Engagement loops are the best way to motivate people using game mechanics

It has been a pleasure to see our associate Sebastian Deterding’s thinking evolve through his presentations over the years. It has been a treat to read every new deck and to follow his reasoning in detail. You can also trace a very distinct line about games, user experience, psychology and ethics that has become more pronounced over time.

Recently Sebastian published “Magic Wonder Pixie Dust”, a presentation which serves as our main reference when designing for motivation. This one comes in at 204 slides and it touches on everything you need to know to do this. I’ll go through it taking the engagement loop slide as a guide (below and 101 in the presentation) and talk about how we at Hubbub apply it as a design method in our day-to-day consulting work.

An Engagement Loop

We use this engagement loop as a way to structure activities around learnable challenges. People who start a challenge go through this loop and get reinforcement while they try to achieve mastery. Multiple loops can be interlinked where certain actions or completion will move you to another loop. Other people can also go through this system and their social interactions will also feed into the various loops.

I’ll walk through each ele­ment of the engage­ment loop below.

Business Goals and User Needs

Whenever we start the design of a motiv­at­ing and enga­ging product or ser­vice, we try to find a cor­res­pond­ence between what the organ­isa­tion wants and what users want. Finding this is a pre­con­di­tion to be able to do any­thing at all. To find out user needs, we’ll look to see what con­crete user research is avail­able. We’ll also fig­ure out what the busi­ness actu­ally wants to achieve. Asking through a series of “Why?” ques­tions is a good way to get to a core busi­ness goal.


The next step is to see what kind of inter­est­ing chal­lenge we can find. This needs to be some­thing that a user would like to get bet­ter at. We will then cre­ate a loop around this chal­lenge to rein­force that pro­cess of improvement.


The motiv­a­tion (slide 113 and onwards) is the thing that makes a user actu­ally want to be bet­ter at this chal­lenge. This can be any of the social, psy­cho­lo­gical or phys­ical factors from slide 117. The spe­cific motiv­a­tion informs the kind of goals we can work towards.

An overview of the various kinds of motivation

Goal / Call to Action

The goals (slide 175 and onwards) we offer users can be any­thing, but they need to be clear and rel­ev­ant to the cur­rent situ­ation. If they aren’t, the sys­tem will lose cred­ib­il­ity and quickly ali­en­ate users. The goals also need to adapt to a user’s increas­ing mas­tery of the challenge.

Action / Resource

The resource a user can per­form an action on (slide 189 and onwards) should be small enough to quickly over­see and make pro­gress on. This makes it easier and quicker to go through the loop. It can then tie into a lar­ger sys­tem if that makes sense.

The action that some­body can per­form should not be con­strained to a single but­ton or value. The agency of the per­son going through the loop is valu­able. We should use that by giv­ing them the free­dom to act and express themselves.

If the action is too big, we’ll split up the loop into sev­eral loops.


The feed­back we offer (slide 151 and onwards) should appeal to the motiv­a­tion we iden­ti­fied earlier. This feed­back could either be imme­di­ate feed­back on the action the user just per­formed, or pro­gress feed­back on where they are with regards to the challenge.

Giving people feed­back in the form of extrinsic rewards is effect­ive in the short term but it is not sus­tain­able in the long run. Either avoid it entirely or prop up your external rewards with intrinsic rewards so they trans­ition into some­thing that is longer lasting.

Player Journey

The player jour­ney is about embed­ding the loop in a broader con­text and see­ing where some­body comes from and where they can go when they are done with this par­tic­u­lar loop. You could pic­ture this as a cus­tomer jour­ney, but with all of the touch points replaced by loops.

The engage­ment loop model makes it fairly straight-forward to design enga­ging products and ser­vices. We identify chal­lenges, come up with loops and decom­pose those into whatever kind of inter­ac­tion flows are neces­sary for the prob­lem at hand. In our opin­ion this is the best method to design for agency, com­pet­ence and motivation.

Original post on the Hubbub blog