Gamification — exploring the Octalysis Framework

Stephen Armstrong
Namaste Tech Blog
Published in
8 min readApr 26, 2018

While there are several definitions of Gamification (Deterding et. al. 2011; Huotari & Hamari, 2012) this article uses the leading consultancy firm Gartner’s definition (Burke, 2014) which functions well in relation to digital products. Gartner describes it as:

“the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”.

Gamification has exploded over the past 10 years, with companies like Foursquare (Rimon, 2014), Strava (Knudson, 2017) and Headspace (Maturo, Mori & Moretti, 2016) implementing it with varying levels of success. This article introduces the concept of Gamification, and explores how the Octalysis Framework (Chou, 2015) can be used to analyse the forces that drive human motivation and use these drives to build an engaging and rewarding experience for the user.

Gamification — a (very) brief history

For centuries humans have enjoyed playing games with each other (Radoff, 2010). They’re an important part of our culture and one of the earliest examples of human social interaction. Atari brought video games into the mainstream in the late 1970s with the Atari 2600 and since then video games have become ubiquitous thanks to the success of companies like Nintendo, Sega and Sony. Mobile gaming has grown exponentially since the iPhone’s arrival in 2007 and annual revenues are expected to reach $57.7BN in 2018 (Newzoo, 2017).

Gamification takes advantage of the techniques used to make these games so successful and applies them to other applications to make them more fun and engaging. The more fun and engaged a person is when using the application, the more motivated they are to use it.

At its most basic level, these mechanics could be as simple as integrating points, badges and leaderboards. However, it’s important to note that in order to motivate people you need to engage them at an emotional level and giving them a badge for something that they have no emotional connection to will not give them any satisfaction or encouragement (Burke, 2014).

The Octalysis Framework

The octalysis framework (Figure 1), developed by gamification guru Yu-Kai Chou, derives its name from an octagonal shape where everything we do is based on one or more of the 8 Core Drives, with each drive represented as a point on the octagon. The drives are split into left-brain and right-brain drives; left-brain drives are related to logic, calculations and ownership and right-brain drives are associated with creativity, self-expression and social aspects. The third thing to note about the framework is that the drives in the top half of the octagon are considered white hat (they result in positive emotions such as joy, satisfaction, sense of meaning) while the bottom half are black hat (these produce feelings of fear, surprise and disappointment ).

Figure 1. The Octalysis Framework (Chou, 2015, p57).

The 8 Core Drives are explained in further detail below, with examples of how companies have used these to engage users with their products.

Epic Meaning & Calling.

This is the core driver where a user believes they are contributing to something greater than their own personal goals. Some examples are communities such as Quora (Figure 2), Stack Overflow (Figure 3) and Dribble where users freely share their knowledge, or in the case of Dribble their designs, to a larger community of users which leads to a sense of self-worth.

Figure 2. A Quora users profile. Quora users can choose to answer questions or add questions of their own. They receive upvotes for good questions and good answers. Users can also accrue followers.
Figure 3. Stack Overflow also uses upvotes to rate users’ contributions to the community. Users also receive reputation points for contributing positively to the community and will receive negative points for spam or offensive posts (see 8. Loss & Avoidance).

Development & Accomplishment.

This is the intrinsic motivator of making progress, developing skills and eventually overcoming challenges. Examples are points, badges, trophies, leaderboards and challenges. The word challenge here is important, as without a challenge, badges and trophies don’t mean a thing. These mechanics are commonplace in Fitness apps like Fitbit (Figure 4) and Strava (Figure 5). Apps like Goodreads (Figure 6) allow you to set a reading goal for the year to encourage you to read more.

Figure 4. A selection of Fitbit’s badges. These are given for achieving various fitness and health related milestones.
Figure 5. Strava medals for a cycle. Strava compares your time against your own personals bests as well as other users of Strava. This allows you to compete against yourself as well as other people.
Figure 6. Goodreads reading challenge. Each year Goodreads prompts you to set a reading challenge for yourself. You can view your progress and see if you are behind, on, or ahead of schedule.

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

The use of this drive engages a person in a creative process, where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations. Strava allows you to create your own routes through its route builder app (Figure 7). In Duolingo and Headspace (Figure 8), users have the freedom to follow their own path.

Figure 7. Strava’s route builder. Users can follow routes created by others and create their own ones to share with the Strava community.
Figure 8: Empowerment in Duolingo (left) and Headspace (right). Users can choose their own path in both apps and can focus on the areas that really matter to them.

Ownership & Possession

This is where users are motivated by a sense of ownership and innately want to make what they own better. People take a sense of pride in what they own or in what they have created. This is also referred to as the Ikea Effect (Norton, Mochon & Ariely, 2011). Duolingo rewards users with Lingots (Figure 9), their own virtual currency, that you can spend within the app. You can purchase different language packs, power ups (streak freeze, double or nothing) and outfits for your avatar.

Figure 9. The Duolingo Store. After completing an exercise successfully users are rewarded with Lingots, Duolingo’s virtual currency. They can use this to customise their avatar, buy power-ups or language packs.

Social Influence & Relatedness

This incorporates positive social elements that drive people such as: mentorship, acceptance, social responses and companionship as well as more negative drives such as competition and envy. If you see someone who excels at a particular skill you cannot help but feel a sense of envy and admiration and also motivation to bring yourself up to that person’s level. It’s hard to find an app that does not integrate social in some shape or form. Strava will give me notifications that a friend has just run 5km. I can then give them kudos (Figure 10). This is reciprocation in action (Budiu, 2014); if in the future I run I would like my friend to also give me kudos making me feel good about myself.

Figure 10. Strava Kudos notifications and kudos system. The user gets a notification when a friend has completed a run. You can then interact with the friend by giving them kudos or by leaving a comment.

Instagram (Figure 11) gives you a notification when a friend has gone live, you click on the notification to view their video. You like and comment on the video, the activity is rewarding on its own and your FOMO is gone. By interacting you have also strengthened the relationship with your friend.

Figure 11. Instagram live videos. Users get a notification when a friend starts a live video. They can then interact with the video in real time simply by liking it, leaving a comment, or by reacting with a photo of their own.

Scarcity & Impatience.

We have all experienced this at one time or another; you want something you can’t have. When Gmail first came out is it was invite only. People would scour forums looking for invites. Revolut has tried this on several occasions. In order to get the opportunity to buy shares in the company they ran a competition of sorts where you were encouraged to invite friends to join the app. The people with the most number of friends who joined were then able to purchase equity. They used a similar principle with early access to their Cryptocurrency exchange (Figure 12), you can unlock it either by signing up for their premium service or if 3 of your friends join revolut. Other good examples are Amazon and (Figure 13) which portray a sense of urgency by telling you there is only one item left, or one that something is in high-demand.

Figure 12. Revolut’s cryptocurrency exchange. You can get early access either by signing up for a premium account which costs €7.99 per month or by inviting 3 friends to the app.
Figure 13.’s use of scarcity to increase conversions. You can see that a hotel is in high-demand and that it has been booked 163 times in the last 24 hours. This makes the user think they need to act quickly so as not to miss out.

Unpredictability & Curiosity.

When you do not know what is going to happen, there is a sense of anticipation and your brain is engaged to find out what is next. The classic video game example is the question mark block in Super Mario Bros. (Figure 14).

Figure 14. Super Mario Bros. Users are intuitively driven to smash the question mark block to see what is inside.

Spotify uses this principle very effectively with its Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists (Figure 15). Discover Weekly is a weekly mixtape of fresh music from artists you have never listened to but you may like (based on a complex machine learning algorithm). Release Radar comes out on Fridays and is a playlist of new tracks from from artists you have previously listened to.

Figure 15. Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists. Each week listeners wait in anticipation to see what songs Spotify has in store for them. This introduces them to songs they may not otherwise have come across.

Loss & Avoidance.

This core drive is based on the avoidance of something bad happening. Streaks are used in Snapchat and Duolingo (Figure 16) to encourage users to build a daily habit of using their app. With ToDoist (Figure 17) failing to complete a task on time will result in negative karma.

Figure 16. Snapchat and Duolingo streaks. Streaks are a common black hat tool to keep users coming back to your app. Snapchat shows a leaderboard of your friends and their streaks, while duolingo encourages you to use the app each day by giving you more XP if you maintain a streak.
Figure 17. Todoist’s Karma system. Todoist uses a karma system to boost your productivity. It rewards you with karma for successfully completing tasks on time, or takes points away if you fail to meet your goals.


In this article I wanted to explore how different gamification techniques are used to improve engagement and the overall user experience of apps. Through a framework such as Octalysis we can identify what makes some of the most successful apps work and apply gamification techniques when we’re designing products of our own. The key thing is to use gamification in moderation and when appropriate. The point is not to turn something serious into a game, but to use some of these techniques to motivate and engage people in tasks that help them achieve goals that matter to them.


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Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining Gamification — A Service Marketing Perspective. In Proceedings of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference (pp. 17–22)

Knudson, P. (2017). Gamification in 2017: Top 5 Key Principles. Retrieved March 12th, 2018, from

Maturo, A., Mori, L., & Moretti, V. (2016). An Ambiguous Health Education: The Quantified Self and the Medicalization of the Mental Sphere. Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 8(3), 248–268. doi: 10.14658/pupj-ijse-2016–3–12

Newzoo (2017) The Global Games Market Will Reach $108.9 Billion in 2017 With Mobile Taking 42%. Retrieved 16th of March from

Rimon, G. (2014). Checking in and checking out: what Foursquare’s evolution can teach us about Enterprise Gamification. Retrieved March 12th, 2018, from



Stephen Armstrong
Namaste Tech Blog

UX Design Lead at patientMpower. Interests: UX research, IoT, Gamification, VR/AR, Persuasive design