Learning from Nicole Lazzaro: Motivation in Games

I recently came across this great video interview with Nicole Lazzaro, Founder of XEODesign Inc. on bigthink.com. She provides a very engaging presentation on why games are fun, and what motivates us to play. It’s important in designing good applications not to get stuck in a usability box and forget about engagement and motivation especially in applications that might be considered work. It’s in our human nature to want a feeling of accomplishment, to see an end, and be rewarded for our achievements. Motivation like this is being built into many of the products we use, there affects on us are just usually sub-conscious. Lazzaro researched human engagement in games through emotions across ages, genders and demographics and found 4 key type of play that motivates us:

Hard Fun
Hard fun is comprised of challenge and mastery and is all about the reward. It typically involves high level of frustration that leads to a strong feeling of personal accomplishment once overcome. It’s about how you feel throughout the process, and what you gain from play. Learning another language is very hard, but sites like LiveMocha and smart.fm can provide that feeling of accomplishment and reward once you’ve mastered the different levels.

Easy Fun
More about “exploration and role play, storytelling…”. The fun of using your curiosity to simply seeing what you can do and enjoy a game or task without a defined score or end point.

People Fun
This engagement is about social experiences bonding that takes place when people are pulled together through emotion. Bonds can be amplified by laughter as well as reciprocity when games allow you to give and receive “tokens”. It’s about actions and connections, and a lot of it is motivated by social influence. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are good examples.

Serious Fun
Serious fun is about fun that ties into the real world, our personal values and motivations. . “Were using the fun of games to do real work often”, for example flight simulators and eco-games. Games that motivate us to accomplish a real goal like losing weight with Wii-Fit.

She points out how the most successful games tend to have at least 3 of these elements, and the most engaged players experience 3 of these types of fun in just 20 minutes of play. I challenge you to look at your website, or application and think about how motivation and game like fun could be tied in to help make your users more engaged.


  • Why We Play Games: http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf
  • Big Think Experts: Nicole Lazzaro: http://bigthink.com/nicolelazzaro
  • Smart.fm: Developing a Great Experience: http://www.adaptivepath.com/blog/category/smartfm/