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User Research: Utilizing Octalysis in Game User Research

In fact, the factors that drive players to behave are complex.In the case of players who want more social functions, some of them may want to build specific social relationships in the game and exert some influence that way.

Game Developer

September 3, 2021

4 Min Read

When using game user research methods such as questionnaires and interviews, user researchers might use questions like these to figure out how the game appeal to players:

"Why do you think this game attracts you to play it consistently?"

"What adjustments do you think the game should make to attract you to play it more?" ......

The question is asked simply, and players will answer simply, too: "Fun to play." "Beautiful art style." "With a bit more social functions, I might enjoy playing it more." ......

But in fact, the factors that drive players to behave are complex. In the case of players who want more social functions, some of them may want to build specific social relationships in the game and exert some influence that way.

Others may wish to obtain more resources by means of teaming, and eventually achieve an increase in game level and abilities.

The difference in motivations may cause the game design to appeal to players differently. This also requires us to dig deeper into the possible points of attraction and motivations of player behavior when designing research questions, so as to come up with better suggestions for the development team to refer to.

Here we cover the most commonly used thinking framework in gamification design - Octalysis (which is introduced by Yu-kai Chow). It subdivides the core drivers of user behavior in game design to give developers more inspiration to add more attractive designs in specific motivation dimensions.

Of course, as user researchers, we can also use this framework to analyze the attractiveness of specific game design content to players.

What is Octalysis (The Ocatalysis Framework)

Octalysis is introduced by Yu-kai Chow, who is a Gamification Expert & Behavioral Design Consultant. In this octagonal framework of analysis, each side is referred to as the eight core drivers/motivations of gamification, which are:

Epic Meaning: the player's belief that what he or she is doing is more significant than the thing itself.

Accomplishment: our intrinsic drive to make progress, learn skills, master proficiency, and overcome challenges.

Empowerment: the ability to drive players to fully engage in the creative process, to constantly find new things and try different combinations.

Ownership: users are motivated by the feeling that they own or control.

Social Influence: the aggregation of all the social factors that motivate people, including mentorship, social identity, social feedback, partnership, and even competition and jealousy.

Scarcity: people want something simply because it is too rare, or not immediately available.

Unpredictability: when something is beyond your recognition system, you start to pay attention to this unexpected thing.

Avoidance: we all don't want bad things to happen, don't want our previous efforts to be in vain, and don't want to admit that we did something useless.


The three motivations on the left half of the graph (Accomplishment, Ownership, Scarcity) are called "Left Brain Drives" and are more about logic, calculation, and possession, which are dependent on external motivation - you are motivated because you want something, such as a goal, an object, or anything you can't get; the three motivations on the right (creative, social, and unknown) are called Right Brain Drives, which are more about creativity, self-expression, and socialization-such as being creative, spending time with friends, or being curious about the unknown things.

Gamification using the top three drives is called White Hat Gamification, which makes you feel like you're doing something creative and fulfilling, worthwhile, and ultimately cool; gamification using the bottom three drives is called Black Hat Gamification, which puts you in a position to explore the unknown, pursue rare items, which may not feel very good and may make you give up after a while.

How to utilize Octalysis in game user research process

With the help of Octalysis, we can score game design on these eight important behavioral drivers (each dimension is scored in a range of 0-10) to discern whether the game is overly biased in certain dimensions.

If the chart can clearly see that one or two of the four directions of the top, bottom, left and right are more prominent, it means that the game's design is more biased towards left and right brain drive or black and white hat gamification. And the bias will lead to the lack of stickiness of certain type of players to play this game.

But how to analyze it specifically? Here we take Candy Crash Saga as an example: many players will be impressed by the level design of this game, because each level needs  players to think to find the best solution to pass the level, which has a more significant player behavior motivation in the creative empowerment and feedback dimension.

At the same time, the game's leaderboard design also helps players establish certain in-game connections with others, and through competitive ranking, players start to have influence in other players in the game, which effectively attracts players who focus more on social influence in the game.

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