yukai chou gamification

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification #2: Development and Accomplishment

Gamification Accomplishment

Where Game Mechanics and Game Techniques Default:

(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. For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 9, Development and Accomplishment.)

Development & Accomplishment is the Second Core Drive of the Gamification Framework Octalysis.

This is the Core Drive where people are driven by a sense of growth towards a goal and accomplishing it.

Many people have memories of their kindergarten teachers giving them golden star stickers to emphasize good behavior. Even though the golden star stickers don’t always become real prizes such as brownies, kids still become extremely intent on how many stars they are getting, and whether they deserve more or not. That’s a very straightforward demonstration of the effects of Development & Accomplishment, and how easy it is to add into an experience.

This is also the most common implementation of gamification we see in the market, as most of the PBLs – points, badges, and leaderboards – appeal heavily to this drive.

Development & Accomplishment in Games

Almost all games show you some type of progress towards the Win-States. Games break down a user’s challenges into stages – check points, enemies, gems, levels, and bosses. This helps the user feel like there is always progress, and one achievement is coming after another.

Our brains have a natural desire to feel progress, to experience growth, and to see numbers go up. We need Win-States, and it is only a Win-State when it is concrete (being a “state”) and it demonstrates overcoming of a challenge (that’s the “win.”)

If a game is just a long and consistent 40-hour journey without clear stages and bosses to recognize accomplishment, the game is often not very engaging.

To display that sense of Accomplishment, some games show you a points, others show you levels, badges, stages, progress bars, better gear, victories etc.…the list goes on.

However, just because you see progress towards something does not mean you feel accomplished.

The key to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment is to make sure users are overcoming challenges they can be proud of.

Jane McGonigal, renowned game designer and Ph.D. in Performance Studies, defines games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle.”

McGonigal points out that the challenge and limitation is what makes a game fun. For example, if golf were just a game with a goal without any limitations, then every play would just pick up the ball and put it into the hole. Everyone would score high, and everyone beyond the “putting a round peg through a round hole” game will probably not be very engaged.

By adding unnecessary obstacles, such as requiring the use of a strange stick, certain distances, and landscape hazards, golf becomes fun because the player actually feels accomplished once such challenges are overcome.

Gamification aims to bring that feeling of Development & Accomplishment into everyday experiences within your product or service.

LinkedIn Progress Bar

One of the simplest and best-known examples of Development & Accomplishment in the industry is the LinkedIn Progress Bar.

As the largest professional social network in the world, LinkedIn realized that its value is only as good as the information people choose to put in it.

However inputting one’s profile and job history on LinkedIn is tedious, and users quickly drop out early on in the onboarding process.

LinkedIn realizes that simply making the interface easier for users to maneuver is not enough. They needed to make the interface more motivating. As a result, LinkedIn introduced a little Progress Bar (Game Technique #4) on the side of users’ profiles to show people how complete their profiles are.

Our brains hate incomplete things dangling in front of our faces. When we see a progress bar that is taunting us as only being 35% of a professional, it gives us that extra push to finish the Desired Actions and become complete again as a human being.

The amazing thing is, word has it that this progress bar only took developers 2 hours to code, but improved LinkedIn’s profile completeness by 55%, an amazing change considering how they have spent millions of dollars into getting this same goal. If every single two-hour employee effort produced a 55% increase in your core business metrics, wouldn’t that be something?

Gamification with Twitter

Twitter is yet another great example of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment.

Most people remember Twitter’s innovation being the limitation of 140 characters (which is an interesting balance between Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience combined with Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback), but few people remember that another one of Twitter’s key innovations was the one-way follow.

Back in the day, social connections were mutual – either both sides agree to be friends, or no relationship existed.

When Twitter was launched in 2006, it came with this new one-way follow system, allowing users to follow the message updates of people who are awesome, without these awesome people following the users back.

Because of the one-way nature of the relationship, many people saw getting many followers as a true achievement – meaning that everyone wanted to listen to your valuable opinions, even though you don’t give a rat’s pancreas about their opinions.

People tried as hard as they could to “earn” followers – tweeting out witty comments, sharing valuable links, and retweeting others to gain attention. Some even pressured their non-tech friends to follow them, just to look better on Twitter. This became a game for many, where the goal is to reach the highest amount of followers and retweets.

Then, at one point, influential people started to compete with each other to see who had more followers. At the beginning, the implicit comparing came between influencers in the tech world, such as Guy Kawasaki or Robert Scoble.  This is the condition of most new tech companies – people in Silicon Valley as well as bloggers loved the platforms, but the mainstream population doesn’t even know it existed yet.

However, because of the “Accomplishment” nature that is baked into Twitter’s DNA, Twitter finally caught massive mainstream attention when celebrities like Ashton Kutcher joined the mix of “follower competitions” against other celebrities, and most notably, the official CNN Breaking News Twitter Channel.

In 2009, Ashton Kutcher, publically challenged CNN Breaking News to see who can first reach 1 Million Followers. Both sides, not wanting to lose the competition, started promoting Twitter and their own Twitter profiles on all their media outlets, hoping to be the first to hit that golden Million. Ashton Kutcher’s fans, who loved his movies but had no idea what Twitter was, also started to write blog posts and make Youtube videos telling everyone else to follow him.

Towards the end, Ashton Kutcher did achieve his victory of reaching 1 Million Followers on Twitter before CNN Breaking News. Again, because he considers this to be a true accomplishment, he brags with joy and pride.

CNN Breaking News, on the other hand, behaves in a sportsmanlike manner, as a big company should. In the above screenshot, you can see that by the time Ashton Kutcher won, CNN Breaking News had 999,652 followers, only mere hundreds away from winning.

Instead of bitterly saying, “So close! We were only off by a few hundred,” they gracefully announced to the world “Ashton Kutcher is first to reach 1 million followers in Twitter contest with CNN” with a “Congrats” on the tweet below.

This contest has turned out very positive for the brand names of both CNN and Ashton Kutcher, but the biggest benefiter is Twitter, whom received millions of dollars worth of free press into an audience that was unfamiliar with their platform.

Football vs Soccer

The understanding of Development & Accomplishment might also explain to us why American Football is by far the most popular sport to watch in North America, especially compared to Soccer.

The stereotype goes, compared to Europeans, the average American is more audacious, impatient, and expects more instant gratification. That may or may not be true, but for the sake of argument, lets go with that statement. Of course, you as my reader are definitely not considered “the average American,” both in a humorous and logical sense, especially if you are not an American to begin with.

In Soccer, it’s a bit harder to keep track of progress and development for the average American. Sure – you can see where the ball is on the court, but it gets kicked back and forth so much, swapping between sides and players, it’s not completely obvious who is winning and who’s gotten ahead when the score are equal.

Furthermore, after a long grueling battle, many games end up with 0 points on both sides, or at most one to two points, making it hard for the American audience to enjoy the feeling of Development & Accomplishment.

However, in “American” Football (the one where you use your hands), not only are points and scores more obtainable – 51 points vs 28 points, milestones and progress are also broken down to 10-yard runs that happen every few minutes, helping the American audience digest the progress of the game easily. “Oh, he made another 10 yards. YEAHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Not only that, each 10 yards is even broken down further to three to four attempts, so there is a level of suspense and a Countdown mechanism (Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience) to add small challenges and wins within the game.

American Football also often pauses the game whenever something noteworthy happens, in order to remind viewers, “Something just happened! Now is the time to be happy and chest bump your friends!”

Breaking down all the places to cheer, celebrate, and watch more commercials, no wonder American Football is the most popular and biggest moneymaker sport in American.

If you just slap on Badges, Badges will slap your Users

I’ve often talked about how points and badges can ruin good gamification design as the so-called “gamification experts” slap them onto everything they see. However, they are useful tools and have their place in a gamified system.

Badges are what I call “Achievement Symbols” (Game Technique #2). As mentioned, Achievement Symbols can come in many forms – badges, stars, belts, hats, uniforms, trophies.

The dead horse has been complaining, but I’ll reiterate that the important thing about Achievement Symbols, is that they must symbolize “achievement.”

If you go on a website and click a button, and then suddenly a popup springs out and says, “CONGRATULATIONS!!! You just earned your ‘Clicked On My First Button Badge’! Click here to see other cool badges you can earn!” Are you going to be excited?

Probably not.

You may even think, “Well this is pretty lame…what else is there? A ‘Scrolling Down Badge’? A ‘Click on the About Us Page Badge’?” You’re almost insulted.

But if you did something that you feel like you uniquely earned by utilizing your creativity and solved a problem that not everyone could solve, and as a result received a badge to symbolize that achievement, you feel proud and accomplished. Now the motivation is valid.

Achievement Symbols merely reflect achievement, but are not achievements by themselves.

A similar example comes from where badges came from – the military. If you join the military, and immediately get a badge on your chest, “Joined the Military Badge!”

And on the next day, another badge gets pinned on your chest that says, “Survived My First Day Badge!” followed by “Made my First Friend Badge!” “Made Five Friends Badge!” You probably won’t feel accomplished and wear all these badges to your social gatherings. You are more likely to feel insulted.

But if you performed acts of valor – you risked your life to save a fellow soldier, and as a result received a Medal of Honor on your chest, you are likely to truly feel proud and accomplished.

Keep in mind some of those “insulting badges” do work great for children, because as small children, these are actual feats and accomplishments. More often than not, making your first friend is not something you have a parade about when you are a grown person.

Therefore, when I work with clients on gamification, I never ask them, “Do you have badges?” I ask, “Do you make your users feel accomplished?” Having badges (or any game element in itself) does not mean users are motivated towards the Win-State.

That’s why we focus on the 8 Core Drives.

 A Point on Points

Similarly, Status Points (Game Technique #1) are for keeping score of progress. Internally, it allows the system to know how close players are towards the win-state. Externally, it gives players a feedback system to also keep track of their progress.

As a great candidate for “Feedback Mechanics” in the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard, showing people their score and changes on small improvements often motivates them towards the right direction.

However, how you craft the gaining and losing of points, as well as meaning behind the points can significantly change the users’ perception of your product. Done incorrectly, it can cause the user to devalue the entire experience and distrust your intentions as a systems designer.

Many companies think that giving users tradable points that can be redeemed for rewards would make a system motivating. After all, now there is an “economy!”

What companies don’t always realize, is that running an economy is a very complex thing. You have to carefully consider 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.

Adam Smith, known as the “Father of Economics,” suggests in his book Wealth of Nations that the beginning of all Value is Labor. Because people have put in time and labor into the process and “mined out” points, it inherently has value for those who do not wish to spend the same amount of time to obtain those points.

The Federal Reserve Bank or Central Bank of any country knows that an economy is extremely sensitive and requires finesse. They understand that if they just change interest rates by a measly 3%, consumers, banks, insurance companies, real estate developers, and businesses will all behave drastically different.

For a company to just think that, “We have an economy and therefore we are engaging!” is a very dangerous statement.

Leaderboard Game Mechanics

Leaderboards (Game Technique #3) is a game element where you rank users based on a set of criteria that is influenced by the users’ behaviors towards the Desired Actions.

Even though Leaderboards are meant to motivate people and bring in status, if designed incorrectly, it often times does the exact opposite.

If you use a site for a few hours and received 25 points, and then you see on the Top 20 list, number 20 already has 25,000,000 points, that probably does not motivate you to try harder.

In fact, it could very likely demotivate you and you won’t even want to try.

This was an issue that Foursquare, a geolocation mobile app that gamified the check-in process, had many years ago. Often times, a new user may check into a new coffee shop, and then realize the “Mayor” there has already achieved 250 check-ins and increasing everyday. “Fighting for the Mayorship” is probably not something the user would be interested in, because he knows the odds of developing progress and feeling accomplished is very low.

What users need is Urgent Optimism, another term coined by Jane McGonigal, where the user feels optimistic that she can accomplish the task, but also urgent as she needs to act now.

When you setup a leaderboard, there are a couple variations that have shown to perform better.

First, you always want to position the user in the middle of the leaderboard display, so all she sees is the player right above her, and the user just below her. It’s not very motivating seeing how high the Top 10 players are, but it’s incredibly motivating when one sees someone who used to be below her suddenly surpasses her.

Another variation of the leaderboard is to set up Group Leaderboards, where the ranking is based on the combined efforts of a bigger team. In that case, even though not everyone is competitive and needs to be at the top, most people don’t want to be the laggard that drags the team down, so everyone works harder through the sense of Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive 5).

The next variation is to set up constantly refreshing leaderboards, where every week the data would refresh; hence no one falls too far behind and always has a renewed sense of hope, leading towards that Urgent Optimism.

Finally, it’s a good idea to implement micro-leaderboards, where only the users’ friends or very similar people are compared. Instead of seeing you are ranked 95,253 out of 1 Million users, you see how you are the top 1 or 2 among 22 friends.

The point is that the user must quickly recognize the action item towards getting the win-state. If there’s no chance of achievement, there is no action.


Since Development & Accomplishment is the easiest Core Drive to design for, many companies focus on this Core Drive. Consequently, many of the Gamification Platforms out there are specialized in appealing to this Core Drive too. However, if you do plan to implement these game elements into your product, make sure you do that carefully and elegantly. Always focus on how you want your users to feel, not what game elements you want to use.

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18 thoughts on “The 8 Core Drives of Gamification #2: Development and Accomplishment”

  1. I used to love raffles and lottery tickets too. I love the excitement. But now I want to move on to something more. I am well versed in sports and therefore I want my luck to depend on myself and not on a lottery ticket. That’s why I want to start betting on sports. What kind of bonuses are there?

    1. I agree. When you buy a lottery, luck depends only on the numbers that will fall out live. And there are no additional bonuses. Sports betting is a great opportunity to take luck into your own hands. And what bonuses you will receive will depend on the bookmaker’s office where you will place bets.

  2. Continuing with the “father of a violin-playing daughter”… This one is generally already pretty solid. However, there is nothing wrong with “more” in this area. I am sure that it is virtually universally understood that learning the violin comes with many challenges. I think the most challenging time for us is when my daughter is at the beginning of a new piece. While she understands that the fastest way to learn a piece is to go slow, it is the hardest thing for her to do. She wants to get to the end results right away. Maybe I should try to come up with some extrinsic rewards to “carrot” her through this process. Then again, extrinsic rewards are generally show short term success. It would be better to set her up for long term success. Maybe simply take it in smaller chunks and then “call it a day” before it gets frustrating. 🙂 [I think she would go for that pretty well. It is I who would have the harder time adjusting :-p ]

  3. This is also a very good text as always =) Well, to commect especially some certain details as a 25-years experienced Soccer Fan and a guy who only heard of “USA Football” I should say the following (according to CD2).
    Games are desgned totally different. Soccer is much older and it’s idea was checked by time and nations. The idea of Hard-earned Total points (Goals) that the whole team generates and more estetical and safe game – it is like Gold, earned hard during hard mining process where immediate reward is missing and on the opposite – long-lasting (CD 6 addition) impatience makes customer (fan who either sits on his chair or watchs the game in real life) waiting for each goal with extra emotins. And so, even 0:0 count gives totally alive emotion of dissapointment for both competitotrs.
    The way Amrican football Points are designed, as Yu-kai described, is more compared to paper-oriented $.
    We all know the Gold VS $ rate so here comes the same =)
    Guys, no offense, just kidding =)
    Both “currencies” have value, but the value is different.

  4. As a “real football” fan of The Beautiful Game, I appreciate your pointing out how North American “football” provides very concrete, immediate feedback on team & players performance. You can see something of this with “real football” tactics – Some fans do not appreciate strategic play where passing back is used, particularly to the keeper, preferring instead a direct style of attack. That includes even many long time fans. The direct style at least has some of the elements of North American football in pushing forward relentlessly.

  5. Having been a volunteer for many causes, I have seen some great and not-so-great examples of agencies trying to reward volunteers in meaningful ways. You hit the nail on the head talking about extrinsic motivators actually decreasing volunteer motivation. I had heard it described as taking the people to another market, the economic one, leaving them feeling underpaid where they had freely volunteered till that change. Learning – Provide volunteers with Intrinsic rewards. E.g. Learning opportunities such as conferences & workshops (CD1 & maybe 6), social approval (CD5). Gifts need to be emblematic (CD1), not costly.

  6. I love how you applied this in terms of American Football!! I have never looked at it that way. Being American myself I definitely think that soccer is boring and that College Football is a lot more engaging and now I can see it from a completely different perspective.

  7. A special care must be exercised in order to properly implement the development and accomplishment core drive. Major emphasis should be placed on how the entity would like the users to feel, not on what game elements to use. Remember, gamification is all about human-focused design. Development & accomplishment must be relevant to the users.

  8. We used to get Medals for walking a distance of 10Km for 4 evenings in a row in elementary school. Also trophies at football tournaments, and fancy stickers from the teacher at school.

    I think the key trick in this core drive is how to make the accomplishment meaningful while also making the development tangible. Contextual relevancy comes to mind.

  9. @Vicky Belladino
    Point here is to highlight the difference between two concepts of game related to two different targets.
    People more attracted by fast accomplishment and need for development are more naturally attracted by a game who shows advancement in a clearer way like american football, instead of soccer.
    Gaining (or losing) yards makes feel the fans a sense of progression and states clearly who is winning at the moment.
    If i am not mistaken (Yu-Kai please confirm), “Target” is another, advanced, aspect of gamification. You need to create a game for people you already know they will like it for what it is.

  10. Hi Chou,
    For Football vs Soccer part,
    you neglected the fact that Soccer is more popular outside north america.So, your statement that football is more popular because of development and accomplishment aspect will not make sense for us that live outside US. Badminton are easier to keep track on the game progress, but boxing and golf are more popular sport in US. What do you think?

  11. Hello; You mentioned  PBLs – points badges and leaderboards – as Default Game Techniques. 
    I am Currently Trying to map out what all the 90 Game Techniques are, and how they relate to the 8 Core Drives. And Sometimes you Glaze over things like badges, which you do not seem to have mentioned in other posts as a Game Technique No.#
    Please can you help me out a little with the Game Technique number of Badges according to you?

  12. Yes, you’ve nailed it, particularly your last paragraph and sentence, the manipulation of feelings is the core strategy of all effective marketing. Gamification  is not actually using new or unknown feeling pathways, games merely leverage the same learnt  pathway that the advertising industry has spent 60 years putting in place, for different outcome. Marketing’s outcome is a sale, games outcome is ‘time in the game’

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