SXSW 2011 – Sustaining Passionate Users


SXSW 2011 – Long After the Thrill, Sustaining Passionate Users


Stephen Anderson

SXSW 2011 Stephen AndersonHow do get people to fall in love with our application and keep sustaining passionate users? All the talk in the past few years would seem to imply the answer is “make it a game!” Maybe, reasoning goes, it should be more gamelike! A quote Stephen recently saw was:

“Motivating consumer behavior through game mechanics.”

But, he says, that’s actually a wrong way to think about it.  The right way is it’s human, not consumer, it’s psychology, not game mechanics.

“Motivating consumer human behavior through game mechanics psychology.”

He mentions the game motivators that incentivize and excite us humans, things like:

  • appropriate challenges
  • variable rewards
  • pattern recognition
  • curiosity
  • reputation
  • social proof

Stephen says let’s focus on appropriate challenges, the heart of most gamelike activities. What about sustaining passionate users through delightful challenges?

Let’s go back to the classroom. When I was teaching, I saw three attitudes about teaching and motivating students:

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1. “This stuff is boring. I’ll make the best of it, but you’ll have to work and apply yourself to get something out of this.” This equals “Apply Yourself” typical web design, we’ve seen this plenty, like find the FAQs, read the “Read Me” instructions, etc.

2. “This stuff isn’t all that interesting. But I’ve added activities to the content that will make this a lot more fun for everyone.” This is called “Sugar Coating” and in my opinion is what most gameification is all about right now.

Why has gamification taken off? Because whatever the thing is that we are making a game, now has a layer of fun, people are likely to engage with this thing. Right? But this is flawed. Games are play and challenges. Goals and rewards reinforce the goals and challenges. But the right way of making something a game is to go learn about game design, which is what I’ve done. I read things like, “Theory of Fun for Game Design” and “The Art of Game Design.”

Gamasutra is a great website to get more information about games. “Drive” by Dan Pink is a great book that talks about motivators, not necessarily just about games, but has implications for game design.

PRO Tip: read those books, or for speed just follow along with these notes.

Exercise, we’ve all been given 3×5 cards as we came in, now he wants the audience to do a fun gamification exercise – our subject for gamification will be time tracking. Stephen believes the best time tracking tool is Harvest. So, we need to track our time, but we don’t do it. We lack the motivation to track the time, so let’s start with something easy to use, and try to make something a bit more gamelike.

So, think of any type of game, and write the game on one side of a card – but make it simple – not complex – don’t’ write World of Warcraft for this exercise.  (I wrote “Trouble.”) Now flip the card over. Consider FarmVille or Pictionary, it has limited time, teamwork, self expression and pattern recognition.

Look at your game and try to identify three or so items from:

  • Limited Time
  • Group Competition
  • Teamwork
  • Self-Expression
  • Pattern Recognition

(On my card I wrote: “Group Competition, Limited Time, Pattern Recognition.”)

Doing this helps you see design from a different perspective.

We need to move beyond the usual points and badges part of gamification, to get to the real part of designing games.

But, with gamification there’s a big flaw: He notes The Golden Age, listen to a song as part of an assignment. Another example, Old Navy hid coupons on the site, hiding Easter eggs on the site is a great game device. That was very effective. He shows a sign up form of “Fastest sign up 16 seconds, can you beat that?”  Here’s the issue; after doing something several times the interest starts to wear off. It’s a problem if nobody really wants to do it or care about it.

One of the motivators, “Set Completion” can work. Stephen says we are compulsively oriented to finishing an already started activity. Are there sets that we can work with in time tracking? Stephen talks about his use of Gmail priority inbox. A way to get to an empty inbox by using sets to categorize activities by priority.

And the third teaching motivation?

3. “This stuff is really quite interesting! I’m going to show you why this is important. But first, I’ve got a challenge for you…”

He tells us an example, about 50% of elementary kids skipped recess to watch an education video. Stephen says we like a challenge of completing something.  He notes there is a difference in Performance Vs Learning goals

Performance goals – Getting an A in French

Learning goals – Desire to learn how to speak French

Another audience exercise, this one is called Laddering – The idea is we pair up, one person starts by asking a question to the other: Why are you here at SXSW? The Five Whys. When the second person responds, the first person rephrases the response into another “Why” question.  We do that about four or five times. We have two minutes to do this as an exercise.  So, now do the time tracking gamification with the Five Why’s.

“What’s a core challenge for your time tracking app?”

For Status, it’s often confused as reputation, but the two are different. Status is about us vs others, but also us vs. ourselves. Gowalla does this with number of checkins, can I beat my own record? Over at they use the same element of status to not break the chain of completing red X’s to say you’ve done something, accomplished something.

So going back to time tracking, what about status?

  1. To know how long I’m taking
  2. To learn where I’m underestimating
  3. To get better at estimate my time (this is where I focused)
  4. To have a more balance life

For a day, what about an estimated plan of the day, vs the actual number of hours I spent during the day, the challenge is to get to a 100% accuracy rating.

Play & challenges + goals & rewards = game

Most games have; Play & Challenges, then Conflicts & Choices, then Goals & Rewards, then Feedback Loops. Consider a target circle with Play & Challenges in the center, then going outward we have Conflicts & Choices, and outside that ring we have Goals & Rewards, and at the outer-most ring Feedback Loops.

Example of Scarcity in designDribbble – You can only select a few shots to upload, which makes scarcity force the behavior of only uploading great, high quality shots.  That’s a great way to force quality.

Examples of Feedback loops – Aza Raskin, in a session here on healthcare and using gamification, said that what is the one secret to changing human behavior? Feedback loops! Think about a speed limit sign on the side of the road showing how fast you’re going, if you’re going too fast what do you do? Usually it’s slow down.

Attaching a measure to something turns it into a game.  Adding a number to something, for example miles per gallon gauge in a car, makes it a game if you try to improve your gas mileage, or see what the very best it that you can get. Another example is virtual flower on a pedometer that is a powerful metaphor for growing. Imagine if your credit score was a balloon that was either inflated or deflated depending on your score.

Consider creating a table:

Play & Challenges          Make lots of money

Conflict & Challenges    Pressure to make choices

Feedback loops              Stock fund goes up or down

Goals and rewards        Make more money!

Rewards motivate people to get more rewards.

How do we get people to stay in love with our applications? Make a really good game, but the problem is most games eventually END.

Sustaining passionate users takes more than just making games.

Stephen did a survey; he asked, what are some web apps services you’ve used for more than 3 years? Why, why stick with them? The answers were, Facebook, Skype, Twitter and several others.

When asked why, the answers were “it works” “reliability and ease of use” “very reliable and affordable” “It’s not complicate” “my friends use it” but nowhere did people mention games or fun!

We must PROVIDE a service that is trustworthy AND rewarding.

What do you use for more than 6 months that continues to delight, not just satisfy you, and there were no responses. Apps are not there yet.

Think about the Kano Model: four squares together in a large square, Satisfaction is the vertical axis, with low on the bottom and high satisfaction at the top. Features are on the left-right axis, with not fully implemented on the left, and fully implemented on the far right.  Delight represents the upper left corner of this model. Basic needs are in the lower right.

Most apps have a line going bottom left to top right. They work, but there’s not a lot of delight.

Delighters are those applications (or companies!) that are in the upper left half to middle upper right half of the model. Delighters are not required, but when added brings great value.

The example Stephen provides is he feels United Airlines is in the lower right corner, due to many issues. It’s a basic service with little delight for him. He believes American Airlines is in the middle, it’s ok in his opinion, but doesn’t delight him. They serve his needs but he’s not delighted. Then he mentions Virgin airlines with a smile. They delight him, they are in upper left corner. He went so far as to decide to fly Virgin from DFW to SFO even though he had free mileage points with American Airlines!

Other reasons people Stay in love with applications?

Social Proof is very powerful and important. “My friends use it, so I use it.”

Stories. The stories are another great way to help people stay in love with applications.

Sustaining Passionate Users Summary:

  • Look for the game already in the activity
  • Focus on intrinsic motivations
  • Goals and rewards should be in service to something meaningful

Whew, he talked fast and flew through his slides, but you can find them at his Slideshare page: Sustaining Passionate Users.