There is a lot of discussion in gamification regarding the use of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations or rewards. However there seems to be a little confusion regarding the terminology. A common misperception is that extrinsic rewards are tangible things like money or material possessions, while intrinsic rewards are things that make you feel good on the inside like altruism or benevolence. However the real difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is where the pressure or stimulus to perform a specific behaviour is coming from.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. People engage in a task because its enjoyable or because that’s the reward in itself. For example, when a child studies science because they are curious or interested to learn more about the universe.
Extrinsic motivation comes from a source that is outside the individual and beyond their direct control. Such sources could include a supervisor at work, parents, or peers. If another child studies science because they want to get good grades or be top of their class, that’s extrinsic motivation. Even praise from a parent or teacher for studying is an example of extrinsic reward.
– Here, have a badge!
– But I don’t want a badge.
– Uh, ok…. what do you want?
I’ve written a few reviews on Trip Advisor and apparently I’m only one review away from my “Senior Reviewer” Badge. But I don’t want or care about the badge (extrinsic motivation). I wrote those reviews because I enjoyed my experiences and want other people to benefit from them, perhaps leaving a little less of the travel experience to trial and error. I am much more inclined to write another review because I am contributing to a review community that helps other travelers which was my intent (intrinsic motivation). Trip Advisor recognises that this is a key motivator and allows readers to tag a review as “helpful“. Although the act of tagging is a form of praise (hence extrinsic), I wrote the reviews without ever knowing if anyone would read it or tag it. This may seem a bit philosophical like “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound” but noting the difference makes a difference when incorporating game elements within the user experience.
why does it matter?
Understanding users, their current behaviour and the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations behind those actions is the best starting point to designing a gamified experience. Particularly when a new feature aims to alter an existing behaviour or introduce an entirely new behaviour, the choice of motivations and rewards can have a significant impact on overall user perception and experience.