Decipher Your Mind: Gamification, the Octalysis Framework, and the Psychology of Motivation  by@upshotai

Decipher Your Mind: Gamification, the Octalysis Framework, and the Psychology of Motivation

Take a moment to think about these questions: Why do we cherish a freebie? Why are we thrilled when we complete our first 10k run?  Why are some people keen on answering questions and spending hours writing articles on Wikipedia and Quora for free? Why are you even reading this article? What makes you tick? People do things for a reason. If we look deeper within ourselves and the world around us, we realize that we are all motivated by a myriad of drivers. These drives are what motivate us to act and commit to specific activities.
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Take a moment to think about these questions:

Why do we cherish a freebie?

Why are we thrilled when we complete our first 10k run? 

Why are some people keen on answering questions and spending hours writing articles on Wikipedia and Quora for free?

Why are you even reading this article?

What makes you tick?

People do things for a reason. If we look deeper within ourselves and the world around us, we realize that we are all motivated by a myriad of drivers. These drives are what motivate us to act and commit to specific activities.


The first thing that comes to our mind when we think about gamification is leaderboards, points, badges & levels.

But the core idea of gamification goes beyond just adding these game elements to a product. It is designing human motivation into a system and placing the customer at the forefront of the design to make the overall synergy with the application, website, or product more seamless. 
According to Yu-kai Chou, one of the earliest pioneers of gamification, true gamification is when we tap into our core human drives that motivate us towards various decisions and activities.

He then drilled down on these different motivations, which led to creating the groundbreaking gamification design framework: Octalysis, an octagon-shaped model bearing eight core drivers. 

Octalysis Framework


Octalysis Framework

The Octalysis Framework is a human-centric gamification design framework to help decipher all the motivational Core Drives that can be used to understand how to engineer and design for motivation within a particular setting and transform activities into meaningful and enriching experiences.

Chou’s starting premise from within the Octalysis Framework was to maximize the motivation for desired behavioral outcomes through the use of 8 Core Drives (Meaning, Accomplishment, Empowerment, Ownership, Scarcity, Unpredictability, Avoidance). Let’s take a closer look.

The 8 Core Drivers 

Every action we do stems from one or more of these core drivers.

Without the presence of at least one of them, we will not be motivated or driven to act.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling

People like to feel that the work they are doing matters

This core drive guides us to seek a higher purpose or meaning beyond our personal goals.

It is the drive where the users are motivated as they feel like they are the chosen ones and are participating in something greater than themselves.

Contributing for the good of others can be a great motivator. 

For Example :


Stack Overflow

The reason why people commit hours contributing to the above platforms is because of this Core Drive 1, where the users embark on the epic journey of making the world a better place by documenting and spreading knowledge.

Free Rice

Free Rice is a trivia-based website, supports the United Nations World Food Program by raising money to help 10 million people in the world have a meal, and they even made money off advertising while doing it.

They did this by creating small challenges for their users. Upon successfully completing a challenge Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice to people in need, playing off a Core Drive concept called “humanity hero.”

This is a powerful drive used by big businesses and leaders worldwide, asking you to put ‘the greater good’ above yourself.


Think about Apple. They don’t talk about their specs. They talk about “Changing the World,” and you were “The chosen one to make a difference.” 

Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment

This drive is internal, as we all are driven to take on challenges to meet our desired goals.

The crux here lies in the dimension of challenges since any reward is meaningless without feeling an actual accomplishment.
There needs to be an effort, a hurdle that needs to be crossed. It should leave one with a sense of accomplishment as it is what pushes us to work harder to keep developing our skills and see ourselves progress. 
But not all progressions are intriguing and satisfactory. 

That’s why Yu-kai Chou underlines the importance of feeling proud of the new status. If there’s no interest in leveling up whatsoever, there won’t be any motivation either. 

What’s more fulfilling than looking back at the progress you’ve made?

Many game elements aim at this core when showing the user their progress. We can find progress bars, badges, status symbols, and leaderboards among these tools.

For example, many eCommerce sites these days make use of progress bars. When a consumer fills out payment details to purchase a product online, a progress bar indicates how far they are from finishing the process. It’s not by chance that this has become a staple for most sites to will their users onto the finish line, i.e., the purchase.

Apps like Duolingo, Goodreads, and Fitbit use such game mechanics as progress bars, badges, etc., to motivate their users to achieve their goals. 


In the early days of LinkedIn, users rarely completed their profiles due to poor visual feedback of the progress made (insufficient Core Drive 2). That’s when LinkedIn introduced a profile progress bar, which helped increase the profile completion ratio by a staggering 60%.


LinkedIn Progress Bar

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

Creation is beauty, all forms of it. We all have it. People need avenues to express themselves, and creativity is one of them.

This core drive lets users use their creativity, view their results, get feedback and make adjustments. 

Here the user is engaged in a creative process where they try different combinations and strategies to get to a particular result.

It can be as simple as making a playlist on Spotify or shooting a rainbow and posting it on Instagram. And the instant feedback that the users receive shows them the result of their work so that they can adjust their strategy if needed. 


Minecraft is a classic example of Core Drive 3 because users are given the ability to express creativity by using simple building blocks (with thousands of combinations) to craft complex structures, can immediately taste the result of their choices, and make adjustments as they go.

Core Drive 4: Ownership and Possession

Everyone likes to own certain things, be it in the real world or in the digital world. The feeling of possessing something rare or expensive makes for a great motivator.

In this Core Drive 4, users are motivated because they feel like they own or control something.

This makes users want to increase, improve, protect, and even obtain more. It’s why we want to accumulate wealth or collect virtual coins. This Core Drive also provides emotional comfort and instills a sense of well-being and belonging to a society and cultural environment.

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go focuses heavily on a Core Drive 4 concept called “collection set.” Each Pokémon captured is added to a collection and gives users a sense of ownership. Once players catch a few Pokémon, they are motivated to catch all of them, and the hunt continues.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness 

This core drive taps into all the social elements that motivate people: mentorship, social acceptance, social feedback, companionship, competition, and even envy. If used properly, it can be one of the most potent and long-lasting tools for motivating people.

Has it ever happened to you that you bought something you didn’t need but just because it reminded you of your childhood? That’s relatedness which refers to the human need and tendency to nostalgia and emotional associations.

Saregama — Caravaan

One of the reasons why the Saregama Caravaan is so popular is Nostalgia.

In an age of high tech Alexas, while everyone was busy adding more ways to listen to songs, Saregama Caravaan carved a niche for itself by looking the other way- back at a simpler age, an older time. 


People trust what they can relate to. Appealing to an emotional connection with other users builds a sense of trust and lowers the threshold to buy something.

On Amazon, you must have come across the following statement while looking for products: “Customers who bought this item also bought…”. In fact, approximately 60% of Amazon’s revenue comes from the recommendations section. 

Leaderboards in fitness apps are another interesting example of social influence, as people check out their progress, compare and compete with others.

Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience 

If you can’t have it, you want it. 

We have all been there. It’s an innate desire of humans.

And the sixth Core Drive addresses just that – the longing for something, simply because it is scarce, exclusive, or immediately unattainable.

And because it is so difficult to obtain, its perceived value increases immensely.  

Even leading brands like OnePlus have successfully used scarcity as a significant lever to influence choice.

Urgency has been greatly leveraged in eCommerce. You must have often come across sales promise bargains on eCommerce sites like Myntra, Nykaa, Amazon, etc., that are only available for a limited period like “70% OFF. Today ONLY!”.

The impulse to push that button is immense. The existence of the sale is scarce, and people are motivated to act with a sense of urgency.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity 

We, humans, are hard-wired to seek thrill in uncertainty. We’re driven by the chase. We have no foolproof way of predicting the future, yet we’re always thinking about what will happen next.

Unpredictability entails constant engagement as one does not know what will happen next, and our brain’s reward center lights up when we encounter such sensations.

Unpredictability is a powerful force in motivating people to keep pressing on until they have clarified the unknown.

This explains our love for surprises and our desire to seek new experiences. 

Example: The virtual scratch cards on Google Play are a great example as we mischievously scratch them, knowing quite well that there’s not going to be much in there.


Gpay Virtual cards

TV/Web Series

A good web series will add a cliffhanger at the end of every episode to create a sense of anticipation for the next, which appeals to the audience’s curiosity and desire to clarify the unknown.

Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance

Humans are risk-averse by nature, and this core drive is our natural aversion to losing things we have worked hard to obtain. 

Avoidance and loss motivate through the fear of losing something or having an undesirable event occur.

We can go to any lengths to minimize potential loss or risks wherever and whenever possible. According to psychology, we are more likely to act based on avoiding loss rather than making gains.

Hence the fear of losing 1000 Rs is greater than the opportunity to gain Rs.1000.

There’s nothing as powerful as offering an incentive upfront and then threatening to take it away. 

For example : 

Duolingo uses streaks to encourage users to build a daily habit of using their app by giving you more XP if you maintain a streak. Learners or app users have to achieve their daily goals to save and improve their streak.


Duolingo Gamification – Streaks

Miss one day and the streak is reset to zero. 

More recently, this option was replaced with one free ‘Streak Repair’ per month for premium members and a ‘Streak Freeze‘ item that can be bought in the in-app shop with Gems. The urge to protect the daily streak motivates the users to put a small amount of effort every day to preserve their streaks.

Another classic example of this is the Marketing campaigns that often target our Core Drive 8 with tactics like, “If you don’t sign up/purchase now, you’ll lose this chance forever.”

Black Friday

Black Friday is an excellent example of how limited opportunity can motivate people to act with an extreme sense of urgency.

Every year in the United States, products are priced a lot cheaper on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and people flock to stores to avoid losing out on sweet deals.

Final Thoughts

Gamification, or as Yu-Kai Chou calls it, human-focused design, is not about badges or leaderboards. It’s about human core drives, the most profound concept in gamification. And the Octalysis Framework tries to understand these nucleus motivations and uses them to drive behaviors.

The more we understand the psychology behind our core drives, the better we will become at designing gamified systems and developing consistently good user experiences.

First published here.

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