Web App Masters: Serious Play

by Luke Wroblewski July 12, 2010

Stephen Anderson's Serious Play: Designing Seductive Business Apps talk at the Web App Masters Tour in Seattle, WA outlined how principles from psychology could be used to motivate Web application users.

  • Seduction: the process of deliberately enticing a person to engage in some sort of behavior
  • What motivates people to change their behaviors? Increasing motivation = psychology. Removing friction = usability
  • People react to game mechanics within Web apps (badges, points, etc.) as skeptics, cynics, or enthusiasts. But why do they work?
  • Motivating human behaviors through psychology is timeless. When the points system may become old and tired but core psychological motivators will still matter.
  • Putting psychology principles into action... First determine your business goals. Second, translate business problems into behavioral goals. Third, decide what things might encourage that behavior. Look at psychology and other disciples for changing behavior.
  • Ask: what do people have to do on your site in order for your business to be successful?

Examples of Psychological Motivators

  • Fun: can change behavior for the better (examples at thefuntheory.com)
  • Sequencing: sequential goal development. Break things down into goals or challenges.
  • Status: ability to increase your standing among people.
  • Scarcity: we infer value in something that has limited availability or is promoted as being scarce. When you see supplies are low, you are encouraged to take action. Examples: limited tickets left, limited amount of points to allocate, limit amount of characters, etc. The more of an incomplete picture you see, the more you want to see the rest of the image.
  • Feedback loop: we are engaged by situations where we see our actions modify subsequent results. Examples: visual search with automatic reload.
  • Delighters: we remember and respond favorably to unexpected and playful pleasures.
  • Set completion: the closer our collection is to being complete the higher our desire to get a complete set of items.
  • Ownership bias: we value a good or service more once our property right to it has been established. People want to ensure representations of you are accurate. Examples: Foursquare mayorship.
  • Social proof: people tend to follow the lead of others when they don’t know what they should do. Examples: Digg votes, Outlook campaign.
  • Recognition over recall: do not ask to recall things, let people recognize through visual presentations.
  • These principles are going to be available as a card set of 50 insights that can be used as an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to the design of Web sites, Web apps, and software applications. Learn more at Get Mental Notes.

Examples on Web Apps

  • LinkedIn profile completeness meter: gives you indicator of what you can do to get complete. Works because of levels, challenges, and our innate need for completeness –psychology drives the interaction.
  • Foursquare is a location check-in service. You earn points, mayorships, and badges on Foursquare for getting out and discovering places. These game mechanics are in place on many sites like Stackflow, Foodspotting, and the 160 (for music).
  • Foodspotting only gives you ten nominations for your favorite food. This creates scarcity and causes you to really think about food items you want to recommend.
  • Dribbble only allows you to post 24 screen shots a month. On the site, they outline their belief that scarcity promotes quality.
  • Collecting (badges), ownership bias & lose aversion (mayorships), feedback loops (immediate response for doing things –points), curiosity (when do you get badges & why), status (leaderboards are a sign of status), variable rewards (unsure when things will be given to you), and limited duration.
  • Gowalla provides variable rewards when you check-in to places through great icons. They also have set completion mechanics because you can save and collect the icons you get.
  • In Cubeless (a corporate social networking tool
  • In Cubeless (a corporate social networking tool) you need to gather points to unlock ability to add photos, etc. 60-70% of Sabre employees use Social Q&A system. 60% of questions are answered within one hour, each question receives an average of 9 answers. Status, feedback loops, privileges, limited duration, and reciprocity are all in use on Cubeless.
  • Game mechanics can help train people on software. Palm Pilot had a game called Giraffe –which worked like Space Invaders but with graffiti characters. Had to write correct characters as they fell. Microsoft released an app called Ribbon hero. You score points for using Word and play challenges that help you learn new skills. The system has hints to help you get points.

Game Integration

  • Many Web sites are integrating game mechanics to drive engagement. Is this leading to game fatigue?
  • Any time you add a measure to a Web application, it creates game mechanics so be careful where you apply them.
  • Points, levels, scoreboards, achievements, badges, assignments. People will burn out on these models but human desires will not. Human desires are more timeless –focus on them.