This article features key takeaways from Dominique Mangiatordi’s talk on how to scale user engagement. Check out the full video on Youtube…
5 key best practices
Best practice #1: Engagement is a spectrum
Engagement is best understood as a spectrum. Positioning your users on that spectrum can help identify which levers to activate for continued engagement. On one end of the spectrum, external motivation comes in the form of seeking rewards or avoiding punishment. This type of behavior occurs when the activity in question is seen as a means to an end. On the other end of the spectrum, internal motivation is characterized by seeking mastery or fulfilment from performing the activity.
Note: A good example of cultivating engagement in externally motivated users is through the so-called “nudge effect”, i.e. alleviating the pain induced by the activity in question through “fun play”. Driving engagement in internally motivated users is much simpler: “performance play”, introducing simple gaming mechanisms that helps users feel and track their progression, is enough to keep motivation high.
Best practice #2: Games are (way) better than life
When it comes to keeping users engaged, games outperform pretty much any other activity. For several reasons: games have a clear objective, games show progression (through scores), games tell a story, games give immediate feedback, and games yield predictable rewards. If products and real life situations worked more in that manner, they would be more successful at keeping people engaged. See best practices 3 to 5 for actionnable tips.
Best practice #3: Onboarding is neither the start not the end of the journey
It’s the most important part of the user journey. But before the onboarding phase, the first step of building engagement is identification. Like picking a token at the start of a game of Monopoly, selecting or customizing an avatar allows users to identify to the app. To make it their own. Only after does onboarding come into play. Traditionally thought of as a learning process, Dominique stresses that user onboarding should be considered as a discovery phase instead. Discovery obviously includes some learning, but it’s more than that. It helps establish that users like the product and see themselves going further with it. Then comes the scaffolding phase, which is purely dedicated to learning by incremental steps and gathering your first “wins” on the platform. And lastly, the mastery phase, which sees users grow increasingly proficient — not to the point of becoming an expert, but rather to gaining a level of knowledge that satisfies them.
Note: There is no good game without a “Game Over”. Conversely, too much difficulty at once is a deterrent for new users that are just getting acquainted with your product. The idea is to find a good in-between, and Dominique advises split testing to identify an optimal solution for onboarding and scaffolding.
Best practice #4: A little something for everyone
It’s fairly simple to categorize people into several known player types. Dominique lists the four main typologies: fighters, achievers, socializers, and explorers. In order to establish broad appeal to all these types of players — all of which are seeking different benefits — great games leave a little bit for each of them. What most software solutions fail to consider is how they can incorporate (to varying degrees) elements of each to satisfy all the different types of behaviour their users will seek while using a product.
Note: The leaderboard feature is a perfect example. Few users will actually rely on it for validation, but those who do (the fighters) will rate it highly in their overall evaluation of the product.
Best practice #5: Make it EPIC
Games provide epic meaning to players. Why? Epic meaning is the quickest way to create emotional investment from users. Framing the user’s purpose in the terms of a heroic quest is also practical because these quests can be split into intermediary objectives, they provide a yardstick to measure progress, and they set a framework within which performance can be scored. The worst thing about scores is when they aren’t attached to any discernable objective, and aren’t explained. Epic meaning provides a narrative that can conveniently explain all of the traditional PBLs (Points, badges, leaderboards) and more.
Note: Volvo notoriously adapted the principles of providing epic meaning to their employees, by stating their goal to reach no deaths in a Volvo vehicle by 2020. The higher purpose engages employees, and also allows for scoring performance and reaching midway goals on the way to achieving their mission.
2 key mindsets
Mindset #1: Be a psychiatrist
Whether you call it UX, human-focused design or gamification, you’re talking about the same thing. For Dominique, all seek to uncover the levers that induce engagement. Cognitive biases, psychological types, and patterns of motivation: the key learnings from psychology can (and should) be applied in your efforts to unlock deeper relationships with your users.
Note: Human-focused design as a concept is often opposed to function-focused design. Dominique suggests moving past these internal debates and combine both. For companies that are traditionally anchored in function-focused design, planning for a layer of human-focused design can help.
Mindset #2: Use a soft touch
Broadly speaking, the strategies mentioned by Dominique fall into two categories: white hat and black hat (white hat being the least intrusive techniques, while black hat constitutes more obtrusive ways to elicit the desired behavior). Dominique warns that users aren’t duped by these strategies, they chose to go along with them. Where white hat techniques can be positive to the user and still allow him to get what he came for, a black hat approach can be more deceptive and should be limited to certain situations. Beyond building engagement, you’re also building a relationship based on trust. Going too far down a black hat path might revoke that trust and damage your brand: the returns aren’t worth it.
Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, Yu-kai Chu
For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business, Kevin Werbach
About Dominique Mangiatordi:
Coming at user engagement through the prism of gamification, Dominique has built his insights into a startup studio which creates B2B apps helping teams leverage better engagement and drive better results (for sales teams, for hiring, for performance management, for networking…). His advice to startups: start by understanding the drivers of motivation in order to build on existing levers and create meaningful engagement in your product. Follow Dominique on Twitter.