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Why We're Applying Game Principles to Revolutionize Our Product Designs & How You Can Too

Applying game principles to real-life problems changes how we view and approach issues. How? Well, that’s what the octalysis framework is here for.

by Nazarena Luzzi Castro — Posted on April 26th, 2018


Her palms are sweaty, arms heavy - no, this isn’t an Eminem song. This is the story of a girl who in 1998, knew no limits when it came to her SEGA… The blue hedgehog flying across the screen, often (but not always!) drowning in the chemical plant level, where the dreaded music only increased heart palpitations and made her more obsessed with beating levels than she already was. Little did she know about gamification and how even in the 90’s, this was something applied to human user experiences.

By now I’m sure you’ve realized I used to play Sonic for 8 hours straight. And I still get a little gaming in these days, just in a different way. The principles that made me so obsessed with Sonic are now the same principles that my team and I apply to how we manage our team,design experiences and products. It’s called gamification.

Gamification is the application of game principles to real-life and problems. The application of meaning, accomplishment, empowerment, social influence, ownership, unpredictability, scarcity and avoidance to build useful user experiences and lead-generating designs.

Applying game principles to real-life problems changes how we view and approach issues. How? Well, that’s what the octalysis framework is here for.

The octalysis framework, created by Yu-kai Chou outlines the eight key principles that should be applied to gamification.

  • 1. Epic meaning and calling
  • 2. Development and accomplishment
  • 3. Empowerment of creativity and feedback
  • 4. Ownership and possession
  • 5. Social influence and relatedness
  • 6. Scarcity and impatience
  • 7. Unpredictability and curiosity
  • 8. Loss and avoidance

By nature, humans are motivated when we feel that we are taking part in something bigger than ourselves. This is part of a meaning, and something we can apply easily to projects and initiatives by encouraging and inviting others to take the lead. A good example of this is Wikipedia, a site where users help others around the world find answers by sharing their knowledge. At M+Co, we have our own company wiki, where anyone can contribute by adding new processes and tutorials. The more we document, the leaner our company is.

By doing things that have meaning, we are developing as individuals and accomplishing new things at the same time, which touches on another factor of the framework, “Accomplishment.” Below you can see an overview of each factor.

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Applying the framework to how we manage our people has improved our work culture, made our employees more fulfilled and even made the work more satisfying. The framework helps motivate our different employees with the core drivers that they are most aligned with their values, and encourages them to work and live to their fullest potential.

So just like we apply this framework to how we manage people, we can also apply it to how we design products. As innovators, we need to design for four phases: discovery, onboarding, scaffolding and endgame. Why? Because the reason someone uses our product in the beginning is different from the reason they will use it three months from now. That’s right - that means each product needs to contain four types of experiences.

The octalysis framework allows us to see which factors we should be focusing on for each phase of the product experience. For example, the discovery phase should heavily rely on unpredictability and social influence. When a user first begins to use your product, the uncertainty of what they will find is what encourages them to keep moving and their curiosity is spiked when their actions are validated by what users similar to them are doing. Just think of Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought this” section. It works really well because people want to be like others, so it makes them want to buy those products too.

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As you can see, the octalysis framework is a monster of knowledge and principles we can apply to how we design products and manage our teams. With it we identify what drives our users and employees so that they are engaged in their jobs and lives, and most of all, experience memorable journeys.

Ready to start ideating?

Check out the Octalysis Tool where you can begin to define each of the actions and aspects of your product that make up the eight core drivers.