yukai chou gamification

The Strategy Dashboard for Gamification Design

Gamification Strategy Dashboard
yu-kai chou gamification expert

(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.)

At this point, we have a built a strong foundation for understanding the 8 Core Drives, their natures, and how they individually and collaboratively influence our behavior. However, this does not necessarily mean this knowledge can be easily applied to designing an engaging gamified experience that also fulfill business metrics. For that, we need another tool.

After some of my talks on Octalysis, some people ask me, “How do I actually start to design a gamified campaign with the 8 Core Drives? I can now create an experience that’s interesting and engaging but I’m not sure how that will drive business success.”

In order to design a successful project, they need the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

The Octalysis Strategy Dashboard is a constantly evolving document that clarifies the most important aspects of your gamification campaign by focusing your attention on the critical elements that will ultimately direct your efforts for maximum impact.

The Strategy Dashboard contains five critical elements:

  1. Business Metrics, leading to Game Objectives
  2. Users, leading to Players
  3. Desired actions, leading to Win-States
  4. Feedback Mechanics, leading to Triggers
  5. Incentives, leading to Rewards

Your Strategy Dashboard is not meant to be as comprehensive or as static as a business plan. It should provide a minimum amount of critical information to help you execute an actionable gamification campaign that drives your business metric goals.

It may take less than one or two hours to first define your Strategy Dashboard but can take months of iterations as your product or service evolves.

Let me explain each of the dashboard’s critical elements in turn:

  1. Business Metrics = Game Objectives

Business Metrics are the key numbers and results that the business wants to improve on. These are high-level items that the company may present to their executives or investors in order to show the campaign’s success.

Some Business Metrics include revenue, daily active users over monthly active users, time spent on site, retained users, registrations, etc. Again, these are the numbers that indicate success for your business. If these numbers are growing, your business is in good shape.

When defining Business Metrics, make sure they are quantifiable and prioritized in order of importance.

If you can’t Measure it, you can’t Manage it

Sometimes I have clients who ask me which gamification platform they should use to develop their campaign.

I believe the answer depends on what problem they want to solve. The problem isn’t that there is a lack of gamification. If that’s the problem, then it doesn’t matter what platform you use, as long as you include any kind of gamification your problem is solved!

Business metrics cannot be fluffy statements such as, “We want to make people feel great!” It has to be measurable and quantifiable. You need to be able to track success, benchmark against other campaigns, and even run split tests to see which of your efforts produce the best results.

Boiling the Ocean gets you no Tea

Business Metrics also needs to be prioritized in the order of importance to your business.

Most companies want all of their metrics to grow exponentially: they want a lot of revenue, new users signing up, more user time spent on their site; they want everything.

However, at this stage it is crucially important to focus on defining your top Business Metric, your number two Business Metric, and so on. Because when it comes to designing for motivation, often times you can only optimize for one Business Metric at each interface and so you have to refer back to your dashboard and be disciplined enough to choose your most important one. You can of course improve all the other Business Metrics to some degree too, but you can only optimize for one of them.

A good example of this is a login interface on the front page of your website. Is your top Business Metric to increase new user signups or to maximize weekly return rates? If you have decided the former is a higher business metric, you may design the interface that provides a text box for easy user registration with a simple “Sign-up” and “Sign-up through Facebook” button next to it. You would include a smaller section that says, “Already a user? Login here.”

If your top Business Metric is to maximize daily returns, then the interface may be the opposite, with a small section that says, “Not a user yet? Signup here!” This design may not be the best solution to maximize daily returns for all scenarios but you can see how an interface can often only allow for a single optimization of a key Desired Action.

If you look carefully at various front pages, you will see that Facebook, Pandora, and Twitter’s home pages are optimized for new user signups whereas Amazon and Paypal’s home pages are optimized for return user sign-ins. As eCommerce solutions, Amazon and Paypal decided that there is a higher return when an existing user logs in and spends money as opposed to having a random person sign-up just to see what they’re platforms are about. More often than not, that first-time user won’t result in strong commercial activity as that of an active user.

Obviously their other business metrics will also be increased through this optimized interface, but we want to always design in the main Desired Action for the user so that they always have a clear sense of how to reach the Win-State. If you try to get users to do everything on one screen, users will face decision paralysis, leave your site, and go back to their comfort zone.

If by implementing your gamified campaign, your Business Metrics have not improved, then you have failed the Game Objective.

  1. Users = Players

Users are the second element to define within the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

This may only require broadly defining your users by gender, profession, or even subject interest but can also entail more detailed and in-depth user specificity through using Richard Bartle’s Four Player Types (Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, Killers), Andrjez Marczewski’s Six Players Types (Disruptors, Socializers, Achievers, Free Spirits, Players, Philanthropists), or Myers-Briggs MBTI personality types.

In Enterprise Gamification, Mario Herger states that it is important to have the key personas of your target user identified.

Whatever model you use, make sure that you define your user categories based on how they are differently motivated. You don’t want groups that seem different, but are motivated in a similar fashion. This will make it more difficult to optimally design Desired Actions for the Win-State.

For instance, employees are likely more motivated based on their positions in the company, than by gender. As a result, it may be more productive to divide the users into “Managers” and “Workers” rather than “Males” and “Females”.

Creating Octalysis Charts for your User Personas

Once you have identified your users, you can start to apply custom Octalysis Charts for all these players using the Octalysis Tool (this can be found at

By considering which of the 8 Core Drives motivate which user types more, you can then identify and implement game elements that appeal best to those Core Drives.

Keep in mind that it is still possible to appeal to the Core Drives that are not utilized often, since all of the Core Drives motivate people to different extents. However, it is often easier to motivate people with drives that they’re already accustomed to (unless they are longing for something else in their lives).

This is really where context matters. For instance, an accountant wants to feel smart and organized and usually does not like the sense Unpredictability and Curiosity (Core Drive 7) as much as an artist does.

Personal Assistants are motivated similarly but perhaps a bit more influenced by Social Influence and Relatedness (Core Drive 5) – both towards the person they are assisting as well as the people they are interacting with on a daily basis.

Identifying the Anti-Core Drives

Beyond developing an Octalysis Graph for each user type, it may also be advantageous to create an Anti-Core Drive Chart.

The Anti-Core Drives are basically why users do not want to commit the actions you want them to. Since every single action you take is based on one or more of these 8 (+1) Core Drives, this means that when you don’t do something you’re likely not doing it because of one of the 8 Core Drives as well.

Often times people do not commit the Desired Actions because of Status Quo Sloth (Game Technique #85) – they simply don’t want to change their actions. When Status Quo Sloth is designed in your own campaign, it is an Endgame technique that prevents people from leaving your system. When it is part of an Anti-Core Drive, it prevents people from joining your system.

When you identify that a person’s Anti-Core Drive is Loss & Avoidance, your system can attempt to turn it around by conveying that they would be losing more if they did not take action immediately (Note: this is clearly Black Hat Gamification and should not be used without understanding its implications).

Similarly, if someone’s Anti-Core Drive is Epic Meaning & Calling, it may not be useful to use other Core Drives to motivate them.

If you are trying to encourage a person to drink at a company gathering, and he says, “No, I can’t drink alcohol because I just became a Christian.” It often doesn’t matter if you appeal to the other Core Drives by saying, “Come on! All your friends are drinking!” (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) or “You’ve earned it through high performance!” (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) because the reason why he refuses is for something bigger than his own personal gains, social status, or enjoyment.

Rather, it may be more fruitful to address the Anti-Core Drive of Epic Meaning & Calling by saying, “Really? I thought Christians could drink. Wasn’t Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine? And didn’t he give his disciples wine in the last supper and said it symbolized his blood? As far as I know, Christians can drink…just not get drunk.” (Disclaimer: I myself am of the Christian faith).

Once you have addressed the Anti-Core Drive, then you can add other Core Drives like Social Influence & Relatedness: “See, our other colleague over there has been a faithful Christian who fasts and tithes regularly for twenty years, but he drinks a little wine at company events from time to time. Why don’t you just take this wine glass, and we won’t ask you to drink more beyond that?” (Note: make sure to remember the lessons learned in Chapter 15 on the Moral and Ethics of Gamification, especially if the scenario involves a form of manipulation like above).

Another example is seen in the Disney Movie Saving Mr. Banks (Spoiler Alert). In the movie, Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, was only able to convince Mrs. Trevor, played by Emma Thompson, to assign him the rights of her popular novel Mary Poppins when he found out the real issue of her resistance: her history with her father and the inability to forgive herself (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession and Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness).

Walt Disney finally persuades her, after twenty years of rejection, by incorporating her issue in his movie, Mr. Banks. He has the main character, symbolizing Mrs. Trevor’s father, find redemption in a happy ending. Note that another motivator in Saving Mr. Banks behind her decision to meet with Walt Disney was Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance as she was running out of money and needed to keep her house.

By understanding why the user does not take the desired actions, one can address it authentically and constructively engage the issue instead of chasing around the bush on topics that are irrelevant to the user.

Once the Users are defined, you now have the Players for the gamified system.

Gamification Strategy Dashboard 1

  1. Desired Actions = Win-States

Desired Actions are the third element to define in any Octalysis Gamification campaign.

Desired Actions are the little steps you want users to take such as: go onto the website, fill out the form, register, come back every day, click on the ad, sign up for the newsletter, etc.

These are different than your Business Metrics because “Clicking the Okay Button” is hardly a success metric that you would report to your investors. But to your users, Desired Actions are a commitment they can choose to or choose not to do.

Whereas the Business Metrics are laid out in the order of importance, you want to lay out all the Desired Actions in chronological order based on the player’s journey. This is important because oftentimes what happens ten minutes before a Desired Action will significantly affect whether the user will do it or not.

No Step Too Small

One thing to remember when defining Desired Actions is that no action is too small to be included.

Sometimes my clients ask me if one of their steps are too small to be defined as a Desired Action. How much value should be assigned to a simple clicking of a button?

If you dismiss that button-click as too small and do not design motivation towards it, you can very well disrupt all further progress and as a result, the user may drop out as she is no longer motivated towards subsequent actions.

In Octalysis Gamification, each Desired Action leads to a Win-State.

This means that every time the user commits the Desired Action, she has reached a Win-State and may receive some type of reward.

Note that when a user commits the Desired Action, at least according to my own system, they automatically hit a Win-State. However, whether the Win-State is rewarding or not is undefined at this point. The designer has to make sure that when the User hits the Win-State, there is a gratifying experience that reinforces their behavior. With badly designed experiences, the user commits a Desired Action, hits the Win-State, and then receives a punishing experience within that Win-State. Think about employees who are encouraged to take risks but get chastised when they fail or web users that click on a flashy glowing “friends” button, just to see a page that says, “You have no friends.”

We will talk about how to make the Win-State actually rewarding for users when we cover Incentives and Rewards below.

The Golden Triforce

Gamification Strategy Dashboard

Whenever you are designing a gamified campaign, the Win-State in the user’s mind should always be accomplished by committing the Desired Action, which increases your Business Metrics. These three elements should always be aligned.

Now, this may seem very intuitive, but you would be surprised to learn how many companies do not have these elements streamlined together.

When a client asks me, “Hey Yu-Kai, why don’t we add this really cool feature! Users will love it!” I often respond, “How does this motivate users to commit the Desired Actions and how does this help you improve your Business Metrics?”

More often than not, the client says, “Hm…, I guess the feature doesn’t add much. It’s just a really cool idea.”

Consequently, I regularly get approached by companies telling me, “Yu-kai, we’re from company X. We really believe in the power of gamification and have tried a few different campaigns. Our users love it and everyone engages with our campaign on our social media platforms. However, we seem to have a hard time getting them to do the next step, which is actually signing up on our website. Do you know what we are doing wrong?”

More often than not, they do not have the Golden Triforce aligned.

And this, again, is actually the core difference between Games and Gamification. Games can simply be fun and engaging, but gamification has to improve your Business Metrics, and it has to drive behavior towards a certain productive activity. If a gamification feature is not designed to improve your Business Metrics, it is a distraction and needs be taken out, or else the gamification campaign will become useless and fluffy.

The First Major Win-State

One of the key practices to define your Win-States is to identify the First Major Win-State. The First Major Win-State is when a User first says, “Wow! This service/experience is awesome!”

Interestingly, many businesses scratch their heads and think of whether they even have Major Win-States. If your experience does not offer any Major Win-States, your experience is not emotionally compelling.

Once the First Major Win-State is determined, you want to count exactly how many minutes it takes for users to reach that First Major Win-State. This is essential, because with every second that goes by before a user hits the First Major Win-State, there will be dropout. The longer it takes to reach this experience, the higher your dropout rate will be.

Product managers or startup founders can be very biased on where they believe the First Major Win-State should be. They have a tendency to think that everything a user goes through is awesome, which more often than not, does not reflect the actual experience.

Creating a profile is not a First Major Win-State. Uploading a photo is not either. If it was 20 years ago, uploading your photo might be a First Major Win-State. “Wow! I can see my photo on a screen!” Not in today’s world, unfortunately.

Even for a music discovery site like Pandora, the First Major Win-State is not where you first enter the music you like, nor the part where you hear your first song being played.

The First Major Win-State happens when Pandora has played four to five songs, and you realize that you liked every single song it played. Perhaps this included one or two songs you’ve never heard of before. That’s when you say, “Wow! Pandora is awesome!”

Strong Win-State design is critical for the success of a gamification campaign and their identification and masterful creation is fundamental in Level 4 Octalysis.

  1. Feedback Mechanics = Triggers

Feedback Mechanics are the fourth element to define in any Octalysis Gamification Campaign.

Feedback Mechanics are cues (often visual, but can be audio or use other senses) that users have to keep track of their progress towards the Win-State. These often come in the form of points, badges, levels, trophies, progress bars, and even avatars. In the end, Feedback Mechanics are meant to Trigger users to commit more Desired Actions.

Of course, people may ask, “I don’t have a gamified campaign yet! How will I know what Feedback Mechanics or Triggers to implement?”

Not to worry, this is why the Strategy Dashboard is a constantly evolving document. Business Metrics may adjust to reflect new needs, User information may become more in-depth with more research, Desired Actions often increase, and Feedback Mechanics are fully fleshed out.

That said, at the initial stage of your Strategy Dashboard creation, you should identify any preliminary Feedback Mechanics that will help your user understand the results of their actions. These could be a grade, a year-end report, a handshake, a welcome email, a search result, or a thank-you page.

If you don’t have any Feedback Mechanics in your motivational system, things are quite dire indeed, and I’m glad you are reading this book.

Metrics of Love

One very important thing to keep in mind is that the User Metrics should align as much as possible with the Desired Actions and the Business Metrics.

They should also be what users actually care about. You don’t want to include “How much total money you were penalized by returning your DVD to the rental store late in the past 5 years” as a long-term engagement User Metric, since Loss & Avoidance will not make users feel good in the long run (this can be compelling if your number one Business Metric is to get people to return their DVDs on time).

Rather, it is better to display top movies that the users ordered by genre, reviews of those, and better recommendations for future movies to rent. Can you think of a service that implicitly deployed the former model, and a service that explicitly deployed the latter one?

Also, if your user does not care about how much money they paid your company, don’t include that as a User Metric; show them what they’ve accomplished or achieved while using your system.

Examples of Feedback Mechanics within the 8 Core Drives

Feedback Mechanics can variously affect different Core Drives.

For Epic Meaning & Calling, a Feedback Mechanic could be visually showing a user all the people that are being helped by the Desired Actions they are committing. As mentioned earlier, this is why when you donate money to disadvantaged children in developing countries, many organizations will send you pictures of the child being helped along with a handwritten thank you note.

One of the cool things about the language learning app Duolingo is that it allows users to seamlessly translate the internet into a different language as they are learning. That’s a great form of Epic Meaning & Calling – you aren’t just learning Spanish, you are translating the English Wikipedia into the Spanish Wikipedia! However, I’m constantly surprised by how many people I know who use the app and don’t know about this feature. Upon learning about it, they often tell me how much more they now love the app. I’m not sure why Duolingo does not implement Feedback Mechanics that communicate this Core Drive 1 to their users. Perhaps they can include a metric that reads, “21,000 Words Translated on the Internet.” I imagine their usage and retention rates increasing if they did.

For Development & Accomplishment, you can use the usual suspects like  points, badges, and trophies. However, make sure these Feedback Mechanics actually track actions that are meaningful, instead of useless things that the user could care less about.

For Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, the response generated from the creative action can serve as a Feedback Mechanic. These are generally the output of Meaningful Choices, which allows the user to make adjustments and get feedback on their decisions. If the user feels like they aren’t receiving meaningful or timely feedback from their actions, Core Drive 3 will not prevail.

For Ownership & Possession, the Feedback Mechanic would be the representation of what is owned in the form of virtual sheep, stock symbols, dollar signs, stamps, or profile pages. Sometimes these Feedback Mechanics show users that the system is continuously learning about their preferences.

For Social Influence & Relatedness, the Feedback Mechanic can be showing how many likes, endorsements, pageviews one has or perhaps statistics on her group’s actions (think and their micro-loan communities).

For Scarcity & Impatience, a Countdown Timer, a lock, a gatekeeper, or moat can all instill a sense of scarcity in users.

For Unpredictability & Curiosity, integrating a pair of Dice, a Spinning Wheel, or a question mark are all Feedback Mechanics that display the unpredictable nature of the experience and brings out the user’s curiosity.

For Loss & Avoidance, the Feedback Mechanics may be Lost Progress, a sad tune, or a physical penalty. If you show users how much time they have already spent on the product, it will also make it more difficult for the user to quit and give it all up. Note: this only works if the user feels proud of the time they already spent there. Showing users that they wasted 2,000 hours on a mindless casino slot machine game might actually trigger an epiphany that causes the user to quit (which becomes an Anti-Core Drive).

Again, no matter what the Feedback Mechanics are, they should motivate users and be relevant to the flow of the experience. In addition, they should all be Triggers for users to further take the Desired Actions.

  1. Incentives = Rewards

Incentives are the fifth and final element to define in the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard. Incentives are basically what you can give users within your power that rewards their behavior and entices them to further action.

In this case, the term “within your power” is very important to consider because every company has limitations. Even the largest Fortune 500 firms could easily give users cash, but may not be able to put the users’ names on their website.

After you have determined what you can give users, you obviously don’t want to give them everything they wanted at the beginning. You want to strategically place these incentives in the different Win-States that you have designed to motivate players to feel great about committing the Desired Actions. These Incentives become Rewards in a game, and as mentioned before, rewards do not have to be merely physical rewards such as gift cards or cash, which is what most companies like to think about. Rewards can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or even spiritual.

A Marriage is for SAPS

A catchy and easy model to think about in terms of rewards is Gabe Zichermann’s SAPS model: Status, Access, Power, Stuff.

The interesting thing about SAPS, is that as you go from Status to Access to Power to Stuff, the reward becomes more and more expensive for the company, but less and less sticky for the user.

It doesn’t cost anything for me to tell you that you are amazing and you’re the #1 User on my site, and you will likely be excited about it for weeks or months and tell all your friends about your new status.

But if I gave you cash, you likely will become excited for a few hours or a day, and then you may spend the money at a mall and then emotionally forget about it. Now your emotional state is wondering about when you will receive your next injection of cash.

Again, most companies like to give their employees stuff to incentivize them but it’s actually a lot more effective if you can figure out how to give them more status, exclusive access, or more power to control their environment..

The Best Reward: Boosters

From my own experience, the best type of reward is what I call Boosters. We already know that cash is not the best incentive because once the user hits the Win-State and takes their cash, they won’t care about the Desired Actions anymore (unless they are strung by the next carrot). Even with Status, sometimes when a user works hard towards a status reward and finally achieves it, she now feels like she has proven she can do it and decides to quit after that.

When Starcraft II came out, I started playing it as I was such a big fan of Starcraft I in my teenage years. I played it rigorously and tried to master my play. I also tried to climb the leaderboards, going from Copper league to Bronze League to Silver League to Gold League, and finally to Diamond League, which was the highest league at the time. After a bit more play, I was ranked a Top 5 Player within my Diamond League Division (out of a hundred players). At that point, I took a screenshot to prove I had done it, and quit the game forever so I could focus on my work again.

Starcraft Gamification


As you can see with this example, as soon as I hit the Win-State, the reward actually demotivated me to continue playing.

Therefore, I believe the best type of rewards are those that help reinforce the Desired Actions and loop you back into the ecosystem.

In games, when a person plays a game and works hard towards defeating a thousand monsters, oftentimes his reward is a very powerful sword. At that point, it makes zero sense for the player to quit the game at that point. The only thing that makes sense is for the user to take that powerful Booster, go back into the game, and defeat more monsters, faster.

In Farmville, users start out growing a small farm, one square at a time. But as the user continues to commit the Desired Actions and hit the Win-States, his farm starts to expand and he is now able to plant more plants. That in itself is a Booster and encourages the user to come back and play more upon receiving of each reward. However, as the farm size expands, it becomes more labor intensive to take care of the farm. Then suddenly, after weeks or months of hard work, the user finally unlocks the next phenomenal reward – a tractor! This tractor allows the user to farm four squares upon each click, instead of one square per click. Now it is much easier to commit the Desired Actions!

Again, at that point, it makes zero sense for the user to rejoice and quit the game. The only thing that makes sense is for the user to go back to the game and commit more of the Desired Actions to farm faster, until he unlocks the next tractor which can farm nine squares at once.

Boosters in Call Centers

The principle of Boosters can be applied to reward structures in the real world too. I regularly talk to Call Centers that want to motivate their cold callers and decrease their turnover rates.

Cold calling is like the anti-game. Games are usually about positive reinforcement and incentives, while cold calling is often about continuously being rejected, yelled at, and hung up on. It’s easy to feel demoralized and quit the job.

Now there are many ways to make the experience intrinsically more rewarding by using the 8 Core Drives, but for the sake of this section, we’ll instead focus on using Boosters to “upgrade their gear” in place of the common tactic of using money as the primary incentive. I should note that even though cash has been proven to be far from the strongest motivator, taking peoples’ cash away is definitely one of the strongest demotivators. Once you pay people a certain amount, lowering that pay becomes detrimental.

For instance, the best cold callers would have the most expensive tables and the most comfortable chairs. Their call station should have the most high-tech upgrades, and they perhaps can just press a button on their headset and talk directly to the supervisor, while others have to walk to the supervisor’s office to talk to her.

This is also a Status upgrade, as everyone who walks by the caller’s station would think, “Wow, that’s a top level salesperson!” And of course, the caller would think in response, “That’s right. I’m a top level salesperson.”

Now in this sense, even if the caller was offered a slightly higher paying job, he may or may not want to leave because if he joins the new company, he would lose all his high quality gear and immediately become a newbie again.

When you design for incentives, think about rewards that empower the Desired Actions and create a flourishing gratification loop that continuously builds on itself.

6 Reward Context Derived from Octalysis

While SAPS describes the nature of the reward, there’s also a variety of Reward Contexts that can be derived from the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis.

With Octalysis, I’ve loosely defined six reward contexts that can be utilized, including:

  1. Fix Action Rewards (Earned Lunch)
  2. Random Rewards (Mystery Box)
  3. Sudden Rewards (Easter Egg)
  4. Rolling Rewards (Lottery)
  5. Social Treasure (Gifting)
  6. Reward Pacing (Collection Set)

We have seen how these reward contexts play into a variety of Core Drives in previous chapters, and I hope you still remember the lessons. Those are all meant to be defined in the Incentives and Rewards section of the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

Ultimately, these reward contexts are derived from Octalysis, because we are all incentivized by the Core Drives. Even if it’s not something you gain, avoiding a loss or satisfying your curiosity are also very strong rewards that can be strategically placed in every single one of your Win-States. Without them, users will have no reason to commit the Design Actions moving forward.

Conclusion on Octalysis Gamification

Before you do any audit of your product or design a new campaign using the Octalysis Framework, I highly encourage you to go through the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard to really understand how you can align your behavioral design strategy with your actual goals. Even if you decide to hire consultants who are extremely knowledgeable in Octalysis, if you can’t decide on what your Business Metrics are, who your Users are, and what Desired Actions you want users to take to become successful, there is very little that the consultant can do for you.

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