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Gamification: 8 Core Drives of Human Motivation

Jan Schauenberg
11 April 2019

“Imagine a world, where labor is obsolete, where “work” is something of the past, but miraculously, everything is still functioning better than ever before. No, I’m not talking about a society run by robots. I’m talking about a world – harnessing the power of play.”

With these words, Yu-Kai Chou opened his Ted-talk in 2014. The Topic: Gamification.

Yu-kai Chou has won the “Gamification Guru of the Year”-Award multiple times, and can be considered one of the most important gamification pioneers to date.

Gamification may be a buzz word, but many people don’t understand what's it all about.

If you ask Google, you’ll find the following explanation: “the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.”

If you ask Yu-kai Chou, it sounds more like this: “In my own view, gamification is the craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.”

In my eyes, the big difference in these definitions is the usage of the word “fun”. If you enjoy doing certain things, if it is fun and exciting, you’ll do them more often and you’ll do them better. As an engaged reader, you might have realized that I am highly inspired by the concepts of said Yu-kai Chou and I will therefore focus on his framework to explain what gamification can mean.

So, what can gamification look like? First of all, we need to understand what actually engages people: What is their motivation and why are some kinds of motivation better than others, depending on the situation?

Based on Chou’s Octalysis Framework for gamification, there are 8 Core Drives of human motivation.

  • Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling
  • Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment
  • Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
  • Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession
  • Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness
  • Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience
  • Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity
  • Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

Everything that motivates and engages you, your customers, clients and friends can somehow be categorized according to a combination of these Core Drives. Need an example?

A very generic example for “motivation” to work is to get paid. Earning money is a quite extrinsic motivation – it is not something you do because you want to do it, but because you are forced to do it. This kind of motivation would be based in Core Drive (CD) 4: Ownership & Possession.

Then you have things such as the current social media “challenge” #Trashtag. Here, people get motivated to clean up parts of their communities and post before and after pictures on social media. This challenge is based on two of the Core Drives presented above. CD1: Epic Meaning and Calling and CD5: Social Influence and Relatedness. For one, the participants are motivated to do something “good”. They feel like they are a part of something big; something that will change the world if enough people take part in it. On the other hand, most people like the acknowledgement of their friends and followers on social media. They don’t “get” anything other than recognition and a few “likes”. But as CD1 and 5 are intrinsic, they are great motivators.

When you dive into these Core Drives, into the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic, into “white hat” and “black hat” motivations, you’ll realize that gamification cannot be done on the side. Gamification requires an understanding of what motivates somebody, an understanding of who it is you want to motivate and finally an understanding of all the ways and techniques in which these motivations can be implemented in a product or service – be it in your company internally or in something you sell to a client.

If you want to know more about gamification, take a look at the Octalysis Framework, or leave me a message. I’ll be more than happy to talk gamification with you!

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