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My Chapter on Gamification: From Behavior Model to Business Strategy

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

Dr Michael WuMichael Wu, Ph.D. is 927iC9C1FD6224627807Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.



e20sc11-speaking-at.gifFew more announcements today: It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. I’ve just finished teaching the Rotman Executive CRM program last week. And this week I’ve been invited to participate on couple of events at Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara. First, I will be teaching a workshop on Social Analytics with Rawn Shah from IBM on Nov 14th (1--4pm). There, I will take a deep dive into Social Network Analysis and how to use it to quantify collaboration. Then on Nov 16th (1:30--2:30pm), I will participate on the Social-Local-Mobile Panel moderated by Maribel Lopez. Finally, I will be giving a webcast on Nov 15th with Paul Greenberg on the Science of Social. It’s FREE, so check it out if you got the time.


Although I have intermittently written about various topics (e.g. Google+, measuring engagement on Facebook) over the past 8 months or so, my focus has been on gamification. I’ve written a total of 15 articles on this topic, so I think it is time to close this chapter. It doesn’t mean I will stop writing about gamification. There is still a lot that I want to share on topic. For example, what’s the precise distinction between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. But I will save those for chapter 2.


For now, I will compile all my gamification posts here for ease of reference. I will also provide some organization and annotation about these articles along the ways. As I did with other chapters of mine (e.g. on Influencers and on Relationships), I’ve created a word cloud from all of my gamification posts so you can visually see all the important concepts covered in this chapter. This time I used Tagxedo instead of Wordle to create this clover shaped word cloud. Hope you like it.


Background: Definitions & Theoretical Foundation

The first two posts cover some of the basic definitions of what gamification is and some of the terminology that often confuses gamification practitioners in the industry.

  1. Gamification from a Company of Pro Gamers – What is the difference between gamification, game mechanics, game dynamics, and game theory?
  2. What is Gamification, Really? – What is the difference between gamification and serious games that help you solve problems?


The next set of four articles looks at gamification through the lens of a behavioral psychologist. These posts serve as the theoretical foundation for the science of gamification, since they explain why game mechanics/dynamics are able to drive behavior so well and so reliably.

  1. The Magic Potion of Game Dynamics – The Fogg’s Behavior Model: the temporal convergence of motivation, ability and trigger is what drives human behavior
  2. Gamification 101: The Psychology of Motivation – Several theories on what motivates people: Maslow & Pink, Skinner & Watson, and Czechzenmihalyi
  3. Simplicity Counts - Even in Gamification – Give your players more ability by simplifying the behavior: empowering them with the necessary resources to perform the behavior
  4. The Final Touch: Trigger and Gamify – The effectiveness of a trigger not only depends on the behavior trajectory, it also depends on the user’s gaming personality. Good triggers not only have to be appropriate for the user, they also have to arrive at the right time


That’s it on the background. The rest of the posts are more application oriented.


Applications: Practical Tips, Strategy, Business & Challenges

By understanding why game mechanics/dynamics are able to drive behavior change, the first thing we get is an evaluative framework for gamification.

  1. Real Life Gamification: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Using this evaluative framework, we can assess the effectiveness of any gamification strategy. This post illustrates the application of this framework to three existing gamification in the real world


The following three posts illustrate how gamification can be valuable to business enterprises (both in terms of marketing and internal collaboration).

  1. No Game, No Gain: Realizing the ROI of Your Facebook Fans – Gamification can turn the connections you build on social networks into interactions that drive values through loyalty and WOM influence
  2. The Future of Enterprise Software will be Fun and Productive – Gamification can help drive the mass adoption of complex enterprise software that employees often hate to use
  3. The Gaming Industry, Gamification, and Work – Gamification practitioners should learn from game designers and focus more on understanding the users. If done right, gamification can make work much more fun, motivating, productive, and therefore valuable to any enterprise


One of the unintended consequences of gamification is that some players will start gaming (cheating) the gamification system. The next two posts show you how to effectively deal with cheating behaviors.

  1. Beat the Cheat: Stop Gaming the Gamification – Effective gamification must be relatively resistant to cheating. Instead of trying to beat the cheats like an engineer, this post shows you how to reduce cheating like behavioral economist with two levers that you can manipulate
  2. (Relatively) Cheat Resistant Rewards and Metrics for Gamification – Examples of metrics and rewards that you can use to make users don’t want to cheat


Finally, the last three post deals with some of the big challenges of facing gamification in the years to come

  1. Gamification beyond Business and Future Challenges – Some golden nuggets from non-commercial gamification and some open questions that are critical for the advance of the field
  2. The Gamification Backlash + Two Long Term Business Strategies – Although gamification using extrinsic rewards will not work in the long term, it can be sustainable when used to reinforce an intrinsically valuable or motivating behavior
  3. Sustainable Gamification: Playing the Game for the Long Haul – Three examples of sustainable gamification via either the value or the motivation mechanism



Alright, that is my Chapter 1 on Gamification. As I said, there are a lot more that I want to write on this topic. And chapter 2 will certainly be imminent. Some of the more serious topics that I want to cover are: “The psychology of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation,” “The difference between motivations and rewards,” and “Whether gamification is manipulation.” Of course there will be a lot of interesting applications too. For example, I would like to talk about “The persuasiveness of QR code,” and “How to use competition and cooperation in gamification.” All are very interesting topics. So stay tuned...




Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out our webcast on the Science of Social. It’s happening TOMORROW. Paul Greenberg and I will be talking about everything from the science of relationship, engagement, influence, gamification to their implication on loyalty and customer experience. Registration is still open! See you tomorrow. If you miss it, don't worry. You can always view the webcast on-demand.



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.
Mark Miller
Not applicable

Michael - Thanks for putting this list of articles together. You work on this topic has been eye opening and I refer to it often.




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

Hello Mark,


Thank you for the nice comment.

As you can see here, I don't get very many comments here.


And thank you for referring people to it. I will definitely write more on this topic. Gamification is such a deep subject and there are so many fluff and confusion out there. I certainly hope more people will find this chapter useful.


Thanks again and see you soon.


Mika Lofton
Not applicable

Hi Michael "The Secret Weapon" --


It was great meeting you and hearing you speak at SocialTech2012 recently. I enjoyed learning about your gamification behavioral model and will definitely utilize this framework moving forward. I already have mentioned your work to colleagues several times since the conference.


Best Regards, Mika "The Intrigue"

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

Hello Mika,


Thank you for the nice comment and the shout out to your colleague.


The behavior model I described is actually more general than gamification is applicable whenever and wherever you want to drive a human behavior. The best thing about it is that since it is completely based on behavioral economics and psychology, it is pretty agnostic about the technology. There are excellent case studies of gamification in school that are implemented only with trading cards.


Thank you again for sharing my work. 

Hope to see you on Lithosphere more.

Not applicable

Interesting topic -- the links to deeper information throughout are not working.

Not applicable

Thank you for providing this resource in such an engaging and accessible format. I completed the Coursera #gamification12 course recently so this is perfect follow-on reading (it's a great word cloud too!)

Kind regards


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

Hello RosejM,


Thank you for the comment. And I glad you find this resource engaging and accessible.


Great to hear that you've completed the CoursEra #gamification12. Prof. Werbach is a great lecturer, and a group of us were part of the attendees of the Wharton Symposium on gamification that help shape this course. So I'm very glad to see that this course has become popular. 


Keep up the good work and see you around.