WHY DO WE PLAY?The Octalysis Model of Gamification

This month I had the privilege of attending a gamification workshop in Berlin with the very talented and engaging Antonis Triantafyllakis, also reachable at mytrainer.cc. The course was built around the rather fascinating “Octalysis” model of gamification, developed by Yu-Kai Chou, building on fairly significant empirical research and already translated into nine languages.

The model is fascinating as it goes beyond the functional and bills itself as “human-centric”, taking “irrational” emotions and insecurities into account as well. It is designed to be applied fairly widely, to fitness training, serious education, product design and other fields not normally associated with gamification.

Chou examines eight “core drives”, each occupying one of eight points of the octagon pictured above. Unlike the Enneagram, they do not represent polar opposites. Different games are built around different points on the octagon and thus speak to different player needs. An appealing idea.

Thus Meaning and Calling, perhaps the most noble motivator, the “Saving the World” dimension common to many serious games, contrasts with Loss and Avoidance, the fear of incurring fixed costs by quitting without a result (Streaks in many learning apps). The former makes the player feel she is in service of something larger, the latter speaks to our need to not miss out on rewards and experiences. Empowerment and Creative Self-expression, figuring things out and creating from scratch (Lego?) is the opposite of Scarcity, or competition around something hard to get or limited by a deadline.

Social Influence fulfils our deep need for community and recognition, and intense desire to be part of a group or tribe (Facebook-based games?) while Ownership is all about collecting points, money and other rewards for ourselves. And finally, Accomplishment is about mastering challenges, setting and achieving goals and making measurable progress while Unpredictability entices with suspense and curiosity about the unknown and uncontrollable, as in any lottery-based game involving random results.

Chou goes on to cut the eight drives in several overlapping ways: Left vs Right brain, Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivators and White Hat vs Black Hat. Fascinating stuff, see more here.


My own reaction to this is that I like the model, but, holistic thinker that I am, do not find it complete. I can think of at least three other motivations that go beyond what Chou lays out here:

1. The “killer” instinct of defeating other players in a convincing way. Destructive, morally questionable, but definitely a factor in many games. We must, of course, distinguish here between game motivators and player types. Bartle’s analysis is helpful here.

2. Perhaps its opposite, some games (Carse calls them “infinite games”) simply invite us to enjoy the play, with no real outcome necessary. Dance comes to mind here. Again, this may be captured as a player type.

3. And finally, there is an aesthetic component to well-designed games. I do my Duolingo every evening and Lumosity every chance I get, simply because the images are beautiful, fun and delightful to navigate on the screen. Where does that fit in an Octagon?

Comments welcome!