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

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

Number 6 out of the 8 Core Drives of Gamification

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 15, Scarcity & Impatience

Scarcity and Impatience is the 6th core drive of my Gamification Framework: Octalysis, and is one of the Black Hat Gamification Drives that emphasizes on the human desire and compulsion to strive and compete for things that seem unavailable in quantity.

In other words: you want things you can’t get. If the grapes were just on the table, you don’t care about the grapes. But if they were just beyond your reach, you will be constantly thinking about the grapes.

If you were a hotel guest and there was an open complimentary buffet for all guests staying in that specific hotel, you wouldn’t really think twice about it. Because it’s accessible to everyone, you may or may not consider eating dinner there because it’s not something special.

However, if this delicious complimentary buffet was only available to those with a special hotel membership card with a certain number of reward points, you’ll start to research how you can become a member, and what you’re required to do to get into this exclusive deal.

We see this in all aspects of everyday life – most commonly when we shop.  Most companies have loyalty programs that calculate the number of points based on your purchases.

A well-known reward program is Starbucks’ Gold Card.  Starbucks requires each member to pay with their “gold card” in order to receive one point or one star for their purchase.  After every 12 purchases, the member receives an email saying, “Congratulations! You can now claim your free beverage.”

If you’re a current member, you keep coming back to purchase items using your card because you want to see your stars add up.  If you’re not a current member and you see someone else get a free drink, you’re going to purchase a Gold Card because you want to receive the special offers available exclusively to Gold Card members.

This is basic human nature at work: If something is unavailable to you, but you know it exists and is achievable, you end up doing whatever it is you can to get it.

Web-based Examples of Scarcity and Impatience

Facebook uses Gamification in their Discovery Process

The idea of Scarcity & Impatience manifests itself in many different examples.  One great example was the exclusivity of Facebook when it was first created.

Facebook was primarily meant for Harvard students, but eventually opened up to other Ivy League universities.

Immediately after it did, a huge number of college students were excited and eager to begin using the website because it was previously closed off to them. I saw this phenomenon happen first hand when I was at UCLA. When Facebook opened to UCLA, everyone was already waiting for it and immediately signed up. The conversation throughout campus was, “Did you sign-up to Facebook yet?” It spread even faster than the UCLA Racist (and obviously lasted longer).

Soon, Facebook opened up to high school students and many of the college students were straight up pissed that the site was “supposed to” only be for college students. When Facebook opened up to everyone, interestingly all the college AND high-school students were pissed because the site was “supposed to” only be for college and high school students.

Of course, Facebook users were upset because they felt as if their special membership was taken away.  It wasn’t considered unique anymore because it was now open to the public (a form of Elitism – Epic Meaning & Calling, which is Core Drive #1).

The real concept here is exclusivity.  At first, because they didn’t have a Harvard email, they couldn’t get onto Facebook.  This caused them to constantly think of all the ways they could potentially get onto the website because it wasn’t allowed. This is a great example of utilizing Scarcity & Impatience in the Discovery Phase of the Player’s Journey.

George Clooney (or his character) understands Scarcity & Impatience

In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney gives us a lesson about the 8 Core Drives (guess which ones took place here) as he talks about his 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 status and achievement, keep in mind 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.


Scarcity & Impatience in eCommerce Gamification

Another website that uses this concept effectively is Woot.  Woot uses a combination of scarcity and impatience, alongside unpredictability (Core drive #7).  What Woot does is it provides a new deal or coupon every day.

The enticing thing about this is that you never know what product it’s going to promote, but it also sets a limit to how many people can claim the deal.  Right when you miss the deal, you have to wait until midnight for the next one.  This is when Scarcity & Impatience comes into play.

You become more and more eager to get the next prize that you’re constantly returning to the website. Eventually everyone waits on the site at 11:59PM everyday, so they can quickly see what is the next product once it becomes available, and snatch it up as quickly as possible when it’s posible.

eBay is also a great example that uses Scarcity & Impatience.  Often-time what makes eBay an addictive website compared to other e-commerce sites is because you’re unsure of what the final selling price is – also another trait of unpredictability.  Both the buyer and the seller are constantly checking back to see if the product price has increased and if they could afford the deal. This is of course the same thing with their feedback and star systems, appealing to other core drives.

Gamification Techniques in Scarcity and Impatience

Appointment Dynamics

Many gameplay tactics revolve around scarcity, especially in something called appointment dynamics.  Appointment dynamics basically tells the game-player, “Hey, we’re not going to let you do everything you want to do.  You have to stop and come back five hours later.”

Farmville is a game I like to refer to often because it applies these tactics carefully and evidently, despite not really being that “fun: of a game.  Farmville is successful in using appointment dynamics because they set a time limit before players can come back and tend to their crop. And what happens often, is that even though the user knows she has to wait for 10 hours before she can do anything, she constantly logs back in during hour 3, hour 4, hour 6, and hour 7, hoping that she can move on to the next step.

But if the game allowed her to do everything she wanted until she got tired, she would not be thinking about logging back in as often and sometimes quickly peter out.

Another game, Candy Crush, which was an overnight hit in gaming, incorporates this Core Drive very well also.  After losing a life, the game pauses and forces you to wait 25 minutes before you can gain another life and proceed to the next level.  This draws players to constantly think about when they’re going to get another life.  They can’t do what they want instantaneously, so the thought of the game is occupying their mind.

The Dangling technique within Scarcity & Impatience helps Game and App developers monetize

Many games also use the game technique of dangling in order to monetize social gaming. This basically means constantly showing the users what they cannot have right now.

For instance, when you go on Farmville, you initially may think, “I would never pay for a product or pay for a virtual good within a game.”  Then, Farmville implements dangling and shows you a mansion that you want, but can’t have. The first few times, you just dismiss it as you know it would be very expensive. But eventually, you start to develop some desire of the mansion you can’t have.

Just from a tad of curiosity, you do a little research and see that the game requires 20 hours of play just to get the mansion. Wow. That’s a lot of work….no, play.

But then, you realize you could just spend $5.00, and you can get that very mansion.  $5 to save 20 hours of 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 an amazing deal. You see how gamification can mess around with peoples’ value systems?

In another game I advised called Geomon, players are only allowed to capture monsters based on their environment.  In the game, there is a rare fire fox called Mozzy that can only be captured near Mozilla Headquarters on a warm day.

The Mozzy hardly shows up in the game, and I would always see multiple forum posts saying, “I wish I had a single Mozzy, then, at this point in my life, I could die happy.”

Mozzy Crazy 2 The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#6): Scarcity & Impatience


Mozzy Crazy 1 The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#6): Scarcity & Impatience

This type of yearn and desire comes from the implementation of Scarcity and Impatience and pushes people to stay engaged in the game until they reach their goal, or until they get what they want.

The situation heightened when a monster, Laurelix (for a long time owned by only three players in the entire game) was introduced.  In one incident, the creators received a phone call from a player’s mother who said, “My son is sick.  He has been sick for two weeks and he said nothing would cheer him up except for a Laurelix.  I don’t know what a Laurelix is but he says you guys have it. I’ll pay you $20.00 if you can just give this to my son.”

This particular Geomon monster isn’t even particular powerful in the game. BUT, because of the rarity and scarcity of it, people are defining their happiness based on having that of which they can’t have.

Utilizing Scarcity and Impatience

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

The slight chance of obtaining this item triggers the player to  do whatever they can to get this rare item – whether it’s paying money, consistently checking the website, or waiting hours to play once again.

If you make it impossible to get the product, then the player will just brush it off and not think about it. If you make it too easy, then it losers its value.

It’s just like Mama Bears porridge. It has to be just right.

Scarcity and Impatience is considered as black hat gamification, but if used correctly, can be very powerful.  When fused with Core Drive #7, Unpredictability and Curiosity, the two tug at different aspects of a game-player’s mind, motivating them to continue gameplay.