Habitica Design Challenge Finalist for Octalysis - Mattia Ongaro
Contestant - mattia ongaro
short Video presentation: https://goo.gl/wUO8f2
step 1: strategy dashboard
I identified two main categories of users of Habitaca.
The first kind is the main and the most important one. It is composed by people
who are transitioning from childhood (less responsibility, no need to have much
self-discipline) to adulthood (need to be disciplined and accountable). They could
be teenagers as well as older people. Since the western society does not put much
weight onto growing up (this is diferent in anglo-saxon cultures, but holds on true
in many cases), you could find people who never reach the adulthood and people
who are still transitioning in their forties.
I borrow the definition of adulthood from the discipline of Transactional Analysis
which I find very useful to analyze Habitaca role in the life on an average person.
Transactional Analysis personality model states that everybody can occupy one
between three main personalities: kid, adult, parent.
Drawing similitudes between all the mammalian species, Transactional Analysis
found out that games are the first form of learning for all the mammalians, the
main teaching vector from parents to their kids.
Children are not capable of surviving the real world, thus they use virtual games to
simulate it in a safe environment.
In this way, growing up they develop safely the skills to survive the real world.
Once they can dominate the environment, their parents abandon them and they
are usually willing to go alone toward their destiny. They enter and embrace
adulthood winning a new personality: the adult.
This mechanism holds true for all the mammalians, from your cat -if you have any-
to a tiger, from the dog of your neighbors to a wolf.
Through this framework, I see Habitaca as an app which finds its true purpose in
helping people transitioning and become adults through a game which looks safe
and resemble them the childhood, but push them directly into the real world.
So the first and most important user for Habitaca must be everybody who is trying
to change his life to become more responsible, but struggles to do so -or at least
would like it to be easier.
He is the typical 18-25 years old guy, who is studying and maybe even
working for a living.
I played Habitaca and looked at the profiles of other players to confirm my thesis,
in fact, I noticed that most of them are students trying to make the best of their
The second kind of user is someone who is already productive and somewhat
disciplined, but he would like to make his life even happier and even more
productive in the meanwhile.
This category is smaller than the previous one and harder to define rigorously. If
they are older than forty, usually these users have been playing video games since
they were children and they never stopped. This helped them to adapt to the new
technologies of our times, which are progressing at a very fast pace.
Since their life is already complete, they are more interested in the game
mechanics, its economy and the social side of Habitica -interestingly I noticed this
is something which turns more appealing for users in the endgame phase.
If they are younger than forties we cannot say much about them, but they must be
individuals who are goal oriented and/or fun-seeking.
Habitaca main geographical targets are U.S.A. and Europe, but I think it could
become very popular in the Asian market since their culture is very ritual-oriented
and competitive for the individuals.
The app is not suitable for kids. A diferent app, although very similar, could prove
itself very useful for parents. They would act as grand masters, seting the habits
and the tasks for their children and using the reward system to give them real
rewards going on the game. The biggest diference with how Habitica is now, would
be making it simpler and with less stuf, removing its social side and part of its
A similar version of Habitica could make it acquire a bigger share of the market
with litle efort.
2. WHAT CORE DRIVES MOTIVATE THEM
The first category of users is motivated by:
• CD 1, Epic meaning
• CD 2, Accomplishment paired with…
• CD 8, Avoidance (loss aversion)
3. WHY CDs ARE EMBEDDED WITHIN THE CURRENT APP
CD 1: the user hopes to improve his life, to build new habits which would make
him or her a beter person. Moreover, he hopes to break the old ones which stick. In
the first case, to get good grades, earn enough money to be independent, be fit, and
CD 2: accomplish his life goals, usually geting grades and improve his health.
CD 8: if he doesn’t get good grades, he makes his degree valueless, losing all the
time he invested in it. If he doesn’t get fit, he loses health, and so on for each one of
his life goals. That’s why in this case I think CD 2 and CD 8 go hand in hand.
4. ARE THERE ANTI-CORE DRIVES? (REASONS WHY THEY DON’T DO THE
CD 5 (Social Influence) can restrain a potential user from using the app because it
is a game and he fears being considered childish for using it -ofen this is a
rooted self-judgement: CD 1 (meaning).
There are many ways self-judgement could turn away a potential long-term user.
Another one is considering the app manipulative toward himself.
There is no universal way to solve this anti-CD, but the best way is to address how
well Habitica works in making people reach their goals and build their habits.
When he starts playing, the user could feel that the game is taking time away
from his goals, turning him away from his goals (for example: I played 10
minutes, I could have used those 10 minutes to repeat today’s lecture). Therefore,
also the CD 2 (accomplishment) can act as an anti-CD. Also in this case, CD 2
works with CD 8: pragmatic and motivated people do not want to lose their time.
They feel like even 5 minutes is a huge loss.
Again the solution is the education of the client. The time put into Habitaca must
be considered an investment with a big ROI, not time lost.
In the discovery phase, the user could feel turned away from the lack of
customization of his Habitaca Avatar, feeling alienated from it (CD 4,
Another very strong anti-core drive is how Habitica features are fed to the user. It
gives too much too fast creating confusion (anti-CD 2, it makes the user feel
stupid). I will address this problem in a small digression between the desired
actions and in the semi-final section (Step 3, page 14).
DEFINE DESIRED ACTIONS
–-- discovery phase desired actions
First and foremost the costumer must acknowledge the existence of this awesome
He could hear about Habitaca from YouTubers, bloggers or friends, or he could get
to know it while looking for a way to improve and/or organize his habits through
the new technology now available to everybody. This means finding an article on
lifehack.org about how well Habitica automatizes habits or he could find the app
itself on the Google Play.
Small online social circles are very important too. For example Reddit, various
forums and social networks (for instance, Facebook groups) can lead many people
into trying Habitica.
Desired Action N.1: Get to know Habitica
which leads to Desired Action N.2: download and try Habitaca.
So we have just gone from 0 to 1: from not even knowing about the app to
installing and trying it.
The previous steps must create a desire strong enough not only to install the app
and launch it but even to create an account.
DA N.3: sign-up.
---- onboarding phase desired actions
The user is now instructed about the game interface.
DA N.1: learn about the basic game interface.
DA N2: customize your avatar.
DA N.3: use the basic game interface to customize your tasks => try the (+)
buton, add and customize your tasks (some users like to customize also the
DA N.4: learn about the social side of the game: tavern, inbox, challenges, etc.
Here you can see the learning side of the game becomes too heavy, in Italy we
would say that“there is too much meat on the fire”, meaning that some of it will be
wasted. It is not clear if you’d beter improve your habits, tweak your tasks, get
into a challenge or whatever.
DA N.5: socialize (this desired action can be divided into more parts, potentially
here we have 5 Desired Actions: socialize through the tavern, socialize doing the
challenges, socialize geting into one or more guild, keep in contact with the
people through your inbox).
DA N.6: complete your tasks.
DA N.7: you get some gold and maybe some drops by doing the previous Desired
Action. You start using the reward system and buying stuf for your Habitaca
DA N.8. essentially the reward system is a boiled down version of the inventory
subsections Shops and Stable (even if it has the superior function of adding
customized rewards). So afer trying the reward system, the user tries the wider
version: the subsections Shops and Stable (here we have many supplementary
desired actions which can be included in the macro category buy-sell).
DA N.9: the user customizes further his Habitica avatar, the user changes
equipment, uses items and combines them (for example hatch an egg with a
DA N.10: the user sleeps at the tavern (suspend your“Dailies”).
DA N.11: the user gets a pet;
The user wants to feed his pet and buy items at the market, so he feels compelled
to earn gems.
DA N.12: the previous DAs lead into doing challenges and, more in general, get
more into the social part of the game or to spend real money and buy the
DA N.13: come back to the game at least daily (multiple times is a beter choice,
both for the personal enjoyment and the functionality of the game: you need check
many tasks afer you complete them and you need to keep your social connections
alive) and repeat the previous actions (this is the main activity loop).
The first days coming back to Habitica is rewarded through a Random Reward, but
otherwise, it does not lead to a win-state by itself.
--- scafolding phase desired actions
The user learned about the social side of the game previously, but only going on
with the game he can fully use and appreciate this feature. The same is true for the
economic system of the game.
The user acknowledges the importance of the gems to organize challenges and
other benefits they confer which he wasn’t aware of.
The core activity loop originates from the onboarding phase. During the scafolding
phase, the user has a few new Desired Actions possible.
DA N.1: the user gets into Guilds to make it easier for him to get Gems (and
perhaps even because he likes to chat with the guildies, CD 5’s relatedness). He will
probably choose guilds where the members share a purpose about which he is
interested (for example geting good grades). Depending on the user, it could be
more important to get into Guilds which helps more with his life goals or which
make him earn more gold, drops, and gems.
DA N.2: the user reaches the level 12, he now decides a profession for his
DA N.3: the user activates his new skills daily spending his daily mana.
DA N.4: the user starts collection sets.
DA N.5: the user starts growing his pets and his mounts.
--- endgame phase desired actions
The user has been playing Habitica since more than one year. He automatized at
least several of the habits he wanted to or he failed at them completely and he does
not trust Habitica system anymore.
At this point of the game, he has probably reached an high status and completed
the collections, got more into the social side and so on.
He keeps repeating the previous Desired Actions, but nothing relevant sum up.
DA N.1: the user starts organizing more social activities (he could found a
guild, make new challenges, and so on).
DA N.2: the user starts helping and supporting less experienced users.
DEFINE FEEDBACK MECHANICS
These feedback mechanics are already implemented into Habitica:
• Health: CD 4, CD 8, CD 5.
• Experience level: CD 2, CD 5 (through beter game performance in guilds).
• Avatar customization: CD 2, CD 3, CD 4, CD 5.
• Gems, gold, silver: CD 2 (not for all the users, only for some people
accumulating richness is an accomplishment by itself), CD 4, CD 5 (only for
gems, because to get them you need to participate in challenges or receive
them as a gif), CD 7 (some drops are random-like), CD 6 (the scarcity must
be well balanced through the game economy).
• Dailies Streak: CD 1, CD 2, CD 4, CD 8.
• Skills improvement: CD 2, CD 4 (you choose in which skill to invest your
points), CD 5, CD 2.
• Collection sets completion: CD 2, CD 4, CD 6, CD 7 (rare mounts).
• The level of pets and mounts: CD 2, CD 4.
• Challenges completion: CD 2, CD 3, CD 5.
• Guild Feedback: CD 8 and CD 5 (am I making other people losing their
I would add the following feedback mechanics:
• the possibility to see if in the past days the users completed his tasks or
failed at them, this is beter done through a graphical chart which allows
comparing your last days: it reemphasizes CD 2 if you are doing beter or CD
8 if you are doing worse (you do not want to lose your habit formation
progresses), CD 3 (the comparison would push the user to elaborate how to
• more noticeable daily streaks (it’s a very important feedback to have), add
the Longest Streak Counter to push the user to break his longest streak):
improve CD 1 (it represents your improvement), CD 2 (to reach and break
the previous longest streak), CD 8 (through cognitive dissonance, you want
to remain coherent with your actions, you want to be as good as your best
try), CD 5 (almost everybody likes to boast about how strong and disciplined
they are with friends).
• daily and monthly Productivity Pulse: it would be calculated through the
results of your tasks; CD 1 (it represents how productive you have been), CD
2 (keep it high or make it high) & CD 8 (do not let it go lower), CD 3 (you
need to be creative and tweak your life to keep your Productivity Pulse high,
it would be a real time parameter, the only one).
• A chart for the productivity pulse, comparison with the previous months
(two lines): CD 1 (it gives the user an“all-in” metric about his progress), CD 2
(every improvement would be a huge accomplishment), CD 3 (how I tweak
it?), CD 4 (it’s my productivity pulse).
• a push notification when the daily productivity pulse becomes too low: CD 8
(you do not want it to become too low, it would mean you have not been
very productive today, you are losing time, you are losing at Habitica and
you are losing at your life), CD 3 (what do I have to do to make it high
The incentives of Habitica have 4 macro-categories:
• Character Advancement => Access to new features, like the profession
feature and the challenge planning feature (you need gems to launch a
challenge); it increases also Power and Status.
• Avatar Customization => Status, Power.
• Collectibles & Richness => Stuf.
• Social Status => Status, Power (social power).
Through the game I identified the following incentives and rewards -I categorized
them using the Reward Context scheme provided:
• experience points => Fixed-Action Reward.
• items: food, equipment, eggs, potions, quests => Random, Sudden and Prize
pets and mounts (could be included in the previous incentive group) => Prize
Pacing, Random and Sudden rewards.
• rare and unique items, pets and mounts => Prize Pacing and Random
• gold and silver => Fixed-Action reward.
• gems => Fixed-Action reward (challenges or paying), Social Treasure (you can
gif only gems).
• badges (now divided into basic, seasonal and special) => Fixed-Action
Rewards, even if they can be the consequence of other rewards.
• unlock new features (for example:the profession choice) => Fixed-Action
Reward (it depends only on the experience level).
• skill points => Fixed-Action reward.
• special events (seasonal events are already implemented) => Sudden and
• gifing (I guess you can gif simple greetings during some season event,
otherwise you can only gif gems) => Social Treasure (you can gif only
I would add the following incentives:
• the possibility to make certain habits and your progress at them public: CD 4
(it allows further avatar customization), CD 5 (it makes your commitment
• when you break one of your longest streaks, you get a Random Reward
• when you reach a 66 days streak you get a Fixed-Action reward (a big one,
like some gems), this is the average time to build an habit (even if it varies a
lot depending on the habit).
• the choice to lose gems or other benefits when the user break a selected
habit (CD 8, an anti-reward).
• Public shaming could be added for users who break their habits for many
consecutive days: they would be“put in a pillory” (there would be an
announcement in the tavern), and they would be suspended from the game
for a certain amount of hours (I believe 6 hours would be plenty); CD 5, CD 8
• give the possibility to make your Productivity Pulse public: CD 5, CD 4
• make gems slot machine during seasonal events (you put in gems and you
can win gems and unique items available only for the current event): CD 7,
• make an experience and drops boosters in random moments: CD 7, CD 6
(keep it low, once a week), CD 3
• Provide new rare and unique items periodically: CD 7, CD 6.
• let the user decide the secondary name of the bosses: CD 1 (this feature
would make the quests more meaningful for the user), CD 2, CD 4, CD 8.
• add other gifable items (now you can gif only gems): CD 5 (social treasure).
• allow item exchanges, selling to other users and auctions (at the market:) CD
3, CD 5, CD 6, CD 2.
step 2: ideation
You can read most of the idea I got around the Octalysis, but I will explain only the
best and most immediate ones in Step 3 & 4. I exposed some of them previously in
the feedback mechanic and the game incentive improvements I would make.
steps 3 & 4: CORE ACTIVITY LOOP &
The following features would improve every given metric, but I focused especially
on the first metric, the most important, since you can improve all the metrics, but
you can only optimize for one of them.
BREAKTHROUGH THE PRODUCTIVITY APPs – DISCOVERY PHASE
This is mostly a branding and marketing problem. Habitica feels to the public more
like a time-consuming game than a productivity tool (I wrote about this topic in
the anti-core drives section, page 3), moreover the name is not catchy enough. I’m
not stating it’s bad, but I believe something on the line of“Habit Wars” would make
a stronger and longer-lasting impression on the mind of possible users (CD 1, Epic
Meaning & Call).
Habitica website and Youtube channel could improve a lot, they do not conceive
Habitica story and brand well enough in my opinion (CD 1). Habitaca has a unique
brand positioning (CD 6, Scarcity) with no valuable competitors: habits
Habitica should have a show-reel of happy customers and clients, with long success
stories about how Habitica changed their lives (CD 1 & CD 5). Habitica should
make a strong and unique promise and maintain it (CD 1).
A Public Relationship strategy (CD
5, Social Influence & Relatedness)
could help to conquer a bigger share
of the market through famous
testimonials and influencers. For
example, I found out that Jujimufu
(almost 900k followers on Instagram
and a hell of a funny guy) used and
is probably using Habitica. I told a
friend of mine about Habitica: he
wasn’t very interested, but then I
told him that Jujimufu was using it,
he suddendly downloaded Habitica
and tried it telling everybody about
how awesome the app looked.
Habitica should consider doing some informative video about habits (CD 1) and
about how it put these notions into the app to make it works for you (CD 2, make
the user feels smarter than other people because he is using Habitica to improve
his life geting more results for less efort). For example, Habitica staf could speak
about: afer how many days an habit becomes an habit, the brain reward system
(nucleus accumbens) and dopamine, Pavlov’s dog, Pavlok device (Habitica could
even interface with Pavlok) and psychobiology of motivation.
To improve the sign-up ratio, Habitica could tell how many active users it has (CD
5). Here is an example of a two passages singup form.
TOO MUCH IN THE ONBOARDING PHASE
–- improve the onboarding completition
When you start using Habitica there is too much stuf to learn, the interface is
confusing: it should be foolproof. The newbie should be allowed using only the
tavern, the inbox and the task interface, unlocking the Reward within the end of
the first day (he does not have enough money to get any reward anyway, so why
burden his mind with extra, useless information? Once he gets some gold and he
can use the reward system, then he is rewarded unlocking the reward system) and
the other functionality leveling up.
They should be showed in a fading color, if the user tries to click on them they
should say something on the line of “You need to reach level 4 to unlock the party
When I started playing Habitica I noticed that the Glowing Choice was somewhat
implemented. A litle character explained the basic interface (Habits, Dailies, To-
Dos and Rewards) afer clicking on each element. This is not the best way to do it.
An NPG should suggest you your next step, arousing your curiosity (CD 7), or the
experience should be guided through the Desert Technique (CD 2).
Another unclear thing is the diference between Habits and Dailies. It should be
explained clearly at the start of the game. An Habit is higher in frequency, the more
you do it, the beter. On the other hand you can perform a Daily only once every
day, but if you do not, you get an automatic penalty (instead you must auto-inflict
it to yourself if it was an habit).
MAKE IT LOCAL
Google and other colossuses are incentivizing websites and apps which implement
local features. This is the new trend.
It’s okay to be in a virtual world, but it would be awesome if the user could find
people who live near him to help each other completing his tasks. Maybe there are
already many people you know that are using Habitica (CD 5, CD 7“wow also that
guy I knew at the party is using Habitica”), but you have no way to find it out.
Habitica should ask to import the contact list from the smartphone or friends
LONG TERM-ENGAGEMENT – ENDGAME PHASE
The game itself has its roots in the task planner. The user should express his
creativity implementing new habits and combining them to improve his
Thus, what we can do to improve the CD 3, which is the most important core to
improve long-term users engagement, is to improve the feedback mechanics.
We can make easier for the user to feel a deeper causation between his real life
habit trends and his Habitica avatar stats showing the Productivity Pulse (CD 2,
CD 3, CD 8), and show a push notification when the Productivity Pulse becomes
too low (penalties can be added, but are not necessary).
This must be an all-in metric for the user, which would be pushed to tweak his
daily habits to improve it constantly. Moreover, it can be added a graph comparing
his productivity pulse and the last month productivity pulse.
Not enough importance is given to the daily habit streak counter. (CD 1, CD 2,
CD 4, CD 8) You could make an app for this feature alone. It should be shown
boldly and compared to the user longest streak, always pushing him to improve
and think about how to tweak his habits and his life to reach longer streaks.
The game has good PvE (player versus environment) mechanics, but there is no
PvP (player versus player). I played Guild Wars for many years and I remember
that when people get bored with quests or finished the main game’s storyline, they
started doing a lot
of PvP (CD 2, CD 5,
CD7 if batles with
are implemented). I
would add the
• 1 vs 1 batles
• 4 vs 4 batles
in an Arena)
• Guild batles
The batle dynamics would be prety simple, an extension of the batle dynamics
Habitica is using for Bosses. Obviously, these batles would last from days to weeks.
The experienced user could apply to the“follow a newbie quest” (CD 5) and obtain
some gem and a badge helping a newbie through the first stages of the game. I saw
that experienced users are already doing this in the tavern anyway.
The economic system isn’t very good, exchanges and auctions should be allowed
(CD 2, CD 3, CD 4, CD 5, CD 6). You do not know the value of what you own until
you compare it to what others are willing to ofer to obtain it and vice-versa. The
economic system of the game becomes more and more important advancing in the
Another interesting feature I would add
is the fading avatar. If the user stops
playing Habitica for more than one
week, its avatar starts turning gray,
pixel by pixel (CD 8). This process must
proceed slowly, conversely, if the user
starts using Habitica again, the avatar
should be revitalized progressively
within one week (CD 2). This feature
would not only make people continue
playing Habitica longer, but it would
also help building an Habitica culture
(CD 1, meaning):
”Hey, have you seen RobinBreak78? It has been a while since the last time I saw
“I’ve just looked at his profile man, too bad he has
turned into a ghost”.
Let the user make certain habits, and their longest
streaks, public (CD 2, CD 4, CD5, CD 8). This would
be a huge improvement toward the customization of
the character avatar.
Ofen when a user likes a game a lot, he wants to start the game over with a new
character (CD 2, CD 3, CD 4, CD7), trying out a new profession and a diferent
customization of his avatar and his story line. So it would be nice if there was the
possibility to have multiple characters on the same account.
Let export/import habits & tasks sets: this would awesome. You could share your
workout, your best daily routine and so on, geting reviews and improvements in
--- an improved core activity loop (mostly) through the feedback mechanics
To complete the tasks assigned I wanted to find the litlest features and
modifications which would lead to the biggest impact. There were many ways to
improve the game changing the gameplay substantially, but it would have meant
losing most of the current users.
So I focused on the litle diferences that make a huge impact. Note that most of
them do not need a graphical representation because they are litle features and
are easy to implement inside the current gameplay.
The activity loop would be improved because the Productivity Pulse would
remember the user about Habitica and how good is your day going. To reinforce
this, there would be a push notification when the Productivity Pulse starts geting
Moreover, the user would be continuously challenged by his longest streak for each
habit and task. Making several of his habits public would give him Status, which he
would lose if he fails them, making the user more accountable and disciplined. He
must enter Habitica every day and perform every habit or his Streak Counter
As stated, permit exchanges and auctions to make the game economic system alive.
I chated with some long term user and one of them made me notice that custom
rewards do not scale with the character level. This makes very annoying using them
because you earn more gold going on with the game, but the cost of your custom
reward remains the same so you need to manually change it over time.
There are many bugs in the app, for instance, the shop subsection“market” is
empty most of the time and the app kept crashing whenever I try to enter the
“quests” and“special” subsections. Solving bugs must always be the priority
because they kills the gameplay.