Deliberate Fun: Know your audience and their motivations

Today I’d like to introduce you to this book called Deliberate Fun by Dr. Jonathan Peters. Interestingly, Deliberate Fun carries great content to help business owners understand the motivations behind different types of people.

Peters, Author Jonathan. “Deliberate Fun — A Purposeful Application of Game Mechanics to Learning Experiences.” Jonathan Peters, Ph.D. & Monica Cornetti, 2020.

When we design for everyone, we end up designing for ourselves. — Jonathan Peters, PHD, Deliberate Fun, 2020

To produce successful gamification campaigns, or digital products altogether, Jonathan Peters emphasizes to ask yourself two questions.

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What are their motivations?

We are not the customer

We must first acknowledge that we are not our users. In order to go into a world of exploration about people’s behavior patterns, we must empty our minds when we enter our problem space.

Personally, when I speak with my own clients and ask them who their target audience is, 9 out of 10 of them will say, “I target EVERYONE because my product is for EVERYONE.” This is a dangerous statement and ultimately can lead to mistakes in the long run. Because designing for everyone ultimately means that you are designing for yourself. Everyone is unique. What interests and motives you will not always interest others.

For example, one of my favorite games to play is Final Fantasy. But my friend, however, prefers to play Call of Duty instead. Because we aren’t interested in each other’s hobbies, I’ll most likely quit the military game within 3 minutes while my friend finds that playing RPG is more boring. That is why we need to be empathic.

When you’re going into wondering about who your audience is, ask yourself: “Am I 100% confident about this?”

We must find what it is exactly that drives our users. According to research, 80% of gamification projects will fail due to users having a low motivation to play. Of course, this wouldn’t satisfy any of the business objectives. So here’s the bottom line: don’t focus on selling your products to everyone and start targeting the group that buys them. And ask yourself this big question… Who are our users?

Define Your Target Audience

To find our target audience, we can identify shared similarities between potential users. Despite people having their differences, we can narrow down to target a specific type of user we tend to attract. We can also clarify how we can motivate those users. This process calls for a strategy around attracting these users. *Jonathan Peter’s idea of “self-hugging” & its assumptions will be the first step to create a great gamification experience for your digital products.

*Jonathan Peter’s “Self-Hugging” method & its assumptions will be the first step to create a great gamification experience for your digital products.

*Self-Hugging: the concept that everyone believes everyone else has the same motivation as they have. This tendency causes us to create learning experiences that we enjoy, not necessarily what our learners will enjoy. *2 — Jonathan Peters, Ph.D., Deliberate Fun, 2020

Benefits for creating personas for your gamification campaigns:

  1. Align business and user goals as one team for better company vision.
  2. Visualize the potential user, or a human “face,” to develop empathy for the person represented by research and demographics.

Create user personas

Personas help us understand our users better. We should have at least one persona in our minds and be curious about how they make decisions. To know who your users are, it’s important to gather data by studying their motivations (i.e.values, interests, priorities, goals) and needs. We need to get to know our users deeply. You may also want to write a little bit about their background as well. Finding these attributes will help you really bring your persona to life.

Why do we do this?

According to Designing for the Digital Age, understanding who will buy and use your product is another important basic to doing business. It’s a visual tool that helps us communicate the customer’s viewpoint to our teams in a powerful, clear way. A great way to know if you have a good persona is if your entire team discusses it together in a well-understood manner.

“[Our users] may include the customers who make the purchase decision (as well as those who influence the decision), current users of the product or service, and potential users.” — Kim Goodwin, Designing For the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services*

On Open View Partners’ Youtube channel, partner Kyrie Robinson shares how to create an effective persona here.

Here are some elements to identify a good user persona. Or in other words, make them more human:

  1. Persona headshot: A picture evokes a thousand words. Display an image of your user.
  2. Name: A name can reflect someone’s race and living environment. Most often, you can use the first name only. By giving our persona names, we are making them more human. We can refer to our personas like, “David is really excited about X because he really feels motivated by Y.”
  3. Age: Can reveal which generation he or she belongs to.
  4. Gender: Are you targeting a specific gender? This can make a lot of difference depending on different genders.
  5. Geographics: Location can dramatically affect a user’s motivations and behaviors. People who live in a big city will behave differently from people who live in a small village.
  6. Demographics: Age, gender, ethnicity can impact some behaviors and attitudes. Age can have low effects for adults in the working class but can define the physical needs of those who are younger and older. A man’s hand can be bigger than a woman’s hand and both may have different experiences with handling a control device. And how people may perceive a specific situation may differ due to cultural beliefs/differences.
  7. Occupation: Understanding the financial situation of your persona can demonstrate how much they are willing to spend. Doctors will have a higher income than truck driver, young students will be more hesitant with spending money than adults with jobs, etc.
  8. Marital Status: Since lifestyles between singles and married couples are drastically different, people who are single will have different behaviors than married people.
  9. Family Structure: Does the user have any children? Having a child naturally influences how parents think and behave. We can also project this to other family situations, like single-parent households, caring for grandparents, etc.
  10. Hobbies: Revealing the persona’s hobbies can showcase that persona’s personality. A person who loves to read will prefer to be alone than a person who loves to host social events.
  11. Quote: In summary, what could you imagine your persona would say? This is easy for people to empathize with quickly by just glancing at a quote.
  12. Fears and Frustrations: This helps the team to understand the possible pain points of the user in order to improve.
  13. Brand: A good brand can reveal the financial level and personal taste.

Persona Examples featuring Starshine (an AR science educational game)

Starshine is an AR science educational game that helps teenage kids to learn science in a fun way. Listed below, I’m sharing with you three personas created by the team at Hummingbirdsday Design Studio.


Personas help us decipher specific content, goals, mechanics, and motivation that is required to develop our target audience. All three of Starshine’s personas emulate different types of personalities and demographics, but all share this one concern, “I need to have fun while learning it.” By observing these profiles, we can better understand how we can satisfy the users’ needs.

Understand Your Target Audience’s Motives

Source: Jonathan Peter’s Deliberate Fun emphasizes Steven Reiss’ book Who Am
I?, particularly in the chapters “The 16
Core Desires” (69pg–179pg)

While reading Deliberate Fun, Peters introduces external concepts derived from his own research. A noteworthy mention was Dr. Steven Reiss’ book Who Am I? which describes the 16 basic and universal desires that shape human behavior. It also shows how the human mind prioritizes these desires and how it influences one’s actions and personality.

With the idea originated from Dr. Reiss, and emphasized again by Peters in Deliberate Fun, here are the 16 desires that influence us:

  1. Acceptance: According to evolutionary psychologists, human emotions and behaviors evolve in response to specific problems. For example, we often seek acceptance in our social circles to feel secure. If we imagine ourselves as a part of a family tribe, we could potentially starve to death or get attacked by wild animals if we are not accepted. One can avoid criticism, failure, and rejection by working towards getting positive affirmations. Those with a weak desire for acceptance are more self-confident and look for areas of risk, criticism, and feedback instead.
  2. Beauty: If you are attracted to beautiful graphic elements and anything aesthetic, beauty is one of your strong desires. This group often prioritizes the look of the product based on its design rather than function. Plain designs or hard text with no imagery might lose their interest.
  3. Curiosity: Curiosity embraces how much one enjoys the learning process. A strong desire for curiosity opens the willingness to go above their current knowledge and skills. Those with curious minds embrace learning new things to entertain themselves. They have a wide range of intellectual pursuits whether it’s from thinking, reading, or having interesting conversations with others. These people can get bored easily if they aren’t expanding their curiosity. They also might behave as if they are smarter and make assumptions that others are equally interested in what they share.
  4. Eating: A strong desire for eating entails consuming something delicious. One may need snack breaks throughout his or her process of learning and training. They may indulge and find themselves struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle. People with low motivations for eating don’t think about food all the time. Instead, they may grab a few bites of snacks before diving into their next task.
  5. Family: Oftentimes, those who do not have families living with them, or personally feel like family isn’t a huge drive for them, may work long hours to get the job done. Others will work just enough to pay their bills and maximize their family time.
  6. Honor: Honor as a drive can come from values of respect, rules, and roles. People who define themselves under this category tend to be honest, trustworthy, and loyal. These folks feel very proud, and patriotic, in their own culture and heritage as well. They usually prefer a moderated learning environment like a traditional classroom setting where the teacher is the authority figure.
  7. Idealism: Idealistic people fantasize about a perfect word. They spend a chunk of their time and money, and even risk their lives, to build a better version for our world today. With the passion to make the world a better place, you may find these people volunteering to help a good cause, donating money, or even just offering a helping hand to anyone in need.
  8. Independence: Self-motivated people are highly motivated and are more motivated when there are independent prizes and they also rarely ask for advice. These types prefer to work individually than with a team. They also keep their opinions and thoughts to themselves.
  9. Order: In our minds, we perceive having order as security. If there is a disruption with the order, there is a risk of death. Orderly people are motivated if there is a guaranteed expectation for stability. They value consistency and cleanliness. Those with a weak desire for order are generally more flexible and open to ambiguity.
  10. Physical Activity: People with this desire love to be active. It may be difficult for them to stay still and focused for an extended period of time. Being forced to sit and listen to a training video, or any learning program could make learners feel bored easily.
  11. Power: A desire for power leads to someone who is determined, willful, and assertive. A person with a heart for power will try to influence their will upon others and will dedicate their life to higher achievements. They believe that, in order to reach their goal, they need to conquer challenges.
  12. Saving: Savers are also collectors. People who desire to save stay motivated when they can collect items, like badges, and they also have a fear of risking losing their collection.
  13. Social Contact: People who crave social contact are motivated by socializing with their peers. They will go out of their way to connect with others in a friendly and outgoing manner. Social contact may drive this group to engage with asking questions, interacting with others, and getting feedback from instructors or program facilitators.
  14. Status: Status-seekers care deeply about their prestige. They look for ways to level up, whether it’s in their job title, position, or rank. Status-seekers also care about how they present themselves with their clothes, accessories, and even cars, to show off their position in society.
  15. Tranquility: People with tranquility tend to look for safe environments. They avoid situations that can cause them to have anxiety, fear, and pain. Tranquil people love to stay within their comfort zones and rarely branch out.
  16. Vengeance: Vengeance as a drive gives people a competitive edge. They feel satisfied if they have won over someone more than earning a prize. People with vengeance do better when they get the opportunity to directly engage and compete with others.

With these drives, I also thought it was really interesting how Deliberate Fun also expanded on this by demonstrating player stereotypes, along with common motivators.

Richard Bartle, Ph.D. put players into 4 groups

1. Achievers — players who have a strong desire to win

3. Socializers — players who enjoy interacting with other players

4. Killers — players who enjoy combat like shooting, killing, and destroying game subjects.

Nick Yee, Ph.D., defined 6 motivators in games:

1. Action — Destruction and excitement

2. Social — Competition and Community

3. Master — Challenge and Strategy

5. Immersion — Fantasy and Story

6. Creativity — Design and Discovery

Many players have been categorized into their own specific groups, and they can be further divided into sub-categories depending on each person’s direct motivation. First, develop a persona that can best represent your user/target audience. Second, define their motivations, asking: “What kind of game mechanics will motivate my users?”

Game mechanic examples:

  • Achievement — Acceptance/Expedience/Power/Status/Vengeance
  • Attack — Vengeance
  • Avatar — Acceptance/Beauty/Independence/Social Contact/Status
  • Badges — Acceptance/Power/Saving/Status
  • Levels — Power/Status
  • Mentorship — Acceptance/Family/Idealism/Interdependence/Power/Social Contact/Status

All in all, we can see that depending on the drives and motivations above, each person naturally responds to all elements differently. In order to discover how to create a good gamification campaign, or application, understanding your users comes first — and we highly recommend investing some research to find your target audience.


  • Peters, Author Johathan. “Deliberate Fun — A Purposeful Application of Game Mechanics to Learning Experiences.” Jonathan Peters, Ph.D. & Monica Cornetti, 2020.
  • “Planning User Research.” Designing For the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services, by Kim Goodwin, Wiley Pub., 2009, pp. 85–111.
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