Oct 5, 2015

Spice up your App with Gamification


efore I tell you what Gamification is really about, I will tell you what it isn't.

Gamification is not about adding a game like Angry Bird, Candy Crush or Temple Run into your app. It is also not just about giving Points, Badge and Leaderboard for the sake of it. That is why many wonder why after doing the above, their app is not flooded with engaged users. I was also one of them when once shrugged off gamification because i thought the same.

Gamification doesn't mean that it needs to be an electronic game. Ever wondered why games like Tic-Tac-Toe, Rock-Paper-Scissors, Chess, Mahjong, Slots and even Hide-and-Seek, stood the test of time and generations loved playing it? They all contain some psychological motivation that drives people to continue playing.

Here are the 8 secret spices to juice up your app that i have gathered from all around.

1. The Feeling of Greatness

When my wife sometimes asked what did i do after she slept, i told her I was fighting a war to save the world. Players in World of Warcraft are hooked because they feel they are more accomplished and successful in the game than in real life. They have reached their peak performance in there and they feel great and important whenever the click of the mouse help bring down that monster and win the cheers and envy of other players (this brings us to the next point).

Secret Spice: If users of your app feel a sense of greatness and importance because they are playing a significant role in an objective they care about, then you have helped them in figuring out why they installed your app.

2. Social Engagement

Nowadays whenever the word "social" appears, marketers tend to think of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Social Engagement is not about utilising these social media. Though they did get this secret spice down, but you will simply be riding on them and getting some crumbs that falls off their table. Also, you be at the mercy of these giants! Especially when they change their policy, you will get affected.

Secret Spice: Deep down inside everyone loves attention, getting a standing ovation and sitting on the shoulders of his team-mates while they scream his name. This sense of envy creates a competitive nature and the desire to get the glory and social acceptance. Well, this is the darker side of being "social". The brighter side of it is to create a sense of teamwork or community that helps one another and "paying it forward" naturally. Like "This app actually helped me form this bond with this person that helped me achieved this", this is why Linkedin and Facebook is successful.

3. Curiousity

There was a scientist that put an animal in a cage and whenever it is hungry, it will press a button for food. Initially, it was fun until it got bored and only pressed it when it was hungry. The scientist that introduced another button and whenever it was pressed, it came out with random number of food and sometimes with a shock and sometimes with a reward. Guess which button was pressed on more often? It was mindless button bashing but it waited for its reward. Sounds familiar? Know which billion dollar game that did something similar which our mums or grannies sit there for hours doing the same thing? Even paying to play and lose money at the hope of that reward.

Secret Spice : Curiousity is a powerful motivation that can kill a cat. It may drive people insane by "wanting to know what's behind that door". It is also a virtual drug that can users hooked and addicted until the final outcome. However, if your "high" is not getting them soaring then you can the backlash of them quitting the app because it is a waste of their time. Make sure your reward is worthwhile for that button bashing.

4. Limitation & Exclusivity

I remembered the birth of Gmail but not Hotmail. Simply because I wasn't allowed to have their highly sought after 1GB account ,it was a big deal then and i always thought that the "G" stands for "Gigabytes" rather than "Google". So I thought "What!? Me?! An all important user? It's exclusive and by invite only? How do i get that invite??" then one day, my friend proudly showed off his Gmail account like a brand new sports car and i needed to have it. Not really because it has 1GB of space (I don't even receive that many emails then) but the Social "I can show off" status of owning it and being able to award it to someone. I begged him for the invite which he proudly gave to me. "Winning" this gave me a sense that im only 1 of the few that got it. It was almost like a virtual trophy i could display.

Secret Spice : When you give a reward that is not exclusive or limited, you lower its value. Things of lower value is not treasured and not sought after. Sometimes it may even be an insult if you reward them with meaningless things. In this day and age of commercial branding, everyone of them is shouting for your attention and shoving you samples as you walk down the aisle of your supermart. But if you set up a signage saying "100 limited and exclusive $50 cereal with an awesome reward, selling at this hour only" , I know for a fact that those 100 boxes will be gone within an hour because of the buyers being curious and wanting to be the 100 few to get it. This is better than spreading your value thin among $5 per box with a crappy reward in each box that you need to sell 1000 boxes to match them.

5. Accomplishments

This is the standard practise for marketers when they think of gamifying their apps. They will throw in Points , Badges and Leaderboards (PBL). One of my customers recently told me "Let's do points to encourage the action we want the users to take. Then we will reward them with Badges so they will feel accomplished and proud of their new trophy. Then lets include a leaderboard to further encourage them to strive harder to be the top user in our app so that we can reward them with even cooler badges!"

Secret Spice :  The key here is not to resort to PBL for the sake of it. The reason an athelete is proud of his trophy is not that it is made of solid Gold or Silver, the trophy actually stands for the challenges and competition he had to work hard and fight hard for it. You tell others you completed Final Fantasy , Metal Gear Solid and Candy Crush is because of the long hours you played through it or complicated puzzles that you managed to solve that others cannot. So the key word here is "Challenge". Without challenge that is no real accomplishment.

6. Creativity

Most applications that involves creativity (mixed in with Social) tends to have very quick growth. The game Draw Something was sold in a matter of months. Scrabble was published in 1938 and have sold about 150 million sets. These games have no predictable outcome, every game is different. Creativity is what makes every single user stand out uniquely, whether it is the strategy he takes or the worlds he created. Platforms like Minecraft and Warcraft that further enables the players to create their own style of gameplay, gave birth to a whole new game type - Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

Secret Spice : Giving users the power to create (and share ) their creation makes them feel empowered. Ever since we were young, we love to create and that is why Lego has been so successful because those little coloured bricks could change from a car into a rocket by a 5 year old's imagination to a fanboy who can change it from a castle to an impressive transformer robot without any instruction booklet. So find a way to give some power to create to the hands of your user and be able to tell them how great their creation is!

7. Possessions

Unknowingly, we have been possessed by virtual items. From digital photos that we have taken, blogs we have typed, cataloging our lives on a timeline, online friends we have collected, virtual cards or animals we have painstakingly collected, evouchers that were rewarded by earlier purchases to get us to spend more, etc. All these possessions have us return to the apps to appreciate them, use them or add more to our collection. Sounds familiar? So which of these apps have you running back to it on a regular basis? Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr or Hearthstone?  Well, im guilty.

Secret Spice : Give your users something to collect but do not give them all at one shot. You need to give it on a seasonal and regularly basis. Just like how MacDonald's change their Happy Meal Toys on every Thursday. If you are a collector of MacDonald toys, you are guaranteed to eat at MacDonald's for twice every week! Throwing in a limit and exclusivity of the collection, you would have users returning on a regular basis! Don't forget, the collection can be something virtual or exist in the physical world.

8. Loss

There's one of the sales tactics that i learnt before. It's call the "Puppy Dog Close". How it works is you are selling puppies, you would allow a potential buyer bring it home for 1 week or more so that he will grow attached and fond of it. To see the benefits of owning this puppy around. And when it is finally time to return this adorable puppy, the buyer would be unwilling to return it and may end up buying it instead. No hard sell required to tell you how great it is to buy a puppy.

Secret Spice : This is actually tied quite closely to the previous "Possessions". The more a user is invested into your app, the greater the sense of loss. Be it spending money on gaining credits, or time spent on building his content and winning stages on your app, or he has all his friends invited into it. So, the greater the sense of loss, the lesser possibility that he will ever leave your app. Think Facebook.

I hope all of the above is useful to you. You can always mix and match the spices and some really go well together if you blend it correctly. The ideal scenario is to have all included in your app. The stronger the spice, the greater your app's success!


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Alvin Lee

Alvin Lee is a gamification product designer, trainer, and consultant. With it, He has consulted malls and built very successful applications for retailers. One of which was so naturally viral that it has new sign-ups every day and high usage without any marketing done! He is currently developing an invested retail tech platform that is fully gamified.‍