Can Octalysis Predict Success in the Gaming Industry?

For those new to the game, Octalysis is gamification framework that defines 8 core drives behind human motivation. The whole system was designed by Yu-kai Chou, an author, speaker, lecturer an all-around multi-faceted man who needs no introduction for those enthusiastic about gaming and tech world in general. A product of 10-year long research, Octalysis and the Yu-kai’s subsequent efforts in popularizing gamification theory has thus far affected more than 1 billion user experiences around the world.

Chances are — you’re already amongst those affected.

Dividing Octalysis — the 8 Core Drives

To make matters simple, you can think of Octalysis as an octagon since it’s also the way the theory is mostly illustrated in the media. The eight corners of the octagon are marked by the 8 core motivations as defined by Yu-kai Chou. These are:

  1. Epic Meaning & Calling — Core drive which sees player embracing the idea that he/she is a chosen one for an important quest
  2. Development & Accomplishment — A drive that sees player desiring to learn more in order to overcome challenges
  3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback — Core drive that sees player continuously repeating certain processes, thereby developing strategies and creative approaches to obstacles
  4. Ownership & Possession — At a certain point, the player feels intense motivation for the fact they own a set of tools or properties that allow them pushing forward. A desire for acquiring more and upgrading the current items intensifies
  5. Social Influences & Relatedness — A drive that’s comprised of multiple social factors such as competition, companionship, acceptance, social responses and envy
  6. Scarcity & Impatience — Core drive with a simple premise — player wants to have something for the fact alone that they can’t have it yet
  7. Unpredictability & Curiosity — A constant desire to know what will happen next
  8. Loss & Avoidance — Core drive that sees the player fearing losing something, mostly things acquired through the progression of the game

Traditionally, the left and the right side of the octagon correspond with the left and right side of the human brain, meaning that some of the driving factors are associated with the creative, expressive side of our brains while some — with logical, calculating side of the brain.

Octalysis in Practice

In order to show how the framework works in practice, it would be fitting to apply the scheme to actual examples. To illustrate the implementation of mechanisms that trigger the core drives behind human motivation, we’ve picked three games, which we’ll analyze using Octalysis framework. The three games in the spotlight are:

The game in question is usually defined by four phases, each of which sees certain trigger mechanisms set in action. The four phases are:

  • Discovery Phase
  • Onboarding phase
  • Scaffolding Phase
  • Endgame Phase

In order to save your time, we’ll be analyzing the three games alongside each other, defining how each phase triggers the same exact mechanisms.

#1 Discovery Phase

The God of War franchise probably needs no introduction at all. Featuring everyone’s favorite anti-hero, the ash-covered demi-god going by the name of Kratos, the franchise has seen more than a decade-long spree of success when it comes to sales and critical recognition.

Clearly, those who have played the previous entries will want to have their hands on the latest installment. Meanwhile, the overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim might trigger those unfamiliar with the franchise to join the legions of new-found fans. This is where Ownership & Possession (core drive 4) plays a major part.

In a similar fashion, people are likely to look after the next cultural phenomena to become a part of. Fortnite Battle Royale, a gaming industry phenomenon released in 2017 surely meets all the criteria to be considered one. With millions upon millions of active players and record-breaking sales statistics, the game sets off two core drives at once — Social Influence & Relatedness (5) and Loss & Avoidance (8). You might become a part of the band, just to avoid not being one.

Likewise, folks want to have some of the big blockbuster charms to grace the screens of their mobile device. When it comes Capcom’s smash hit Monster Hunter: World, there’s no better way to satisfy your craving then by battling the fantastic beasts during your morning commute playing Monster Hunter Stories. This thrives upon the same duo of core drives (5;8) with the core drive 4 also somewhat contributing. All in a pocket-friendly format.

#2 Onboarding Phase

The first impression matters the most. The phase that starts with a rookie player and ends with an accomplished, game mechanics-savvy gamer, is the one that contains the most surprises and hooks.

In the case of God of War, we’re instantly motivated to embrace the new setting. The ancient Greek mythology has been replaced with Norse Gods and Scandinavian landscapes, triggering both Unpredictability & Curiosity (7) and Epic Meaning & Calling (1).

While Fortnite Battle Royale might skip on Epic meaning & Calling (1), it clearly triggers Unpredictability & Curiosity (7). Featuring an ever-evolving, densely populated universe, the multiplayer shooter invites exploration and communal experience, all on a battlefield of 100 players. New weapons, armor, skins and abilities learned with each new hour invested, feeds the Ownership & Possession (4) and Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (3). The latter two might be the most heavily triggered drives when it comes to Fortnite which easily explains the addictive nature of the game.

Now, it’s a bit more interesting with Monster Hunter Stories since it’s somewhat of a mobile alternative to the 10-million selling Capcom’s surprise hit Monster Hunter: World. Borrowing on the success of its console and PC sibling, Stories does trigger both core drive 7 and core drive 1. Even on the small screen and with its slightly more cartoonish style, the world has lost nothing of its epic vibe, diversity and excitement. You want to embark on the quest, and you do want to know if it delivers the same thrills on a device that fits in your pocket.

#3 Scaffolding Phase

Scaffolding phase is usually associated with the greatest number of core drives set in action. However, it only makes sense considering that the phase also marks the bulk part of the overall time spent on the game.

In the case of single-player video games with strong storylines such as God of War, scaffolding phase still involves a certain amount of Epic Meaning & Calling (1). The same could be easily said about Monster Hunter Stories, as it also sees the majority of plot unfolding during this phase of the game.

As the character learns new abilities and keeps growing in both strength and experience, the Development & Accomplishment (2) is in force pretty much at constant. This is shared amongst all three video games, as the element of learning and strategizing is a crucial part of any game that involves RPG elements.

This goes hand in hand with the growing Ownership & Possession (4), which, once again, is in force in all three games in question. However, this time, the drive is triggered solely via the in-game events. As more precious items and powerful weapons come into character’s possession, the player feels a powerful urge to go further and acquire even more goods and upgrades.

Out of all three games and eight core drives listed, scaffolding phase involves one drive that’s unique to the Fortnite Battle Royal. Here we’re referring to Social Influence & Relatedness. This goes way beyond off-screen discussions about your in-game advances with friends.

Fortnite Battle Royal is literally all about competition and the resulting influence factor, as experienced players are looked upon with genuine respect and admiration from the members of the community. Furthermore, earning respect within a community of more than 125 million active players is by no means a small feat.

Another core drive that’s characteristic to the Scaffolding phase and is shared by all three games is Unpredictability and Curiosity (7). While in the case of God of War and Monster Hunter Stories the drive is triggered due to changes in plotline, appearances of new enemies and inventive ways of dealing with them, Fortnite Battle Royale pushes the core drive 7 thanks to the dynamic world changes provided by the developers and the specially designed challenges gamers have to face in order to acquire new content. As Fortnite Battle Royale is constituted by on-going seasons, it’s easy to see why it triggers core drive 7 so successfully.

Finally, we arrive at Loss & Avoidance (8), another core drive that’s heavily triggered during the Scaffolding phase. With increasingly difficult quests, harder-to-kill enemies and bosses, as well actual online players gaining experience and thereby providing genuine competition (in the case of Fortnite), we become increasingly frustrated with the prospect of losing all of our progress or reaching a temporary halt due to the inability to beat certain obstacles.

#4 Endgame Phase

The final phase of the game usually involves a fusion of core drives triggered at the same time. Scarcity & Impatience (6) comes in as a major factor, as the game nears its conclusion and the character has reached its top shape while all the major plotlines are about to see the ultimate resolution. This, once again, is particularly obvious with plot-driven single player games, such as God of War and Monster Hunter Stories.

Meanwhile Fortnite Battle Royale is a much more interesting case, as it sees no definite ending and is pretty much a constantly evolving event. Gamers are initiated to join each new season in order to explore novelties, acquire new upgrades and keep proving themselves on the battlefield. This is where a unique combination of core drives 4, 6 and 7 comes into force.

Does this Makes for a Successful Game?

Now, although the analysis above provides only a superficial insight in how Octalysis applies to video games in practice, it gives a clear notion of how the eight core drives are triggered in order to stimulate player engagement.

In the ideal world, all you’d need for a successful game would be the implementation of game mechanics and marketing strategy that plays upon all eight drives. However, it’s way easier set than done. There are many preconditions that determine a successful video game. Here, one of the most crucial aspects is…

Game Art

Let’s face it, your advertising efforts, even if the game in question is of actual quality, will be futile if the initial impression will be sabotaged by a subpar game art. There are plenty of examples when great games have suffered from bad decision making regarding the presentation.

One of the most obvious cases of bad game art undermining otherwise excellent game must be none other than the case of ICO North American release (2001).

A game that has since acquired an incredibly devoted cult following, seen two highly successful sequels and is often hailed as one of the true masterpieces of the six generation of gaming, the legendary PS2 title is an obvious case of game art actually negatively affecting sales.

What makes this case even more interesting, is the fact that we’re actually able to make comparisons, since the game was a major seller in its homeland of Japan where it also was released with a different, conceptually and aesthetically more appealing box cover.

While the imagery on the Japanese release features an otherworldly scenery akin to the works of the great Giorgio de Chirico, the North American audiences were left with a slightly cheesy, and what’s to hide — a rather lazy cover art, that conveys nothing of the beautifully understated style of the game itself.

In fact, during the DICE summit of Asia, Vice President of the Sony Japan Studio Yasuhide Kobayashi actually named the subpar game art of the ICO North American release as the main reason behind the poor sales on the continent.

While the game’s place in history is nonetheless secured, it’s a great reminder of how easily a great product can be negatively affected by bad decision-making when it comes to presentation.

Wrap Up

There’s no denying that Yu-kai Chou’s revolutionary theory can significantly increase the success rate of any product that‘s prone to the application of gamification framework. Video games constitute just one of the many disciplines that have seen the application of Octalysis framework with numerous other spheres utilizing the novel approach in order to boost productivity, engagement and the subsequent financial gain.

Recognizing the potential behind the Octalysis from the early on, Monetizr has been actively using the framework in order to help game developers find the best way of delivering their product to audiences with guaranteed success at the end of the line.

While a good game is always a symbiosis of talent, originality and clever business tactics, Octalysis framework has mapped out clear guidelines that are proven to work in practice whether it’s a promising new start-up or a billion-dollar tech giant. To ignore the Octalysis framework in 2018 would be foolish, to say the least.

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