What is Gamification?
This article first appeared on YukaiChou.com
If you want to make Gamification actionable, Check out my Complete Gamification Framework called Octalysis.
What is Gamification?
What is Gamification? This may be an unfamiliar word for many of you. As a leading author and pioneer of the industry (since 2003), I’m here to help you grasp the promise of gamification and clear up some misconceptions in the industry.
Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This is what I call “Human-Focused Design” as opposed to the “Function-Focused Design.” It is a design process that optimizes for the human in the1 system, as opposed to pure efficiency of the system.
Most systems are “function-focused” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes that the workers within WILL do their jobs. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that people in the system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.
The reason we call it gamification is because the gaming industry was the first to master human-focused design. Games have no other purpose than to please the human inside. There are “objectives” in the games, such as killing the dragon or saving the princess, but those are all excuses to simply keep the player happily entertained inside. Since games have spent decades learning how to master motivation and engagement, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it Gamification.
Games have the amazing ability to keep people engaged for a long time, build relationships and trust between people, and develop their creative potentials.
Unfortunately, many games these days are simply focused on escapism — wasting your life away on something that doesn’t improve your own life nor the life of others.
Imagine if there is a truly addicting game, where the more time you spend on it, the more productive you would be. You would be playing all day, enjoying it, and your career would be growing, you would be making more income, having better relationships with your family, creating value for your community, and solving the hardest problems in the world.
That is the goal I strive for and the potential I see that Gamification could fulfill.
What is Gamification in relationship to the Gaming Industry?
Many people think Gamification is a branch of gaming. Upon hearing the term, some people respond with, “Oh I don’t play games.”
That’s a complete misconception on what is gamification all about.
So what is Gamification really? Gamification does not involve games. It is simply absorbing the fun elements in a game (what we call Game Mechanics or Game Design Techniques) into real-world applications. When you see the progress bar on LinkedIn, or when you Tumblr listing out a Leaderboard on the best content, do you think, “Oh I don’t play games. This is not for me.”? Of course not!
In essence, if you can classify something as a game, it rarely is true Gamification. (Because…how can you gamify…a game? That’s like liquefying liquid.)
Isn’t Gamification just about adding points and badges to the experience?
A big problem with the Gamification industry is that most people just think about Gamification as adding some points, badges and a leaderboard onto a website.
That’s just like how in the old days of Social Media (and even today), many people thought social media marketing was just creating a Twitter profile and Facebook page.
While badges and leaderboards are part of Gamification, it doesn’t capture the core essence of Gamification. Gamification is using Game Mechanics and Techniques to engage and motivate people through theirCore Drives.1
I’m sure you’ve seen websites that have some type of leaderboard, but no one actually cares about it. Its just there as a gimmick and it does not speak to our Core Drives.
What is Gamification really about? True Gamification starts with the Core Drives, starts with “Why?” and “How?” instead of “What?” and truly drives behaviors and motivates people.
At the end of the day, all games have “game elements” in them, but most games suck, while only a handful of games are actually winners.
Just because you have wings doesn’t mean you can fly. Just because you have badges doesn’t mean you are appeal to the Core Drives and are actually gamified. What is Gamification if you can’t actually motivate your users?
Can Gamification really motivate people?
Consider this: Many people feel that kids these days have bad work ethics — they don’t want to do their home works, they don’t have any discipline, and they don’t have any persistence when they encounter challenges.
However, when it comes to playing games, kids have AMAZING work ethics. Many kids wake up secretly behind their parents’ back 3AM in the morning, just to play a game and level up their fictional characters.
If you’ve played RPGs (Role-Playing Games) before, you would know that a lot about leveling up is simply killing the same monsters over and over at the same place for HOURS.
Why? Because they are excited about bringing their character from level 18 to level 19. Because they want to get that extra +5 strength, and perhaps be able to beat that boss once they reach level 20.
They do it because they see the big picture of WHY they are doing it, and they like the sense of Development and Accomplishment and Pride, as well as Progression and Self Actualization that leveling up gives them. They want something enough that anything that stands in the way, be it grunt work or not, is worth doing, and doing quickly.
So what is Gamification’s true potential? Imagine if a company advised their employees not to work late at night, but the work is so interesting and engaging that they all WANT to work late without getting paid more. Wouldn’t that be something.
If most gamification techniques are done incorrectly, how can people implement Good Gamification?
In 2012 I published my Gamification Framework called Octalysis, which is an analysis based on an Octagon shape. The premise of it is that, instead of starting gamification off with “game elements” and “game mechanics,” one should always start with how she wants her users to “feel.”
Octalysis breaks down motivation into 8 Core Drives, including things like Epic Meaning & Calling, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Scarcity & Impatience, etc., and it allows anyone to really create something that is more engaging.
The framework also factors in White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification, Right Brain vs Left Brain Core Drives, as well as the Four Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey and Bartle’s Four Player Types. If you want to learn what is Gamification really about, this is an extremely helpful tool.
Is Gamification an underground niche phrase, or is there an established industry around it?
While the application of Gamification has been around for decades, the actual term has only come about for a few years. Nevertheless, there are many companies that are built around this theme. Since 2015, my company Octalysis Group have seen a tremendous uptake in companies around the world investing in large amounts to learn about or implement gamification designs. Finally, there are a group of individuals like me, Andrzej Marczeski, and Joris Beerda are passionate about what is gamification and its true essence.
In short, Gamification was relatively niche, but has seen massive growth throughout the world in every industry, much like the term Social Mediain the old days.
What is Gamification role in Yu-kai Chou’s life?
Due to a recent setback in my life (I can write a separate post about that if there is interest), I started examining what I’m doing with my life, why I work, and what am I passionate about.
I realized, out of all the things that I have some expertise in, I had the most passion and experience in Gamification.
Why? Because growing up, I used to be a heavy gamer. I used to spend a huge amount of my time mastering a game, leveling up, conquering difficult quests, and find allies.
But then in 2003, I quit because I realized none of it was helpful for my real life. It was simply unproductive.
And for the next 10 years, I’ve been devoting my career into applying the fun of gaming principals into productive things and learning the essentials of what is gamification.
I started a company that helped students play games to develop their professional skills as well as enable companies to recruit better talent through gaming I also personally coached hundreds of professionals and students to turn their life into a game where they are their own Role-Playing characters and their goal is to get experience, level up, find allies, become the strongest player on their server and solve a large problem in this world.
To that effect, I started my Gamification career before the term Gamification became established. As a pioneer in the craft, I am completely passionate in helping companies and individuals make their tasks fun and exciting.
Later on, I became a Regular Lecturer at Stanford University about topics like what is gamification, Octalysis, and Human-Focused. I was also rated a Top 5 Gamification Guru by Leaderboarded.
Octalysis Prime: the ultimate Learning Journey in Gamification
Besides writing my Gamification Book, In 2016, I launched a Kickstarter for the ultimate gamified learning journey called Octalysis Prime. It has over hundreds of gamification learning videos, in a gamified structure.
It’s a monthly subscription plan (I have other free vieos elsewhere), but I strongly recommend you checking it out!
Q&A: What is Gamification
If you have other questions about what is gamification and how to use it effectively for your company, feel free to ask in the comment section below. Look forward to talking to you!
For a video walk-through, check out: What is Gamification?
For a more detailed approach to gamification and human-focused design, try Octalysis Prime, the gamified mentorship journey.