward, as seen below:

Fixed action (CD2, CD4, and CD6) (Win States = 2 and 3):

· Gold (Stuff)

· Experience (Status)

· Gems (Access)

· User custom rewards (Stuff)

· Healing after leveling up (Stuff)

· Player tier (Status)

· Mounts (Status)

· Attribute points (Power)

· Pets (Status)

· Avatar customization items (Stuff)(Status)

Random rewards (CD2, CD4, CD6 and CD7) (Win State = 1):

· Check-in rewards (Stuff)

Sudden rewards (CD1, CD3, CD4, CD5, and CD7) (Win State = 4):

· Eggs (Stuff)

· Potions (Stuff)

· Food (Stuff)

· Critical hits (Stuff)

Social Treasure (CD3, CD4, CD5 and CD6) (no Win States involved):

· Gifting letters (Status)

· Donated gems when creating challenge (Access) (Power) (Status)

Prize Pacing (CD2, CD4; CD5, CD6, CD7, CD8) (Win States = 1, 2 and 4):

· Badges (Status)

· Gear as armor, weapons and special items (Status)

· Quest scrolls (Access)


The following features are based on an attempt to enhance intrinsic motivation within the app, in order to persuade users into staying for the long-term. Also, anti-procrastination methodologies used in psychology come also into play by changing some UI features.

New features:

1. Tasks break down

2. Improve social features (onboarding)

3. Correct anti-spam & limit actions

4. Implement Rolling Rewards

5. Replenish willpower with value affirmation

6. Bandwagon streak

Source: Self Ideation

1) Tasks Break Down

One of the main reasons I can think of that lead people into leaving Habitica is that the app isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. This is why the first approach into the new features of Habitica is about helping users stop procrastinating by using a more conscientious user interface.

Based on the Temporal Construal Theory, one of the main ways to surpass procrastination is to think about things concretely, instead of thinking of them abstractly, meaning that tasks shouldn’t be set in a way that when we look at them they look vague and generalized. Habitica’s interface and tasks lists should help the user break the tasks down into small pieces, in order for them to be more concrete and for the user to just get started with them.

That is why the first new feature for the Habitica app is an interface capable of guiding the user into tasks/habits break down.

These are the new UI features for Habits. 

The phone in the left shows us how habits (in red letters) break down into smaller steps. There is also a color indicator to the right that changes its colors depending on how well the user is completing the sub-habits.

This leads also to another interface (phone in the right), which allows users to create sub-habits. In order to do so, users will select a main habit that will contain the new sub-habit and will also have an option of stablishing how many times a day should the new sub-habit be completed. Other features remain the same as in the current version.

These are the new UI features for Dailies and To-Dos.

This one breaks down tasks into smaller sub-tasks with the difference that instead of + / — signs, the have check boxes, due to the fact that Dailies and To-Dos contain tasks that should only be completed once a day.

“Times a day” option is also not necessary for this feature, therefore only the “Choose main task” option is available. Other features remain the same as in the current version.

2) Improve social features (onboarding)

Habitica’s creator Tyler Renelle said it himself “In case of building good habits, social accountability is essential”.

Habitica’s social features are probably the ones that have driven them into being one of the most successful productivity apps out there, but one thing I noticed while exploring its content was that there is no direct link between the onboarding phase (tutorial) and those social features. Public chats, parties, guilds and challenges are a privilege only obtainable by those users who are curious enough to decide to click the “Social” tab by themselves.

This is why the tutorial should lead the user directly into those social features, and eventually emphasize more on CD1 while doing so.

(Click the images to zoom in the step-by-step tutorial)

3) Correct anti-spam & limit actions

I didn’t need more than 5 minutes of play to realize I could earn infinite amounts of gold and experience within the app just by click-spamming any positive habit completion button or by creating a bunch of fake tasks on the Dailies or To-Dos lists and completing them afterwards.

It looked a bit like this:

Resulting in this (took less than 1 hour of play):

This is where the Anti-Core Drive Scarcity & Impatience comes into play and makes us “game” the system and once we cheat once, it is most probable that we will continue doing so for the rest of the experience, making it lose all its magic and purpose, driving people out of the app.

This is why tasks completion should be controlled not to let this happen.

Limiting the user possibilities makes some assets scarce (CD6), driving the user into a more willing state to do the desired actions, in this case, complete tasks.

Tasks creation, tasks completion and challenges accepted should be limited in some way, making the user to have to use its best perception to choose wisely (Game Technique #68).

Eventually and as the user progresses within the app, the limitations should become less strict.

4)Implement Rolling Rewards

Rolling Rewards use a lot of Core Drives and are therefore pretty successful. Not being able to identify any of these rewards embedded within the current app made it easy to point it out as a possible new feature.

Rolling Rewards (Game Technique #74) can be implemented simply by enhancing current features and improving CD7 dynamics, for example by making the 100 Gold chests have a tiny change of giving the user a Gem. This can also come with some Beginners Luck after the user performs a desired action for the first time.

5)Replenish willpower with value affirmation

Willpower is like a muscle, it eventually gets tired. With this in mind, letting users set up a great amount of tasks can most probably become overwhelming at a certain point. Thankfully, there are ways in which we can replenish that willpower and one of those ways is by Value Affirmation.

Just by reminding the user the reasons why he/she wanted to adopt a new habit in the first place can motivate them into continue doing so whenever they feel they are incapable of moving forward.

This new feature works best on the Habits and Dailies lists since they contain tasks that are recurrent over time and can be achievable just by integrating an UI feature that allows users to write in a short sentence WHY is it that they decided to create a new Habit or Daily task, and make it pop up once the user stops doing the desired task for a certain period of time (involves important dynamics from CD1, CD4 and CD8).

6) BandWagon Streak

Game Technique #95 can be well implemented if we look forward to improving social interaction within the app. A BandWagon Streak can be achievable once we induce users into a performance-driven state, as opposed to a labor-driven one.

There is currently a “like” system embedded within the app that allows users to like other user’s commentaries and there are also scarce resources all over the app. This comes to me as an opportunity to implement Game Technique #95. By making the “liking” mechanic performance driven, users will be able to constantly improve social interactions within the app. So here is how it would work:

a. Users post comments or like other user’s comments in the tavern

b. The amount of “likes” is limited, depending on each user’s achievements (Magnetic Cap)

c. Valuable comments (that help other people by answering questions, giving advices, etc.) receive more likes

d. Users who posted the comments with high relevance receive i.e weekly gold rewards

e. Users who liked a comment before it got viral receive also a gold reward (in a lower amount)


Users will now have a more complete onboarding phase and will start interacting with the community way sooner than they do in the current design. Additional to that, the development cycle of the players will not be disrupted by any badly designed spam feature and will instead be enhanced by new Game Mechanics and some psychological approaches into habit constitution.

Once the player starts interacting with the community and therefore with Game Techniques #68 (Magnetic Cap), #74 (Rolling Rewards) and #95 (BandWagon Streak), intrinsic motivation will be empowered by Right Brain Core Drives and White Hat design as the user continues using the app on a daily basis, making the user actually enjoy the experience within the game and become an active user in the long term.

This will end up building a stronger game loop, parting from the one that is currently taking place.

Simón Duque is a Colombian Industrial Engeneer who’s not comfortable with the way the world works. Thankfully for him, Gamification came to his life on 2015 and gave him the tools to re-think the world he lives in.

Some experiences with Gamification:

  • Research scholarship at Purdue University in Indiana. The research focused on finding a more strong correlation between Bartle’s player types and socio-economic variables for a student population in Latin America.
  • Also part of a social initiative at the Purdue’s Business School that wanted to implement serious games in India (Project Saksham).
  • Attended a Gamification-based MBA class (Design for Instincts) at Purdue University.
  • Worked alongside an eCommerce start-up in Santiago de Chile empowering its virtual community through Gamification.
  • Participated in the Habitica Challenge hosted by the Octalysis Group, ending up being one of the finalists.
  • Hosted a Gamification 12-hour-workshop at one of the top healthcare-focused universities in Colombia.
  • Currently designing a Gamification strategy (focused on quality improvement) for a luminaires production plant in Medellín, Colombia.
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