Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards (Book Review)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Being both avid readers and big believers in Gamification enhancing menial tasks, we are once again reviewing another gamification book from one of the industry's thought leaders on the concept of behavioural design, Yu-Kai Chou.

If you're interested in gamification and want to learn more about how to use game mechanics to increase intrinsic motivation, then Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards is a great book for you.

Yu-Kai Chou's work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, The World Journal, PBS, and NBC.

He has also spoken at organisations such as Google, Tesla, Stanford University, LEGO, TEDx, and Boston Consulting Group.

Yu-Kai Chou is no stranger here at Gamify either, as we have previously talked about this Octalysis framework which you can read about here.

Yu-Kai's book starts off with a brief overview of gamification and its history, before moving on to explore some of the key concepts in more depth. These include game mechanics, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation, and the importance of feedback loops as a core drive for users.

The second half of the book looks at how these concepts can be applied in practice, with case studies and tips on designing gamified systems that work.

At just under 500 pages in length, Actionable Gamification manages to cover just about all nooks and intricacies surrounding the concept of gamification.

This means everything from human motivation through to game elements within a marketing campaign, and everything in between.

And yet, it never at any point feels bloated or overwhelming in content. Yu-Kai Chou manages to break down and explain his comprehensive framework in a digestible manner for the reader.

This book is not about why gamification is amazing, nor is it about how gamification is the future and how inspiring life could be with it.

Rather, it's about delving deep into what makes a game enjoyable and how to apply those aspects to real-life tasks. It's about how you may apply gamification and scientifically validated strategies to enhance your organisation, your products, and even your own life.

Skipping around chapters while reading this book is not advised as most chapters tend to both build upon and are referential to the chapters before them.

Within the book, there will be many everyday scenarios to illustrate the potential of these Core Drives and the flexibility of their applications beyond traditional “gamification” examples.

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification

From Chapter 3 onwards of the book Yu-Kai breaks down his octalysis framework across its 8 specific areas;

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

This core drive is at play when a person believes they are doing something greater than themselves and/or were “chosen” to take that action.

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

A badge or trophy awarded without any real accomplishment loses all its meaning.

Which is why this core drive is the easiest to design for and, coincidently, is where the majority of the PBLs: points, badges, leaderboards mostly focus on.

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

People not only need ways to express their creativity, but they need to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and adjust in turn.

This is why playing with Legos and making art is intrinsically fun. If these techniques are properly designed and integrated to empower users to be creative, they often become Evergreen Mechanics.

Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession

When a person feels ownership over something, they innately want to increase and improve upon what they own.

This drive is also expressed when the user feels ownership over a process, project, and/or the organisation.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

This core drive refers to all the social elements that motivate people, including: mentorship, social acceptance, social feedback, companionship, and even competition.

When you see a friend that is amazing at some skill or owns something extraordinary, you become driven to attain the same.

Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience

Have you ever found yourself lining up for something simply because it is extremely rare, exclusive, or immediately unattainable?

This core drive taps into intrinsically motivating users to take action due to exclusivity.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

When something does not fall into your regular pattern recognition cycles, your brain kicks into high gear and pays attention to the unexpected.

Unpredictability helps maintain engagement levels with users and keep them off autopilot within an experience.

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

This Core Drive should come as no surprise – it’s the motivation to avoid something negative from happening. This could look like avoiding the loss of previous work or changing one’s behaviour.

It could also look like time-sensitive opportunities, because people feel as though if they didn’t act immediately, they would lose the opportunity to act forever (e.g. “Special offer for a limited time only!”)

The Bartle Test

Actionable Gamification continues to break down the Octalysis framework through the lens of different structures such as left and right brain drives (intrinsic vs extrinsic drives), White Hat and Black Hat Gamification, and The Bartle Test (player types).

Each of these frameworks receives a more in-depth look when the Octalysis is applied but the one which benefits the most is the Bartle test as it helps highlight the behavioural psychology of each player type in a more succinct fashion.

The new era of gamification and human-focused design optimises for motivation and engagement over traditional function-focused design. Game mechanics and behavioural psychology have been subjected to a lot of research within the sector.

However, few people understand how to merge the two fields into experience designs that reliably increases business metrics and generates a return on investment.

Being deemed a "gamification guru" within the industry, Yu-kai Chou takes readers on a journey to learn his twelve years of obsessive research in creating the Octalysis Framework, and how to apply the framework to create engaging and successful experiences in their product, workplace, marketing, and personal lives.

Effective gamification is a combination of game design, game dynamics, behavioural economics, motivational psychology, UX/UI (User Experience and User Interface), neurobiology, technology platforms, as well as ROI-driving business implementations.

This book explores the interplay between these disciplines to capture the core principles that contribute to good gamification design.


The goal of this book is to become a strategy guide to help readers adopt strong gamification and human-focused behavioural design in whichever industry they find themselves within.

Overall, I found this to be an informative and well-written book that provides a good introduction to gamification. If you're looking to learn more about this topic, I would definitely recommend it.

Personally, I find myself still constantly discovering fresh insights and revelations when I apply the 8 Core Drives as a framework for whatever I'm putting my hand to.

Let us know in the comments if you've managed to successfully apply gamification to an area of your life.


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