How Games Compel You to Pay them Obsessively

Game Monetization How Games Compel You to Pay them Obsessively (Below is an unedited manuscript snippet of my upcoming book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it becomes available. This post may be removed after a certain period of time).

Dangling and Anchor Juxtaposition: Monetization in Social Games

Many social games on the market also use Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (one of the Black Hat Core Drives) to monetize heavily. Often times it’s a combination of Anchore Juxtaposition (Game Technique #69) and Dangling (Game Technique #44).

For instance, when you go on a game like Farmville, you initially may think, “This game is somewhat intriguing, but I would never pay real money for a stupid game like this.”

Then, Farmville implements Dangling and regularly shows you a mansion that you want, but can’t have. The first few times, you just dismiss it, as you inherently know it wouldn’t be resource-efficient to get it.

But eventually, you start to develop some desire of the mansion that’s constantly dangling there. Just from a tad of curiosity, you do a little research and see that the game requires 20 more hours of play before you can afford to get the mansion through game currency.

Wow, that’s a lot of farming! But then, you see that you could just spend $5.00 and get that very mansion immediately.

$5 to save 20 hours of my time? That’s a no-brainer!

Now the user is no longer paying $5 to buy some pixels on her screen. She is spending $5 to save her time, which becomes a phenomenal deal. You see how game design can mess around with peoples’ value systems?

The very strange phenomenon here, is that most of these games can be played for free; however, people are spending money so they could play less of the game. That’s the odd nature of Scarcity & Impatience.

Scarce but not Screwed

An important factor to consider when using Dangling is the pathway to obtaining the reward.  You have to allow the user to know that it’s very challenging to get the reward, but not impossible.

If it is perceived as impossible, then people turn on their Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance modes and go into self-denial. “It’s probably for losers anyway.”

For example, if you see an exclusive organization dangled in front of you, but then you see the prerequisite to join is that you have to be a Prince or Princess through royal blood, you might not even look at what the organization does, but may just think, “Who cares about a bunch of stuck up, spoiled brats?”

There is no motivation, and in fact, it activates Core Drive 8 as an Anti-Core Drive – the drive to NOT participate.

However, if the sign said, “Only Princes/Princess OR people who have previously ran a marathon can join.” Now you are motivated, and might even ponder in your head the work required to run a marathon.

As long as there is a realistic chance, the Scarcity and exclusivity itself is enough to engage your mind. The interesting thing is, you still haven’t even figured out what the organization actually does! Without any information on the function-focused, the human-focused motivation of Scarcity is motivating you towards running a marathon.

The Powers of Anchor Juxtaposition

This leads to a game technique I call Anchor Juxtaposition, where you place two options side by side: one that costs money, and the other that requires a great amount of effort towards the Desired Actions that benefit the system.

For example, a site could say, “You have two options to get this reward: 1. Pay us $20 right now, or 2. Commit a ridiculous amount of Desired Actions such as “Invite your friends,” “Upload photos,” “stay on the site for 30 days in a row.”

When that happens, you will see many users irrationally engaging in the Desired Actions, because they feel like doing the Desired Actions is like earning money. You’ll see users slaving away for dozens or even hundreds of hours, just so they could save the $20. At one point, many of them would realize that it’s a lot of time and work, and at that point, the $20 purchase option becomes more appealing and they end up purchasing that. Now your users have done both: paid you money, and committed a great deal of Desired Actions. It is worth reminding here again that rewards can be physical, emotional, or intellectual.

Rewards don’t have to be a financial reward, nor does it need to be a badge (people hardly pay for those). In fact, based on Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback principles, the most effective rewards are often times Boosters that allow the user to go back into the ecosystem and play more effectively, which becomes a streamlined activity loop. With Anchor Juxtaposition, you must have two options for the user. If you simply put a price on the reward and say, “Pay now, or go away.” Many users will go back to the CD8 Denial mode and think, “I’m never gonna pay those greedy bastards a single dollar!” and leave.

However, if you just put on your site, “Hey! Please do all these Desired Actions, such as invite your friends and complete your profile!” users often don’t feel any motivation to do those activities because they clearly recognize it as being beneficial for the system, but not for themselves (“Yes, but what do I get from it?”).

Only when you put those two options together (hence Juxtaposition), do people become more open to both options, and often times commit to doing both consecutively. But does this work in the real world, outside of games? You bet.

Dropbox is a File Hosting Service company based in San Francisco that has obtained extraordinary popularity and success.

When you first sign-up to Dropbox, it tells you that you could either 1. Pay to get a lot of storage space, or 2. Invite your friends to get more space. At the beginning, most people started inviting their friends (as well as complete a small list of Desired Actions). Dropbox gamification How Games Compel You to Pay them Obsessively Eventually, many of those users who are committing the Desired Actions decide that inviting/harassing their friends is a lot of work, but they still need a lot of space, and they end up paying. Again, because of the Anchor Juxtaposition, users commit both the Desired Action, and pay for the full product, just like I did.

Dropbox’s viral design, along with a great seamless product, accelerated the company to reportedly raise over $300 Million with a valuation that is around $10 Billion and revenues above $200 Million in 2013. Not too shabby for a company that didn’t exist seven years prior.

The Value of Rare Pixels

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The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#6): Scarcity & Impatience

scarcity and impatience The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#6): Scarcity & Impatience

Driving Obsessive Behavior with Scarcity & Impatience

Scarcity and Impatience is the sixth core drive of the Octalysis Framework, and is the drive that motivates us simply because we are either unable to obtain something immediately, or because there is great difficulty in obtaining it.

We have a naturally tendency to want things we can’t have. If a bowl of grapes were plainly on the table, you may not care about those grapes; but if they were on a shelf just beyond your reach, you will likely be thinking about the grapes regularly: “Are they sweet? Can I have them? When I can I have them?”

Personally, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience is the Core Drive that intrigues me the most, and is also the last Core Drive I learned about. Its fascination lies in the fact that it is completely unintuitive, irrational and emotionally difficult to utilize.

This post is to explore this Black Hat/Left Brain Core Drive, understand its powers, and some game techniques that harness it towards behavioral change.

The Lure of being Exclusively Pointless

South Park, a popular American animated sitcom created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, has many lessons to teach us about human behavior, especially the irrational ones (once you get pass the potty-mouth cussing and unnecessary gory scenes).

In one of the episodes, Cartman joins NAMBLA, the controversial main character Eric Cartman decided that he was too mature for his other fourth grade friends, and went online to find adult friends that are more mature. He ends up being recruited to the organization called NAMBLA, short for North American Man/Boy Love Association (which in fact, is a real organization). The “mature” members of NAMBLA then asked Cartman to bring all his friends to a party they are hosting in his honor.

Not knowing the true nature of what he is getting himself into, he sent out invitations to all his classmates besides his usual close friends, Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski. He then starts to brag to them about how he is going to his mature grown-up friends party but he’s not inviting them. The below conversation is a classic that speaks to our Core Drives.

Stan: We don’t want to go to some stupid adult meeting anyway!
Cartman: Well that’s nice, cause you can’t go!
Kyle: We don’t want to go!
Cartman: You can’t go!
Kyle: We don’t want to go!
Cartman No. You can’t go! Hey, Clyde, Butters, check this out! [Leaves]
Stan: Dude, maybe we do need to start being more mature.
Kyle: yea, I guess we need try to get into that club too.

What you see here is a classic example of scarcity through exclusivity. Even though Stan and Kyle were genuine when they said they weren’t interested in joining some adult party, when reinforced in the face that they don’t qualify for the party, they developed a natural sense of motivation towards the party, even though nothing about the party itself became more appealing.

The concept of exclusivity was taken to a whole new level in another episode titled Cartmanland, In this episode, Cartman inherits $1 Millions from his deceased grandmother, and decides to use almost all of it to buy a struggling theme park just to entertain himself without being stuck in lines.

Instead of trying to improve its business, Cartman makes a full 38-second TV commercial to show how amazingly fun “Cartmanland” is and emphasizes that no one besides him can enjoy it. “So much fun in Cartmanland, but you can’t come!” is the catchy slogan.


After realizing he needs more money to hire a security guard to keep his friends out, Cartman starts to accept two customers a day to pay the security guard. Then he starts to realize that he needs pay for more things such as maintenance, utilities, and other operations, so he started to open it up to three, four, tens, and then hundreds of people everyday.

Since people all saw how they couldn’t get into Cartmanland, when they learned that it is starting to accept more people, they rushed to get in.

Eventually, everyone wanted to go to Cartmanland and it went from a near-bankrupted theme park into one of the most popular ones ever. Experts within the episode even called the “You Can’t Come!” campaign to be a brilliant marketing ploy by the genius millionaire Eric Cartman.

Unfortunately, with more people in his precious park, Eric Cartman became miserable and eventually sold the park back to the original owners, and then lost his money afterwards.

Even though these are exaggerated examples, in this post, you will see that our brains naturally have a tendency to pursue things just because they are exclusive.

To seem more South Park Gamification examples , check out Top 10 Gamification Lessons learned from South Park.

On the other side of popular media, in the movie Up in the Air, Protagonist Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, is a corporate “downsizer” that flies all over the place to help companies lay off employees. In a conversation with the young and ambitious status-quo disruptor Natalie Keene, played by Anna Kendrick, Bingham gives us a lesson about the value of scarcity, status, rewards, and exclusivity, as he talks about his obsession with airline miles.

Ryan Bingham: I don’t spend a nickel, if I can help it, unless it somehow profits my mileage account.
Natalie Keener: So, what are you saving up for? Hawaii? South of France?
Ryan Bingham: It’s not like that. The miles are the goal.
Natalie Keener: That’s it? You’re saving just to save?
Ryan Bingham: Let’s just say that I have a number in mind and I haven’t hit it yet.
Natalie Keener: That’s a little abstract. What’s the target?
Ryan Bingham: I’d rather not…
Natalie Keener: Is it a secret target?
Ryan Bingham: It’s ten million miles.
Natalie Keener: Okay. Isn’t ten million just a number?
Ryan Bingham: Pi’s just a number.
Natalie Keener: Well, we all need a hobby. No, I- I- I don’t mean to belittle your collection. I get it. It sounds cool.
Ryan Bingham: I’d be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon.
Natalie Keener: Do they throw you a parade?
Ryan Bingham: You get lifetime executive status. You get to meet the chief pilot, Maynard Finch.
Natalie Keener: Wow.
Ryan Bingham: And they put your name on the side of a plane.
Natalie Keener: Men get such hardons from putting their names on things. You guys don’t grow up. It’s like you need to pee on everything.

Beyond the collection, status, and achievement (Core Drives 2, 4, and 5), one thing that was very important for Ryan was that “I’d be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon.” This shows that because it’s something that he (along with billions of others) couldn’t get right now, he valued obtaining it more. It was simply more appealing because of how exclusive that was.

Persuasively Inconvenient

As the above example shows, our brains naturally and intuitively seek things that are scarce, unavailable, or fading in availability.

Oren Klaff is a professional pitcher and fundraiser who claims to close deals through a systematic way he calls neuroeconomics, a craft that combines neuroscience and economics, digging deep into our psychology, appealing to what he calls the croc brain, and utilizing various Core Drives such as CD5: Social Influence & Relatedness, CD6: Scarcity & Impatience, CD7: Unpredictability, and CD8: Loss & Avoidance (the discerning Octalyst may identify that there is a heavy focus of Black Hat Core Drives here. We will explore why sales and closing deals mostly appeals to Black Hat Core Drives, while workplace motivation mostly appeals to White Hat Core Drives in other posts).

In Klaff’s book Pitch Anything, he explains the concept of Prizing, and how it ties into three fundamental behaviors from our croc brains:

  1.      We chase that which moves away from us
  2.      We want what we cannot have
  3.      We only place value on things that are difficult to obtain

He claims that instead of ABS – always be selling, salespeople should practice ABL – always be leaving. If you are always leaving the discussions, it means that you are not desperate, are highly sought after, and do not depend on this deal. You are the Prize. Klaff claims that, when you do that, money will flow in as the ultimate commodity to win that Prize.

Through his methods, Klaff has raised over $450 Million and claims to continue so at a rate of $2 Million a week.

It is oddly true that often times, as we place inconveniences on something, it becomes more valuable in our minds. In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the author Robert Cialdini shares how Colleen Szot revolutionized her infomercials by simply changing the call-to-action line from “Operators are waiting, please call now,” to, “If operators are busy, please call again.”

Why would this be? In the first case, viewers can imagine operators sitting around, waiting to answer calls and take orders for products that may be of marginal value. In the second case viewers will more likely perceive that the operators will be struggling to answer a flood of calls and keeping up with the demand on orders.

Even though this message suggests an inconvenience to buy a product, the perceived scarcity of the viewers is enough to get people motivated enough to quickly make a call before the product runs out.

Oren Klaff also brings up another example in Pitch Anything where BMW released a special-edition M3 that required the buyer to sign a contract promising to keep it clean and take care of the special paint. Without this promise in writing, they won’t even allow you to buy the car! In this case, BMW is prizing itself so that the buyer would believe it is a special and exclusive privilege to drive the car, even though the buyer has all the money available.

Maybe that’s why the hard-to-get strategy is so prevalent in modern society conversations. It’s not just a way to show personality, but it actually drives real results as it inspires people to chase harder.

Gamification Techniques in Scarcity and Impatience

Magnetic Caps (Game Technique #68)

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MindTime: A Player Type Framework

MindTime map MindTime: A Player Type Framework

In my centerpiece Octalysis Framework post, I demonstrate how Richard Bartle’s 4 Player Types are incorporated within a Level 3 Octalysis framework by considering which Core Drives are pushing different types of people through the 4 Experiences Phases.

What was not made clear is that I used Richard Bartle’s 4 Player Types as a demonstration; other player personas can be utilized in place of Bartle’s 4 player types such as: Male/Female, Engineers/Marketers, Loyal Fans/Curiousios/Nonchalants, etc. Andrzej Marczewski and Amy Jo Kim have done excellent work around how to design better experiences for target audiences.

In the end, Level 3 Octalysis seeks to analyze and understand how to best design for different types of people within the gamification context.

In this post, we introduce MindTime, a player type framework to help gamification practitioners better design for their target audience.

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Guest Report: Employee Engagement can be boosted with Gamification

employee engagement survey blog image Guest Report: Employee Engagement can be boosted with Gamification

Guest Report Author Bio

TechnologyAdvice is a market leader in business technology recommendations. The company provides free and unbiased research and analysis of IT options to help businesses of all sizes find the solutions that best fit their specific technology needs.

Most office workers think digital engagement would boost performance

Survey shows majority of employees would welcome game elements in daily tasks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 10, 2014) – Employee engagement is one of the biggest challenges in the business world, yet recent numbers show many companies are missing opportunities to increase worker motivation.

A survey conducted by TechnologyAdvice revealed that more than 70 percent of office employees feel digital engagement software would help them perform better at work. In addition, 54 percent of respondents say they would be more likely to perform a task if it incorporated game elements. Despite these preferences, more than two-thirds of those polled say their company is not using any type of digital engagement platform.

“The majority of office workers believe that engagement programs and the introduction of game elements would help them at work,” said TechnologyAdvice Content Manager Zach Watson, who authored the study. “While the buzz around gamification in the business world appears to have reached its peak, adoption rates remain relatively low. Engagement can be a subjective term with room for interpretation, but it’s clear from our data that better recognizing workers for their contributions, making repetitive work more inviting, and providing a visual record of workplace progress are all major opportunities for current businesses to improve engagement with employees.”

One reason for low adoption rates could be the need for greater consideration of employee personalities and job functions when deploying employee engagement software. Fifty-five percent of respondents prefer to work in a predominantly collaborative environment, including more than 60 percent of those who work in customer service. However, office employees who work in sales prefer a far more competitive environment.

Age is also a key consideration for digital engagement platforms and game elements. Ninety percent of 18-24 year olds and more than 80 percent of 25-34 year olds surveyed believe an engagement program would help them at work. Meanwhile, 42 percent of 45-54 year olds and more than half of 55-64 year olds in the survey do not feel they would benefit from an engagement program.

Wellness programs are the most popular use case, with nearly 30 percent of respondents identifying a health and fitness platform as their most preferred engagement strategy. A points-based rewards system (24.7 percent) and a progress tracking system (17.4 percent) are the next two preferences for participation, ahead of both internal social networks and an office leaderboard ranking system.

The survey was conducted through a random sample of 398 office workers whose main job functions are in marketing, customer service, or sales. The full study and more information on its methodology are available here.

The Strategy Dashboard for Gamification Design

Gamification Strategy Dashboard The Strategy Dashboard for Gamification Design

(Below is an unedited manuscript snippet of my upcoming book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it becomes available. This post may be removed after a certain period of time).

The Strategy Dashboard: Your Gamification Campaign Command Center

In my Octalysis Gamification process, no matter what industry you are working in, there are the 5 things, which you need to define before you start gamifying something.

Up to this point I have explained a framework that allows you to analyze how engaging an experience is through the 8 Core Drives.

That by itself is very powerful and can engender plenty of creative ideas that focus on important motivation and engagement variables for any product or service.

However some people still ask me, “But Yu-Kai, how do I actually start to design a Gamified campaign with the 8 Core Drives? I can now create an experience that’s interesting and engaging but I’m not sure how to get that to drive business success from the better experiences.”

That’s mostly because they are missing a critical piece in the design project, which I like to call the Strategy Dashboard.

The Strategy Dashboard is something I get every single client of mine to define at the beginning of every engagement.

It’s a constantly evolving document that clarifies exactly what the business metrics are, what the game objective is, who the players are, what the win-states are, what the feedback mechanics are, and also what incentives can reward users.

Your Strategy Dashboard is not meant to be like a business plan, where you spend months creating and then put on a shelf to collect dust.

It’s something that takes the bare minimum amount of information to execute an actionable campaign for Gamification.

Often times it takes less than one or two hours to define the Strategy Dashboard, but it could also take months to finalize as you evolve your product or service.

Within the Strategy Dashboard, there are five things to define:

  1. Business Metrics, leading to Game Objective
  2. Users, leading to Players
  3. Desired actions, leading to Win-States
  4. User metrics, leading to Feedback Mechanics
  5. Incentives, leading to Rewards

Let me explain each of them.

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