The Psychology Behind Gamification - Changing User Behaviour

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Psychology is present in any activity that requires thought, behavioural patterns and motivation, so just about everything. That means that gamification which is deeply entrenched in all three of these ideals is a concept that is fuelled by psychological principles.

Influencing user behaviour. It’s a phrase that will always make brands, employers and education boards sit up and pay attention. Getting users to make the decisions you want them to make is the main purpose of a gamified pathway. Gamification is often referred to as the application of motivational sciences to menial tasks in order to promote positive growth in initiative numbers.

In this article, we’ll focus on the psychology behind gamification and how it can change a user’s mindset through the collective studies of both Gamification experts and Behavioural Psychologists. There will be some point overlap, which means they’re all focused on the elements that truly make gamification a psychologically well-rounded motivational tool.

Three Elements of Motivation

Brian Burke, with his employment at the global research and advisory firm, Gartner, Inc. Had accumulated a wealth of data around the concept of Gamification, so much so that he penned a book that gives an easy to read comprehension of the ins and outs of gamification.

Within his book Gamify: How gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things, Burke addresses Gamification’s success being rooted in three motivational elements. These motivators avoid extrinsic values such as monetary rewards but rather tap into intrinsic values, such as social and self-esteem building rewards.

1. Autonomy

People can choose whether they want to opt-in or not and then make their own choices as they proceed through the game.

2. Mastery

As players master the game, they receive constant positive feedback, motivating them to try even harder. This moves the player past a traditional evidence-based rewards program and into the realm of the emotional checkmate.

3. Purpose

Unlike typical games, gamification has an overriding purpose. “Gamification engages players on an emotional level to help them achieve a goal that is meaningful to them.” writes Burke.

The Octalysis Framework

Yu-Kai Chou is a leading authority in the world of Gamification. His most praised work being the development of the Octalysis Framework, a human-centric gamification design framework that lays out the eight core drives for human motivation. Octalysis is based on the premise that systems are “function-focused”, designed to complete a task as quickly as possible, similar to a factory process assuming workers will complete their tasks in a timely manner because they are required to do so. 

However, “human-focused” design acknowledges that people, unlike machines in a system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things, and therefore, optimises for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.

1. Epic meaning and calling

This Core Drive is in play when a person believes he or she is doing something greater than oneself or was “chosen” to take action. The implementation of this drive can vastly differ and is not limited to altruistic behaviour. Some of the world's worst events and actions have happened with the belief of participating in something greater than oneself.

2. Development and accomplishment

Development and accomplishment is our internal drive for making progress, developing skills, achieving mastery, and eventually overcoming challenges. The perception of the challenge is important. For example, a badge or trophy without a challenge is not meaningful to a person. This is the drive that most Points, Badges, and Leaderboards focus on.

3. Empowerment of creativity and feedback

This drive is expressed when users are engaged in a creative process where they repeatedly figure new things out and try different combinations. People not only need ways to express their creativity, but also need to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and adjust in turn.

4. Ownership and possession

This drive refers to users feeling like they own or control something. When a person feels possession over something, they innately want to increase and improve what they own.

5. Social influence and relatedness

This drive incorporates all the social elements that motivate people, including mentorship, social acceptance, companionship, and even competition and envy. Think about how we naturally draw closer to people, places, or events that we can relate to.

6. Scarcity and impatience

Scarcity and impatience is the core drive of wanting something simply because it is extremely rare, exclusive, or immediately unattainable. The fact that people can’t get something right now motivates them to return to check the availability of the product.

7. Unpredictability and curiosity

Unpredictability is the core drive of constantly being engaged because you don't know what is going to happen next. When something does not fall into your regular pattern recognition cycles, your brain kicks into high gear and pays attention to the unexpected.

8. Loss and avoidance

Loss and avoidance is the core drive that motivates us to avoid something negative from happening. On a small scale, it could be to avoid losing previous work or changing one's behaviour. On a larger scale, it could be to avoid admitting that everything you did up to this point was useless because you are now quitting.



In the end, user behaviour is changed through; positive experiences. We all have feelings, ambitions, insecurities, and reasons for whether or not we want to do certain things. Gamification being structured around Human-Focused Design optimises for these feelings, motivations, and engagements in order to motivate a user to complete a task, whether that be in the context of gamified business, eLearning, gamified marketing, or even gamified health.

In short, psychological principles are the foundation in which any successful gamified initiative is built upon.

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