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Gamification Tenet #7: Knowing Your Players—Trigger, Simplify, Then Motivate

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Welcome back. Hope you all had a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving. I've been traveling a lot, and there are many mishaps on the road. Nevertheless, I'm thankful that I am alive. Maybe I'll share some of these crazy travel stories sometimes later.


Alright, back to gamification now. All the tenets we discussed so far are mostly concerned with the behaviors we want to encourage and the strategies to drive them effectively.

  1. Have a Granular Understand of Your Desired Behavior
  2. You Can’t Change a Behavior that You Didn’t Track
  3. Always Watch Out for the Unintended Consequences
  4. Change and Adapt Faster than your Players
  5. Level Up in Baby Steps
  6. Guide Your Users with Frequent Feedback


In this 7th tenet, we set out to understand our players. This is extremely important to the success of the gamification strategy. Unfortunately there are often too many aspects of the players to understand. So what should we focus on?


Know Your Players—Trigger, Simplify, and then Motivate (in This Order)


As far as gamification is concerned, there are 3 main aspects of the player that we need to understand. They actually correspond to the 3 factors in Fogg’s behavior model. So knowing your players means knowing if your players have the 3 underlying behavior factors:

  1. Do they have the motivation and want to perform the behavior? If not, what would motivate them? What do they love and hate? What are their passions and their fears?
  2. Do they have the ability—do they have access to all the resources required for them to carry out the behavior? If not, what is preventing them from carrying out the desired behavior? Remember, these resources may be time, knowledge, skills, confidence, attention, permissions, data, information, the ability to learn new things, and/or the ability to break old habits.
  3. Is there a trigger that prompts them to take action? Is the trigger carefully timed to fire at right time (i.e. when the players have high motivation and ability). If not, when are the players most motivated, and when do they have access to the most resources?


The most important question of course, is whether your players have all 3 factors at the same moment in time? If not, is there a way to use a good trigger to align these 3 factors? Only when there is a temporal convergence of these 3 behavior factors will your players carry out the behavior you want reliably. Once you know your players’ motivation, ability, and trigger, then you are in a position to drive the action you want through effective design.



A common mistake that many gamification practitioners make is they focus too much on the motivation factor. When a gamification strategy fails, they immediately fixate on how to increase motivation. For example, they try to give more feedbacks and different kinds of feedbacks (i.e. points, badges, leaderboards, etc.) to get the players to focus on the rewards. They also give bigger rewards and more incentives to increase the motivation. However, motivation is often the most difficult to change, and as such, the most volatile among the 3 behavior factors.


Gamification Tenet07a 350px.pngIn practice, when you are unable to drive a behavior, the easiest fix is usually a trigger. Because a trigger fires at a moment in time and they are easy to implement, deploy, measure, and iterate. Making sure you have a trigger and that it fires at the right time (i.e. when the players have high motivation and ability) is usually the fastest solution to fix your failed gamification attempts.


If you have done all you can with triggers, you should then focus on the ability factor. To increase your players’ ability, you can educate the player so they learn and acquire more ability. This is pretty straightforward once you’ve identified the limiting resources (see Tenet #6 on how to use missions and behavior coupling to guide your players up the leveling ladder). However it is important to note, this is more work for the players. It also takes more time, because learning takes time.


Alternatively, you can simplify the behavior by providing your players with all the necessary resources to carry out the behavior. In this case, you have to do more work to make the limiting resource accessible to the players, but it’s less work for the players and much faster. This approach has been experimentally demonstrated to be more effective at driving the desired behaviors. Simplicity is generally a stronger behavior driver than motivation.


You should only try to change people’s motivation as a last resort, because that is typically very challenging. In cases where that can be done, it’s usually only the extrinsic motivation that you are able to change. Intrinsic motivation takes a long time to develop. However, extrinsic motivations are often short lived, and they are easily influenced by many extrinsic factors that you have little control over. For example, even a change of the weather (e.g. a rainy day) is enough to kill someone’s motivation to workout.


My advice to you; if your gamification isn’t driving the behaviors you want, you need to check your players for 3 things—trigger, ability, and then motivation—in that specific order.



Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is CRM2010MKTAWRD_influentials.pngLithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on Lithosphere, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.
Trusted Contributor
Trusted Contributor

Excellent article @MikeW. I really think that Gamification is underutilized by many organizations. I know that it could benefit the area that I am interested, which is people with disabilities and usability.


@cindycapo@wittier@chaebae you may want to take a look at this article.

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @edaccessible,


Thank you for the comment. Well gamification is definitely underutilized, but there is a reason for it.  First, it's rather a new discipline in business. Many people really don't know what it's all about and what it can do. Second, the term "gamification" actually made a lot of the old school organization a bit scared, thinking that work and games don't go together. And finally, it is actually very difficult to get it just right when implementing it in a real life scenario. 


That is actually the reaon that I started this mini-series on the tenets of gamification success. I hope you enjoy it. There's more on this topic coming soon.


Thank you again for commenting. See you next time.

Respected Contributor
Respected Contributor

 Very interesting @MikeW@edaccessible, thanks for putting Attention here... 

Have a look @wittier @chaebae  


Looking forward to the next,,,, 

Trusted Contributor
Trusted Contributor

Thank you @edaccessible and @MikeW  Great information, it was pleasure to read. 

Occasional Commentator
Occasional Commentator

Can you give us a few examples of triggers? Thank you

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @petrsvihlik,


Thank you for the question.


By definition Trigger is anything that prompts you to carry out the behavior, with the criteria that

  1. the user must be aware of it
  2. the user must understand what they are prompted to do


So a simple trigger that we are very familiar with it is a phone ring. We can hear it or felt our phone vibrate so we are definitely aware of it. And we know what this trigger is asking us to do (i.e. pick up the phone). So this is valid trigger.


But there are many triggers. Pretty much any changes in the environment that we can sense and understand what they want us to would qualify as a trigger (e.g. alarm, mail notification, a flashing button that want you to click it. etc.).


To learn more about trigger, please see this blog post I wrote about triggers: The Final Touch: Trigger and Gamify.


Hope this helps.

See you again next time.


Occasional Commentator
Occasional Commentator

Thanks @MikeW, it helped 🙂