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How to apply gamification to your own products?

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer
Gamification is a powerful design technique that can foster addictive behavior. Designers who apply gamification to products and services need an ethical mindset. They should use this technique to steer good behavior, like stimulating sustainable consumption.
Both products get the same job done -making you tea- but the first infuser is functional and will provide you with tea, no questions asked. There’s no story involved, no emotional connection. The second infuser however is a tiny person that bathes in your cup, contemplating or just chilling a bit while your tea is getting ready.

A. Designed to improve behavior

This handy gadget and many more like it are designed with more than a passionless function in mind. They are designed around human motivations, adding fun and engagement to the cold functions. Most gamified products have that extra layer to make the functional activity more appealing. In this example, the gamified infuser leads the user of the product to drinking more tea. While drinking more tea has a modest impact on a person’s life -some would argue this-, there are many activities that do have a big impact. That’s why gamification can be a powerful tool when applying it to products that we use to complete important tasks.


Games are fun and engaging because we design them to be. When we talk about gamification, we learn about engagement techniques that make games so much fun. We then apply them to other products like car dashboards, language learning apps and tea infusers.

Yu-Kai Chou has studied the engagement techniques used in games to create a framework (Octalysis) that we can use as a starting point to gamify our own products. The framework starts with the 8 Core Drivers that make games engaging. These Core Drivers hook us in different ways. While some drivers engage us through motivation and empowerment, other drivers have an addictive and dirty side to them. Let’s explore all drivers for a moment.
8 core drivers
1     Meaning
This is the feeling of being ‘the chosen one’ (special, gifted, lucky) to do something. If a players feels as if (s)he is the one that must perform a task, (s)he will spend more time on e.g. supporting other players, or being active on a forum. The fun tea infuser could use this technique as well. It would e.g. be cool to find a little letter in the infuser when you open it for the first time. The letter could say “Dear tea lover, you made the right choice. You understand the importance of tea moments throughout your days. Help us on our mission to spread tea drinking around the world by inviting others to do the same!”
2     Accomplishment
The player is challenged and feels satisfied when (s)he has overcome the hurdle. The players is motivated because (s)he feels the progress (s)he’s making is paying off (e.g. scoring high on the leaderboard, earning a badge,..). Remaining with the tea example here, you could congratulate tea drinkers for finishing their can of tea leaves for instance. One idea is to print a refreshing and rewarding message on the bottom of the can. Something like “Dear tea drinker. Great job on finishing this can! This means you have sustained your healthy tea drinking habit! We wish more people were like you.”
3     Empowerment
When the player feels engagement because (s)he is able to use his/her creativity to find a solution to a problem or challenge. It is important to not only feel creative, but to get feedback on that creativity. Players want to immediately see the results of their creativity. The tea company could build a community around tea drinking, asking customers to upload their design of a tea mug. All designs get feedback from the company and from the community. The winning designs could get produced as limited edition mugs.
4     Ownership
The feeling of ownership over something can also be a strong driver of engagement. When you feel ownership, you want to increase or improve what you possess to become more wealthy. So a badge earned becomes a trigger to earn even more. You could tell tea lovers that bought an infuser something like “The infuser you own is called ‘Chillout Charles’. But there’s also ‘Focused Fred’ and ‘Healing Helen’. Why not get Charles some friends so he can have a proper tea(m) meeting?”
5     Social Influence
People get engaged by social interactions like friendship, rivalry, and even envy. A friend knows how to play the piano? You’re triggered to acquire that skill now. Someone in your cycling group bought a new, fancier race bike? You’ll feel like buying one too. Social Influence is a driver that also includes engagement based on being drawn to familiar people. That’s why chats in games work well. Players want to feel close to others who share the same interests. Tea lovers could unite on a social channel that’s initiated by the tea company. Tea lovers then use that to post pictures of their tea moment or collection, they can react on each other, like, forward, share,..
6     Scarcity
Playing ‘hard to get’ in dating works because you seem more desirable, engaging potential partners to invest more time and effort in building a relationship with you. The same goes for rewards in games. A game can postpone a reward or make some rewards very exclusive so players want them even more, keeping them hooked. Remember Helen, Fred and Charles? Well, there’s also a very rare 4th. For every 10.000, there’s one ‘Mysterious Maggy’. She’s 100% gold, worth €5.000. Every tea can you buy from us has a code on the inside, giving you a shot at winning a ‘Mysterious Maggy’.
7     Unpredictability
Players don’t know what will happen next and this on itself is enough to boost engagement. That’s why most people like to see a movie they’ve never seen before over a movie they remember well. Not knowing what will happen seems like an innocent driver, but it is the same driver that leads addicted gamblers to waste their money. Tea lovers could sign up for the tea newsletter. Once in a while that newsletter contains a coupon for a free product. But you never know when there will be one of them in the newsletter and what the gift will be. Better keep on reading that weekly newsletter now.
8     Avoidance
This driver keeps players in because they are afraid of losing something if they stop playing. A gamer might risk to lose his status or miss out on an one-time opportunity (scarcity) that will be shared at some point in the upcoming days (unpredictability). Missing out on that must be avoided at all costs. Our tea company could engage customers with this; “Up for a challenge? Post a picture of your tea moment each day for 30 days and receive a free tea assortment”.

B. Scoring your gamification

Now that you know about the Octalysis model by Yu-Kai Chou, you can start scoring your design. A social platform that used gamification techniques can review how well it scores on all drivers. This can uncover imbalances in your gamification, leading to actionable design steps.  
You go through your design and list all the game mechanics you used next to the corresponding drivers. The amount of mechanics listed next to a driver, and their strength both add to your overall score on that driver. Say your platform score is the one depicted here. This is a pretty clear sign that your users deserve more positive motivators and more intrinsic motivation. The platform uses many strong game mechanics that trigger negative feelings and there are not enough positive motivators. Or if there are many positive motivators, they surely aren’t strong enough. You don’t need to score on all 8 drivers, but making sure you balance out your drivers is key to create positive and engaging products.
Positive Motivators and Negative Motivators

The best gamified products will stimulate users to take on their activities (i.e. using the product to reach a goal), and make them feel good about themselves afterwards as well. That can be done with all drivers, but it’s adviced to not use too many negative ones.

Negative motivators don’t give us that same energy. Instead, we keep playing because we obsess over not losing something, because we want something that is hard to get or because we don’t know what happens next. These negative motivators keep us engaged, but we won’t end up feeling good.

Mapping the Octalysis on a journey map

It is even better to use this model on a journey model to get a better picture of your pain and opportunity areas. It might be that the biggest room for improvement lies in one or two specific user steps or phases, where the gamification mechanics are too imbalanced.

Left Brain and Right Brain
The drivers in this model of Yu-Kai Chou are mapped based on left- and right-brained characteristics. All drivers that are based on social relations and creativity are depicted on the right. Drivers that are based on logic, possession and calculations are depicted on the left. You could say that the left-brained drivers run on extrinsic motivations, while the right-brained ones thrive on intrinsic motivations. As we all know, extrinsic motivators only work for a little while. Intrinsic motivations on the other hand are more sustainable because the reward is in the activity itself. So if you want to create products that remain engaging over a longer period of time, focus on right-brained drivers.

Now it is up to you!

The funny tea infuser was a fairly simple example of gamification. But when we’re talking about digital products, or about physical products that have a digital interface, we must be aware of the many different drivers and how to balance out our game mechanics to create great gamified products. That means they must not only be engaging, but they must also create a lasting positive impact on both productivity or desired behavior of the user, and on the emotional state of the user during and after the use of the product. Easy to say, hard to do. Crafting a balanced gamification takes time, multiple user tests and iterations. At the same time, it is such a powerful tool that it is worth the effort. A product use that was previously seen as a chore, will become something users actually want to use. Your users will become more productive, and your business gets to benefit from a larger user base. Want us to help you gamify your physical or digital product?

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer


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