Motivation - Theory of Gamification - October 1, 2021


In the previous articles, we’ve often underlined how a successful gamification strategy needs to go beyond the simple use of PBL (Points Badges and Leaderboards). Engaging the players means aiming at the 8-core drivers of human motivation. 

In this article we’ll explain what we mean by that.

A fallacious strategy

So, you’ve added a point system to your app. And then you’ve defined the scoreboard and the relative badges. You even inserted a fun tutorial to drive the user through.


Your audience won’t engage. The interaction is scant and the bounce rate is high. What’s wrong with your gamification strategy? If this problem sounds familiar to you, maybe you haven’t really leveraged any of the eight core drivers of human motivation.

Let us explain better. 

If you read all of our previous articles, then you are starting to realize that developing a good strategy is much more complex than what it seems. If you think about it, if the fun was so strictly intertwined with game elements then why are some games and videogames boring, even if they embed so many game elements? The answer is once again the core drives of human motivation. Thus, understanding the so-called Octalysis scheme, means understanding why some games are much more long-lasting successful than others and above all, how to tackle lack of motivation in everyday activities.

Keep reading the article to know more about the 8 drivers and the Octalysis scheme developed by Yu-kay Chou

yukai chou

Yu-kai Chou is a Taiwanese-American entrepreneur, author and business consultant. He is one of the earliest pioneers in the industry of gamification. He has held many lectures about gamification, for organizations such as TEDx Lausanne, Google, Tesla, Lego, Huawei, Uber, among others.

What is Octalysis?

Yukay started from the idea that every human being has emotions, instincts, and insecurities that drive its behaviour. That’s why engagement strategies need to be optimized, considering all these layers of motivation. Thus, the framework Yukai developed is useful to analyse and build strategies around the cores that make a game fun.

In his words: 

“I saw that almost every game is fun because it appeals to certain Core Drives within us that motivate us towards certain activities. Then I also noticed that different types of game techniques push us forward differently: some in an inspiring and empowering way, while some in a manipulative and obsessive manner. I drilled down to find what differentiates one type of motivation to another.”

And that’s why he conceived “Octalysis”.

The framework is shaped as an octagon comprising five layers of complexity. In this article we’ll explore only the first layer. But if you want to know more about it, follow us as we’re going to go deeper in the next articles!

In the first layer, we’ll find a core drive at every corner. Let’s take a closer look at them . 

octalysis framework
The Octalysis polygon described in YuKai Chou’s website

1) Epic meaning & Calling

It’s the core of power: the user feels like he’s the chosen one and that he’s participating in something greater than himself. 
Example: in some apps like Treedom, the more you use the app, the more real trees will be planted for your efforts. of Of course this makes the user feel important , because he’s contributing to a great cause.

2) Development and Accomplishment

It’s the motivation driven by the sense of growth. The user will experience satisfaction from improving his/her skills and evolving toward a specific status. But not all progressions are intriguing and satisfactory. That’s why Yukay underlines the importance of being proud of the new status. If there’s no interest in leveling up whatsoever, there won’t be motivation either. 
Example: and what’s more fulfilling than looking back at the progress you’ve made? Many game elements aim at this core when they show the user his/her progress. Among these tools we can find progress bars, badges, status symbols, leaderboards.

3) Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

People need a way to express themselves and creativity is one of them. By giving a chance to show inventiveness, the user engages into a creative process where he/she tries different ways and strategies to get to a certain result. But the pleasure lies not only in the outcome, but also in the process. Furthermore, fundamental is the instant feedback that visually shows the user the result of his/her work so that he/she can respond in turn and adjust the strategy. 

Example: a set of lego is a classic example of creativity and feedback. The player has thousands of combinations to explore and can immediately taste the result of the way he/she has chosen.

4) Ownership & Possession

When we own a house we want to make it beautiful and maybe spend a little money to restore it. The ownership bolsters our motivation to make that thing better. On the contrary, if the house is rented, we lose that interest in spending a lot of time and effort to make massive changes. This core leads most of the times to want more. That’s how memorabilia works. And if this collections can be also shown off, implying a certain status, it’s the icing on the cake!  
Example: monopoly is a good example. Naturally the more houses you have, the higher the chances to win. But at the end of the day, having your houses spread around the board, gives that sense of power that makes us want to have more. Another example are those games where we can buy add-ons to our avatar. The rarest items

5) Social influence and relatedness

This core is strictly correlated to the human desire of comparing and connecting with other human beings.  If we manage to use it properly, it can be one of the most powerful and long-lasting tools for motivating people. The relatedness bit in particular, refers to the human need and tendency to nostalgia and emotional associations. Has it ever happened to you to buy something you didn’t need, just because it reminded you of your childhood? That’s relatedness. 
Example: The Plastic free movement made up of volunteers cleaning the streets, bases its strategy a lot on showing on social media pictures and videos of their events. Because they know that if people see their neighbours participating in the activities, they will feel more motivated to join in too.

6) Scarcity & Impatience

Basically people want something just because they can’t have it or because it’s about to finish. That’s something marketers should know well about. 

Example: kickstarter uses this driver a lot in its campaigns, where the users can see, next to every item, how much money is needed to start the production. 

“200 euros left to reach the goal!” and the users feel much more pressure.

7) Unpredictability & Curiosity

This very often used human driver is what stands behind the concept of movie trailers for example. When users get a taste of what’s coming, but not enough information to fully understand what’s all about, they get thrilled and excited. 
Example: the fashion company about you bases its marketing strategy on omni-channel campaigns that give out very little details on the brand, but catch the users’ attention with countdowns and teaser advs.

8) Loss & Avoidance

Failure and losing are not pleasant feelings indeed and that’s why they are powerful drivers for motivation. Users can be “trapped” in the idea that if they don’t act now, they might lose the reward or whatever it’s offered to them. 
Example: Duolingo students know if they don’t access the app and study at least one lesson they will lose the strike. The bigger the loss, the higher the motivation to act. A 2-days strike is not a big deal, but 364 days of strike is a huge loss. Better study now!

Here ends our first article dedicated to this innovative framework, but stick around to go much more deep into the world of motivation!

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