Pressing the Right Buttons

How Karmafy Motivates Users

Like most game developers, at Karmafy we take a keen interest in the psychology of motivation - how to encourage our users to behave in certain ways. Here is some background for our conviction that Karmafy’s unique combination of gamification and philanthropy is effective in enhancing user engagement and making the world a better place.


In this post we shall have a closer look at how Karmafy combines gamification and philanthropy.

When we founded Karmafy, we envisioned Karmafy Points as “a global social currency for doing good”, a definition that immediately led to a number of questions that needed good answers. How exactly would the currency do good? How would it be earned? And why would anyone want to possess and spend it?

The economic aspects of Karmafy are now well understood. Karmafy Points are earned as a reward for certain kinds of user behaviour that are regarded as desirable by the game developer (or owner of any other Karmafy-enabled service). We have also explained how the expected increase in such user behaviour, e.g., increased activity, loyalty, readiness to spend money, is charged for in real money on purely commercial terms, and how the charitable component of the revenue reaches its beneficiaries.

We are left with the question of how the Karmafy Experience motivates the user to stay longer with a game, make more purchases, and encourage their friends to play the game. In other words, what are the motivation mechanisms that Karmafy triggers?

“Motivation” is a well-researched area in psychology and has provided many insights to game developers, either directly or through reinvention - good game developers need to be at least intuitive psychologists in order to create good games. At Karmafy, we’re also intuitive psychologists (alas, not real ones) and we believe we have identified some of the factors that will nudge users towards the behaviours we desire - the gamification factors:

Tournament Won!

Achievement. The desire to set increasingly higher goals for oneself and the satisfaction of reaching them. The impetus to improve your skills at solving more difficult problems. This is probably the single most important incentive to playing games in the first place.

Ownership. The desire to collect tangible assets representing what you have accomplished. Hence Karmafy Points as well as any point and badge system ever introduced in games.

Status and reputation. The desire to be known and recognised for one’s accomplishments, whether they be competitive or altruistic in nature. This explains the ubiquity of leaderboards and high-score tables in video games and also the social sharing feature of many games.

Competition. The desire to compete and to compare your skills and accomplishments with those of others seems endemic across human cultures. Playing a level against someone else, even a bot, is more entertaining that playing in isolation.

Collaboration and Belonging. The desire to accomplish something together with others, to transcend the individual and become part of something bigger. Incorporated in many multi-user games, but with Karmafy even players of single-user stand-alone games can contribute to virtual collaborative challenges.


Pausing briefly to apologise to the real psychologists for probably mashing up several distinct motivation theories, we proceed to the next set of factors tapped into by Karmafy - the philanthropy factors:

Altruism. The innate desire to assist others in need for no immediate reward. This also appears to be a human universal. Whether ultimately rooted in true caring or self-aggrandizement, it is a source of good, and Karmafy provides the user with direct feedback on their impact in the real world.

Reciprocation. The urge to pay back what has come to you. In the Karmafy case, we expect the user to reward the total Karmafy Experience with enhanced loyalty and good will toward the game developer.

Status and reputation (again). This is a contentious one. While some philanthropists seek to advertise their good deeds to the world, others prefer to keep quiet about them. With Karmafy, the choice is up to the user.

As we continue developing the Karmafy Experience, we shall explore the effect of each of the motivation factors by building interactive components that directly trigger each of them. Measuring and optimising the effect in several games and apps with different demographics is one of our high priorities.

We would love to hear from psychologists and gamification experts with experience to share in this area.

And finally, if you came to this post as a user of a Karmafy-enabled game, you may be left with the sense that we are trying to manipulate you into doing what we want. We are guilty as charged. We do want you to contribute to a better world for all, and we hope you will appreciate the opportunity.