81 / Why Gamification Drives Human Behavior

Hosted by Paul Gebel & Zack Kane

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Yu-kai Chou

The Octalysis Group

Yu-kai Chou is an author and international keynote speaker on gamification and behavioral design. He is the original creator of the Octalysis Framework and the author of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. He is currently President of The Octalysis Group and the Founder of Octalysis Prime, a gamified mentorship platform. Yu-kai has been a regular speaker on gamification and motivation worldwide, including at organizations like Google, Stanford University, LEGO, Tesla, TEDx, the governments of UK, Singapore, South Korea, Kingdom of Bahrain, and many more. His work has affected over 1 billion users’ experiences across the world.

Previously, Yu-kai was the Chief Experience Officer of the blockchain company Decentral, working with the Co-Founder of Ethereum, Anthony Di Iorio, to create delightful blockchain experiences. Yu-kai sits as a Board Advisor for many organizations and companies, including HatchPad.co (a crowdfunding site for young entrepreneurs), Capfields (an IT sourcing company), DreamsCloud (the biggest company that gathers dreams), Ongo (a gamified health platform), and many more.

Yu-kai is a follower of Christ, and his other hobbies include playing and teaching chess, writing and playing string quartet pieces, supporting his Esports Team, and rating high-quality movies, though he rarely has time for these hobbies. Yu-kai is the proud father of twin daughters, Symphony and Harmony.

Gamification mechanics work because they motivate user audiences to participate, engage, and act. Yu-kai Chou, a gamification pioneer who began work in this space nearly 20 years ago, explains why the application of game technique is so much more than points, badges, and leaderboards. Gamification extracts all the fundamental components in games and applying them to real-world and business activities. 

In this episode, Yu-kai breaks down gamification into digestible pieces in a captivating conversation with Paul Gebel and guest host, ITX Sr. Product Manager Zack Kane. Yu-Kai is the President of Octalysis Group and the creator of the Octalysis Framework, a human-focused gamification framework.

It’s all about motivation and engagement, Yu-kai says. “Gamification is making sure that what we build is not just something that works. It has to be something that motivates us to do things.

Yu-kai discusses explicit versus implicit gamification, as well as white hat and black hat design. Both are useful, he adds, but only when aligned to the product’s design and the company’s goals.

Tune in to hear lots of examples that your team will find helpful to applying gamification principles in your product.

Sean [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to the Product Momentum Podcast. This is a podcast intended to entertain, educate, celebrate, and give a little back to the product leadership community.

Paul [00:00:31] Hey, folks, before we get started today, I just wanted to introduce a special guest interviewer. Sitting in for Sean Flaherty is Zach Kane. Zach and I have been working together for years, and I’m really excited to jump into this conversation with Yu-kai.

Zach [00:00:45] Thanks, Paul. Happy to be here! I was really fascinated by our discussion with Yu-kai, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.

Paul [00:00:53] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum. Today, we are really excited to be joined by Yu-Kai Chou. Yu-kai is an author and international keynote speaker on gamification and behavioral design. He’s the original creator of the Octalysis Framework and the author of Actionable Gamification Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. He’s currently president of the Octalysis Group and the founder of Octalysis Prime, a gamified mentorship program. Yu-kai has been a regular speaker and lecturer on gamification and motivation worldwide, including at organizations like Google, Stanford, Lego, Tesla, TEDx, Boston Consulting Group, and even many governments. His work has affected over one billion users’ experiences around the world. Yu-kai, so happy to have you today. Welcome to the pod.

Yu-kai [00:01:33] It’s a pleasure to be here.

Paul [00:01:34] Absolutely. So I read your book actually a couple of times, and I’m really interested to get your take on a couple of developments in the past decade. It’s been almost 10 years since the book originally came out. You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. But one of the things that’s in the current lexicon lately is this thing called the metaverse. So I thought it might be interesting to start there as sort of the newest sort of bleeding-edge topic on technologists’ minds. Where are you at on the topic? What are you thinking about where we’re going with this thing and what are the possibilities that it brings to us?

Yu-kai [00:02:08] Yeah. I’ll first qualify a bit about my background in the metaverse because the metaverse is actually very interesting because it’s the overlap of where all my past interests and passions align. As many know, I’ve started working on gamification since 2003, so that’s why I’m most known for being the gamification pioneer. But in 2005, my first start was actually a virtual world company. It was aiming to be the Second Life plus LinkedIn, so a virtual world that made this life more productive and better. And later on, I also worked with the co-founder of Ethereum, Anthony Di Iorio, working on the central, I was the Chief Experience Officer for a while and I helped design blockchain experience. So that was my entrance into the blockchain world and crypto.

Yu-kai [00:02:49] Later, I was the head of creative labs and digital commerce for HTC, so I did a lot of VR stuff for VIVE. And the reason I started my own NFT comes from Meta Block, so there’s a lot of things that are just coming together. And so when it comes down to the metaverse and I think like many people talk about it, it’s very unclear what the metaverse means, right, it’s like the buzzword that’s thrown around. And it really depends on who you talk to and they’ll give you a different definition. If you talk to a VR company, they’ll tell you that, “Hey, the metaverse is a virtual world where you can experience VR like Ready Player One.”.

Yu-kai [00:03:23] But if you talk to 3D virtual worlds that are not VR, but they’re gaming companies like Fortnite, they’ll probably say that the metaverse is like 3D worlds where you can explore and experience it, but it doesn’t have to be VR. And if you talk to NFT companies, they’ll probably say the metaverse is this persistent sense of identity and ownership that can go between world and world. And, you know, in Chinese proverbs, there’s a concept of blind people feeling out an elephant, which is, you know, if you feel the trunk, the blind person will go, “oh, the elephant is like a snake” and you feel the stomach, it’s like a wall if you feel the leg, the elephant is like a pillar. But actually, the elephant is everything combined together.

Yu-kai [00:04:00] So I think a lot of people are just kind of feeling out what it is, but they usually revolve around these things of this world that people can explore and has this persistence in your identity, in your ownership, which means that if you get an item in this game, you get achievement in this game, you can go to, let’s say, the meta metaverse and use it there if their rules allow it, and then you can take it to the real world, this is what I’m most passionate about, through AR glasses and let’s say smartwatches, you can take your achievements or your angel wings into a bar and they’ll see, “Wow, you have these angel wings from this game, you’re a VIP, come in for free.” All these things coming together, I think is what’s going to be the metaverse.

Paul [00:04:38] I love that. The proverb of the elephant is apt. Very wise application. I think the way that we’re looking at it right now, the loudest players often get the center stage, but there’s a lot of passionate people who’ve been thinking about this for a long time. And as you said, it’s all kind of culminating in this consolidation and we really don’t know where it’s going to go. So I think it’s a really helpful centering of where we’re at in this new technology. So gamification is obviously, or human-centered design, as you put it, is really the focus, the passion of your life’s work. I know from reading your book that you hate starting talks with definitions and starting with semantics is, you know, people can go read your book if they want to learn about the definition, but for the sake of our listeners who’ve never been introduced to your work before, can you help us understand sort of where gamification fits, or human-centered design fits, in the product space for digital products specifically, for people who are building digital experiences?

Yu-kai [00:05:27] Yeah, and I don’t particularly hate starting off talking about definitions. What I kind of dislike is people arguing, debating days over days about definitions.

Paul [00:05:36] Fair enough.

Yu-kai [00:05:37] You know, the spirit is the same, but they just want to nitpick on the words and say, “Oh, it’s this, it’s not that.” And I think that’s not productive because I’m most interested in creating value, right. And so I like to go to the core of things. To gamify something is to make it more game-like, to make it more like a game, right? That’s just using the root word of it. Now, this is where the confusion begins, because what does it mean to make something more like a game? Does it need animation? Does a need bad guys? Does it need power-ups, right? And in my world, I really don’t care that much. I think that as long as you’re able to apply what we learn from games to make real-life productive things more useful and more enjoyable, then that’s fine.

Yu-kai [00:06:16] And in my world, I actually have a spectrum in terms of explicit gamification versus implicit gamification. So explicit gamification is that it actually looks and feels like a game. You can opt-in. And there’s oftentimes like avatar characters you play with. And then there’s the implicit gamification design where, you know, the best designs are kind of invisible. It’s like a doorknob. You don’t really pay attention to the doorknob, you just use it to open the door. And if I asked you what color the doorknob was, you might say, “Oh, you know, was there a doorknob? I’m sure there was because I opened the door, right, but I don’t know what color it is.” And so it just has these emotional triggers that make us feel appreciated, make us feel accomplished.

Yu-kai [00:06:52] So if you go to LinkedIn, LinkedIn has a ton of gamified elements in it. Even Amazon has that. But most people don’t go into it and feel like, “Wow, they’re trying to make me play a game, I don’t want to play a game.” Whereas in the middle ground, right, there’s something like Ways, a navigation app. A navigation app, you don’t play a game in it, but it feels like a game. There’s these avatars, the characters, they’re all round bubbly buttons. You can send like social signals, you can go capture candy. It’s more game-like, but it’s not full-out playing a game. You are actually just doing what you would do with any navigation app which is just traveling on a map.

Yu-kai [00:07:21] And then there are apps where we design, where it looks fully like an app. For instance, we designed a loyalty program for Porsche, Boneo. And the first thing you do need to do, you need to own a Porsche to have this app. But after that, you actually have futuristic cars, avatars… Based on how you drive your Porsche your avatar can upgrade its skins based on if you’re driving with other Porsche drivers, it can look cooler and you get group bonuses. So now you’re trying to strategize how to level up in this Porsche loyalty program and get benefits from that. So I kind of follow that spectrum about, “Hey, is that explicit or implicit?”

Yu-kai [00:07:53] What you do depends on your target audience, right? Some people, they see something that’s like a game, they’re like, “I’m turned off, I don’t want to see a game.” Some people, it lights them up, it’s like, “Wow, this looks so much fun.” And then there’s everything in between. So when it comes down to the core of things, you know, we mentioned that in my book, I talk about the cost of human-focused design as opposed to a function-focused design. So most systems are function-focused. It assumes that people in the system will create the desired behavior and they’ll do the actions and then they just kind of optimize for efficiency, for usability. And so it’s a little like a factory where you assume people do the work because you pay them and then you just make sure you maximize your production efficiency. So this is what a lot of product development looks like, right. You build the functions, the features, and it’s just, “it all works, great, now we launch it.”.

Yu-kai [00:08:38] Whereas human-focused design remembers that people have feelings, motivations, insecurities. There’s reasons why they do or do not want to do something, and it optimizes for that. So it’s a bit more like a theme park where you design it to be really fun and then people automatically want to line up for hours and hours just to enjoy that experience. My favorite example of function-focused design is Google Plus. Google actually spent a tremendous amount of engineering resources and money building Google Plus. And at the time, everything kind of tricked you to go to Google Plus. Gmail tricked you there, YouTube tricked you there. It wasn’t just a little Google lab experiment. They really rolled it out. They said, “this is meant to be the product that connects all Google products into your social profile,” right? So because they saw Facebook rising.

Yu-kai [00:09:19] So supposedly this is the best technology that Google could offer, which arguably meant that, you know, this is one of the best technologies in the world. But a lot of people remember when they go to Google Plus at the time, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t get it,” and they leave. And I remember I have lots of friends who worked at Google at the time and had told me, “at Google, there’s a joke, if you want to host a secret party, you share on Google Plus.” You know, so again, just because you have good technology, you have good functionality, does not mean that people will want to use it, right? There’s motivation, engagement. This is what gamification is all about, making sure it’s not just something that works, it’s something that makes us motivated to do things.

Zach [00:09:55] That’s really interesting. I was going to ask a little bit about sort of this mismatch of, you know, when has something been rolled out and all signs pointed to, “yes, this is going to be a hit,” and it didn’t. But I think you kind of touched on it. I think most people will be able to remember back, however long ago that was, to how little they used it. You did say something, though, that kind of struck a chord for me that I wanted to pull at. So I love the idea of explicit and implicit gamification. I’ve benefited from some very implicit gamification in the past to, you know, change some healthy habits. I am curious, though, for those folks that do sort of fall into that bucket of, “Oh, this looks like a game, I don’t want to get involved in it.” How do you kind of approach changing that motivation other than just making it more implicit gamification, if that makes sense?

Yu-kai [00:10:41] So first of all, this group is less than what people expect. So a lot of people think, “Oh, others will be turned off,” but it’s not necessarily the case. I remember back in the day we had a project which is about gamifying SEC compliance training for financial firms. So something that sounds incredibly boring. It’s like a thousand pages long and keeps changing. These financial professionals, they don’t want to do it. And so this was the start of us creating a mobile training experience for this. And the hiring manager, when we talked said, “yeah, yeah, we want to do gamification, but it can’t be, you know, cute looking. All the characters in there need to be normal, human-sized. Because, again, these are CFAs we’re talking about and the moment they see, like cute characters, they’re going to be turned off and don’t want to do it.”.

Yu-kai [00:11:25] So we’re like, “yeah, sure.” Of course, we listened to what the client wants, but then of course, we always want to test it. So we went to talk to the actual target audience, the financial professionals, and we showed them a variety of different art styles. And it ended up everyone pointed to the cute like Farmville-type characters and said, “Yeah, I would use this more if my training had this.” And I think even today, like, let’s say, Ways did not exist and we were hired by a navigation company and we designed Ways, I think a lot of them will still feel like, “no, no, no, we’re like a professional company, we need to just look reliable, right, because we’re navigation, we can have any kind of cute things, smiley faces, bubbly buttons, people will stop taking us seriously.” So I think if we designed Ways for a company, I think they would not accept that because it looks too gameful. Whereas of course, Ways came out and within like five or six years, they sold for a billion dollars to Google. So pretty successful.

Yu-kai [00:12:10] Yeah. So I think that’s the first. It’s a lot less people are turned off compared to what people expect, but let’s say they are turned off, right? There’s a few things that are important to reckon with. One is that social norming. Because this company might talk about my Octalysis framework that I’m most known for, but it breaks out all human motivation into eight core drives. And so when people see something new, that’s core drive seven, unpredictability and curiosity. And that means that when they see something new, if they associate it to a game, which is core drive four, ownership possession, it magnifies the excitement of, “yeah, maybe I’ll win money, so cool.” It’s very exciting. But if they associate it to a loss, then they might lose money, then it also magnifies the fear like, “Oh, there’s a chance I’ll get put in a very bad situation.” It paralyzes people. So in an environment of uncertainty, it could be delightful, exciting, or it could be scary.

Yu-kai [00:12:54] And so what really solves that is core drive five, social influence. People like me are doing it, safety in numbers, I see a lot of good testimonials, good reviews. That makes me feel safe. So one example is we did design a program to motivate salespeople to go door to door and sell to retail stores. And this is for a Procter and Gamble in Eastern Europe. And so we designed an explicit gamified app where it’s called, I think it’s Adventures of the Endless Sea, where everyone has on their mobile phone, they’re like the 17th-century trader. They have a sailboat and they’re sailing the world. So when they drive to your place, it’s like their ship sails to the place. And they have a town, the town is everyone’s town and they have, you know, the town’s health and gold. So they do KPI activities, the health goes up, and if they don’t do it, it drops down. And if they close deals, the gold goes up so they can upgrade their towns.

Yu-kai [00:13:44] So at the beginning, there were some people who jumped on it, they loved to use it. And then there were people that were like, “Yeah, this looks really like what kids are doing, I don’t want to do it.” But then over time, a month, two months later, the people who didn’t want to do it see like, “Wow, everyone who’s playing it becomes so excited, they talk about it all day long.” So they started signing up because they see other people doing it. And eventually we had a 99.7% adoption rate. And the only person who didn’t really use it was a woman who was on pregnancy leave. So we actually got pretty much everyone we could. Actually one person, he had to call in sick one day, and he asked his manager, could he log into the gamified portal to check his stats? So we see if it’s designed well that people will automatically want to go on to it more and more.

Zach [00:14:25] Oh, that’s great. So it’s not too much of a deviation from this, but you sort of touched on adoption a little bit. I wanted to ask about this sort of in regards to the metaverse a bit and you’ve mentioned you worked in VR and VR is furthest from being new, right? But actual adoption of it as it being a consumer product or consumer experience has always been a slow trickle. So I’m curious, sort of twofold question of gamification or this idea of, you know, the oversimplified idea of gamification being leaderboards and badges and sort of those lower hanging fruits have always seemed to sort of sputter a little bit similar to how VR maybe sputtered when it was released in the eighties, I don’t even know when. But how do you sort of see that trajectory of the metaverse, as like in adoption, and what challenges do you think are sort of in the way of this new sort of fuzzy space for everyone?

Yu-kai [00:15:16] Yeah, I think a lot of it is following where the money goes. So for gamification, one of the big reasons why people associate gamification design to just points, badges, and leaderboards is because around 2010, a lot of startups which are gamification platforms, they raised a lot of money from venture capitalists and they started doing a bunch of marketing. And so they said, “gamification’s great, buy our platform, buy our platform, and we give you points, badges, leaderboards.” So because of that strong push, people eventually would say, “oh yeah, we decided to buy gamification, we got these points, badges, and leaderboards.” So eventually the term got connected to whoever had the most money to broadcast what they were doing.

Yu-kai [00:15:52] And what’s funny is I do a lot of workshops. And when I do workshops, I often ask people to think about one game you enjoyed playing in the past and tell me, why was that your favorite game? And till this day, I have not heard some say, “Yeah, that was my favorite game because they gave me points or they gave me these badges, or I was on a leaderboard.” It’s always about, “Oh, because I can use my strategy, or I can play with my friends or my kids.” Or, “Wow, like the storytelling was amazing,” right? It’s always these components. And yet when companies feel like, “Hey, let’s turn something more like a game, let’s not use the things that people say they love about the games they play, but let’s just add the additional ones.” So my analogy I use is it’s like first creating a game that’s boring and then I’d say, “Hey, if you play this boring game a thousand times, you’ll get points and badges,” which makes zero sense, right? No one’s going to play that game.

Yu-kai [00:16:36] So that’s the gamification. In terms of the metaverse, I think it’s the same thing. It’s the organizations with money that could alter what it’s going to become. And as you know, there’s certain companies who changed their names, or one certain company who changed their name to say, “Hey, we’re serious about the metaverse,” right? And this is something that a lot of people are kind of concerned about because people want the metaverse to be open and free and a lot of people want it to be decentralized. And so that vision of all these worlds being connected together and, you know, digital, physical, and everything you do is no longer living in one single server and is no longer dropped or controlled by one company. I think that’s the vision that a lot of people are excited about.

Yu-kai [00:17:18] And so it really depends on the future how different types of organizations, whether it’s a nonprofit, whether it’s like grassroots, or single companies are saying, “Hey, we want to define the metaverse and this is what it is.” I do think it’s not going to be one company owning all of it. It’s definitely going to be what some people call federations. You know, it’s like passports. They’ll have their rules. You have to pay money to go in or bring these things in or take these things out. But it could eventually be a bit like, let’s say, the browser war, right? So technically, there’s over a dozen browsers, but eventually, it’s one to two to three that are dominating. And actually, it’s getting closer and closer to one that’s dominating.

Paul [00:17:59] Yeah. You know, I’m torn what to ask you next. I have so many questions, but I think one of the things that I want to focus on just pulling on one of the aspects of your response there is this paradox of games that are designed well. And you talk a lot about white hat versus black hat gamification and how some companies are really good game designers. You know, technically, Zynga was masterful at keeping people coming back, but not necessarily helping them feel fulfilled. And, you know, applying this to the boring game of whatever, you know, app is trying to get gamified with boring results of points, badges, and leaderboards. And, you know, in tying this all into this aspect of, where is the metaverse going? I like you, spent too much time in college playing Diablo II. I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to, like, bring an avatar to work in like four butcher armor or whatever, or if you can fully transport all of your achievements from any game to any platform, anywhere else in the world.

Paul [00:18:51] So the possibilities are really endless here, but kind of focusing on good game design and the aspects that make gamification helpful, where do you see maybe some areas of encouragement for those enterprise apps? I’m thinking like health care and fintech and some of the areas of product design where there’s maybe the most resistance. What’s an example that you can see as a way to introduce this concept in a way that’s safe for people, for companies, for apps that may not necessarily gravitate towards these ideas easily? What’s a way that you can start to introduce these elements? You know, there might be a UX designer or a product manager at a corporate setting right now who’s like, “This is great, sounds fun, but how do I apply this in my daily scrum stand up where I’m working on a health insurance workflow?” What do you say to that person?

Yu-kai [00:19:45] Yeah so before I set people off into this wild world of gamification and examples, because there’s thousands of examples, and exploring that on their own, I do want to give people the compass. And the compass is, at least from my side of things, the Octalysis framework. It allows you to know what you’re doing. So you mentioned white hat versus black hat design, and I’ll also talk about the what we call left brain right brain core drives. So white hat motivation is core drives one, two, and three out of the eight. So that’s epic meaning and calling, development accomplishment, empowerment and creative feedback. Those make people feel powerful, in control, they feel good. But there’s no sense of urgency, so people procrastinate. It’s those things that if you do it, you feel happy, but you just never get to it because of all the what we call black hat triggers, black hat motivations that are hitting you.

Yu-kai [00:20:26] So the black hat motivation core drives are six, seven, and eight out of the eight core drives and they are scarcity and patience, unpredictability and curiosity, and loss and avoidance. So those make people are urgent, obsessed, even addicted. But in the long run, if that’s the only motivator, it makes people feel bad about themselves, makes them feel like they’re not in control of their own behavior. And if they can’t escape, they will want to. So balancing the white hat versus black hat is very important. White hat is good for long-term community management loyalty programs, employee motivation. Black hat is for one-time transactions, you just want people to give you their credit cards or donate money or register for your app.

Yu-kai [00:20:59] For instance, Booking.com was a client of ours, and Booking.com is looking for a one-time transaction. They want to sell tickets, and so they have a lot of black hat designs, such as, “Oh, there’s only two tickets left and there’s 10 people looking at it and you have eight seconds, seven seconds, six,” and you’re like, “Oh, I got to buy got to buy,” so you buy it, right? So you did the desired action and they made money, but you don’t necessarily feel great about it. Now, the reason why Booking.com can get away with it is because buying tickets is usually a low-frequency transaction even pre-COVID, and so most people don’t buy it every week. So after four or five months, they want to buy their next ticket, they already forgot that bad feeling, and they’re like, “Hey, I think last time I used Booking, let me do it again.”.

Yu-kai [00:21:34] But if you’re Amazon.com, it’s totally different, right. So Amazon wants people to buy 10 times a day, and I fully believe that if they use all of these black hat strategies Booking.com is doing, people will not want to go on Amazon as much, and they will suffer in their business metrics. So you’ll see Amazon utilizes core drive two and five, development accomplishment, making people feel smart, and core drive five, social influence and relatedness. So it’s all about, “Hey, I feel smart where I’m going, I know I can make a decision in confidence, I order it, I can get in one or two days, I can return it very easily.” The social norming, like I talked about, “I know there’s a lot of reviews.” So they have to focus in the white hat strategy because they want people to do it very, very often.

Yu-kai [00:22:08] And this important for product design, right. Sometimes a company will just copy what other companies are doing, it’s like, “Oh, we’re doing e-commerce, so let’s copy what Booking.com is doing.” But they don’t realize that frequency of transaction is one of the most important things determining whether you can do black hat or not. And this is why a lot of companies copy one another and then fail. And then we talk about short bursts of activities. That’s still on the black hat zone. So if a company said, “Hey, let’s have our employees do like a one-week competition to see who’s the best.” It’s really thrilling, it’s really exciting, people’s adrenaline are high, like, “Let’s compete, yay,” right? But if it’s a yearlong competition, most people don’t want to be in a constant state of competing with their colleagues or coworkers and it creates this cutthroat environment and some people might just burn out and leave. So short bursts is OK.

Yu-kai [00:22:50] So that’s white hat versus black hat. So whenever you’re looking at gamification examples, you’re doing things on your own, you want to know, is it white hat or black hat? And what’s especially dangerous is because of these worlds where we talk a lot about data-driven design. And data-driven design sounds very sophisticated and intelligent, right? “Hey, we don’t know the answer, so we just look at the data; whatever works, we’ll do more of it.” The problem is, because black hat always creates urgency, whenever you pay too close of attention on the data, you’re always going to do more black hat. So it’s like, “Hey, look, we put a torture brake on.” A brake is saying, “Hey, stop, you can’t do it, you have to wait six hours before you can do this again.” Like, “people are coming back like every hour, every two hours, they’re obsessed and they’re giving us a lot of money, let’s do more of that,” right? And so you’ll see that the product experience becomes more and more and more black hat and people can burn out. I’m not saying you shouldn’t look at data. I’m saying that you should have that and say, “yes, people are doing that behavior, that’s good, but it’s all black hat design, so how can we balance that, how can we bring more white hat design into it, make people feel inspired, make them feel like they’re making the world a better place, they’re connecting a higher meaning, or they’re proving themselves or using creativity?” Very, very important. And then we have the what we call left brain versus right brain core drives. But I’ve been going on a spiel, so I’ll let you take the conversation somewhere or here, up to you.

Paul [00:23:59] Yeah, find the rest in the book. Definitely. That was awesome. Thank you so much.

Zach [00:24:04] Yeah. You know, the framework itself is pretty fascinating. You mentioned you do workshops and we do a ton here as well. And you know, a lot of it revolves around self-determination theory or, you know, various things around Abraham Maslow. So it’s interesting to see how you’ve sort of applied those to, I think a more approachable way than some of these other authors who have kind of captured this idea of human motivation. So to shift topics away from the framework, can you talk a little bit about Ocyalysis Prime and what you’re doing with mentorship and education? And I’m sure it draws on the framework, but I’m curious, just for our listeners who may not know, what is Prime about and what are you passionate about with it?

Yu-kai [00:24:41] Yeah, Octalysis Prime is my gamified education platform. So it is my own software project that I launched and it’s a passion project. So, you know, it’s like a download of my brain onto the island. I’ve made over nine hundred videos on what we call the island because it’s a gamified island, 900 videos on the island. The book that Paul you read is about three to five percent of the knowledge that’s on the island. And so I started this for a few reasons. Number one is because there have been a lot of people who tell me, “Hey, Yu-kai, I read the book maybe two or three times, what’s next, what’s next?” Right, so I wanted a more like ongoing journey. Also, I felt kind of bored because it doesn’t matter if I’m doing like a one-hour speech or a one-week workshop or a one-month workshop, I always have to start at the very beginning and explain the basics again, like what’s left brain core drive, what’s right brain, what’s white hat? And it feels like a game where every time you stop, you can’t save it you have to, like, start from stage one again. So I wanted this ongoing journey that people could be in.

Yu-kai [00:25:33] Also, I wanted to express my own creativity. So a lot of times when I design something for clients, what actually comes out would oftentimes be very different than what I design, for whatever reason, right? So I just wanted to have my own vision come out and also connect with people who I want to connect with. And so as a platform where you go around and you watch these videos, but then you level up and gain different power-ups. So you can watch videos, you can capture what we call geo-mons and take quizzes and all these things, and every activity you do corresponds to some of those eight core drives. And these eight core drives will give you different power-ups based on them. So, for instance, ownership and possession will give you a power-up that allows you to get more coins when you open the treasure chest. Unpredictability and curiosity allows you to open treasure chests more often. So these are synergetic. Some of them are about mentorship, you know, I can mentor other members on the island.

Yu-kai [00:26:19] And so that’s the game side. That’s the fun part, right? But there’s actual results. So my own company, the design and consulting company, Octalysis group, seven out of the eight people we hired in the past two years came out of OP. And it’s not like we purposely recruit from OP. How we recruit as we create design challenges. We’re like, “Hey, how would you redesign eBay or how would you redesign this?” And people submit, you know, 30, 40 pages of their design documents. It just ends up being OP members are the best trained. Yeah. So that’s, in a big nutshell, what the platform is and I’m very passionate about it if you can see.

Paul [00:26:50] Yeah, love it. We’re just about out of time here and I could ask questions for another hour. I’ve literally been looking forward to talking to you for months. Just to kind of close it up, maybe to point people to where they can learn more. We’ve talked about Octalysis Prime, we’ve talked about the book. What are some other things that are going on that you think if people are still unaware of, you know, gamification is more than PBLs and there are ways to bring play and gameful elements into their products, who are some people in the space that you’d recommend people look to? And what are some things that are inspiring you these days that you think are moving the ball forward in this concept of gamification and human-centered design?

Yu-kai [00:27:29] Yeah, I think it’s important to find people who know what they’re doing because I’ve seen people who just took a one-day workshop and they start selling gamification services, which I don’t think is that legit. I’d say Jane McGonigal. She has two really good books and it’s Superbetter, that’s her second book, and Reality Is Broken. She has inspired a lot of people to start exploring their skills within gamification. And then there’s also Sebastian Deterding. He’s very precise in his statements. It’s more on the academic side, he has a UX background, and his work is a bit more dense. It feels very academic, but if you consume his stuff, I think you will get better and smarter in terms how you design things.

Paul [00:28:13] I love it. Yu-kai, your work has actually helped me over the years. I do spend a lot of time still playing video games and just understanding how things motivate and what loops are in systems. I still find myself immersed in the elements, even though I’m self-aware of what’s going on at the motivation level. So there’s definitely an appreciation that I have for really well-designed games because of what you’ve been able to pull together from a lot of motivation frameworks that have come before Octalysis. It’s just so approachable. I learned a ton just talking to you today. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

Yu-kai [00:28:48] Thank you. Very glad to be here.

Paul [00:28:50] Awesome. Cheers.

Yu-kai [00:28:51] Cheers to you.

Paul [00:28:55] So that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world, just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

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