Incentives Gone Wrong

5 gamification myths that trip up smart entrepreneurs… and what to do instead

1: Gamification = competition

Throughout history, competitive games like chess, polo, & Risk have engaged us and delivered big-time fun. You can identify these zero-sum games because there are winners & losers who’re competing for a scarce resource.

Myth 2: Gamification is magic pixie dust

Let’s see… if I sprinkle some points & badges onto my app, engagement will magically happen. Right? RIGHT????

Myth 3: The magic is in the mechanics

Though it was painful, that failed gamification experiment taught all of us that defaulting to Points, Badges & Leaderboards is NOT always the right approach — especially if you’re not clear about who you serve.

Myth 4: Gamification should look like a game

Many visual thinkers (including me) kick off projects by sketching out their ideas. While developing Happify, for example — we drew sketches of an isometric 2D world that looked kinda like a theme park.

Myth 5: External rewards unlock lasting engagement

This is might be the most persistent & damaging gamification myth. Can external rewards actually unlock lasting engagement?

Incentives that work: Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

Self-Determination Theory, or SDT is a psychological theory about what motivates humans. SDT identifies 3 core elements of human motivation:

  1. Autonomy — our desire to be self-directed.
  2. Mastery — our desire to make progress & improve ourselves & our situation.
  3. Purpose, or relatedness — our desire to find meaning and connection through being part of something larger than ourselves.



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