yukai chou gamification

4 Experience Phases in Gamification – Phase 3 The Scaffolding Phase

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

The 3rd Experience Phase of Gamification: Scaffolding

Earlier I have covered the first 2 experience phases of player’s journey: Discovery, and Onboarding. Scaffolding is the 3rd experience phase of a Player’s Journey.

Scaffolding starts once a player has learned the basic tools and rules to play the game and has achieved the “First Major Win-State.”

This phase is a bit difficult to cover in one writing because it’s the regular journey and activity that the user engages in, and anything goes during this stage based on what your product or service actually is. I’ve written a fairly long post here about this phase but it will be very core to my gamification concepts so for those who are learning about Octalysis and hope to design something engaging, you should read through it.

Scaffolding: the Regular Journey

Regarding the scaffolding phase, one thing to note is that more often than not, it requires the exact same (or very similar) actions on a regular/daily basis, and the Gamification designer must answer the question, “Why would my users come back over and over again for the same actions?”

Rewards, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

This is where people think about Rewards.

Rewards are great because they continuously motivate people towards a goal, even if it means repetitive activity.

However, it is a bit too focused on extrinsic motivation instead of intrinsic motivation.

Therefore, there are different types of rewards to engage more core drives beyond the reward itself.

In an earlier post, I have defined 6 Contextual Types of Rewards, including Fixed-action rewards, Random rewards, Rolling rewards, and more.

Keep note that usually extrinsic rewards are better at attracting people to participate in the first place (Discovery and Onboarding), but towards the Scaffolding and EndGame, you want to transition to intrinsic motivation as much as possible.

Let’s explore the Scaffolding Phase within the 8 core drives of Octalysis.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

During Scaffolding, Epic Meaning & Calling in the form of narratives should still be reinforced, but it is no longer the strongest push. After all, the user already understands the bigger picture of participating, which is why they are there in the first place.

If you can stay consistent with your central belief and constantly reinforce the central message, that is ideal. For instance, FreeRice.con constantly reminds people how many grains of rice they are donating based on the users’ participation, so they can make sure the message is always present in the user’s head.

On the other hand, themes like Elitism (Game Technique #26), which is generally pride for one’s group, can be installed into the process.

This is like how created competitions between Christians vs Atheists, or how clans war against each other. challenged their community to see whether Christians or Atheists would be more generous in “donating” their money to third-world countries, and both sides, backed by their fierce beliefs, became more engaged than otherwise.

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

During the Scaffolding phase, you also want to continue to reinforce growth towards the win-state constantly.

People want to see constant progress and feedback to feel like they are getting somewhere and moving up the ranks.

More importantly, you want to install a learning curve and a path to achieve mastery during your experience.

This is still where Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s flow theory comes in application again.

Gamification Flow

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

During the scaffolding phase, it is tremendously important to incorporate the user’s creativity and strategic thinking into the process.

When a user starts to think about new combinations and strategies in order to optimize her game and get an edge, you have successfully achieved strong engagement.

In fact, there are many gamers who use Excel spreadsheets to play their games better: these skills matched with this character along with this gear against this stage, verses another set of skills that match other gear for a different stage

The key here is that you must allow users to see the goal, understand the win-state, and give them many options and possibilities to achieve that goal.

The more types of elements they can use, the better. In Core Drive 3, Freedom is everything.

In a game like Plants vs Zombies, the player has an option to choose from many plants – each with a variety of skills – to defeat a hoard of talented zombies.

Since the goal is clear – defend the lawn and the house from zombies – users can choose any combination of plants to defend against the zombies. Some choose to focus more on their economy, while some choose heavy pea defenses. Others bombs and landmine plants to stop the zombies – each to their own style.

Game Technique: Milestone Unlocks (Game Technique #19)

What’s even more interesting here, is the utilization of the Milestone Unlocks.

This is when a user hits a new milestone (a win-state) and it unlocks an “element” that allows the user to mix into her creative strategies.

The reason why this is so powerful, is that often times a user will declare that they will take a break from a game after they hit a certain milestone.

However, when they unlock a new building block that they can use their creativity on, they become anxious to start the next stage so they can actually test the new element and figure out new combos.

In Plants vs Zombies, it is also not a coincidence that the new unlocked plant would be something that exactly counters the most troublesome zombie from the last stage, and users think, “Man! If I had this plant last stage, it would be such a piece of cake!” So the user starts to play a new game with this new plant, and lo and behold there is a new zombie that causes a great amount of trouble and is also perfectly countered by the next unlocked plant.

Also, in many RPG games like The Diablo Series, a player would set their “break time milestone” at leveling up.

However, whenever you level up, your character will learn a new awesome skill.

How can you quit before you try out this awesome skill? You gotta continue to play and kill more monsters with this cool skill.

Then you see that you are so close to finishing the quest, you end up doing it, and then you notice you are close to leveling up again, so you set your milestone there. And of course, you learn a new skill, and everything starts over 😉

This is when a player plans to go to bed at 11pm and then ends up playing till 5am in the morning!

Meaningful Choices/Plant Picker (Game Technique #11)

It’s often very important to add meaningful choices into the scaffolding experience so that users feel like they are using their creativity and reflecting their own sense of style.

Meaningful choices refer to choices and strategies that don’t have a no-brainer selection. If there aren’t any obvious choices, but each option represents a unique aspect that is better in some ways but not in others, that’s fun and interesting to pick and choose.

One of the biggest problems of management training games is that they don’t truly engage the trainee with meaningful choices.

Oftentimes, when there are scenario questionnaires on management strategy, the choices are fairly boring, even insulting.

If you are taking a simulation that says, “You are a manager. Your employee Jeff is upset over his work.” and let you choose between “A. Ignore him B. Make fun of him C. Make him feel better” you would feel insulted and not engage.

But in fact, the intricacies of the challenges a real management faces are involved with a dynamic team of 12, where two people don’t like each, the other two were friends before they joined the company, one looks up to another etc., and figuring out how to create discussions where everyone feels respected, or promoting one person without de motivating 11 others is the true hard part that require a lot of creativity and problem solving. There isn’t just one answer, but each choice leads to different scenarios that all have unique pros and cons.

That is the process of incorporating meaningful choices into an experience and that allows users to be extremely engaged.

Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession

While the user is engaged with your product or service, you constantly need to make sure they are building more ownership towards the items they are interacting with.

Can users continuously customize and personalize their profiles and items so that they feel more attached to it?

Let’s say you allow customers to customize their own folder organization system. Perhaps this user has spent dozens of hours creating the perfect folder organization structure that she knows well. As a result, she will likely become a long-term engaged user as she has invested so much into the system.

The same goes for automated personalization platforms. If the user feels like the system is constantly learning about them and providing the most relevant experience based on all the time he has spent on the system, they will feel that this system is “uniquely his/hers” as no one else’s system can automatically figure our what s/he wants.

Even things like activity/browsing/music history can cause users to value your service more compared to a competitor, so whenever you can, try to put into your products things that accumulate and are customized based on the users’ activity.

Status Points (GT #1) and Exchangeable Points (Game Technique #75)

Points and currency systems are obviously great ways to improve Ownership and Possession.

However, that’s a tricky part of its own.

Just like the US Federal Reserve needs to constantly monitor and manage the flow of currency, the same is true for any experience designer.

You need to keep in mind 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.

Of course, there are differences between status-points that reflects the accumulation of your past actions in a quantifiable way, and consumable points, where the user can exchange their points for various valuables while their points drop in quantity.

That’s a topic of another post.

Collection Sets (Game Technique #16)

One of the most powerful game techniques within Ownership & Possession is the Collection Set, or Prize Pacing.

This is basically items that only become meaningful as a predefined group is gathered.

One example of a collection set is the McDonald’s Monopoly game, where people need to buy more hamburgers to collect property pieces in order to eventually complete the set and win a grand prize.

More often than not, during the Discovery and Onboarding phases, users don’t really care about the collection sets (although they might start to get pieces during Onboarding), but as they get more and more pieces, they start to care about it more in the Scaffolding and Endgame phase, since most people have an inner desire to make things they own more complete.

Core Drive #5: Social Influence & Relatedness

Your social structure in your system should be setup already during the Onboarding Phase, but this is a time strengthen things and really drive up your virality and engagement.

Game Technique Social Prodding (#62)

One of the very useful game techniques within Core Drive 5 is Social Prodding.

Social Prodding is the least amount of energy to create a social interaction, such as a poke, a like, a heart, or LinkedIn Endorsements (yes, unlike recommendations, the LinkedIn Endorse is a Social Prod, but they are evolving that into Social Treasure).

This helps users build a social bond with each other without needing to think or commit more time, which actively prevents procrastination.

Game Technique Social Treasure (#63)

Another technique to utilize is the Social Treasure, of Gifting, which are valuables that you can only get by having someone else give it to you.

This is seen in many social games, where users are forced to invite many friends if they wanted more lives/energy/crops/stock.

In real life applications, the most common form of a social treasure is a vote: you can only get it by having someone else give it to me.

Of course, the benefit here is that users are actively grabbing their friends to learn about your company, which is more effective than you just asking users to do it.

Game Technique Group Quests (#22)

A group quest is a goal that can only be achieved by having multiple people participate.

Even though this has been around for years within games, it only recently spurred up in non-game applications such as the entire Groupon wave as well as crowdfunding platforms like KickStarter.

Game Technique Thank-You Economy (#45)

Along with the concept of Social Treasuring and perhaps other themes like Mentorship, you want to try to foster an ecosystem of generosity and sharing, which results in the Thank-You Economy, coined by Gary Vaynerchuk.

This means that if you build into your design some motivations and a way for members to be generous to each other, other users will naturally want to reciprocate, which results in more engagement in your platform.

Keep in mind, that reciprocation is often not a 1-to-1 thing. More often than not it roughly feels like 30%, which means that 70% of generosity may not be reciprocated, but the community is built stronger based on the 30%. And yes, I’m pulling these numbers out of my butt. All I’m trying to say is, it’s less than half but enough for you to care.

Core Drive #6 Scarcity & Impatience

In the Scaffolding Phase, Scarcity remains to be essential because hopefully at this point the user starts to care about various goods and boosters within the system.

Keep in mind this core drive does not take any effect if the user doesn’t know what she doesn’t have (that’s a bit more Core Drive #7). As a result, there needs to be Dangling mechanics (game technique #44) that shows the users exactly what she is missing out.

Game Technique: Appointment Dynamics (#21)

Appointment Dynamics are useful here too, creating set appointment times for something to happen, so the user is always mindful of the experience even when doing other things.

One example of this is, where a new product is introduced right at midnight. People are mindful of this and decide to wait on the site at 11:55pm, especially when sometimes after a good night’s sleep, the product is sold out.

Game Technique: Torture Breaks (#66)

A Torture Break is another interesting game technique that drives obsessive behavior. Most games in the old days try to get users to play as long as possible. However, the new generation of games use a new interesting technique that forces players to stop.

After 15 minutes of playing, you might run out of energy, you are waiting for your plants to harvest, or you need to wait for your life to recharge. The game tells you to come back in 4 hours.

It’s mainly because a user is FORCED to stop instead of stopping on his own terms, that he becomes obsessed with it. He will log in 30 minutes later, 50 minutes later, 90 minutes later, 2 hours later, even though he knows as a fact that it hasn’t been 4 hours yet.

This is why it is very motivating to place various limits on your product experience such as access, goods, power, and even the right to pay to create more motivation.

Core Drive #7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

During the Scaffolding Phase, users are doing relatively repetitive tasks. After all, the rules, mechanics, and goals usually stay the same. But the good game/gamification designer needs to make sure it is not monotonous.

One of the best ways to do that is to add some unpredictability into the experience, which often comes in the form of random events.

Game Technique: Easter Eggs (#30)

A very common type of game technique in Unpredictability & Curiosity is the Easter Egg- things that are unexpectedly discovered when the user does something that is often non-essential to the core mission.

During the unfortunate time of Steve Jobs passing away, many people flocked the Apple Store in Palo Alto to leave him notes and flowers. My colleague Mario Herger decided that he should check-in on Foursquare while he was there too.

Unexpectedly, he suddenly received a badge, “Jobs” Badge, with the text, “Here’s to the dreamers.” This is a badge that can only be obtained at this place, this time, yet is completely unexpected.

Easter Egg

This created a sense of delight from Mario (because honestly, what amazing things can you really expect happen when you check in on FourSquare?), which caused Mario to want to check-in on Foursquare more often, as well as share about this experience to others.

Game Technique: Rolling Rewards (#74)

As mention earlier, there are 6 Contextual Types of Rewards you can give a users, and one of them is the Rolling Reward (or Lottery), which means that someone in the system has to win, so theoretically if you are in the system for long enough, you will win too.

This is seen in various types of sweepstakes and lottery systems, where a user feels like as long as she keeps trying, one day she will win

Game Technique Suspense (#76)

Suspense is another powerful technique to implement into your experience if appropriate.

If everything is as plain as daylight, it is boring and not motivating. But if there’s always something that’s not completely clear, it engages our mind.

Back to – every time you login at 11:55pm , you don’t know what’s the product for the next day going to be. You wait anxiously as you keep refreshing the page. They don’t advertise it. If you want to know, you need to be there.

In fact, the best-selling product on is something called “Bag of Crap,” which is a box of random items that Woot evaluated samples for but didn’t make the final cut.

The fun of this experience is that again, you never know what you are going to get, kinda like a box of chocolate, and through deduction – life.

Core Drive #8: Loss & Avoidance

In your system, once you have designed your Desired Actions, it’s relevant to think about unappealing consequences if the user does not commit the desired actions.

Sometimes it’s a loss of progress, or a lost of opportunity, sometimes it’s a penalty or looking bad in public.

Of course, when you implement this, be very careful, as black hat game techniques often create a bad feeling in the user’s mind, even though it’s tremendously powerful in driving action.

Game Technique: Evanescent Opportunity (#86)

An Evanescence Opportunity is an opportunity that will go away if the user does not take the desired action now.

In a game, if there is a special monster that suddenly appears (hmm, like a treasure goblin…if you know what I’m talking about), but is running away from you, and you know if you defeat it, you will get something good, you are extremely motivated to commit the Desired Actions because if you don’t now you might lose the opportunity forever.

We see this a lot in coupons or offers, where you have to take action before a certain time or date, or else it’s lost. We might not care about the good to begin with, but we automatically want to snatch it up because it will be gone later.

Game Technique: Sunk Cost Tragedy (#50)

The scaffolding phase is also the best time to start setting up for the Sunk Cost Tragedy – a feeling of loss when one quits a system altogether.

If you make sure the user is accumulating – and knows that she is accumulating – things that will be gone and wasted if she leaves your system, it would be very difficult for the user to leave the system afterward.

Let’s say Facebook, every day the user is building something that might be gone if they quit – new friendship connections, photos, videos, even virtual goods in Facebook games.

As a result, even if there is a better social network out there, it’s extremely hard to quit Facebook. I myself have many friends I hangout personally with, but I do not have their phone numbers nor email. The only way for me to contact these people is through Facebook. You can imagine how hard it is for me to quit Facebook, even IF I no longer feel good using it.

On the other hand, even though Google’s search engine is extremely popular, it doesn’t really build up things to lose if you quit using it. It just happens that it is the best tool in the market, so everyone wants to use it whenever possible.

But it just takes one change of mind, “hmm, today I think I’m going to search on Bing instead of Google,” for Google to lose that traction. If one day somehow everyone is convinced another search engine is better, Google could lose all its traction overnight (though so far it looks like this is not likely in the near future).

Of course, Google is combatting that by introducing more personalized search results – Google understands YOU, and so if you stop using Google, you will lose all this customized experience that no other search engine can provide to you (attached to some Core Drive #4).

This is not as strong as Facebook’s “we have your friends hostage,” but it’s a step in the right direction.

When you design your experience, you should constantly think about what makes users reluctant to let go and hence will stay in your system for longer.

Make Scaffolding an Incredible Journey

Scaffolding is where the real journey is for any experience, which is why there are so many dynamics and game techniques to talk about. The above still just scratches the surface of all the fascinating things to consider and implement into your design.

The rest would be slowly revealed through more of my videos, other blog posts, and my book. If that sounds appealing to you, welcome to the Scaffolding Phase of the Journey to Learn Octalysis Gamification 😉

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