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Special Edition: Gamification Hacks Growth (Because Science)

The reason I had to skip this week's newsletter is that I was a speaker and a workshop host at UX Ali
Special Edition: Gamification Hacks Growth (Because Science)
By Akar Sumset • Issue #5 • View online
The reason I had to skip this week’s newsletter is that I was a speaker and a workshop host at UX Alive ‘17. 
UX Alive is the largest UX conference in Europe and attracts lots of international guests as well as local ones. This year, as well as hosting a gamification and UX workshop, I gave a speech on why gamification is a great tool for growth hacking. Below is the expanded version of that talk that you, the methodical product design subscribers get to read before anyone else.
Hope you enjoy it and share it with your network.

Gamification Hacks Growth (Because Science)
Today, all companies (except for the special ones like Basecamp) have to grow non-stop. Why? Well, that’s simply how the capitalistic engine works. Investors pour money into startups, banks loan money to entrepreneurs, employees accept stock options instead of cash in hopes of companies growing into a much bigger size than they are today. That’s why there is so much emphasis on growth. Otherwise the whole system collapses. It’s a bit crazy when you think a bit deeper about it but I’ll leave that part to you for now.
With this article, I want to show why gamification is a great tool for growth and how science, more precisely Mass Interpersonal Persuasion phenomenon, proves that. I’ll do that with examples and hard facts. Let’s get going.
First, let’s define what gamification is.
The use of game dynamics, mechanics and elements in non-game environments to change user behavior for business purposes.
We have been playing games since we lived in caves and we enjoy them for some reason. So, why don’t we try to replicate the same experience in our businesses to get better results? In that sense, we can call gamification a game-like, fun layer, focused on human motivation that is integrated into business processes. 
If only persuasion was that easy.
If only persuasion was that easy.
If we want to understand persuasion, before anything else, we should understand that people are predictably irrational. That is why logic just by itself is not enough to persuade people. If people were consistently rational beings then we would be living in a completely different world. For example, TV ads would just consist of logical statements instead of gorgeous video productions. Coca Cola ads would be like “Coca Cola > Pepsi” or Sony’s famous “Like no other” slogan would turn into “Sony !≈ Anything Else”. 
Persuasion requires understanding neurology, psychology, biology, technology… lots of “logies”. But arguably the most important of all these logies is technology thanks to the unprecedented advancements in Internet and mobile in the last decade.
So much so that it made BJ Fogg say the following;
This phenomenon (Mass Interpersonal Persuasion) brings together the power of interpersonal persuasion with the reach of mass media. I believe this new way to change attitudes and behavior is the most significant advance in persuasion since radio was invented in the 1890s.
There is one thing I need to remind you of. From a scientific point of view, persuasion is an umbrella term for affecting people’s attitudes, behaviors, intentions or beliefs. It doesn’t necessarily require changing people’s beliefs or ideas. Let me give you an example.
My father, 62 years old, have always been critical of iPhones since he finds the prices to be quite unreasonable. Not because he can’t afford it but because an iPhone 7 Plus 256 gb costs almost 4 times the minimum wage in Turkey where we live. But he bought an iPhone 7 himself last month. How come? Well, for a year or so he has been telling me how his friends had these big screen phones and show the pictures of their grandchildren to him. Eventually, he got fed up with the fact that he can’t do the same and bought an iPhone 7 himself. He still finds it expensive but he bought it anyway. His idea didn’t change but his behavior did. That’s what we call persuasion without changing beliefs.
Mass Interpersonal Persuasion and Gamification
1. Persuasive Experience
An experience that is created to change attitudes, behaviors, or both. — BJ Fogg
The key here is the intentionality to change behaviors/attitudes by providing experiences as opposed to just stating facts and expect people to be reasonable enough to change their behaviors/attitudes accordingly.
Now let’s remember the definition of gamification:
The use of game dynamics, mechanics and elements in non-game environments to change user behavior for business purposes.
Similar to MIP, gamification is quite intentional about changing behaviors. It does that by focusing on the entirety of users’ experience to find the relevant spots where it can blend in the experience and do its magic. A great example for this is the Swedish Speed Camera Lottery. Speed Camera Lottery is a simple solution. If you don’t speed over the limit then you instantly get a chance to participate in the lottery. Even funnier part is that the prize comes from the fines paid by the speeders.
To better understand the intentionality on behavior change, let’s compare the Speed Camera Lottery with the campaign of New York Department of Transportation (NYC DOT).
United States
United States
NYC DOT’s campaign is quite impressive with its powerful visual and message. “Hit me with 40 mph and I’m dead. Hit me with 30 mph, I’m still alive. However, from a behavioral science point of view Speed Camera Lottery is more likely to influence the actual behavior of obeying the speed limit. Why?

  1. Because NYC campaign prefers an indirect way of influencing behavior. It’s very influential when we see it but it’s not there when we actually need to slow down. Unlike the NYC DOT ad, lottery solution is implemented right in where and when speeding happens. 
  2. NYC DOT’s campaign doesn’t create an experience. It’s an example of a classic one way communication. You see it and it’s gone. Whereas, with the Speed Camera Lottery we get the chance to participate and thus have an experience.
  3. Obviously, the Speed Camera Lottery is more enjoyable than the NYC DOT’s campaign.
That said, Speed Camera Lottery had one down side. Some geniuses started circling around to increase their likelihood of winning the lottery. Well, that didn’t quite happen but we should always be wary of cheaters.
Similar to MIP’s Persuasive Experience layer, good gamification always directly targets behaviors and blends in the experience.

2. Automated Structure
Digital technology structures the persuasive experience. — BJ Fogg
We saw how it is at the core of gamification to create persuasive experiences with first layer of MIP. Now let’s look at the more than obvious link between gamification and automated structures. 
By design, gamification produces well structured processes. Regardless of the product, we need a tool to quantify behaviors to be able to do good gamification. Think of something similar to Google Analytics or MixPanel. Good analytics users don’t just count how many people does a certain behavior but define rules like “if a user clicks 5 help links in a session then open the chat window”. Gamification by nature is built on top of these kind of rules: 

  • Automated Feedbacks: “If a user logs in 5 consecutive days show her a message to congratulate their consistency”.
  • Points: “If a user invites a friend reward her 5 points”.
  • Levels: “If a user collects 1000 points and receives 5 likes bump her to Level 3”.

We can easily add more examples to the list. Obviously, these are very simple examples but the key here is that gamification is inherently based on rules. That’s why it is very, very easy to build an automated structure to create a persuasive experience with gamification.
Example: Nike Fuel
Fuel presents a lot of examples of automated structure here.

  • The daily average feedback is a simple average function. 
  • The “way to go” feedback is simply generated by comparing the total of NikeFuel earned in last two days.
  • Earn more active hours call to action has been provided by counting active hours.

Example: Fitwell
I did gamification design for FitWell, an app that tailors meal plans and workout regimes according to app’s assessment. Our research showed that the most important problem people encounter during their fitness journey is that they lack feedback after a while. At the beginning we feel energized, see changes in our posture and thus get motivated. After a while though, progress slows down and we start worrying that our efforts go for nothing. That’s where gamification comes into play. With lots of automated feedback loops users get various encouraging feedback while their bodies fails to provide any.
Example: Duolingo
Duolingo takes the automated experience a step further with the Shop. Thanks to the Shop, not only I get feedback on my progress but also I get to reward myself with Lingots (in app currency) all by myself.
Yes, we don’t have to gamify our products to provide these kinds of experiences but it is much more easier if we do. Gamification forces us to think of actions and feedbacks which by nature produces an automated structure.
Gamification relies on behavior based rules which makes it extremely easy to build automated structures.

3. Social Distribution 
The persuasive experience is shared from one friend to another.  — BJ Fogg
We just saw how gamification helps us with automating persuasive experiences. Now let’s see how gamification fuels social distribution. 
Just four words: “Invite friends, earn money!” Money here is a variable. It can be anything from free disk space to an invitation for that new cool app. The key here is that it always involves friends and some kind of reward. 
Example: Dropbox
Notice how Dropbox not only offers rewards but also make it extremely easy to share.
Example: Airbnb
Airbnb does everything Dropbox does and take it a step further: If your friend travels using Airbnb then you get $75 more.
Example: Flipkart
The pattern is obvious by now. 
Invite-> Signup-> Earn Money-> Extra Behavior-> Even More Money 
But that is not necessarily the only way. Look at what Inbox by Gmail did.
Example: Inbox
Do you remember the days when Inbox came out? Did you too harass your friends to get an invite like my friends did to me? 
Gmail had more than 500 million users when Inbox was released as an invite only product. So, obviously Inbox wasn’t after acquisition but what were they after? 
Adoption. That is why they turned the social distribution scheme upside down. Instead of rewarding people with money or free disk space they rewarded people with the privilege of having invitations. Those privileged people (the Innovators and the Early Adopters) were already going to try Inbox. By giving Innovators and Early adopters a higher status, Google turned them into a distribution tool. Limited access made Early Majority crave for Inbox which in turn both accelerated adoption and increased the satisfaction of those lucky enough to use Inbox.
Has it worked for Google? I don’t know the exact numbers but the screenshot above is a very important sign that it worked out very well for Google.
Speaking of “invite people and earn X” tactic… I have this friend who subscribed to a healthy eating service which gives free meals for invites. That tactic made him cancel his subscription because he brought too many people and ended up gaining more weight (!)
Invite friends and earn money/disk space/beta participation etc. is a classic gamification practice and a very, very powerful social distribution tool. And you don’t always have to give away stuff. Giving status works, too.

4. Rapid Cycle
What this means is that the time between invitation, acceptance, and a subsequent invitation needs to be small.  — BJ Fogg
On a more abstract level, Rapid Cycle can be re-stated as following:
“What this means is that the time between action, feedback, and a subsequent action needs to be small.”
When viewed like this, Nir Eyal’s Hook Model, the most important tool in my gamification toolbox, perfectly matches Rapid Cycle. Hook is Nir’s explanation for why some products are so addictive. Simply put, we get motivated if we get positive and instant feedback for our behaviors. Even better, if we get a chance to take a step further we get more motivated and even addicted.
I won’t explain the whole Hook Model here but in short 

  1. Hook has its roots, surprise surprise, in BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model which explains how behavior occurs. BJ Fogg shows that we need a trigger, motivation and ability to perform a behavior.
  2. On top of Fogg Behavior Model, Nir Eyal adds a variable reward so that people keep coming for more.
  3. And asks for an Investment behavior which increases the users’ expectation for even more rewards in the future.
Let’s take a look at a couple Hook examples.
RJ Metrics Blog — Janessa Lantz
RJ Metrics Blog — Janessa Lantz
RJ Metrics Blog — Janessa Lantz
RJ Metrics Blog — Janessa Lantz
People get motivated when the feedback for their behavior is instant. To take it a step further, try to make the feedback variable and the next step obvious. 

5. Huge Social Graph 
The persuasive experience can potentially reach millions of people connected through social ties or structured interactions.  — BJ Fogg
It is not enough having millions of users for MIP to happen. What you need is millions of connected people and the nice part is they don’t have to be your users either. You need the potential to reach millions. How? Well, for one there is social networks. Use social login and leverage your users’ networks on those networks. But that is not the only way. Say, you have a SaaS analytics product. How can you reach millions? Provide Google Analytics integration and voila! Now, you’re relevant to millions of people.
Now, let’s look how gamification helps with connecting people with.
Example: Quora
Quora suggests people with related expertise when we ask a question. This is an amazing, amazing solution. Why?

  1. It helps us get answers much faster and from reliable sources.
  2. It honors people who gets asked to answer which gets them motivated and engaged. (A common phrase on Quora: “thank you for A2A”)
  3. 1 and 2 combined increases high quality content, engagement and connectedness on Quora. 
And this is all possible thanks to a very simple game mechanic: Mastery. None of this would work if Quora did not have those domain experts. 
Example: Yemeksepeti (Turkish Delivery Hero)
Yemeksepeti is Turkish Delivery Hero, acquired by actual Delivery Hero for $589 .000.000
Yemeksepeti is Turkish Delivery Hero, acquired by actual Delivery Hero for $589 .000.000
This example is from my hometown hence the language on the photo:) Yemeksepeti is the Turkish Delivery Hero. They recently introduced Muhtar feature. Muhtar means headman in Turkish. They know everyone and every detail about the neighborhood. So, the one with the most points in the neighborhood becomes the Muhtar. As we can see alper g. is the Muhtar in my neighborhood (the list on the right hand side is the leaderboard).
I’ve been using using Yemeksepeti for more than 5 years. And this is the first time I’m more curious about people using it then I am about restaurants on Yemeksepeti. The reason for this is Muhtar. Not only does it show who the Muhtar is but also it shows the recent orders and what other participants are doing on Yemeksepeti. Muhtar provided the basic social proof mechanic Yemeksepeti needed. Muhtar helps greatly with making faster decisions and increased believability on restaurants’ scores. (People score the restaurant after delivery similar to Uber driver scoring.) 
Muhtar also paves the way for Yemeksepeti to introduce its own version of A2A. I don’t know if they plan to this (though it’s one of the ideas we presented them 4 years ago) but they can generate experts who can help others overcome the toughest of all questions: What should we eat ?
That’s the power of gamification. By introducing competition (or collaboration as we saw with Quora) it makes it possible to socialize on a very large scale without having people actually know each other.
Collaboration and competition makes it easy to connect people to each other.

6. Measurable Impact 
The effect of the persuasive experience is observable by users and creators.  — BJ Fogg
One of the core components of gamification is quantifying what users do and things happen around them. This way gamification makes everything measurable by nature. Even the tiny tiny behaviors are quantified and presented in various ways. Sometimes as raw data, other times as points, levels or progress bars. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Example: Twitter
I don't like Twitter.
I don't like Twitter.
Everything from followers to moments and from likes to retweets are quantified and put front and center.
Example: Linkedin, Quora and Medium
Linkedin is very, very good at quantifying things and attaching them to new actions.
Views, votes, shares... All measured.
Views, votes, shares... All measured.
Medium and Quora are very different when it comes to how people create content but in the end it is content what they create. That’s why it is not surprising to see they provide almost identical stats. 
Gamification inherently requires measuring almost everything which makes it extremely easy to share it with others.
One by one, we saw how each six layers of Mass Interpersonal Persuasion link to gamification with examples. I chose well known examples so that it is easier to understand and relate to. However, I realize the fact that it makes gamification design intimidating. Because it leads us to thoughts like “of course Quora will do it, they have all these great designers” or “sure Nike will succeed they have all the technology and the tools”.
But what does MIP have to do with growth you say? Take a look at this.
Let’s go back to Fall 2007. A time when there is no Whatsapp, Instagram or Snapchat. Twitter is only a 1 year old baby. 2007 is the year Facebook announced the Platform. Platform is a platform to develop Facebook apps and games. When Fogg hears about the Platform he decides to open a new course together with Dave McClure (yes, the Dave McClure. Founder of 500 Startups, creator of Pirate Metrics) to use social psychology principles on Facebook and measure the impact of using those principles. The grading is based on metrics on the Platform. There are no homework or quizzes. Students get grades based on number of users they reach and engaged through the apps they build.
And those numbers are the result of that course. Students some of whom had no coding, design or digital marketing before reached those numbers in 2007. 2007 is the year when the first iPhone was unveiled. Think about it. Some of those apps generated so much revenue (more than 1 million dollars in 3 months)that students even the Teaching Assistant Dan Ackerman dropped out of school. 5 of those apps made it to Top 100 apps on Facebook and reached more than 1 million users each.
So, if those “kids” were able to do it why couldn’t you?

Akar - Continuously brainstorming
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Akar Sumset

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