Episode 77 – All About Gamification with Yukai Chou

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast we speak with world renowned Gamification Expert Yukai Chou. Yu-kai Chou is an Author and International Keynote Speaker on Gamification and Behavioral Design. He is the Original Creator of the Behavior Framework: Octalysis, and the author of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. He is a sought after speaker/lecturer on gamification and motivation worldwide, including at organizations like Google, Stanford University, LEGO, TEDx, SxSW, Gamified India, Huawei, the Innovation Center in Denmark, Kingdom of Bahrain government, and many more.

Throughout the episode we explore the concepts of gamification, the core drives of human behaviour & how you can utilise these in education. We also touch on great gamified experiences available for educators. Be prepared to take notes.

Resources & topics shared in this episode include

  1. Yukai Chou’s Website
  2. Checkout his TedX Talk 
  3. Gamification & Physical Education Webinar

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


[00:00:29] Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone and welcome to episode number 77 of the PE Geek Podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to have your company. Now I’m joined today by a very special guest in Yukai Chou, a gamification expert who I have recently spent a fair bit of time learning from, welcome to the show.

[00:00:49] Yu-kai Chou: Thank you, my pleasure.

[00:00:50] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah so you are somewhat a visionary and a leader in the area of gamification and I was immersed in your Ted Talk from Lausanne I think it was and just sort of got absorbed in your whole world of how it applies to everyday life and beyond. And for everyone one else who may not be familiar with gamification could you just give us a brief rundown of what it is and sort of what you do?

[00:01:18] Yu-kai Chou: Sure, so gamification is applying all the fun, exciting elements of games into things that what we call non-game/boring context. So things that you have to do but you don’t necessarily want to do, things like health care, education, working out, those are things that you just know you should do but it doesn’t necessarily engage you whereas games are things that you just want to do all day long and some people can spend five-six-seven hours a day playing but inherently they’re going to create a lot of external value outside of the game. So gamification combines the best of these two worlds together.

[00:01:54] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome. So I mean is it true that the gaming industry was one of the first to sort of leverage many of these assets in their games but inherently we’re starting to see other places leverage some of those as well?

[00:02:10] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah so I believe the gaming industry is the first master of what I call human focused design as opposed to [00:02:16] (unclear) focused design because again there’s never, there’s no purpose to playing a game, right, you never have to play a game. You have to do a lot of other things go to school, do your homework, get your training, pay your taxes. Even if you don’t like it you just have to suck it up and do it. But again, for a game you never have to play games. So the moment a game is no longer fun you leave the game, you play another game, you go check your email, you go on YouTube and it’s just in this very tough environment where even if you have the best experience for one year if after that it’s no longer fun people are leaving. So they’re always in this environment of constantly figuring out how to engage people and have people want to participate and enjoy the experience and this is why I think they were the first industry to really nail this down.

[00:03:06] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah for sure, so I mean from that you’ve obviously worked really, really hard to generate that octalysis framework. That framework sort of dives deeper into the different elements that you believe to have value in game like experiences. So I mean the first one what is some of those elements in Otcalysis framework that help identify good game experiences?

[00:03:32] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah so, the octalysis framework is something I created to help break down all motivation engagement and what’s interesting is that again it breaks down motivation to eight core drives that drive our behavior. So every single thing you do is based on one or more of these eight core drives which means that if there’s none of these eight core drives there there’s zero motivation, no behavior happens.

And some of the core drives as you mentioned for instance epic meaning and calling, you’re doing something that’s because you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. There’s core drive two development an accomplishment, you feel like you’re leveling up, you’re achieving mastery. Core drive three is empowerment creates new feedback, by using your creativity there’s a lot of autonomy you’re seeing feedback and you’re adjusting. Core drive four is ownership possession, basically accumulating and collecting things like stamps or even Pokémon or accumulating a wealth etc.

Core drive five is social influences and relatedness, doing things that based on what other people do think are safe or collaboration, competition, group quest or gifting things like that. Then core drive six is scarcity and impatient so that’s basically, you want something because it’s exclusive, because of it’s difficult to obtain and that drives sets of behavior. Core drive seven is unpredictability and curiosity which is the drive that is heavily utilized in the gambling industry but whenever you like a sweepstakes or the lottery or raffle tickets this will have this core drive. And the final one is lock and avoidance which they’re do something to avoid a lot to prevent something bad from happening.

[00:05:09] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah so I mean I noticed that on your website which is an incredible resource for gamification that you’ve gone in and analyzed many games that utilized the octaylsis, oh sorry, that leveraged some of those different assets. Is it true that not all of those need to be present in a game, that some may be a more weighted and there’s some that people put more emphasis on? Like does a good game experience need to include everything from that framework?

[00:05:37] Yu-kai Chou: No, first of all you only need one core that’s really strong to draw out a behavior, only one is needed for a behavior at any given one point of time. However, if you want an engaging experience for the long run, one year/three year, some games people are addicted to for ten plus years generally speaking you will see a combination of a variety of those core drives. But some games are more heavily focused on what I call white hat core drive which are drives that make people feel powerful, in control, they feel good. There’s no sense of urgency.

Some games folks more on black hat core drives and they feel so urgent as said even addicted. So in the short run all their metrics look amazing like Farmville games. But in the long run people, it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth because they feel like they’re not in charge of their own behavior so then they burn out and leave.

Then some games focus more on extrinsic motivation, so things you do for a reward, a purpose or a goal so like hey here’s a new challenge collect all this, level up to one hundred. But the activity itself, the game play itself may or may not be fun. And so once people hit their milestones or the badge is no longer interesting then they stop doing the behavior whereas other games focus on intrinsic motivation so thinks that they just enjoy doing, like there’s no points, there’s no stages, there’s no progress.

So every time you play when you die you lose all progress but people still love people because the game play itself is so engaging. So there usually is some kind of pattern among successful games that utilizes one type of experience more than the other.

[00:07:18] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, excellent that’s really interesting. So I mean my question here, does it have to be a digital experience to leverage some of these assets or can some of these things apply in offline context as well?

[00:07:32] Yu-kai Chou: Oh yeah definitely offline context. So gamification is, the study of gamification is really just understanding how the brain responds to stimuli alright and how and everything else we call them feedback mechanics to deliver that motivation. So just like games, games could be World of Warcraft which has a lot of technology but it can also be hide and seek, no technology and the feedback mechanics are just based like other kids keeping score. And last time I checked kids have World of Warcraft but they also enjoy playing hide and seek.

So a lot of solutions I design for organizations or universities or clients are offline solutions, sometimes just a poster on a wall, sometimes it’s just flashcards, sometimes it’s just a policy change, or just a game rule. The key is that does it bring out those eight core drives. Right you could have a digital game with a lot of points and badges but people don’t feel accomplished. But you can have a teacher just say hey great job you are among the winning class right and then in some way you feel accomplished. So it doesn’t have to be digital, as long as it really brings out those core drives. Digital has an advantage which is chapter, it’s a faster feedback system it’s easier to customize response to people. But again it doesn’t have to be digital, like a lot of schools create solutions and examples that are analog.

[00:08:58] Jarrod Robinson: Excellent, excellent. So what’s the, what is the lesson that educates us, sorry what is the lesson that educators can learn throughout their studies of gamification in whether it’s an analog context or an online context. IS there some trends or things that you’re observing in that space that they could get in tune with?

[00:09:21] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah, so for the educators and I have an online community called Octalysis Prime Community and I show a lot of videos in different fields. One is particularly just focused on education. So the key about education is it really needs to be intrinsic motivation. So core drive three and empowerment creates a new feedback giving people meaningful choices, strategy, giving them autonomy. Core drive five social influence and relatedness so collaborative play, competitive pay, giving a lot of social appreciation and core drive seven unpredictability and curiosity. So every time they do the activity it needs to be delightfully surprising, there’s always, they look forward to what’s going to happen next.

And so instead of thinking about oh great there’s scores or punishment you want to make the learning fun again, you want to make the activity itself more interesting and when you can build that into the learning environment then kids are, they’re not doing it just pass the class, they’re doing it because they enjoy it so much and of course when you enjoy something you spend, you exert yourself more and you get way more out of it.

[00:10:33] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, for sure. So I mean I’ve observed in recent years people in the education space sort of throwing around the term gamification and then basically all their doing is giving out badges in some sort of context and as we’ve sort of discussed there’s a little bit more to it than that. There’s obviously all the elements that go into it and I’d be right in saying that’s not truly a gamified experience if all you’re doing is just giving badges.

[00:11:03] Yu-kai Chou: Depends on how you define gamified experience. In my mind it’s very week gamification if anything. Gamify just means to make game like, right to gamify. And so if you think oh badges make something like a game then sure you can find badges in games but that’s not what makes a game fun.

[00:11:25] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah, for sure I agree. I’ve just seen that quite commonly happening in our space where people are sort of presenting those and ticking the gamification box that their class does it. So I mean my question now is is there any, any commercial opportunities out there for or any established companies that are providing gamified experiences sort of out of the box for education that you can think of?

[00:11:53] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah there’s quite a few. So and some are better than others. It’s hard to have a generic platform. So you have things like Class Dojo or Class Craft that kind of brings a bit more of that gamified environment to it, but these are just like cookie cutter engines. The best time of gamified learning experiences they’re usually customized for one type of learning so there’s something called dragon boss which gets kids between I think six to twelve to be addicted to solving of algebra questions.

And now remember algebra for me in eighth grade was a challenging subject but now I’m seeing all these second graders just solving all of these problems and they don’t even know they’re doing math, they think they’re trying to feed the dragon who happens to be like to be alone so it needs to be isolated on one side of the equation and also dislikes irrational numbers etc., etc. Duolingo, language learning app, it’s more, it’s a little more gamified, it’s more interesting.

Khan Academy has done a pretty good job right at, I have friends who majored in history let’s say and then ten years after they graduated they wanted to learn about advanced math on Khan Academy and they never imagined every wanting to learn math after they no longer needed to take a course. So I think your podcast is lot of PE and physical education and that’s, usually those are fun, a lot of people hate their math classes but PE could be fun, could be engaging. But you still have to think about just because you have a game doesn’t mean it’s engaging. Lots of games out there are boring, they’re failures, they also have points and badges and levels and all that stuff but the key is they don’t bring out those eight core drives out very well. So it’s important to think about how do you ideally bring out those three core drives that I mentioned.

[00:13:44] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah, excellent. I mean because I just love that that applies in both an analog context and an online context, a digital context and it’s a big lesson for people, how can you extract those when you’re designing your lessons to be as engaging as possible. So with all that in mind what does the future sort of hold for education and gamification? Is there anything that’s sort of on the horizon that you see that’s going to be quite impactful?

[00:14:11] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah I think gamification is going to be something that fits because it’s about bringing engagement [00:14:20] (unclear). Now whether the term sticks or not we’re not sure, so it depends on what people do in the industry, they could have all bad examples and people drop that. But again the key, the ability to engage people to do desired behavior and enjoy doing it, I think that’s going to always be valuable as long as our brains don’t change that much which I doubt in the near future and sometimes it could be so well understood and adopted that you don’t even call it gamification anymore, it’s just regular design.

It’s like you don’t go to a website you say like woah this website a web 2.0 right because if you’re familiar with the web 2.0 movement it’s, there’s oh now [00:15:01] (unclear) should be interactive now, it’s not just one way, there’s like, there’s Ajax where it suddenly changes in front of you and that’s like the default these day. So gamification could just be embedded in every corner of society and everyone just enjoy what they’re doing as opposed to be being forced to do it.

[00:15:20] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, no that’s cool. And there’s so many potential applications even just in the general day to day world. I remember seeing the speed camera lottery, is that something that you’ve seen in other areas as well or I think it was Sweden or Norway where they had the people who were slowing down and ending up in a raffle ticket entry for those, the prize money of people who were speeding are you familiar with that?

[00:15:46] Yu-kai Chou: Yeah, I’m quite familiar with that. So that’s a core seven unpredictability, curiosity design, patched with ownership and possession. So as long you’re doing the good behavior then you might take money from the people who are doing the bad behavior. So that’s an interesting design. That’s an analog solution right.

I did something before where I was running a workshop and I wanted more people to participate and so there are other people in the industry where if they participate what they do is they just throw out a little plushy toy and this is what so people say yeah I want the plushy so I’m going to participate more. So that’s more of a core drive for ownership possession type of decision, right. I want the extrinsic motivation of the plushy and therefore I participate.

What I did is I thought about how to increase those three core drives- empowerment of creativity, social influence and unpredicting [00:16:39] (unclear). So when they participate and they give a good answer instead of giving them a reward I give them a magnetic dart and I tell them at the end of this workshop, this twelve hour workshop we’re going to play a dart throwing game and everyone has one score but if you have more darts you have more tries so risk less of embarrassing yourself of having a zero score. And then if you win the dart match then you have a major prize.

So then suddenly again I’m not getting, I’m not giving them the reward, I’m giving them a chance to play. So the more they participate the more they can play later and everyone enjoy the dart throwing game. There are people who were online for the workshop and they’re from another time zone so they pulled an all-nighter, they were on the workshop from like 10 pm to 10 am and I told them hey the workshop’s ended online people can go to bed, the offline people will play the dart game now and they actually said hey can you turn the camera around we want to see who wins.

So it’s just a very engaging process and everyone’s excited because they don’t know if they’re going to get the reward right. They can participate, if they participate they might get the reward. So it’s interesting and so that just made the whole experience a lot more intrinsically fun and rewarding.

[00:17:52] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of parallels there to what physical educators can do or education people can do rather than just giving the reward create the conditions where they might get the reward and then see engagement increase, I think that’s phenomenal. So we could talk for hours around this but I’m sure you’ve got a lot of resources on your site that people can go through and complete at their leisure if they want to learn more. So where could they find out more if that’s up their alley?

[00:18:19] Yu-kai Chou: Yup, so I share a lot of information on my blog yukaichou.com Y-U-K-A-I C-H-O-U.com, I have a book called Actionable GamificationBeyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards so there’s a lot of good content from there. And recently I just launched a premium community called Octalysis Prime and sharing a lot of things about how do we apply gamification to improve things like education, productivity, health care, well-being, relationships stuff like that. But that’s more of a premium community so people have to decide it’s worthy of their investments.

[00:18:55] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, excellent. Well I want to thank you for stopping by and sharing all your wisdom around gamification and we’ll have a link to all the different resources and so on that are being mentioned at the pegeek.com/77 for episode 77. So yeah thank you and I look forward to speaking soon.

[00:19:13] Yu-kai Chou: Great, likewise.


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