yukai chou gamification

5 Psychology Books That Contextualize Gamification Design

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(Click here if you are interested in Yu-kai Chou’s Book “Actionable Gamification” – Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards.” The book sold over 100K copies and is referenced by over 2500 Ph.D. Theses and Academic Journals.)

The obvious and ultimate point of creating games is to satisfy players. But to do this successfully requires a complex process to develop a game that adequately anticipates and meets its target audience’s motivations. As you’ve seen reflected in previous posts, people are not always driven by logic alone, which makes this development process all the more difficult.

What we might assume to be true about human motivation and thought processes may require further examination and analysis.

While the Octalysis framework focuses on the core drives of players, these principles are expanded upon by other fields. These include behavioral science, human cognition, and other areas that focus on how and why we make decisions or naturally think the way we do. A holistic understanding of cognitive behavior will deepen your understanding of motivation, drives and how to shape experiences for desired responses.

Without further adieu, here are five insightful psychology books that will expand your perspective on the workings of human cognition.

Considering this information within the context of game design will further your ability to create truly winning experiences for players.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

The Art of Game Design- A Book of Lenses

Author Jesse Schell makes a distinction between the actual game and the experience of the game which is what most of the book actually focuses on.

He describes good game design as the product of adopting multiple lenses or perspectives. Each lens can also be thought of as a different set of skills.

Schell presents as many as a hundred different lenses that are important for game development projects. While animation, cinematography and computer engineering are among these, there are also less obvious lenses that are also important, like anthropology, business and architecture.

Ambitious game creators who are motivated to create success for themselves and the best experiences possible for their players should read about all 100 lenses.

Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products

In Hooked, Nir Eyal presents the question of why some products are more compelling compared to others. He argues that successful products have shaped and cultivated ongoing consumer habits. Examples include Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

When consumers are not engaged in the actual habit, a void is created which causes them pain. Therefore, habit forming products actually play the role of pain killers- these are what investors are most interested in. Other products can be likened to vitamins. They are nice to have around, but not entirely necessary.

According to Eyal, habits are shaped according to a four part process

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment

In terms of games, creators need to be clear about defining what intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are most coveted and meaningful for their players. The best decisions can then be made about what triggers to incorporate and the actions that can be performed to achieve not only points, but also create feelings of accomplishment, empowerment through creativity, a heightened sense of epic meaning and calling, and even social rewards. The formation of habits, as described by Eyal, can be likened to the white hat core drives of the Octalysis model.

Players are more likely to invest their time, money and efforts into experiences that have become part of their lifestyle habits.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow psychology book image

Immersive games require that players engage in strategic thinking. When designing the structure of a game, it is helpful to understand how natural human cognitive processes work. This is helpful when mapping out all the different choices that players can make to achieve their goals.

Too often we assume that people are driven to make the most logical decisions possible. But often we have to make decisions within a short time constraint. This impacts our ability to process all of the information needed to make an intelligent decision. Instead, we often rely on what are called heuristics, or shortcuts. These are what author, Daniel Kahneman describes as fast systems of thinking. These processes are more intuitive and emotional. On the other hand, Kahneman also explores the deliberate, slow and logical systems through which the most accurate answers can be attained.

Creating game structures where rewards are given for following more natural lines of thought might be helpful for cultivating a sense of competence, especially among new gamers so that they will feel more encouraged to keep playing- a key example of Core Drive #2, Development & Accomplishment.

Punished By Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s and Other Bribes

The most basic form of gamification is where players are rewarded through points, badges and leaderboards. It is simply assumed that individuals are naturally motivated to acquire higher scores (Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession).

But in the book, Punished By Rewards, Alfie Kohn argues against the effectiveness of most types of extrinsic rewards, which includes letter grades, gold stars, and even punishments. He believes that such positive and negative incentives undermine the true essence of what is supposed to be accomplished. And instead of relying exclusively on them, it is far more effective to improve the content and presentation of the experience to increase engagement.

Kohn also references studies which show that extrinsic bribes (or threats) are not as effective as they seem, especially in the long term.

Therefore, instead of following a strictly linear contingency of  rewards, a more comprehensive, multi-pronged framework, like Octalysis would actually inspire participants to engage and immerse themselves in desired forms of action.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Drive challenges the motivational value of extrinsic and enumerable reward systems. Author, Daniel Pink believes that the assumption of goading desired behaviors through a carrot and stick approach is overly simplistic.

Like Kohn, he also cites studies which show that extrinsic rewards (e.g. money) are only effective for driving mechanical forms of tasks. But when it comes to problem solving and challenges where more creativity is required, poorer levels of performance are seen.

When companies are driven strictly by the incentive of higher profits and become disengaged from a larger purpose, it is quite common to see a decline in the quality of performance among employees.

Pink outlines three critical drives that we all share:

  1. Autonomy: desire to be self directed
  2. Mastery: the desire to feel competent, creative and capable, beyond average levels
  3. Purpose: the desire to better our lives while bettering the rest of the world

The motives of Mastery and Purpose fall into alignment with the Octalysis Core Drives #1, Epic Meaning & Calling and Core Drive #3, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. In most games, a sense of autonomy is most rewarding when players have already achieved a certain level of mastery. But in the initial stages, some level of direction is desirable as beginners are just starting to learn the ropes.

Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

Yu-kai’s definite guide to actionable gamification, using gamification to design for human–also known as human-focused design–is fully detailed in this journey through the 8 Core Drives and beyond!

From Amazon:

The new era of gamification and human-focused design optimizes for motivation and engagement over traditional function-focused design. Within the industry, studies on game mechanics and behavioral psychology have become proliferate. However, few people understand how to merge the two fields into experience designs that reliably increases business metrics and generates a return on investment. Gamification pioneer Yu-kai Chou takes the listener on a journey to learn his 12 years of obsessive research in creating the Octalysis Framework, and how to apply the framework to create engaging and successful experiences in their product, workplace, marketing, and personal lives.

Listen to the audiobook. 

From Psychology Books to Gamification Design

Game design is usually thought of as being technical in nature. Therefore, it is easy to forget about the human motivations involved in game play. Understanding the psychological aspects of what drives certain behaviors and motives (and why) will help you better apply Octalysis principles to create winning game experiences. The knowledge contained in these books are certainly a great start towards this end.

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