How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification
(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.)
Since this book is entitled Actionable Gamification, we want to make sure you have a set of steps and tools to help you develop your own projects. The ultimate question that this chapter seeks to answer is: “How do I make my users more motivated intrinsically?”
Well, we’ve noted earlier that Intrinsic Motivation is often derived from Right Brain Core Drives, which relate to Core Drive 3, 5, and 7. Therefore, the actionable way to add Intrinsic Motivation into an experience is to think about how to implement those Core Drives into the experience.
Intrinsic Motivation Tip 1: Making the experience more Social
One of the common Right Brain Core Drives that the business world has been using in recent years is Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Many companies are seeking ways to make things more social by incorporating social media, and constantly spamming their users to spam their friends.
Of course, there are better and worse ways to make your experience more social. The first principle to note is that users are intrinsically interested in inviting their friends to an experience only if they are first sold on its value. Often this happens during the First Major Win-State, which is a term referring to the moment when the user first says, “Wow! This is awesome!”
Many companies make the gigantic mistake of asking users to invite all their Facebook friends at the beginning of the Onboarding Stage, which happens right after the user signs up. The users don’t even know whether they will like the experience themselves, let alone risk their friendships by spamming others. In fact, this prompting interface actually delays the First Major Win-State, which could be detrimental to the entire experience.
The experience designer needs to identify exactly where that First Major Win-State is, and count exactly how many minutes it takes for the users to get there – because every second before that you will be seeing dropout. Once the user hits the first major Win-State, that’s the best time to ask them to invite their friends or rate the product. (We will reiterate these important points on First Major Win-States in our chapter discussing the Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey.)
Besides finding the right time to prompt friend-invites, it is important to determine the right type of message. I’ve seen many companies require their users to share a default text such as, “I just used Company A, the leader in B space, to solve all my problems! Sign-up right now for a 30% discount!” This is a message that is obviously not genuine, and will lead to users feeling like they are being baited to share crappy promotional messages.
Rather, it is better to have something less informative, but more believable, such as, “I’ve been reading Yu-kai’s book on gamification. It’s worth checking out! #OctalysisBook.” A default tweet like this (which still allows the user to modify it anyway they wish), produces a social message that their friends will more likely recognize as a true endorsement.
With that all said, none of the above is actually making the experience itself more social. It is much better to foster collaborative play within the Desired Action, where users can help each other out, socialize, and grow together.
When you design for Intrinsic Motivation, you want to create environments that foster socializing, even with areas that are non-critical to the Desired Actions (such as the Water Cooler game technique). Also, consider adding in more Group Quests where users can work together, utilize their unique strengths, and accomplish tasks together. This often makes an experience more intrinsically motivating and enjoyable.
Intrinsic Motivation Tip 2: Add more Unpredictability into the Experience
Another way to add Intrinsic Motivation into the experience is to utilize Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity. If every result is expected and the experience predictable, much of the fun and excitement will fade. Adding some unpredictability, though Black Hat in nature, increases the thrill to the experience and prevents the user from losing interest and dropping out.
When you design your experience, ask yourself if there is a way to build controlled randomness into the experience? If the user performs the Desired Action again and again, does the result have to be exactly the same each time? Or can some things be altered from time to time, even if they are just trivial things like alternating feedback dialogue or randomly generated tips.
Unpredictability matched with Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance will often make an undesirable event even more stressful, and sometimes more motivating in a Black Hat way; but unpredictability accompanying Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment or Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession increases the excitement of the experience.
If you implement a variable reward, either in the form of a Mystery Box (users expect a reward but don’t know what it will be) or an Easter Egg (users don’t expect a reward at all), you will likely build positive anticipation and unpredictability. In the book Hooked, Nir Eyal confirms that, “Variable rewards are one of the most powerful tools companies implement to hook users.”
Obtaining a reward is in and of itself extrinsic. However, when you make the reward variable, you add a layer of intrinsic excitement, much like how the animal in the Skinner Box continues to press the lever to get more food, even though it is no longer hungry.
Do be cautious though, since Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is by nature a Right Brain and Black Hat Core Drive, it may unsettle some users who feel uncomfortable because they are not in control of their own destinies. If I told an employee, “Work hard for a year, and you may or may not get a surprising reward!” I may have made the year more intrinsically “interesting” because of the suspense and guess work. However, it may also cause the employee to leave my company because of how uncomfortable it feels when a person is exposed to long-term Black Hat motivators.
Before you snicker for too long, it is worth noting that this is also what most companies implicitly communicate to their employees regarding their raises and promotions: work hard for a few years, and perhaps you will receive some type of promotion! Is it a wonder then that companies complain about their employees lacking loyalty and joining a competitor as soon as they are offered an immediate and higher compensation package? Once you are exposed to Black Hat Motivation and have received your Extrinsic Reward, there is often a very high chance you will leave the game for more “empowering” environments.
Like anything, there’s a right way to design something, and a wrong way to design something. Ideally, if you use variable rewards, you should make sure the action to obtain them is relatively short and easy, such as pulling the lever on a slot machine or refreshing your Facebook home feed.
If I told you, “Can you please bring me my crystal ball that’s lying on the couch? There’s a chance I might give you a surprising reward when you do.” Since the Desired Action is fast, my variable reward offer sounds intriguing, especially compared to just stating what the reward will be. If I asked you to get my crystal ball from the other side of town, the intrigue factor would be diminished and you would be less inclined to take this protracted action for me. Of course, if you consider me of high status and want to gain my liking, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness might still be a motivating factor for you to take the Desired Action.
If you must drag out the Desired Action, it would be advisable to make sure all of the variable rewards are appealing to the users, and that the user knows that up front. If I promised my employees a free vacation either to Italy, France, or Denmark if they worked hard for a year, that likely would be much more appealing than being completely vague with what the reward might be. In this case, there is sufficient information for the employees to get excited about the reward. Perhaps they would even stay in the company for longer in anticipation of finding out which of the vacation options are finally offered.
Intrinsic Motivation Tip 3: Add more Meaningful Choices and Feedback
Since I mentioned that adding unpredictability into your experience utilizes Black Hat Core Drives, you may wonder about how to make an experience more intrinsic through White Hat methods. I’ve mentioned a few times that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback sits at the top right of the Octalysis Framework, representing the “golden corner” of being both White Hat and intrinsic in nature. It is the Core Drive where the process becomes “play” and generates evergreen mechanics that keep a user engaged. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult Core Drive to implement well.
In your own experience design, you want to make sure that users are able to make as many Meaningful Choices as possible to reflect their style, preference, and strategy (recall that this is done with the “Plant Picker” Game Technique).
If a hundred users go through your experience and all hundred take the exact same actions to achieve the Win-State, there are no meaningful choices present for the user to express their creativity. If thirty of those hundred take one path, another thirty take a second path, and the last forty take a third path to reach the Win-State, a greater feeling of having meaningful choices will be present.
If all hundred users played the game differently and still ended up reaching the Win-State, your experience will have been successful in generating an optimal meaningful choice design.
If you asked a hundred children to build something great with a box of Legos, it is almost statistically impossible that any two will build the same thing (outside of kids copying each other) in the exact same order. There is a high sense of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback with this type of experience.
You should ask yourself, “Is there a way to allow my users to take multiple routes but still reach the same goal? Are there places that I could allow them to make meaningful choices to craft their own experiences?” These are often difficult questions to answer. But if you can address them with insightful design mechanics, you will see a great deal of value in the form of enthusiastic, loyal, and engaged users that are glued to the experience – from Onboarding all the way into the Endgame Phase. And remember, in order to be successful, this must go beyond providing a shallow perception of choice.
Also keep in mind, our brains hate it when we have no choices, but we also dislike having too many choices. The latter leads to decision paralysis and ultimately makes us feel stupid. This is an Anti Core Drive within Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, which I also call the “Google+ Problem.” In Google+, there is an impressive amount of technology and engineering hours behind each feature, but users feel lost, powerless, and end up leaving quickly.You should avoid this by letting users choose between two to three meaningful options at any given point so they feel empowered without being overwhelmed.
Don’t forget the Boosters for Intrinsic Chains Combo Designs
Finally, designing multiple Boosters as your rewards increases strategy and creative play within an experience. If users can choose different paths to obtain different power-ups that work together towards different goals, they can optimize on what combinations to use and paths to take.
The biggest innovation introduced by the iconic game Megaman (known as Rockman in non-American companies) in 1987 was that it allowed players to pick which stage and boss they want to challenge. This was contrary to the traditional linear design where players challenge through Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3 sequentially.
Besides allowing each player to play the game differently each time they come back (this was before games could “save” their progress), it allowed players to strategize their own optimal path to play the game based on booster abilities along the way. When Megaman defeats a boss, he absorbs the boss’ ability and is allowed to use that ability on other stages and bosses. Some abilities are perfect solutions to other bosses and scenarios, which incentivize the players to carefully pick which bosses they want to fight early on and which bosses to fight later.
In the real world, when you see people figuring out how to take multiple layovers to maximize their Airline Miles points, signing up for various credit cards to optimize spending and rewards, or collecting a variety of coupons to reduce a $20 item to $1, you are seeing strong implementations of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback in making Extrinsic Rewards more intrinsically motivating. The end reward is often nice (Core Drive 2 and 4), but it is often the process of strategizing and optimizing that is truly engaging the individuals.
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