Actionable Gamification for the Win 

Posted by Sean Kinney from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on March 23, 2017


I have heard the term gamification come up many times during my tenure at OCHWW, especially when it came to apps and social-based patient portals. We would often talk about leaderboards, badges, novel narratives, etc. Being the father of two boys and the owner of many gaming devices, I have seen and played a lot of games myself, some of which were so addictive. There seemed to be a certain formula to some of them, and at times I had pondered to myself what the underlying mechanics had to do with making them engaging.

When looking at the offerings for sessions on our first day at the SXSW interactive festival, we came across “Actionable Gamification for the Win” with Yu-kai Chou. As we learned, gamification doesn’t necessarily mean “game” in the truest form—you don’t start with game elements and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a “game.” Gamification centers on the idea of active engagement, and the tools that reinforce it. 

It’s all about the application of a series of “core drives” which elicit certain responses in the end users. If you do not start with the core drives, it was the presenter’s opinion that there is no chance of success. In addition, the notion that a product is useful doesn’t necessarily mean that people will use it. Pharma has an opportunity to adopt these rules in many of our tactics. Many of our clients ask about gamification as an approach to creating greater engagement, and I believe there is a huge opportunity to apply the eight rules/cores below in many of our tactics and communications:

The basics of the eight core drives of gamification:


Core Drive One: Epic Meaning & Calling

Community contributions motivate people for the greater good. Examples: Wikipedia and Waze.


Core Drive Two: Development & Accomplishment

Points and badges. Example: Stars and seller ratings on eBay and Amazon. Also Twitter’s “One way follow.”


Core Drive Three: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Rewards for creative or strategic thinking. Examples: Poker, chess, Legos, as well as children’s card games like Pokémon and Magic: the Gathering.


Core Drive Four: Ownership & Possession

Own, collect and get more. Property ownership is the key motivator to play. Examples: McDonald’s Monopoly game and Pokémon Go. Apple also elicits this core in its marketing, as even if a better system comes along people will stay with what they know because they feel like it’s theirs.


Core Drive Five: Social Influence & Relatedness

Nostalgia and group quests are drivers. Examples: Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Groupon. Also another driver for this core is social norming. Marketers will compare you against two groups of people similar to you. One group average, and one group the best. This persuades people to want to be a part of the better group.


Core Drive Six: Scarcity & Impatience

This plays off the notion that people want something because they cannot have it. Examples: Facebook. At its launch it had extreme exclusivity to one college campus. Over time Facebook opened up to anyone with a .edu email address, then to the population at large. Farmville also uses this tactic. After playing for a long time, and earning free things, they begin to offer exclusive things for sale. These things could be achieved free by playing more. Crazy because the game actually was able to motivate a lot of people to pay money to play the game less.


Another aspect of this core is what is defined as the “Magnetic cap.” If you want play to increase, limit it. Example: Supermarkets say “Sale price is X” vs. “Sale price is X, no more than six per customer.” It has been shown in this example to get people to buy all six.


Core Drive Seven: Unpredictability & Curiosity

Lottery and gambling. This drive can even be seen in animals. It was tested and researched in rats with “Skinner’s box.” Yes, even rats have an inclination to gamble. “Easter eggs” are also an example of this core drive. For instance you win something, you don’t know what it is or how you won it. But it persuades you to keep venturing to see if you win more. Example: App rewards that are unexpected, even insignificant ones. “Chase picks up the tab” is a great example. People felt compelled to use their card to see if they would win.


Core Drive Eight: Avoidance

This drive creates an environment that people feel connected to, that they cannot ignore. Example: Farmville. People would literally wake up in the middle of the night to take care of their virtual farms so the plants would not die. Initially the game is more casual and it ramps up to this point. The only way out is to pay money for upgrades or risk losing sleep, or plants.

The above rules are a framework that creates engagement, drives the user with reward, and creates an emotional attachment to the engagement.


This makes me wonder…Are data points enough? Are they the “a product is useful” as earlier stated? I see a challenge as a content creator, to look for new ways to engage our customers and give them new ways to find ownership in the quality products our clients have to offer. I am inspired knowing, with this insight, that tactics we have and ones on the horizon can open new channels to pharmaceutical marketing.

Companies large and small have consulted with the presenter, and a lot of the examples he showed in his presentation really illustrated how certain tactics can lead to persuasion. It was really eye opening and reminded me that gamification can be applied to so many experiences, whether print or in the digital landscape, and that gamification is more of a strategy than something applied to a tangible thing.

When you consider gamification for your brand or communication, there is a tremendous power in engagement. Make sure that you are applying it strategically and not being trivial in its application. Audiences are aware of the marketer’s hand in many of the interactions they have—make sure they get something out of that exchange.


To learn more about Yu-kai’s theory, you can find more information at the links below:


Octalysis Tool:


Gamification book by Yu-kai:


Gamification slideshare by Yu-kai:


TED Talk: