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 a 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.
People can choose whether they want to opt in or not and then make their own choices as they proceed through the game.
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.
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 for 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.
The PERMA Model
Psychologist Martin Seligman, has dedicated his life to the study of the human mind and how positive and negative psychological health effects a person’s outlook on different topics. After many successful writings and discoveries Martin formulated the PERMA model which was crucial for lasting well being.
Gamification marketing with its human-focused design, taps into each of the 5 points of the PERMA model, in order to satisfy the unspoken desires of the human mind and connect customers with brands in the process.
1. Positive Emotion
This point tackles the human desire to be intellectually stimulated and creative, through the accomplishment of a task. When people reach achievements whether they’re big or small, it creates satisfaction and joy within that person which can be a catalyst into doing and achieving more.
In the context of gamification, when users engage with a campaign and earn rewards for their success. The positive emotions that are associated are directly linked to the brand, work achievement, or knowledge comprehension in question.
It is important in our lives to be able to find activities that need our full engagement. Engagement with the activities in our lives is important for us to learn, grow and nurture our personal happiness.
We all need something in our lives that entirely absorbs us into the present moment, creating a ‘flow’ of blissful immersion into the task or activity. If you can create an immersive experience in a game campaign, whether that be through a desirable reward, an enjoyable user experience or a competitive environment, this type of ‘flow’ of engagement is important to stretch our intelligence, skills, and emotional capabilities.
Relationships and social connections are one of the most important aspects of life. Humans are social animals that thrive on connection, so when a Gamification campaign taps into this through elements such as leaderboards or social media shares that permit individuals to compare accomplishments and engage in friendly competition, the individual has a stream in which they can feel a sense of fulfilment in the area of connection.
Within everyone is the desire to have a purpose and a meaning to their life beyond simply pursuing pleasure and material wealth. When it comes to gamification marketing, the simple addition of an introductory story in a game puts forth the why behind a game along with the addition of a desirable reward is all that needs to be put in place for customers to take on the journey with a sense of pride.
Ultimately, when given a task with a well defined reason behind it along with a clear goal to aim for, it will both peak the interest and engagement of the customer.
Having attainable goals, when reached can give individuals a sense of pride, fulfilment and satisfaction. These positive results can lead to favourable long term outcomes.
This feeds into the loss aversion theory as studies suggest that on a psychological level, losses can be twice as powerful as gains. This maintains that individuals would rather avoid losses than acquire equivalent gains. Following this model, an individual would prefer to not lose $5, as opposed to finding $5.
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, e-learning, gamified marketing, or even gamified health.
In short, psychological principles are the foundation in which any successful gamified initiative is built upon.