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Interview with Simón Duque Echeverri – Gamification Designer & Project Lead at The Octalysis Group

Home / Blog / Interview with Simón Duque Echeverri – Gamification Designer & Project Lead at The Octalysis Group

gamification expert

Before we start the interview, we need to tell our audience how and when you started in this (gamification) industry. Can you please write a little on what intrigued you about gamification and what your personal experience has been so far?

Of course! Gamification entered my life by chance when preparing for a research scholarship at Purdue University. At the time, I was finishing my studies as an Industrial Engineer in Colombia.

I discovered an article that talked about this new ‘Gamification’ thing going on in the eCommerce world that had a lot to do with games. Of course, my inner gamer immediately took control and decided I was going to make that my main research topic for the next 6 months.

Little did I know that game design techniques are just the end result of a more complicated process that takes Gamification to another level. The process focuses instead on human behavior, so that was when I felt genuinely engaged and intrigued by it, which helped focus the next 5-6 years of my professional life.

1- What does the term “Gamification” mean to you?

Well, first of all, I believe the term “Gamification” doesn’t help us (the industry) much, mainly because people tend to form misconceptions about it thinking that “Gamification” is all about making games, or adding points/badges to an experience.

Gamification is ultimately a change in behavior, and the only way to change behavior is by understanding how the mind works and what motivates and engages us.

It’s called Gamification because games happen to understand very well how to motivate and engage people. And when I say games, I refer to all sorts of traditional sports, board games, social games, and especially video games.

The video game market has become one of the biggest in the world, and hundreds of companies have spent the past 50 years perfecting those games while developing techniques to engage their players.

As Gamification experts, we use those methods to change the way people perceive real-life experiences without turning them into a game itself, so people will ultimately enjoy doing the things they are supposed to do.

Finally, the main difference between Game Design and Gamification is that our ultimate goal is to positively impact our clients’ business metrics.

2- What are your responsibilities as the Project Lead of The Octalysis Group? Tell us about some of the projects you’ve been working on recently.

My job as Project Lead is to make sure everything is connected. One of my primary responsibilities is to make sure everyone on the client-side is on the same page with us in terms of strategy and design capabilities.

I also need to make sure we adjust design elements to create the best possible experience for the final users. That is something we need to do in synergy with our clients since they are the experts in whatever they specialize in.

I can’t tell much about very recent projects for confidentiality reasons, but we could see a significant change in the next few years with one of the biggest technology firms in Asia and the entertainment industry.

3- As a Gamification Consultant and Designer, what criteria/research did you follow when working with a client. (Example: if they belonged to the eCommerce industry) 

Working with the Octalysis framework allows us to create fresh gamified experiences in any possible industry. The framework specializes in understanding how the human mind works, including any potential differences between users of any market. 

Our expertise relies on knowing how the human mind works and how to motivate and engage it, rather than diving deep into any specific industry or user type.

For context, I am going to say that besides our framework, we also have a 5-step implementation process that harnesses the client’s needs, their user types, feedback mechanics, and resources to craft any well-structured gamified experience.

4- Tell us about Project Saksham and the idea behind its inception. (would love to know the results/findings of your project)

Project Saksham was conceived by Professor Alok Chaturvedi from Purdue University to empower young women below the poverty line in the state of Jharkhand in India. 

The idea was to provide a game that compiled the basic knowledge about economics and entrepreneurship to teach them how to create and manage their own businesses based on their handcrafting skills.

The women who completed the experience could opt for a local bank loan and be supported by Saksham’s international partners (in terms of logistics).

This was the first project I was part of in my Gamification journey, so by that time, what I found most interesting was how we were able to work with the Unity game engine to develop the actual experience.

We also had to bear in mind that our user base had to endure very rough life situations, and most of them didn’t even know how to read, so the experience had to be extremely hopeful and intuitive.

5- You have talked about developing internal and external Gamification applications based on the 8 Core Drives of human motivation. Can you explain to the audience what those core drives are?

The 8 Core Drives are the foundation of the Octalysis Framework. These Core Drives help us understand what motivates us and therefore move us to action.

The Core Drives are strategically placed around an octagon shape that serves as a map to know which ones provide Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation, as well as what we call “Black Hat” and “White Hat” motivation to help us engage users in the short and long terms.

I think a good example now that we are going through this rough year 2020 is how people around the whole world have changed their behavior based on the COVID19 virus.

There are several reasons why so many people started wearing face masks, and all those reasons can be translated into different Core Drives.

You might wear a mask for fear of getting the virus yourself, which we call Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. But it could also be that you are doing it for the sake of everyone else in your town and sending a positive message. In that last case, you are probably motivated by Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling.

Maybe you are just too concerned by the opinion of other people and don’t want them to stare at you for being the only one without a mask. In that case, you are being motivated by Core Drive 5: Social influence & Relatedness.

6- How can one use game mechanics and design to trigger motivation and/or increase business metrics?

Game Mechanics or Game Techniques are also linked to those 8 Core Drives we mentioned earlier, meaning that the ones you decide to implement are strictly connected to the client’s business metrics and user types.

You cannot expect a leaderboard to work properly if your audience isn’t competitive by nature, and you also need to know what techniques create a sense of urgency if you don’t want your users to procrastinate.

The spectrum of possibilities for every scenario is too broad, so I recommend that your viewers stick with the fundamentals. Knowing what the 8 Core Drives are and understanding how they are placed in the octagon will create sufficient knowledge to assess any issue that may arise in a Gamification project.

7- Apart from your professional life, you mentioned that you play Overwatch in your free time. What makes Overwatch so different from other games? Which hero do you most often play? 

I like how Overwatch managed to combine 2 of my favorites game genres (MOBA and FPS). I really enjoyed the variety of characters in their roster and how flexible its gameplay is. I think that last part is what made the difference with previous similar games like Team Fortress 2.

I have always leaned towards the Support role, so picking heroes that can empower my team and protect them from the enemy threats is what engages me the most.

Also, as a support player, you are usually in the back of the team, giving you a more comprehensive view of what is going on in the battlefield. This is perfect for coming up with strategies and leading your team to victory!

To actually answer the last part of your question, my most played heroes are Mercy and Tracer, and the highest rank I got was Masters.

8- What changes (apart from the ones you’re already working on) do you want to see made in the next 5 years? Any predictions about the future of this industry? (What change are you expecting in the foreseeable future?)

I think in 5 years from now, one of our main fields of work will be VR/AR experiences, and I do believe VR/AR could be a potent tool. Still, like any tool, it needs to be used by the right hands to create a significant impact, so let’s hope we start going beyond points and badges and focus on what really matters, which is understanding how to engage the human mind.

As a side note, and honoring uncle Ben’s words, “With great power comes great responsibility,” meaning that Gamification can also be used to prime people to do harmful things. It is on us to be critical on where not to implement Gamification strategies.

9- Name a few of your mentors, influencers, or friends that you think have helped you understand or increase your knowledge about gamification.

Many people have contributed to increasing my Gamification knowledge, but a special thanks goes to Yu-Kai Chou, not only for conceiving a great framework but also for being patient with my rookie mistakes and trusting me very early on with the lead of big projects.

Besides that, I believe all my friends and family members that tolerated my rant about common misconceptions and particular implementations deserve to be mentioned here, as they helped shape my mind and make my thoughts more refined.

10- If you could give one piece of advice to the people starting in the gamification industry, what would it be?

I highly encourage you all to doubt everything. If you decide to start this journey, you will hear a lot of theories, and they all will make sense in the beginning, but later on, you will realize that they might just be scratching the surface of what Gamification really is. So keep it up and never stop learning!

11- Could you share a picture of your workspace with our readers? (send us a picture of your workspace)

For sure! We all work remotely at The Octalysis Group, so I get to have my gaming setup and office space combined in one single unit haha. Here it is:

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