Extrinsic vs intrinsic in gamification

Intrinsic VS Extrinsic! Excuse me...what?

We’ve all used bribery to encourage our children to showcase the behaviours we want them to, whether that’s tidy their room, share, toilet train or practise a skill, but have you ever wondered what drives us to follow the rules?

To answer that question we need to think about the very people we want to engage in these behaviours, the ones we want to see succeed.  Your course students! Behaviour sits at the core of every engagement program so understanding what makes your learners tick secures a solid foundation for your gamification strategies. But before we start implementing these strategies we need to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic VS Extrinsic motivators

This is mostly about the psychology of game play. As you would expect intrinsic motivators are driven from within such as personal interest, enjoyment, or a sense of satisfaction derived from the activity itself. Extrinsic motivators are rewards that come from outside of ourselves like a physical thing/gift or recognition. 


Intrinsic Motivation:

Intrinsic motivation stems from an individual's internal desires, interests, and enjoyment of an activity. People who are intrinsically motivated engage in an activity because they find it inherently satisfying or meaningful. They are driven by the pleasure of learning, personal growth, or the inherent value of the task itself. Intrinsic motivation is often associated with feelings of autonomy, competence, and a sense of personal accomplishment or growth from overcoming challenges.

  • For example a person who loves painting and spends hours creating artwork purely for the joy and creative expression it brings them, is intrinsically motivated. 
  • I have a Sudoku app on my phone with a daily challenge. The challenge is to complete enough puzzles to get to the next level. There are no rewards, no points, absolutely no acknowledgement whatsoever. I do it purely to get better at the puzzles and the skill required to grow with each level. I’m INTRINSICALLY motivated to achieve.
  • I also walk my dogs every day. An action I take purely for the joy of doing it. There’s no celebration sound as I come back in through the front door (although I’m sure there must be some kind of doorbell that does that!) and no-one pats me on the back or tally’s how many days in a row I do it. I do it because it feels good seeing my dogs running around in the woods and I enjoy being out in the fresh air. Taking a break away from my desk is my intrinsic motivation for taking action.


Extrinsic Motivation:

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors that are separate from the activity itself. Individuals are motivated by external rewards or consequences, such as praise, grades, money, or recognition. We’ve all heard of the 'Carrot on a stick’ method (Operant conditioning)  This is extrinsic motivation! The desired outcome or external stimulus becomes the driving force behind their engagement in the activity.

  • For example a student who studies hard to earn good grades and receive a scholarship is extrinsically motivated by the reward of academic achievement.
  • I have a desire for a new car. It’s been on my dream board for a few years and as my old car reaches 100,000 miles and has started showing signs of wear and tear it’s time to invest in a new one; I’ve worked out how many clients I need to work with to put aside the deposit for my new car. I have an EXTRINSIC motivation to take the action I need to make the money.  Money, interestingly, is the most common extrinsic motivator people recognise and strive for…

…..As a side note, hello affiliate programs! Affiliate programs are a great way for members that have been through your program to make some extra dosh! Exclusively allowing your course participants to apply for affiliate status is a great extrinsic motivator, plus they feel welcomed and rewarded for being part of and for completing your program…and who better to promote your stuff than someone who has achieved results from working through it themselves? (mine’s here by the way, in case you're interested   🥳)!


It is important to note that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not mutually exclusive and can coexist. In fact, the optimal motivation often involves a balance between the two, where intrinsic motivation serves as the foundation (the reason to take the action; maybe, growth) while extrinsic rewards provide additional reinforcement (getting us over the finish line!).

Course creators can leverage both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to engage learners effectively and help you tailor your approach to meet the diverse motivational needs of your learners, ultimately creating a more engaging and rewarding learning experience.


While I’ve got your attention I also just want to mention Co-operation Vs Competition because they’re closely linked with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators!

Consider, are your audience the competitive type or the co-operative type? Depending on your industry you may find your audience leans towards one or the other but essentially we need a combination of both types in course gamification.

  • To be competitive is to strive for excellence and outperform rivals.
  • To be cooperative is to collaborate, support, and work together to get results.

You could argue that competitive people lean more towards extrinsic motivators and could be seen as more Killer or Achiever player types whereas cooperative people are more guided by intrinsic motivators and are potentially more Socialisers or explorers.  (Eerm, player types…what’s this? If you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to read my blog “Things to consider before you Gamify. Discover what makes your learners tick!”  It’s all covered there).

Of course that’s a huge generalisation but it’s a good place to start when considering which strategies and techniques you want to build into your course so you can be sure you incorporate enough to satisfy both. Teams are a great motivational tool because they bring the best of both worlds. It brings the opportunity for leaders to show their stuff and shine, and for team players to nurture and explore. With regards to victory it also satisfies both; more dominant players still get the thrill of a win along with other members of the team who may not have got as far if they participated individually, but also the bitter sting of a loss becomes a shared responsibility that can be distributed among members and isn’t felt so deeply. 

Take Action!
There’s lots to consider here and quite often (but not always) when we look at the audience we’re attracting we can find similarities with ourselves.  My top tip is to start there, start by journaling whether you are mostly driven by intrinsic or extrinsic motivators and where you might be on the player spectrum (Or take Bartles Quiz, you can find info about that here too!). 

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; Do the groundwork before you begin and really dig deep exploring what makes your learners tick so you can put together a framework that is effective and integrates with your biz values and objectives. 

PS. The answer to the first question I asked you is Extrinsic


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